Pai Gow Poker. You’ve seen it in the casinos, or browsed by it online, and now you want to give it a try. Pai Gow looks and feels like poker, but play is much simpler and faster-moving – like blackjack.
Differences Between Pai Gow Poker and Other Poker Games
Pai Gow Poker is based on the Chinese domino game pai gow, using cards in place of dominoes. The game is played with a 53-card deck (the typical 52-card poker deck plus a joker). Pai Gow also has more betting opportunities, as it has many side bets that you don’t see in other poker games.
While to the uninitiated Pai Gow Poker may look more like a game of chance than other poker games, nothing could be further from the truth. You can win at Pai Gow, and our guide to Pai Gow strategies and tactics will help you.
Three Good Reasons to Play Pai Gow Poker
1. The odds in Pai Gow are close to dead even, making it the top game for players new to the online gaming world.
2. You can bet as little as $5 per play, which is much lower than the $25 minimum bet one will find at brick-and-mortar casinos.
3. The play is fast and fun, and the strategy and tactics are simple to master.
The Casino’s Advantage
The Pai Gow odds of beating the casino are high for a game of chance. Typically, you should win 25% of the time, lose 25% of the time, and get a push 50% of the time. To make the game profitable for the casino, they take 5% of anything you win. However, you can better your odds by playing the game strategically.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker
The rules of Pai Gow are simple to master.
1. Choose the amount you wish to bet and click the ‘Bet’ button. Like blackjack, you’re betting against the dealer.
2. Your bet moves to the center of the table. Click ‘Deal’ to get your hand.
3. You will be dealt seven face-up cards, and the dealer receives seven face-down cards.
4. Now you are required to split the hand into a two-card poker hand (called the “low hand,” or the “in front,” “minor,” or “small” hand) and a five-card poker hand (called the “high hand”, or the “behind”, “high”, or “big” hand).
5. Select the two cards you wish to split off into a two-card hand and click the split button.
a. Here’s the catch: the two-card hand can never be a better poker hand than the five-card hand, which is why it’s called the “low” hand.
6. Once you split your hand, the dealer’s hand will turn over and split into two hands as well, following the rules of the game.
7. If both your hands beat each of the dealer’s respective hands, you win and double your money. If both the dealer’s hands beat each of your hands, you lose your bet. If the dealer wins one hand and you the other, it’s a push game and your bet is returned to you.
What is the Pai Gow House Way?
Some top online Pai Gow casinos allow you to choose “House Way” to split your hand. The Pai Gow House Way consists of strict rules that the game always follows when splitting a Pai Gow hand.
If you split using the House Way, there is no tactical difference between you and the dealer. You’re now playing a game of pure chance. Given the house’s 5% cut of your winnings, over time you will lose money.
Why Is There a Joker in Pai Gow?
Pai Gow is played with a 53-card deck that uses all four suits plus a joker. The joker, however, is not your standard issue wild card. It is usually an ace UNLESS you can use it to complete a straight or a flush. In that case, it’s a wild card.
Basic Strategies of Pai Gow Poker
To best succeed in Pai Gow Poker, always remember that you win or lose based on the strength of your low hand.
Like regular poker, the five-card hand is just like any other poker hand. Unlike regular poker, however, your main objective is not to play the strongest five-card hand. Rather, goal is to play the strongest high AND low hand. Winning tactics in Pai Gow often involve sacrificing the strength of your high hand to win the deal.
Pai Gow Poker Hands
By definition, the low hand has only two possible poker hands: a pair or highest card. The highest-card hand is the most common hand, so optimally you try to split your hands to ensure you enter the game with a pair as your low hand.
If you must play a highest card low hand, play the two highest cards possible in your low hand. The reason you want to play both your highest cards is because, since multiple players often lay down the same high card, highest-card contests frequently are decided by the second card.
The only time this does not apply is when your ONLY hand is a high-card hand, as you will see below.
Winning Strategies for Splitting Pai Gow Poker Hands
When you’re dealt only a high-card hand, split the highest card into the high hand and the next two highest cards into the two-card hand.
Put the pair in your high hand and the two highest cards remaining in the low hand.
As a basic tactic, keep both pairs in the high hand if they’re both low pairs (2’s to 6’s) or medium pairs (7’s to 10’s), and play the low hand as a highest card hand.
If you have two high pairs (J’s to A’s) or a high pair and a medium pair, then split the pairs into both your high and low hands.
If you’re dealt three pairs, always put the highest pair in the two-card hand and keep the remaining two pairs in the high hand.
THREE OF A KIND
Play three of a kind in your five-card hand UNLESS you have three aces. In that case, split one of the aces to the low hand and play the remaining pair of aces in your high hand.
STRAIGHTS, FLUSHES, STRAIGHT FLUSHES, ROYAL FLUSHES
Straights and flushes offer you an opportunity to outplay the dealer.
Normally you should play all straights and flushes in your five-card hand. However, if you can make two high pairs out of the hand, then split the high pairs between the two hands.
If you have a six-card straight or flush, and you can make a pair out of the highest or lowest card or the straight or flush, play the pair in the low hand. Otherwise, split the highest card into your low hand, even if it’s part of the six-card straight or flush. Do NOT do this with a five-card straight or flush, of course.
Always split a full house so that you have three-of-a-kind in the high hand and a pair in the low hand.
If you have a full house with two pairs or you have two three-of-a-kinds, then put the highest pair you can in the low hand.
If you have a four-of-a-kind and a pair, play the pair in your low hand.
If you don’t have a pair and the four-of-a-kind is low, play the four-of-a-kind in the high hand and highest card in the low hand.
If you’re holding a medium or high pair, split the four-of-a-kind so that each hand has one pair. However, if you’re holding four aces, play one of the aces to the low hand and play the three-of-a-kind in the high hand.
If you’re holding FIVE aces (because you have the joker), then split them into a three-of-a-kind for the high hand and a pair of aces as a bullet-proof low hand.