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Pai Gow Poker Guide

Pai Gow Poker is a card game where you play against the dealer. It’s played with a 53-card deck – the standard deck of 52 cards plus one Joker. On each deal, you and the dealer each receive seven cards, which must then be split into two hands, one 5 card hand, and one 2 card hand. Then your two hands are played against the dealer’s two hands to determine whether you win, lose or tie (push).

Pai Gow Poker is a very popular online casino table game because it requires some strategy and skill but is still very easy to learn and master. Fans of the game also like the fact that you can spend a lot of time playing with a limited bankroll, as there are lots of pushes which prolong the game.

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How to Play

The Basics

You receive 7 cards to start the game. You then split the cards into 2 hands – one of 5 cards and one of 2 cards. Once you’ve done that, your 5 card hand plays against the dealers 5 card hand, and your 2 card hand plays against the dealers 2 card hand. If both your hands are better than both the dealer’s hands, you win. If one of your hands is better but the other is worse, it’s a tie (Push). If both the dealer’s hands beat you, you lose the game.

To determine a winning hand, the standard poker rank of hands applies. (See below for a rank of hands chart). For your 5 card hand, the best possible hand is 5 Aces (using the Joker as an Ace). While for your 2 card hand, the best possible hand is a pair of Aces. (Flushes and Straights aren’t possible with the 2 card hand, as you need 5 cards to complete Flushes and Straights).

It’s a rule of the game that your 5 card hand must rank higher than your 2 card hand. So if you are dealt only one pair, for example, that pair would have to be kept in your 5 card hand when you split your cards.

In Pai Gow Poker, the deck contains one Joker. That Joker can only be used to complete straights and flushes. Otherwise it counts as an Ace. And if you and the dealer each have an identical hand, the dealer wins that hand.

The Dealer has a “house way” of splitting their cards. They don’t modify their split based on the cards you receive, or based on any changing strategy. They always split them using the same strategy every single hand.

Your Cards

Your 5 card hand must rank higher than your 2 card hand. So if you only have one pair in your 7 card hand, for example, that pair would have to be kept in your 5 card hand when you split. If you have 2 pairs in your hand, you could split your hand so you have a pair in each hand. But if you do that, the higher pair must be part of your 5 card hand.

Game controls

To start the game, select and amount to bet, then hit the “Deal” button. You’ll receive 7 cards. To Split your hand, click on the two cards you wish to use as your 2 card hand, then click the “Split” button. At that time, the dealer’s cards will be revealed and you’ll win, lose or tie (Push).

You Win When:

You win when your 5 card hand outranks the dealer’s 5 card hand AND your 2 card hand outranks the dealer’s 2 card hand.

The Dealer Wins When:

The dealer wins when his 5 card hand outranks your 5 card hand AND his 2 card hand outranks your 2 card hand.

You Tie (Push) When:

One of your hands wins against the dealer, while the other loses.

Rank of Hands

To determine which hand wins, a standard poker rank of hands applies, with one exception – the Ace-2-3-4-5 straight is the second highest straight in Pai Gow Poker.

Hand Name Description Example
Five of a Kind 4 aces plus the Joker AS, AH, AD, AC, Joker
Royal Flush 10, J, Q, K, A of same suit 10H, JH, QH, KH, AH
Straight Flush In sequence, 5 cards of same suit 4S, 5S, 6S, 7S, 8S
Four of a Kind 4 cards of same rank 9D, 9S, 9C, 9H
Full House 3 of a kind, plus a pair 2H, 2D, 2S, JH, JS
Flush 5 cards of same suit 2D, 4D, 6D, 8D, KD
Straight 5 cards in sequence 3H, 4D, 5H, 6S, 7C
Three of a Kind 3 cards of same rank 2H, 2S, 2D
Two Pair 2 pairs of different rank 5H, 5S, 6C, 6S
One Pair 1 pair (2 cards) of same rank KD, KS
High Card 5 cards of different ranks and suits AS, KC, 10D, 5C, 2C


Basic Pai Gow Poker strategy aims to set both your hands so they have the best chance to win. You want your 2 card hand to be as high as possible, without weakening your 5 card hand more than necessary.

If you do not have any winning poker hands (besides a high card, of course), you should keep your highest card in your 5 card hand and use your 2nd and 3rd best cards for your 2 card hand.

If you have one pair, keep it in your 5 card hand, and put the best two remaining cards in your 2 card hand.

Always split the two pairs into your two hands, unless:

  1. You have two very low pairs, and you have a King or Ace left over, or
  2. You have two low or medium pairs, and you have an ace left over.

If you have three-of-a-kind, keep it in your 5 card hand and use your next 2 highest cards as your 2 card hand. The exception to this rule is if you have 3 Aces. In that case, use one of the Aces, and your next highest card as your 2 card hand.

If you have a full house, you should always use the three-of-a-kind in your 5 card hand, and the pair as your 2 card hand.


Pai Gow Poker is loosely based on the game Pai gow. The original Pai gow is a Chinese gambling game played on a set of Chinese dominoes. It’s a game steeped in tradition and its origins date back more than a thousand years.

In more recent times, a casino manager named Fred Wolf invented Pai Gow Poker while working as the casino manager of the Commerce Casino in California. He needed new casino games to compete with other casinos, so he looked to Pai gow for inspiration, and came up with Pai Gow Poker. The game became hugely popular immediately, and soon spread to casinos around the country and then the world.


Push: This is a tie. In Pai Gow Poker, if you and the dealer each win with one of the 2 hands, the game ends as a “Push”. This means you didn’t win or lose any money. The amount of your original bet is returned to you.

Split: In Pai Gow Poker, the term “Split” refers to the action of breaking the 7 cards you’re dealt into 2 poker hands – a 5 card hand and a 2 card hand.

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