How to Play Pai Gow Poker and How to Win the Game

Pai Gow poker (also known as Double Hand Poker) is a variant of Pai Gow that uses cards to replace Chinese dominoes. Although it is a fun game, understanding Pai Gow poker basics can be difficult at first. We’ll take a look.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker uses a standard deck consisting of 52 cards and one joker. The dealer and six players can sit at the table together.

The objective of the game is to beat the banker. A dealer, another player at a table, or a player-dealer team can all be considered the banker.

To do this, you must make two hands using the seven cards:

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

Your high hand must beat your low hand. If your low hand is a pair of fives, your high hand should be greater than a pair of fives.

Once you have set your hands, the dealer will reveal them to you along with the banker. There are three possible outcomes.

  • The player wins both hands and wins the bet.
  • The dealer wins both hands, and the player loses his bet.
  • The dealer wins one hand, the player wins the other. In this case, the hand is a push. No money exchanges hands except for the commission.

Pai Gow ties go to the dealer. If you and the dealer have a low hand (A-K), the dealer will win that hand.

Dealing with the game

Pai Gow offers a unique deal method. After the cards have been shuffled, the dealer places them in seven face-down piles. Each player gets one card and the dealer gets four.

Fun fact: Before card shufflers were invented, the dealer dealt cards into piles and shaped them like a dragon with a head and body.

Each seat is numbered from 1 to 7, beginning with the banker. Randomly, a number is chosen to determine who gets the cards first. The dealer then gives out the cards in a clockwise direction.

Setting up your Pai Gow hand

It is not possible to make high cards or pairs with a two-card hand. Standard poker hand rankings are used for the five-card hand. The five-card hand must outrank any two-card hand.

If the two-card hand has a pair of aces and the five-card hand has five cards, it must be better than the two-pair.

The joker cannot be used to make a straight or flush. If either of these scenarios applies, it must be an Ace. Major casinos have different rules about it, but this one is the most common.

A player can’t make a pair with their cards, such as Q-9-7-6-5-3-3-2. This is known as a pai-gow or non-hand.

Basic Pai Gow Strategy

Splitting your hand is a common strategy. This will give you the strongest two-card hand possible.

You can’t lose money if one of your player hands is stronger than the dealer’s, so it’s common to split your hand in a way that gives you the strongest two-card hand possible (without ranking your five-card hand).

This strategy can be used if you have a strong five-card hand, such as a straight or higher. Your five-card hand will almost always be a winner, allowing you to freeroll with any two cards you choose.

The most common method for playing hands with no pairs, i.e., a completely unconnected set of 7 cards, is to:

  • Have the highest-ranked card left in the back (big) of your hand.
  • Place the second and third highest-ranking cards in your front (small) hand.

This makes your front hand strong without compromising the strength of your back hand.

If you only have one pair of cards in your hand:

  • Play the pair with your big (higher) hand.
  • Your low hand is your best chance to play your highest two cards.

Always split two pairs if you are dealt with them.

  • A pair of Aces
  • Two high pairs (JJAA)
  • One high pair (JJAA) and one middle (77-TT).

If you don’t have an Ace in your hands, you should also split:

  • Two medium (77-TT) pairs.
  • One pair (JJ-AA) and a single low (22-66).

You should never split unless you have an Ace or King.

  • One pair medium (77-TT) and one pair low (22-66).
  • Two low (22-66), pairs


  • If you have three Aces, play 3-of-a-Kind with your High hand. If you have three aces, play a pair with your high hand and an Ace-high with your low hand.
  • If you have two pairs, play straights and flushes with your high hand. Split them according to the above rules for two-pair hands.
  • Split quads (4-of a-kind) into 2 pairs if they’re JJ or higher.
  • Keep 4-of-a kind 6s or less together.
  • Only keep 4-of-a kind (77-TT) together if you also own an Ace.

If you have a full house:

  • If you don’t have a second pair, always play the pair in your 2-card hand.
  • If so, you should play the higher pair in your low hand.

If you have five Aces, including Joker:

  • Split them unless you have a pair of Kings. In which case, play all five Aces in the high hand.

Pai Gow Showdown

After players have placed their hands, they place the five-card and two-card hands in front and back. The five-card hand is sometimes referred to as “bottom,” the “high,” or the “big” hand, while the two-card hand can be called “on top,” small,” “minor,” or “in front.”

