Pai Gow Poker 101 – Beginners Guide to Pai Gow

As its name suggests, Pai gow poker is an offshoot of the Chinese game Pai gow. It’s played with a standard deck of playing cards rather than Chinese dominoes.

Most historical accounts credit a man named Sam Torosian with its invention. Torosian was the owner of the Bell Club, a struggling casino in Southern California. To save his club and appeal to the area’s increasingly Asian population, he devised a card-based variant of Pai gow.

The rest, as they say, is history. Pai gow poker is now played in nearly every casino in the U.S. It’s also offered by all of the top-shelf gambling websites, such as Bovada Casino and

The game is less popular than blackjack and craps. That’s partly due to the fact that fewer people know how to play it. If you’ve ever wanted to learn, you’re in the right place. The following tutorial will teach you everything you need to know to get started.

*editors note, Pai Gow is one of my favorite games to play at live casinos when I want to relax, have a good time and enjoy a few ‘free’ drinks. The house edge is low and you can play a long time with easy decisions (most dealers can even help you but it’s easy once you play a few hands).

Paigow Poker Guide

Play  Pai Gow Poker online. Free or real money available right now.

Play Pai Gow Poker online. Free or real money available right now.

  • how to play the game
  • the soundness of various betting systems
  • what it means to be the banker
  • answers to frequently asked questions
  • where to play Pai gow poker for free
  • the house’s edge
  • Pai gow poker odds
  • beginner’s Pai gow poker strategy
  • advanced tips for winning at Pai gow poker
  • whether side bets are worth the risk
  • common mistakes made by new players

Pai gow poker is simpler than it looks. If you know how to play 5-card draw, you’re already half way there.

Everything is centered around traditional poker hand rankings.

How To Play Pai Gow Poker – Game Rules

The game is played with a normal deck of cards, with the addition of a Joker. The Joker has three uses:

1. The Joker can be used to complete a straight

2. The Joker can be used to complete a flush

3. The Joker can be used as an Ace

The joker is not a ‘wild’ card that you can use for any card you want to make a pair (except aces).

How A Hand Works

I have three sixes in my big hand and Ace Jack in my small hand. I win both hands against the dealers respective hands so I win the bet.

I have three sixes in my big hand and Ace Jack in my small hand. I win both hands against the dealers respective hands so I win the bet.

Once you place a bet, you’re dealt seven cards. Your job is to split the cards into two distinct hands: a 5-card hand and a 2-card hand. The dealer also receives seven cards, which are likewise split.

To win, your two hands must beat the dealer’s two hands. If you beat one, but lose the other, it’s a push; you neither win nor lose your bet. Also important, the dealer wins all ties.

If you lose both hands, kiss your bet goodbye.

How do you know whether your hands beat the dealers’ hands? It’s simple if you’re familiar with the hand rankings used in traditional poker and 5-card draw. Here are the rankings in the descending order:

– Five Aces (four Aces and a Joker)

– Royal Flush

– Straight Flush

– Four of a kind

– Full House

– Flush

– Straight

– Three of a kind

– Two Pair

– One Pair

– High Card

It should be clear that only the last two items above (One Pair and High Card) apply to your 2-card hand.

To see how this works, let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

Pai Gow Poker Examples

Later, I’ll show you the best ways to split the seven cards you’re dealt. For now, let’s focus on being able to tell how your 5-card hands and 2-card hands rank against the dealer’s hands.

In the following examples, I’ll use the letters H, C, D and S to indicate hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades (respectively). For example, 5H denotes a five of hearts. KD denotes a King of diamonds.

Suppose you and the dealer face off with the following hands:

DEALER: 8S-8H-10C-7D-2H and Joker-KH

YOU: AH-QC-5H-3C-2S and JH-9D

In this example, you lose both hands. Both of the dealer’s hands beat your hands according to the rankings listed above.

That was an easy one. Here’s a more difficult example:

DEALER: AH-Joker-8S-6H-4S and QH-JH

YOU: QC-QD-9D-5D-3C and QS-JS

In this example, you would lose. The dealer’s Joker functions as an Ace, giving him a pair that outranks your pair of Queens. You might assume it’s a push since your 2-card hand ties the dealer’s 2-card hand. But remember, the dealer wins all ties.

