Pai Gow Poker

Guide to this relatively new casino game

Pai Gow Poker IconPai Gow poker is a real hidden gem of the casino industry. Being a relatively new casino game, it remains underused in many casinos around the world, especially in the UK, chiefly because it's not that well known. The game is a must-play for gamblers who enjoy a mix of poker know-how and luck.

Pai Gow poker is an American adaptation of the original Chinese game named Pai Gow. Where Pai Gow uses dominos, Pai Gow poker uses a 52 hand deck of cards, as well a single joker card. The original game was adapted to create Pai Gow poker by casino boss Sam Torosian with the first ever hands dealt in 1985 at Torosian's Bell Card Club in Los Angeles. Despite the game's popularity, Torosian has been unable to cash in on its success, as he was told by a lawyer at the time of creation that it wasn't patentable. Unfortunately for him it turns out that it actually was.

Pai Gow poker is played against the dealer. In the game, seven cards are drawn to each player, including the dealer. It's then up to the player to split the seven cards into the best possible five card and two card hands, with the five card hand being better. Hands are then ranked according to traditional poker hand rankings and if both of the player’s hands beat the dealer's then they win.

Payouts when playing Pai Gow poker are 1:1, but the house does take a 5% commission in most cases. This is because, otherwise, the casino would stand to lose quite a bit of money. Using basic strategy, a Pai Gow poker player can take advantage of the already low house edge to reduce it further to 1.3%.

Online Pai Gow Poker

Like many casino games, the transformation of Pai Gow poker into an online game has been a fairly natural one. The nature of the game allows it to be played online with very few changes.

Online Pai Gow Poker Screenshot Pai Gow Poker at William Hill Casino

However, one change that can sometimes be found is the bonus bet, which provides players with the chance of winning extra large jackpots. Another benefit of online Pai Gow is the extra help you're provided with. This comes in the form of an option to split the 'house way'. Essentially, this means that the best way to split your 5 and 2 card hands is decided for you. While you may not make use of this option, as it takes the skill element out of the game, it's always nice to have a choice – especially when you get a tough hand.

There are also other, more general, benefits of playing Pai Gow in an online casino as opposed to in a land based one. One of the most relevant of these to Pai Gow poker is that players can play at their own pace without feeling under pressure from others to make their splitting decisions quickly. Also, a very important aspect of online play is that you can actually play the game as most land based casinos – particularly in the UK – don't even offer Pai Gow poker to their patrons.

So for players looking to play Pai Gow poker and looking for some help along the way, online casinos are really the only choice.

Rules of Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow is really quite a simple game and one that's even simpler if you're already aware of basic poker hand rankings. Playing a game consists of selecting your wager, and being dealt seven cards. Once you've chosen how to split the cards into a better five card hand and a worse two card hand, then you can win, lose or tie the game.

You win if both your five card and two card hands are better than the dealer's respective hands. If only one of these hands is better and one is worse, then it's a tie and if both are worse than the dealer's then you lose. If you have one better hand, but the other is pushed then the game is a tie. However, if this happens for the dealer then you lose.

These rules mean that ties are quite common in Pai Gow poker and therefore players can bet in the knowledge that, if they play sensibly, they're unlikely to lose huge amounts in a short space of time.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

There are a few Pai Gow poker strategies, with varying levels of difficulty. The nature of the game means that if you implement a successful strategy or at least a few helpful rules then the house edge can be reduced to a very manageable amount. The requirement for skilful splitting means that it's very much up to the individual player as to how successful they are. To begin with, there are a few basic rules that you should always stick to:

  • The first of these is what to do if you don't have a ranked poker hand. The rule in this situation is to keep your highest card in the five card hand and put the next two highest cards in the two card hand.
  • If you have one pair, then keep it in the five card hand and split the two highest cards from those left.
  • When given two pairs you must choose whether to split one pair or keep them together. The general rule is to always split the pairs unless the sum of the paired cards value is nine or less and you have a king or an ace.
  • With a three of a kind always keep it together and split the next two highest card. With a full house split the pair.
  • With straights and flushes, keep them together. If you can, then keep the lowest cards in the straight or flush.

Of these rules, the most contentious is splitting two pairs. There are various theories about how to split to pairs, but we feel the simple rule that's described above should prove satisfactory in most situations. Those looking to really squeeze out all of the house edge that they can should look into more complex strategies for splitting two pairs. We recommend the strategy devised by the Wizard of Odds, who claims to be able to shave an extra 0.04% from the house edge.