Guide to Pai Gow Poker

Guide to Pai Gow Poker

It looks like a game of poker. It feels like a game of poker. But there are some very big and very cool differences.

Pai Gow Poker is a game that takes all the thrills and risks of poker and ups the ante, and it’s a game that is growing in popularity with international online gamblers. Lovers of games of chance are, by their very nature, always keen to try something new or different and, for those players who enjoy the cut and thrust of a good poker game, pai gow poker adds a little bit extra to the thinking man’s card game.

Take a look at our Guide to Pai Gow Poker, visit one of our trusted online casinos and try your hand at the game pf poker with a difference.

The original pai gow is a Chinese gambling game played with Chinese dominoes. In 1985, Sam Torosian – owner of the Bell Card Club – created a card-based version of the game and incorporated poker elements to create pai gow poker, a game that elevated the skills needed for normal poker to a new level.

Pai gow poker is played with a standard deck of 52 cards plus one Joker. Live pai gow poker is played on a table with 6 players and 1 dealer. The object of the game is for each player to beat the banker (the dealer in a casino or a designated player).

Video pai gow poker is just the player versus the dealer.

Each player and the dealer uses 7 cards to create 2 poker hands – one a 5-card hand and one a 2-card hand – and pits these hands against the dealer. Both hands must beat the dealer in order to win. If one hand wins and one loses, the result is a push. If both hands lose, the dealer is the winner.

The cards are shuffled and dealt to the players. Each player receives 7 cards, face down. In a casino setting, the dealer will deal out all 7 hands (6 players plus the dealer hand) even if there are empty seats – some American casinos even have a special play called a ‘dragon hand’ that any player can choose to take up wherein they place an extra bet and then get to play the open hand as well as their own.

The remaining 4 cards are set aside.

Each player then makes two hands from their 7 cards – one hand of 5 cards (the back hand, also called the big hand or the high hand) and one hand of 2 cards (the front hand, also called the small hand or low hand).

The 5-card hand must be the player’s strongest hand.

Once they have selected their hands, they play off against the dealer’s hands using poker rules.

The most challenging aspect of pai gow poker is choosing which cards to use for which hand. Remember, the player must win both hands to take the prize.

Pai gow poker uses one single Joker in the deck. This card can be used to complete either a flush or a straight ONLY. In any other combination (e.g. full house or four of a kind, it is ALWAYS an Ace).

Obviously, this is when the Joker is used in the back hand. In the front hand it is always an Ace.

Results are dependent on poker rules. Winning back hands, in order from lowest to highest, are:

High card

One Pair

Two Pair

Three of a kind



Full house

Four of a kind

Straight flush

Royal flush

The front hand, being only two cards, is scored as follows from lowest to highest

High card

One pair

If both the player’s hands beat both the dealer’s hands, the player wins (1:1 payout).

If only one of the player’s hands (either the back hand OR the front hand) beats the dealer’s hands, it’s a push (tie, so no one loses money).

If both the player’s hands are worse than the dealer’s hands, the player loses.

Note: if the player and the dealer have hands of equal value, the player loses.

As with any game of chance, strategies are in place to make your playing better, not to guarantee wins.

Pai gow poker follows the same strategies as ordinary poker, but the addition of the front hand makes your decisions a lot more difficult. For example, if you have four of a kind plus three low ranking cards, do you play your back hand with the four of a kind (almost guaranteeing you win the back hand) but then leave the low value cards to possibly be beaten on the front hand? Or do you split your four of kind to have at least one pair in each hand? Then you are more than likely to have a strong front hand but a weaker back hand?

A hand with no pairs at minimum (completely unconnected set of 7 cards)

  • Leave the highest-ranked card in the back hand
  • Place the two next highest-ranked cards in the front hand

One pair in your set of 7 cards

  • Play the pair in your back hand
  • Place the two next highest-ranked cards in the front hand

Other hands

  • Always split two high pairs (one in back hand, one in front hand)
  • Always play a three of a kind in your back hand
  • Split four of a kind into two pairs if they are Jacks or higher.
  • Keep lower four of a kinds together in your back hand
  • Always split a full house (three of a kind in your back hand, pair in your front hand)

Pai gow poker is quite a complex game that takes a lot more thought than other casino games. With the win/lose/push aspect taken into account, you can play pai gow poker for absolute ages without losing (or winning) huge cash in the process. It makes for a game that is a little slower than the usual fast-paced casino fare but also a game that is incredibly challenging. It’s like the chess of the casino world. Getting a win in pai gow poker, beating the dealer with not one but BOTH your hands, is a feeling that is quite extraordinary. We all love to win and getting to win twice is, well, twice as nice!

If you’re a poker fan, then this is a game you really should try out. There are a number of international online casinos that offer both video and Live Dealer pai gow poker games, so take a look at our casino reviews to see which international online casino we recommend for great pai gow poker play.