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Pai Gow: The Ultimate Guide

Here at Live Casino Man, we bring you everything you need to know about how to play Pai Gow poker.

Pai Gow Poker, sometimes called Double Hand Poker, is essentially a card version of the traditional Pai Gow domino game.

Whilst this is a popular and fun game, if you’re not used to it, then it can be challenging to get to grips with at first. But fear not. Here at Live Casino Man, we bring you everything you need to know about how to play Pai Gow poker, how it works – and the best sites for playing Pai Gow.

The Best Pai Gow Poker Sites

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How to Play Pai Gow

Pai Gow Poker is played with a standard deck of 52 cards and one joker. A maximum of six players – along with the dealer, can be seated at the table at any one time.

The objective is straightforward: you need to beat the dealer.

To do so, you’ll need to create two poker hands with the seven dealt cards:

  1. A five-card “high” hand (known as the backhand/big hand).
  2. A two-card “low” hand (known as the front hand/small hand).

The high hand must be better than the low hand; for example, if your low hand is a pair of tens, the high hand will need to be stronger than a pair of tens.

After the hands are all set, the dealer will reveal them – along with the banker’s hands. There are then three possible outcomes:

  1. The player wins both hands – winning your bet.
  2. The dealer wins both hands – losing your bet.
  3. The player wins one of the hands, and the dealer wins the other – resulting in a push where no money changes hands except for the commission, which we will look at shortly.

Ties go in favour of the dealer in Pai Gow Poker. So, if both the player and the dealer have a hand of 9 and 10, the dealer wins.

The Deal

Dealers don’t deal Pai Gow Poker in the standard way. Following the shuffle, the dealer will arrange the cards into seven face-down piles, each comprising seven cards—one for every player and the dealer. There are then four additional unused cards, which will be placed in the discard pile or muck.

Seating is numbered from one to seven, starting with the banker. A random number will determine who will receive their cards first – and then the dealer will distribute them in a counter-clockwise direction.

Creating Your Pow Gai Poker Hand

In the two-card hand, only pairs and high cards are allowed. However, the five-card hand follows standard poker hand rankings. You also need to make sure that your five-card hand is better than your two-card hand.

The joker is only there to complete a flush or straight. If this isn’t possible, the joker will default to being an ace. (While some casinos may have differing rules for the joker, this is the most widespread practice.)

If you aren’t able to form a pair or a high hand—for instance, you are dealt with a hand like J-10-8-6-5-4-2, this would be called a pai gow or a non-hand.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

Pai Gow Poker adheres to the standard hand rankings found in most poker games, including Texas hold’em. The only difference is the inclusion of the joker in the deck.

In Pai Gow Poker, the joker is treated as an ace – unless it contributes to completing a flush or straight.

The hand rankings mirror those of Texas hold’em, with two exceptions:

  1. Five aces (only achievable with a joker) is better than a royal flush – and is the best hand possible.
  2. A Wheel straight (e.g., A 2 3 4 5) is the second-best straight, only behind a Broadway straight (e.g., A K Q J 10).

Let’s take a look at all the various Pai Gow Poker hand rankings. Note that in the two-card low hand, the best hand you can possibly get is one pair.

In the event of a tie between the player and the banker, the rank of the tied hand will determine the outcome. For instance, a player’s 10 9 8 7 6 straight would beat the banker’s hand of 7 6 5 4 3 2, while a player’s pair of 9s would beat a dealer’s pair of 6s.

With that said, here are the hand rankings from high to low:

  • Five Aces: four aces and a joker.
  • Royal Flush: five cards all of the same suit, ranked ace to ten
  • Straight Flush: five cards all of the same suit, consecutively ranked (e.g., 5 6 7 8 9)
  • Four of a Kind: four cards all of the same rank, e.g. 4 Jacks
  • Full House: three cards all of the same rank and two more cards with the same rank, e.g. three 6s and two 3s.
  • Flush: any five cards of the same suit, e.g. A, 3, 6, 9 and J of spades
  • Straight: any five cards consecutively ranked, e.g 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 of various suits
  • Three of a Kind: three cards of the same rank, e.g. three 8s
  • Two Pair: two cards all with the same rank plus two more cards of the same rank, e.g. two 4s and 2-two 10s
  • One Pair: two cards of the same rank, e.g. two 8s
  • High Card: five unmatched cards A, J, 8, 4 and 2 – is an ‘Ace High’ hand.

