Pai Gow Poker – Learn how to play


When you step into any casino, selecting which game to play from the innumerable games available is a daunting task. This is experienced with many gamblers who frequent such places. Fortunately, you can find an ideal game from the plethora of games you can play in the casino and while at it, enjoy and have fun with your opponents. A game like Pai Gow Poker is one of the most overwhelmingly beneficial low-house edge that you can choose as you can never go wrong with the right tactics. From a distance, the game seems quite difficult and left for the gurus to tackle. This is not the case when you have the right information about the game. Once you learn it, there is no going back. You will immediately make it your daily fun game at the casino.


We have conducted conclusive research about the pai gow poker game and we are covering it in this guide. You will find out that you don’t need to visit the casinos to play this game, it is readily available in the brick-and-mortar as well as in online casinos. Many will discourage you by saying how difficult the game is, but you shouldn’t take heed of their words. This game is not only fun to play, but also easy to learn and enjoy with your buddies. You will also find out that it is a game that provides rich chances to hit big and pays quite handsomely. Read on to find more about it in this article.



What is Pai Gow Poker?

Without asking, you can tell that Pai Gow has a Chinese meaning or originates from that culture. If that was to be your wild guess, then you are absolutely correct and on the right track. Pai Gow poker is indeed a Chinese game of gambling that is mainly played in the major casinos all over the China like Macau. Surprisingly, the game is not only for the Chinese, but it is also played in the USA in states like Boston, Las Vegas, Massachusetts, Nevada, Connecticut, Reno, Atlantic City, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and more. Also, Canadians play the game in areas including Alberta, Edmonton, and Calgary. The popularity of this game also expands to Australia as well as New Zealand. Therefore, this is not new in most states mentioned above.


There is a lot of confusion in the gambling world when you bring about the topic Pai Gow and Pai Gow Poker. The two are not the same although what separates them is the last word, Poker. Pai Gow is a game that you play with Chinese dominoes. This is different from Pai Gow Poker that is in the place of the Chinese dominoes, you play with playing cards. As you can see that there is no much difference between the two just that Pai Gow was created first then Pai Gow Poker. Pai Gow poker was inspired by pai gow and that is how it came to be so similar.


Pai Gow poker is popular for a slow rate of play and plenty of pushes which results in the low-risk game. It is a game of skill that most hands play. This doesn’t make it extremely difficult as most see it. Learning the game’s proper strategy is easy. Since each player plays against the same dealer hand, it, in turn, causes the table to win and lose together for the whole time fun and enjoyment.


Invention of Pai Gow Poker

Pai gow poker was invented by an American. Sam Torosian is the inventor of this famous game which began in the United States in 1985. Torosian, together with Fred Wolf thought it is wise to have the game played with more people other than the Chinese. It is said that most people don’t know who Sam Torosian is. He was then the owner of Bell Card Club. In 1985 while he was creating the game, he sat at history’s card table and changed the course of California gaming. He then walked away in absolute anonymity leaving his revolutionary game behind.


Who is the inventor of Pai Gow poker, Sam Torosian?

Torosian is a son born to the Armenian immigrants who owned the Bell Card Club casino. His casino was struggling, and he tried to save. That is when the idea of pai gow poker came into his mind. He placed a bet to blend the ancient Asian game, pai gow with the now popular pai gow poker and he won. The game’s popularity kept rising and crossing over to other cultures and around the globe. His dreams of fortune were realized in the game’s success and acceptance. However, there was one thing that Sam Torosian didn’t do; he did not patent the game. This was after he was misled by an attorney who claimed that such a game centered on a 52-card deck is not to be patented. After some time, he found out that it was supposed to be patented.


Over the years, Torosian saw pai gow poker variations among other card games receive patents and this really broke him. He incurred plenty of debts and even aroused disputes between partners. This led him to close his club. Anyone who invents something especially a card game should be earning royalties depending on the number of casino tables that offer the games. Had he patented pai gow poker, he would be receiving approximately $70,000 per month. According to poker experts, he would have close to $100 million as his fortune.


Before reaching the point where he created the game, Torosian was on the verge of giving up when he saw many empty tables in his casino. One Friday night, Torosian decided to launch pai gow poker when sitting at two tables. Surprisingly, the next Friday, gamblers occupied over 30 tables at his casino. He was equally surprised and mesmerized by the turn out in his club. In an interview he sat back in 2002, Torosian said that the game had quickly caught fire which made him a happy man. He squeezed the tables closer and lined them up in hallways some closer to bathrooms and entrances.


When other gamblers got word of the new game in town, they drove all the way to Torosian’s club. Hardie introduced the game to the Bicycle Club and suddenly it became one of the largest and most played card games in the world. That is how pai gow poker became popular and remained at the top. Torosian and Fred Wolf worked together to keep the industry afloat during the time the club was going through tough times. The game helped in financing huge expansions of the club. After the fall of his club, Torosian remained low-key and seldom visited the casinos. He preferred to play in his home with his family.



