Pai Gow Poker


Pai Gow poker is a poker variant that is loosely based on Pai Gow, a Chinese gambling game played with a set of 32 Chinese dominoes. While the original domino game is still popular in Asia and is also found in casinos in the US, it is the poker version that really took off in the Americas. Also known as Double Hand Poker, this game is popular both in land-based and online casinos. 

If you know the basics of poker, you shouldn’t have any difficulties learning the rules of Pai Gow. Unlike in Texas Hold’em or Omaha poker, here players play against the dealer or the banker. Pai Gow is slower paced than other poker variants and has a relaxed feel about it. In this text, you can learn how the game is played, what variants are out there and where you can play Pai Gow poker online.

What is Pai Gow poker?

Poker is a truly American game and even though the original game was invented around 200 years ago, new variants have been popping up every now and then. Pai gow poker was introduced to the US market in 1985 by Sam Torosian, the owner of the Bell Card Club in California. 

The game is played with a standard 52-card deck plus a single joker. The joker can substitute for an Ace or can be the wild card to complete a Flush, Straight, or Straight Flush. Players get 7 cards, and they must make two poker hands with them. One of the hands is a 5-card hand while the other is a 2-card hand. The dealer/banker also gets 7 cards, and he also has to make two hands out of his seven cards. 

The objective of the game is to get both of your hands to be stronger than those of the dealer. If only one of your hands is stronger than the dealer’s it is a push, and you get your wager back. If both of your hands are weaker than the dealer’s you lose the game. Winning hands are paid even money and are subject to a 5% commission.

Pai Gow poker in brick-and-mortar casinos

Pai Gow poker is really popular in land-based casinos across the USA and Canada. Usually, there are 6 seats around the table, but it can be played one-on-one (one player and one dealer) too as players play against the dealer and not each other. Both the players and the dealer are dealt 7 cards. The dealer’s cards remain face-down while the players can turn their cards face up so that everybody can see them. Players then split their seven-card hand in two, creating a five-card hand and a two-card hand. If they are not sure how to arrange them best, they can ask for help from the dealer. The two-card hand (also called the small, top, or low hand) is placed at the front of the table while the five-card hand (or bottom, high or big hand) stays at the back.

Next, the banker’s cards are revealed and organized into a 2-card and a 5-card hand, and they are compared to each player’s hands. If both of your hands are better than the banker’s you win. If only one of your hands is better, it is a draw, or a push and you get your bet back. If the banker’s both hands are better than yours or it is a tie, you lose your bet.

Pai Gow poker online

The main difference between playing at brick-and-mortar and online casinos is the variety of the game. Online casinos offer versions where side bets are available. For example, Fortune Pai Gow poker offers fortune bonuses. These are additional bonuses paid if your hand is straight or better. Other variants may offer side bets for other players getting certain hands known as “envy bonus”. Some Pai Gow variants come with a progressive jackpot, where a small part of all players’ wager goes towards the pot and will be won by a lucky punter at some point. 

Another big difference between the online and the land-based casino gameplay is that online you always play alone in a computerized version of the game. Many casinos offer demo versions of their games so this way you can play free Pai Gow poker and get some well-needed practice. 

You can play Pai Gow poker on desktop or mobile devices including iOS and Android phones and tablets. No download is needed and not much data will be consumed with this computerized game. 

If you prefer the real casino feel, try your luck with live dealer Pai Gow poker games. Here, you’ll be playing against a live dealer who presents the game and announces the results. Note, that you can only play Pai Gow poker online for real money, as there’s no free-play option for live dealer games.

How to play Pai Gow poker online

Pai Gow poker is a relaxed and fun version of poker where you don’t have to make any decisions, other than how to arrange your hands. We have created a step-by-step guide on how to play Pai Gow poker online that should help you understand the game in a matter of minutes.

  1. Log into your casino account and launch the game
  2. Select your wager and place it in the designated field
  3. If there’s a fortune bonus or other side bet option, you can select it after placing your ante
  4. Click on the “deal” button and both you and the dealer will get 7 cards each. Your cards are face up while the dealer’s are face down
  5. Select “auto-split” and the computer will split your hands, or make your own selection and click on “split”
  6. The dealer’s cards are revealed and organized into two hands and the outcome is displayed
  7. Play again

Where to play Pai Gow poker online in the USA

US players from six states are able to play casino games online legally. New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia and Delaware residents or visitors to these states can play real money casino games as long as they are over the legal gambling age. Pai Gow poker is a popular casino game, and you will find it in the table games library of most US online casinos. These are some of the best casinos that offer the game:


How to play your cards

Pai Gow poker rules are not complicated. As long as you understand poker hands, you are good to go.  All you have to remember is that the high hand must outrank the low hand. The online game won’t even let you split your hands incorrectly.  Your 5-card hand follows the standard winning poker hand rules while your 2-card hand can be a pair or high cards. The best low hand is a pair of Aces, while the worst is a combination of a 2 and a 3 of whatever suit. The joker can jump in to be an Ace or to complete a Flush, Straight, or Straight Flush.


Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

Royal Flush – a hand of 10, J, Q, K, A of the same suit
Straight Flush – a sequence of 5 cards of the same suit
Four of a Kind – four cards of the same value
Full House – three cards of the same rank and two cards of another matching rank
Flush – five cards of the same suit that are not in sequence
Straight – five consecutive cards of different suits
Three of a Kind – three cards of the same value
Two pair – two cards of the same rank and another two cards of a different matching rank
Pair – two cards of the same rank
High card – the highest card in any hand that doesn’t make any of the above combinations.


Pai Gow poker strategy

Pai Gow is a game of chance that requires some skill as well. Knowing how to arrange your high and low hands can help you win more often and reduces the house edge to a minimum. Here’s the optimal strategy for different hand combinations:

  • High Card

If you have no pairs or better among your 7 cards, you’ll need to keep the highest card in your 5-card hand and move the next two highest cards to your low hand. Online Pai Gow poker games won’t even let you place your highest card in your 2-card hand. 

  • Pair

If you get any pair other than an Ace pair, you should keep them in your 5-card hand and use the two highest cards for your low hand. 

  • Two Pair

If you are dealt two pairs, you have two options. If both are low value, you can keep them in your high hand and choose the two highest cards for your low hand. If they are higher in value, you can split them into two hands with the more valuable one staying in your 5-card hand. 

  • Three Pair

When you get three pairs, you’ll have to choose the highest value one into your 2-card hand and leave the other two pairs in your high cards. 

  • Three of a kind

In most cases, you should leave the three of a kind combination in your high hand. However, if you get three Aces, you can move one of them to your low hand.

  • Full House

If you are lucky enough to get a full house, you’ll have to split them into a three of a kind and a pair combination for your high and low hands. If your 7 cards include two pairs and a three of a kind the higher pair should go to your low hand. 

  • Four of Kind

This combination is split or kept together based on card ranking. Sixes or lower value cards should be kept together in your 5-card hand while sevens up to tens should be split up unless you have an Ace that you can place in your 2-card hand. Four of a kind royals should always be split. 

  • Straights and Flushes

In most cases, you’ll want to keep your straights and flushes together in your 5-card hand. However, if you have two pairs play according to the two pairs strategy.

Pai Gow poker variants

Fortune Pai Gow poker

This version of the game offers two additional Pai Gow poker bonuses. The fortune bonus is an optional bonus that players can place but they must play the basic game of Pai Gow to be able to bet the Fortune Bonus. This bet is paid if the player’s hand is Straight or higher. Normally, you will have to place a minimum wager of $1 for the fortune bonus. If you place a wager of $5 or more on it you also qualify for the envy bonus which pays if one of the other players has a four of a kind or higher poker hand.  


EZ Pai Gow poker

This variant is a head-to-head play against the dealer. EZ Pai Gow doesn’t have a commission, so this is a great choice for your bankroll. The game also comes with four additional side bets: Dynasty Bonus, Protection Bonus, Red or Black Bonus, and a Progressive Bonus.


Face up Pai Gow poker

As the name suggests, in this version the dealer also receives his cards face-up. This version of the game typically offers two optional side bets- the Fortune Bonus and the Ace-High. The Pai Gow poker fortune bonus is based on all seven cards regardless of how the players decide to set their hands. You’ll need straight or better to win with this bonus. 


Progressive Pai Gow Poker

Some Fortune Pai Gow variants also include a progressive jackpot that grows with every wager players place on Pai Gow games. Players will get 100% of the progressive bonus by making a 7-card straight flush with or without a joker. Collecting 5 Aces will pay 10% of the jackpot amount while a Royal flush and a Straight flush pay $500 and $100, respectively. Normally, you’ll need to wager $1 to be included in the jackpot game. Many online and land-based casinos offer progressive Pai Gow games and depending on the place, the pot may even reach $200,000 if it hasn’t been claimed for a while.

Pai Gow poker bonus payouts

If you play a Pai Gow game that includes a fortune bonus, these are the payouts you’re going to get should you have a 7-card hand that contains one of the below combinations.


Hand Value

Fortune Bonus Payout

Envy Bonus

7-Card Straight Flush without Joker

8,000 to 1


Royal Flush Plus Royal Match

2,000 to 1


7-Card Straight Flush with Joker

1,000 to 1


Five Aces

400 to 1


Royal Flush

150 to 1


Straight Flush

50 to 1


Four of a Kind

25 to 1


Full House

5 to 1


4 to 1

Three of a Kind

3 to 1


2 to 1


The word Pai Gow can be loosely translated as “make nine” or “card nine”. This relates to the original domino game where the maximum score for a hand is nine.

Many US online casinos will offer a demo version of the game where you can practice for free. Note, that you cannot win real money with free games though.

The house advantage in this version of poker is around 2.5%, however, the exact percentage depends on the casino. Placing side bets can increase the house edge. In land-based casinos, being the banker reduces the house edge to under 2%.

The odds of getting a 7-card straight flush without a joker are 5,000,000:1 while getting the combination with the use of a joker comes with an 800,000:1 chance.

If you understand poker hands, it is not difficult to get your head around this version. If you are not sure how to split your hands you can always click on “auto-split” and let the computer do the work for you.

There are many US online casinos that offer face up Pai Gow poker. You can pick one from our list as we only list trustworthy and legit casinos on our site.

You’ll need to beat both hands of the dealer to win. You’ll be dealt 7 cards and you’ll have to make the best 2-card and 5-card combination. If you are not sure how to do it, the computer will automatically make it for you.