The Pai Gow Showdown

After everyone has set their hands in Pai Gow Poker, players need to position the two-card hand in front and the five-card hand at the back. As such, the five-card hand is commonly termed the “bottom,” “high,” “behind,” or “big” hand, while the two-card hand is often called the “on top,” “small,” “minor,” “in front,” or “low.”

If a hand is improperly arranged, for instance, the two-card hand outranks the five-card hand, this will result in a foul hand. This will either lead to the resetting of the hand following house rules or forfeiting, depending on the casino’s policies.

When the casino or dealer acts as the banker, the cards will need to adhere to house rules for arrangement. Conversely, if a player assumes the role of the banker for a particular hand, they are able to set their hand as they see fit.

Pai Gow Commission

In most cases, the casino will take a commission out of the player’s winnings—typically 5%. Other casinos charge a flat fee per hand depending on the amount bet.

Side Bets

Casinos are starting to introduce variants of Pai Gow Poker that offer side bets – offering players the chance for even bigger winnings. These side bets are independent of your main hand bet and involve placing an additional wager.

You can bet extra on a variety of factors – such as achieving three-of-a-kind, a full house, four-of-a-kind, a straight flush, or a royal flush. The bonus payout increases with the strength of the hand.

Popular variants include:

  • Fortune Pai Gow: Allows a side bet on trips or better.
  • Pai Gow Mania: Allows players to place two side bets.
  • Emperor’s Challenge: Players can place a side bet on a pai gow.
  • Progressive Fortune Pai Gow: Enables side bets – along with a seven-card straight flush winning the jackpot.

Some casinos also offer envy bonuses, where you can bet on another player having one of the top-rated hands.

Side bets are generally a lot harder to win – so caution is advised.


Success in Pai Gow Poker depends heavily on the seven cards you have been dealt since, unlike other poker variants there are no betting rounds. While setting your hand does require skill to improve your chances of beating the dealer, you will often be dealt with hands that come with multiple possible configurations, each with different outcomes.

For instance, if you are dealt Q, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 8, you can set your hand in various ways:

  1. Q, 8 and Q, J, 10, 9, 8 (mediocre small hand, very strong big hand)
  2. J, 10 and Q, Q, 8, 8, 9 (mediocre small hand, strong big hand)
  3. 8, 8 and Q, Q, J, 10, 19 (strong small hand, fairly strong big hand)

Going for the top option would probably lead to a push – while the most profitable would be the bottom option, giving you a decent chance of winning both hands.

Pai Gow Poker FAQ

  • What is Pai Gow Poker?

    Pai Gow Poker is a popular card game that combines elements of traditional Chinese Pai Gow and classic poker.

  • How is Pai Gow Poker played?

    Players receive seven cards to create a two-card and a five-card hand, both aiming to beat the dealer’s hands.

  • What’s Special about Pai Gow Poker?

    The inclusion of a joker and the absence of betting rounds make it stand out from other variations of poker.

  • Can I Use the Joker in Pai Gow Poker?

    Yes, the joker can be used as an ace or to complete a flush/straight.

  • What Happens If I Set My Hands Incorrectly?

    In this instance, a fouled hand will occur – and it will either be reset by house rules or forfeited.

  • Are There Different Variations of Pai Gow Poker?

    Yes, there are a variety of Pai Gow Poker games that offer side bets, such as Fortune Pai Gow and Emperor’s Challenge.

  • Is There a Commission Charged in Pai Gow Poker?

    Yes, Casinos usually take a 5% commission on winnings or charge a flat fee per hand.

  • Are Pai Gow Side Bets a Good Option?

    Not really – they are harder to win and have a higher house edge, so you should proceed with caution – unless you are happy to take additional risks.

  • Can the Dealer Help Me With Hand Arrangement?

    Yes, most casinos will allow dealers to help you if you’re unsure about hand setting.