How do you play?

Pai gow poker is not like other card games. This type of game is played against the dealer. The game involves as many as seven players sitting at the table playing at once. It involves playing with a standard 52-card deck with one joker. The object of the game is picking seven cards and turn them into the two hands that can seemingly beat the dealer. There are, of course, rules and restrictions on how you make your hand, and this will be discussed as you read on. You start the game once you place your bet. In some of the games you are only allowed to make one bet as no additional side bets are permitted. However, others permit more than one. When everyone finishes placing their bets, the cards will be shuffled and distributed. Each player gets seven cards facing down.


During live games, the betting spots are allocated numbers from one to seven. This happens by electronic means or using a dice. What’s more, this will determine where the action commences. The action continues from the point of start anticlockwise around the table. In the case that no one is in position, the hand will still be assigned and the cards castoff. This is normally not the case with many casinos. Some casinos deal the hand to the empty spot. It is called a dragon hand. Once every player plays their turns, the dealer asks who is interested in betting on the dragon hand.


Anyone who accepts the bet first manages to get it. They bet even to their original stake just like playing two separate hands. The instructions of the game may vary from casino to the other, but the dragon hands are set following the rules of the house. This is mainly because the one playing already saw their cards. Once the player knows the cards, they have an upper hand with the knowledge to use in setting the dragon hand. But this only depends on where you play. In most casinos, however, you only get to play one hand and the option is unlikely to be in the online games.


Each player gets a seven-card hand that they split into two, one for five cards and the other for two. The deck in pai gow poker features a single joker unlike other forms of poker where there are two. The ranking on the five-card hand should exceed one of the two-card hand. If you happen to mess up and have the two-card hand outrank the five-card hand, then you outright lose your bet. This is called fouling your hand. So, be careful. Here, the two-hand is referred to as either the in front, on top, small, hair, minor or low. The five-card hand, on the other hand, is the behind, high, big, or bottom.


The hands have an equal value similar to that of the traditional poker. There is an exception nonetheless that is in some casinos; Ace-2-3-4-5 (wheel) is the second-highest straight or in other words straight flush whereas five aces become the highest hand in the game. This rule has so far been dropped in most casinos, but a small number still holds on to it. Be sure to confirm this with your local house rules.


Regarding the two-card hand, any kind of pair beats two unmatched cards. This means that there are no other combinations possible. The joker here can be used as a substitute for a card in three ways. For starters, it can be used to complete a straight, flush or royal flush. If it is not used in the ways mentioned above, then the joker becomes an ace, always. The two-card hand always has an ace. There is no bluffing in Pai Gow Poker like you would in other forms of poker.


Playing Pai Gow Poker step by step

  • Before dealing the cards, every player has to place their bet.
  • Seven cards are distributed all of them facing down to each player.
  • The players will then reshuffle their cards into two hands that is one hand with five and the other with five. Here, the hand with the five-card is usually stronger than the two-card hand.
  • Players will then place their hands facing down so that the dealer reveals his cards. The dealer will similarly place their cards as the players (into the same two hands). The rules state that the dealer should set their hands according to how the house sets. This differs from casino to casino because not all casinos have similar house rules.
  • This is towards the end when the player’s cards are revealed and compared with each card of the other players and the dealer. Here, they use normal poker rankings since some casinos take A2345 to be the second-highest straight. You should be notified of this before you begin playing.
  • If a player happens to win both hands, then the dealer pays up the amount the player placed while betting.
  • But if the player wins one hand and the dealer the other, then no one gets paid. This is called a push.
  • If it happens that the dealer wins both hands, he takes the money the player placed as bet.
  • When one of the hands is tied, the win goes to the dealer. The dealer will also receive victory when all the hands are tied.
  • When one hand ties but the player has won the other, then this is deliberated to be a push as well.
  • This is towards the end of the first round and it is when the bets are collected.
  • The cards are then rearranged and new bets placed ready for the next round.

When you follow these steps while playing pai gow poker, you are on your way to making it your favorite game.


Banking and Co-banking

Ever wanted to have the opportunity to minimize the house edge while playing pai gow poker? Well, this is possible in some of the live games you see. This happens because of the option of banking or co-banking in this game. However, this might not be exciting to most players and they mostly pass on it when offered. What they don’t know is that they are missing out on a great chance to reduce the house edge.


For banking, you require a large bankroll that will pay out players who defeat your hand. Luckily for sole bankers, they can set their hands however they prefer and not influenced by the dealer or the house. However, since like 41.48% of hands get a tie, you will not be needing a large bankroll. By doing that, the house edge is cut close to half.


Co-banking is yet another option while playing live. Here, you are required to split the winnings and losses in half with the casino. This is mainly applicable when you have a smaller bankroll. You can work with that to make such dealings. However, if you decide to co-bank, it means that you are required to set your cards according to the house way. You will have to share your winnings and losses with the house, which is a good thing so as not to lose much. Whichever you choose, just know that banking will greatly reduce the house edge, leaving you a happy player.


