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A Beginner’s Guide to Pai Gow Poker

An Introduction to Pai Gow Poker 

Pai Gow Poker is a popular form of Casino Poker that was created in the 1980s. In many ways, it is similar to Chinese Poker, so those already familiar with the game will get the hang of Pai Gow Poker very quickly. However, even if you have never heard of Chinese Poker, the game takes absolutely no time to understand.  

The game is popular with players for a number of reasons. It has a reasonably low house edge and a low volatility. This means that many hands end in a tie, allowing players to enjoy the game for long periods of time without losing too much money. In this guide, you will find all you need to know in order to start playing Pai Gow Poker, including the rules and some basic strategy tips.  

How to Play Pai Gow Poker 

Just like in all other forms of Casino Poker, such as Three Card Poker, the aim of Pai Gow Poker is to beat the dealer. In order to do this, you need to build two separate hands that are stronger than the dealer’s two hands.  

The game is played with a standard deck of 52 cards plus a Joker. The Joker is almost a wild card as it can be used to complete Straights or Flushes; it counts as an Ace in all other instances.  

At the start of a round, you need to place your Ante bet. Then, you will receive seven face down cards, and so will the dealer. You can then look at your cards and you will need to arrange them into two separate hands, a five-card hand and a two-card hand. The aim is for both of your hands to beat the dealer’s two hands, and the game uses the standard poker hand rankings (explained below).  

The two-card hand is called the Top and the five-card hand is called the Bottom. The Top hand must never be stronger than the Bottom hand. For example, if you have a pair of 10s in the Bottom hand, then you can’t have a pair of Jacks in the Top.  

After the player has set up the hands, it is the dealer’s turn to do so. The player and dealer’s hands are then compared. If both of your hands beat the dealer’s then you are paid 1:1 on your ante. If you beat on one hand but lose on the other, then the bet is returned as a push. However, the dealer wins all ties (if you have exactly the same hand strength).  

It is important to know that many casinos charge a 5% commission on winnings, but not all casinos will.  

Pai Gow Poker Hands 

As you can see from the above rules, Pai Gow Poker is not a complicated game, and the rules are very easy to understand. However, the game does require you to have a strong understanding of the different types of poker hands, as you will be forming two of them with each round. Therefore, you should study the different types of hands carefully and practise being able to spot them in the cards that you have been dealt. As mentioned, the game uses the standard poker hands and there are just ten of them. From strongest to weakest they are:  

  • Royal Flush – This is the strongest hand possible and it contains the cards 10, J, Q, K and A all from the same suit.  
  • Straight Flush – This is five cards in numerical order from the same suit; for example, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 of Spades.  
  • Four of a Kind – This is a hand that contains four cards of same value, such as 4 Diamonds, 4 Clubs, 4 Spades, 4 Hearts.  
  • Full House – This is a hand that consists of three of a kind together with a pair, for example, three 7s and two Js, the suit is irrelevant.  
  • Flush – This is a hand of five cards from the same suit, for example, J, 5, 2, 4 and 10 of Spades. 
  • Straight – This is five cards in numerical order, the suit is not important. For example, 6 Hearts, 7 Spades, 8 Diamonds, 9 Clubs, and 10 Hearts.  
  • Three of a Kind – This is three cards of the same value and two unrelated cards. For example, 3 Hearts, 3 Clubs, 3 Diamonds, 5 Spades and 9 Hearts.  
  • Two Pair – This is a hand that contains two individual pairs of cards and one unrelated card. For example, 2 Spades, 2 Hearts, 4 Diamonds, 4 Spades, 9 Hearts.  
  • One Pair – This is a hand that contains two matching cards and three unrelated cards. For example, Jack Spades, Jack Clubs, 3 Diamonds, 6 Clubs, 4 Hearts.  
  • High Card – If a hand does not contain any of the above, then it is judged according to the highest value card in it.  

Pai Gow Poker Side Bets 

You will find a number of different variants available at different casinos and some of these will offer the chance of placing side bets. Side bets are optional bets that give you the chance to win more. They can be a huge amount of fun, and sometimes offer truly amazing payouts, but you must make sure that you budget for them in your bankroll.  

The most common side bet is on your hand containing a Three of a Kind, or in some cases a Straight, or better across all seven cards. The bet will usually pay 2:1 for a Straight, 3:1 for Three of a Kind, 4:1 for a Flush, 5:1 for a Full House, 25:1 for Four of a Kind, 50:1 for a Straight Flush, 150:1 for a Royal Flush, 400:1 for 5 Aces, 1,000:1 for a 7 Card Flush with Joker, 2,000:1 for a Royal Flush and Royal Match, and 8,000:1 for a 7 Card Straight Flush.  

It is important to remember that placing a side bet will increase the house edge, so if you are concerned about that, then you should not place the bet. However, the side bet is also the only way to win really big in Pai Gow Poker, even if you will need a fair amount of luck in order to do so. Ultimately, it is up to you, and as always, you should only bet money that you can afford to lose.  

Pai Gow Poker Strategy 

There are not any betting decisions to be made in a round of Pai Gow Poker, so the strategy is not going to be very complicated. There is just one bet to place, at the start of a round, meaning that you do not need to worry about whether any other bets are worth making. However, you do need to make decisions about how to arrange the cards in your hand. 

Bearing in mind that the Top hand must always be lower ranked than the Bottom hand, you need to try to produce the best outcome and beat both of the dealer’s hand. This means that having a very strong Bottom hand and a relatively weak Top hand, like 9-high, will not usually work. It is far better to have two medium strength hands than one very strong and one very weak.  

When putting together your two hands, you should keep the following in mind: 

  • If you are not dealt a made hand (a pair or better), leave your highest ranking card in the back and put two second highest-ranking cards in the front 
  • Always split pairs if you have AA with any other pair, two high pairs (JJ through AA) or a high pair coupled with a medium pair (7s through 10s) 
  • Split two medium pairs or a combination of a high pair and a low pair (22 through 66) unless you have an Ace. If you have an Ace, then you can play two pair in the back and Ace-high in the front. 
  • Always split two medium pairs or a medium and low pair combination unless you have an Ace or a King. If you have one of these, you can also play Ace or King-high in the front with two pair in the back 
  • Always play trips in your back hand unless it’s trip Aces. Split Aces into a pair in the back and Ace-high in the front 
  • If you have quads that are JJ+, always split them into two pair 
  • Split quad 77 through TT into two pair unless you have an Ace to play in the front 
  • With quad 6s or lower, keep quads in the back and play whatever the best hand you can make is in the front 
  • Always split full houses into a trips + a pair combo unless you also have an extra pair to go with it. In that case, you should play the higher of the pairs in the low hand 
  • Always split five aces (when you have a Joker) unless you have a pair of Kings to put in the front 

While that may sound a little complicated, it won’t actually take long to get used to and it does not take long to memorise. Furthermore, when playing online you can keep these tips to one side and refer to them as and when you need them.  

To Conclude 

Pai Gow Poker is a great choice for any poker fans looking to try something a little different. It has a low house edge, an easy strategy, and offers the chance of hours of fun without risking too much money. Take some time to study the above guide, and you can start having fun straight away.  

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