How about the following hand?


YOU: 9C-9S-10C-7C-5S and Joker-KS

Here, you would win. Your pair of nines beats the dealer’s pair of sevens. Additionally, your Joker functions as an Ace, giving you an Ace-King to the dealer’s Ace-Queen.

Nicely done!

Pai Gow Poker Betting Systems

If there’s one thing gamblers love, it’s their betting systems. The idea is that systematizing their bets, both the amounts wagered and their timing, can improve their odds of making a profit over the long run.

In reality, betting systems do no such thing. As with every casino game, the house has an edge in Pai gow poker. For every hand dealt, there is a greater chance the dealer will win than the player.

Bottom line: betting systems don’t work.

Having said that, it’s worth mentioning a few systems that are commonly used in Pai gow poker. Here’s a brief rundown:

The Martingale System – here, you double your bet after every loss. Doing so ensures you come out ahead by $1 when you finally win. The problem is, a prolonged losing streak can decimate your bankroll.

The D’Alembert System – it’s similar to the Martindale system, the D’Alembert instructs you to increase your bet by $1 after a loss and decrease your bet by $1 after a win. It’s normally used by roulette players, but has migrated to other casino games, including Pai gow poker. With this system, you have to win a significant percentage of bets to make it worthwhile. The house’s edge makes that difficult.

The Paroli System – this is the opposite of the Martindale system. Here, you double your bet when you win rather than lose. The idea is that doing so allows you to leverage your winning streaks while reducing the impact of your losses. This betting scheme sounds solid, but it won’t overcome the house’s edge. However, it can be useful with respect to bankroll management since it prevents you from chasing your losses.

What Does It Mean To “Be The Banker?”

In land-based casinos, you can request to be the banker. As the banker, you’re responsible for paying out winners from your own pocket. But you get to collect other players’ lost bets. The upside is that you win all ties, which gives you a slight edge over everyone else.

Mathematically, being the banker gives you the best odds in the game.

The above is all but irrelevant when you play Pai gow poker online. You don’t have the option of being the banker. But this feature is worth mentioning in the event you play the game at a local casino.

Answers To Common Pai Gow Poker Questions

Because so many people are unfamiliar with Pai gow poker, there are a lot of questions asked about it. Below, I’ll answer the most common ones.

“Is the game difficult to learn?”

No. In fact, Pai gow poker is one of the simplest casino games to learn. All you have to know is how hands are ranked. Chances are, you’re already familiar with traditional hand rankings.

“Do I need a large bankroll to play Pai gow poker online?”

No. Minimum bets are $1 and you control the pace of the game. Also keep in mind, many hands will be pushes; you won’t lose money on those hands.

If you stick to a smart splitting strategy, a relatively small bankroll can last a long time.

“What is the commission on Pai gow poker?”

Think of the commission as the gambling website’s rake. It’s levied against your winnings.

For example, Bovada Casino and both charge a 10% commission. If you bet $10 and win, you’ll receive your original $10 back. You’ll also receive $9.50, which represents your even-money winnings less the casino’s 10% commission ($0.50).

“How does Pai gow poker stack up to other casino games in terms of the house’s edge?”

The house edge is relatively low. It’s higher than blackjack and craps, but lower than roulette, Three-Card poker, Let It Ride and most slots. You can find out more in depth look at which is a site focused only on the game.

“Should I play Pai gow poker online or at a land-based casino?”

That’s depends on you. Personally, I like to play online because it’s convenient. I can also control the pace of the game while making rock-bottom minimum bets ($1 per hand). Plus, if I’m not in the mood to risk real money, I can always play the game for free.

Where To Play Pai Gow Poker For Free

There are a lot of online casinos that will let you play Pai gow poker without putting your own cash at risk. The best I’ve found are Bovada and, two of my top rated online casinos.

Neither casino forces you to register before test driving their games. All you have to do is visit and launch Pai gow poker in a “practice” environment. You’ll receive $1,000 in practice money to use while you learn how to play.

Eventually, you’ll want to register and deposit money into your account. That’s the only way you can win real cash at Pai gow poker. But until you reach that point, you can enjoy playing the game for free.

Coming up, we’ll talk about Pai gow poker odds along with how to maximize your chances of winning and how to avoid costly mistakes.

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