The Strategy

As discussed earlier, there is an option while playing live pai gow poker games. Since it is a low-edge game and close to 42% of hands are pushes, it has a house edge of 2.84% between the low-edge game and the slow rate of play. You can easily minimize this edge when you select the banking option. What can reduce it even further is when you follow the optimal strategy set the house way. Since the players look the other way when they hear of banking, then there are strategical tips set aside for you to use when playing. Below are some of the tips on how to play specific hands.


Before starting with the tips, you have to take precautions and have the basic knowledge to become a better player.

  • Never divide single pairs. Just keep them in your behind hand.
  • Split two sets and have the strongest pair in your big hand.
  • For three pairs, always keep the weaker set in your bigger hand and place the stronger pair in your small hand.
  • If you happen to get a three-of-a-kind, place it together with your five-card hand. The only time this isn’t applicable is when you have three aces. In this case, you split it up and place one ace in your small hand.
  • If you get two three-of-a-kind hands, divide the one holding a high rank and place the set in your small hand.


Now here is the strategy to follow for specific hand

  • For straights and flushes:

Always have your straights and flushes together. The only time this doesn’t apply is when you are dealt with two pair or three of a kind. When you do this, you are required to split the straights and flushes to make a strong front hand.


If you happen to have two pair, you can use the advice just above this section. You can split the pair and put the weaker set in your low hand.


For a three of a kind set, split it and ensure you keep the straight and flush as close as possible when moving it to the low hand.


  • For four of a kinds

If you happen to get 7s through aces, you are required to divide them. Place a pair in your front hand unless the set includes an ace or king. You can then put your quads together while setting the ace or king in your small hand.


If you get quad 2s through 6s, make sure they are always together.


Once you follow this strategy, then there is nothing that can stop you in your game. However, there are other ways to learn pai gow poker strategy and it includes using a game-specific calculator. The calculators provide advice on how to split your hand in for a stronger win but this will only depend on how the house way is.


Another strategy also depends on the player. You can acquire the advantage of using clues, or dealer errors, among others to know the cards that the dealer has. This is often referred to as hole carding or edge sorting. This way, you can use the knowledge to sort your hand in the best way possible for a perfect win. However, if you happen to use these tricks in some casinos, they consider it full-blown cheating which is strictly forbidden. You will have to take full responsibility in facing the consequences of your actions. Therefore, you are urged to stay vigilant and be careful not to be caught using the casino’s errors to play pai gow poker games.


With a pai gow poker strategy, you can greatly improve your odds. Even when casinos have their house way of arranging the card, there are simple rules you follow to improve on your odds. Most of the rules are simply logical and quite easy to remember.


Pai Gow poker rules “House way”

Rules are everywhere whether they are stated or not. This is also seen in all casinos. The casinos set rules for each game so as players and dealers don’t come up with their own rules which always ends up in a bad way. Therefore, the rules are there to be followed to the latter. In this game, the dealer is the one to set specific ways to run the pai gow hand. This is commonly referred to as the ‘House Way’. The rules differ when you visit different casinos. That is why they list them in every guide of the casino you’ve visited. You are required to always check what the house way is in your local casino and act accordingly.



Most casinos have realized that it is a good game that is why they are largely adopting its variants. These are described by side bets that are said to increase the winnings of a player. The side bets don’t add or reduce from the bet placed on the hand itself. Here, the player bets extra on whether he or she gets a three-of-a-kind, straight flush full house or a royal flush. The bonuses depend on the value of the hand. If the hand is high, then the bonus payout is also high. Here are some of the pai gow poker variants that you won’t fail to come across.

  • Pai Gow Mania: This provides two side bets depending on your first three cards, followed by all seven of your cards.
  • Fortune Pai Gow: This is a popular variant that you will find out there. It lets the players make a side bet on trips or even better.
  • Emperor’s Challenge: Here, there is no hand. It enables players to make a side bet on a seven-card pai gow.
  • Progressive Fortune Pai Gow: Lets the players place side bets using a joint seven-card straight flush which results in winning the jackpot.
  • Commission-free: Some of the games in various casinos including the Washington State casinos don’t charge their 5% commission when the banker wins. In this case, their profits come from the banker’s advantage or side bets. The banker will receive a 1.30% advantage. In other words, the one playing against the banker gets a 1.30% disadvantage.
  • Queen’s Dragon: This only pays if the dealer has an exact queen high pai gow hand.


Pai Gow Poker is a great game once you learn the basics and follow the rules set by each casino. Though it is like three decades old, the game has grown on so many gamblers all over the world. Most people think that the game is quite difficult, but you should know that it is one of the easiest forms of poker available. Besides the game, there are different variations and side bets that can add to your victory. This is, without a doubt, the best game you can ever play and won’t regret.