If a hand is not set correctly, such as the two-hand hand having more cards than the five-card hand, the hand will be fouled. The hand will either be reset according to the house way or forfeited depending on the casino.

If the dealer/casino is the banker, the cards must be set by the house rules. If a player is the banker, they must set their hand according to house rules. If a player is co-banking with the dealer, they must set their hand according to the rules.


The casino usually takes a commission from the player’s winnings, typically 5%. Other casinos charge a flat fee for each hand, depending on the amount of money bet.

Pai Gow side bets

Pai Gow variants are becoming more popular in casinos. These side bets can help increase a player’s winnings and they do not add or subtract from the hand’s bet.

Instead, the player bets extra on whether they get three of a kind, a full-house, four-of a kind, straight flush, or a royal flush. The bonus payout is dependent on the hand’s value.

The following are the most popular and well-known:

  • Fortune Pai Gow – Allows players to place side bets for trips or better.

  • Pai Gow Mania – Allows players to place side bets.

  • Emperor’s Challenge – This allows players to place side wagers on a pai gow.

  • Progressive Fortune Pai Gow – Allows players to place side bets with a combined seven-card straight flush winning the Jackpot.

Envy bonuses are also available at some casinos. These bonuses allow players to wager a certain amount that another player at a table will hit with a premium hand.

Pai Gow side bets, like all casino bets, have a negative expectation. It is much more negative than the Pai Gow game. If you don’t feel like gambling, you should avoid it.

How to Find a Winning Pai-Gow Hand

After all hands have been set, you will need to compare your hands with the dealer’s.

  • You win 1:1 if both your hands are better than the dealer’s hands.
  • It’s a push if only one of your hands is stronger than the dealer’s.
  • If you are worse than the dealers, your bet is lost.

Important Note: In Pai Gow, ties go to the dealer. If you have the same hand (eg., a pair of 88s with your low hand), the dealer wins that hand.

Progressive Pai Gow 

Progressive Pai Gow is the same as the regular Pai Gow game, with the exception that there is an optional Progressive Wager side wager. A player who makes the Progressive Wager will bet that they will be able to create a qualifying five-card poker rank hand by betting on the seven cards they get.

The Progressive Wager pays an odds payout based on the rank and suit of the five-card poker hand, regardless of how the player sets their cards. A player can choose to split a straight flush or five Aces, or a full-house, but they will still be paid for their Progressive Wager.

  • The Progressive Wager can be made simultaneously with the regular Pai Gow Wager.
  • The Progressive Wager is $5. This bet cannot be refunded to the Player.
  • A Player can bet on the Progressive Wager regardless of whether they have placed the Bonus bet. However, they must also bet the Pai Gow hand.
  • The Dealer will ask for any additional bets on progressives and announce that the bets have been closed.
  • After all wagers have been made, the Dealer will hit the “coin in” button to collect $5 cheques.
  • The Dealer will ensure that each progressive red light is properly lit. A supervisor should be called if there is a problem.
  • The hand will then continue as normal.
  • The Dealer will start exposing the Player’s cards by working from left to right. The Progressive Wager is independent of the Pai Gow Wager or the Bonus bet. The Progressive Wager is won by the Player if a qualifying five-card poker hand is created using the seven cards of the players.
  • The Pai Gow Wager will be determined first, followed by the Bonus Wager. The Fortune Bonus Bet payout will pay the Progressive Wager first, then the Bonus Wager.


Pai Gow Poker is not as popular in live casinos. This may be because hands can take quite awhile (and casinos don’t like that). However, you can still find many places online where you can play the game for free or for real money.

Pai Gow is a great alternative to Open Face Chinese Poker. This game is what gave rise to Chinese Poker today. This game is great for passing the time and having some fun if you can find a place that does not charge a commission for winning hands.

You won’t lose much with a low house edge, frequent splits, and a low house edge. You shouldn’t expect to win big, but you might find yourself on a hot streak, just like any other table game.

Pai Gow Poker is a fun and exciting casino game that can be enjoyed by players of all levels of experience. If you’re looking to learn how to play, this guide is the best way to get started. And if you’re already familiar with the game, these tips will help you improve your chances of winning!