Pai Gow Poker
Pair gow poker is based on a Chinese game that uses dominoes. Rather than featuring dominoes, though, pai gow poker uses playing cards.
Pai gow poker has been available since 1985, when it first debuted in the United States. This casino game has already spread to numerous online and land-based casinos, despite its relatively short existence.
If you’re interested in trying this popular table game, you can learn more about pai gow poker in this guide.
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Table of contents
Basics of pai gow poker
Pai gow poker appears to be a standard poker game, thanks to its 52-card deck and traditional hand rankings.
However, it features key differences from the average poker game. Most notably, you must form two hands out the seven cards you’re dealt.
You create a “bottom” hand with five cards and “front” hand with two cards. The five-card bottom hand must be stronger than the two-card front hand.
Your goal is to beat both of the dealer’s hands and win your bet. If you win only one hand, you recoup your initial wager, or “push.” Lose both hands and lose the bet.
This game features a 53-card deck. It includes 52 standard cards along with a joker card.
The joker becomes an ace whenever it helps you form a straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush. Otherwise, it’s an ace.
Pai gow poker rules
You must place the table’s minimum bet before getting dealt into a round. Land-based casinos typically require a $5 or $10 minimum wager, while online casinos let you play for $1 per hand.
The dealer delivers seven face-down cards to both you and themself. They divide their pile into two- and five-card hands according to set rules known as the “House Way.”
You must also separate your cards into front and bottom hands. Again, the five-card hand must be stronger than the two-card hand.
After setting hands, you and the dealer flip your cards over and compare them.
The two-card hand can only contain a pair or high card.
The five-card hand is based on conventional poker rankings. One exception is the “wheel” straight (A-2-3-4-5), which is the second-highest straight in many casinos.
The dealer wins all ties (e.g. AK vs. AK in front hand). This aspect helps give the house their advantage in pai gow.
Results & Payouts
Here are the possible scenarios regarding your bet:
- You win both hands = Even-money payout (minus a 5% commission).
- You win one hand and tie one hand = Push
- You win one hand and lose one hand = Push
- You tie one hand and lose one hand = Loss
- You lose both hands = Loss
You maintain the option to act as the banker in land-based casinos. Banking requires you to compete against both the dealer and other players.
In most cases, the banking option rotates around the table. However, some gambling venues see the dealer bank in between each player’s turn.
Factors that determine top pai gow poker casinos
You should consider multiple pieces of criteria when looking for top-rated pai gow sites. Below, you can see some of the main aspects we evaluate when reviewing casinos.
Software & interface
Online pai gow poker may not completely replace the land-based casino atmosphere. However, quality software can make you feel closer to the brick-and-mortar experience.
Luckily, most casino providers offer visually appealing pai gow tables. Furthermore, their products run smoothly on both mobile devices and computers.
Pai gow poker bonus
Internet casinos commonly offer you a welcome bonus. These deals are based on a match percentage (e.g. 100%) of your first deposit.
Not all gaming sites include pai gow poker in their bonus offers. That said, you should read the terms and conditions to find out if pai gow qualifies.
You exchange private information with casinos when you register for an account and deposit. Obviously, you don’t want hackers gaining access to these details.
Wise casinos encrypt their websites to prevent hackers from stealing your data. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology is currently the gold standard in the website encryption field.
Chrome and Safari browsers feature a padlock on the left of the address bar, next to the encrypted site’s URL. Meanwhile, they warn you when you’re visiting an unsecured casino, and may even block you from accessing it.
Most online gaming sites obtain licensing so that they can legally operate in one or more jurisdictions. However, not all internet gaming licenses are the same when it comes to prestige.
A license from the UK Gambling Commission, for example, carries more weight than approval from Antigua.
You should never deposit with a casino that features a scandalous history. For instance, you should avoid sites that are notorious for slow payouts, poor customer service, and/or unfair bonus policies.
If you’re considering a specific site, you should perform research to see if they’re legitimate. You can also consult our reviews to get the background on certain casinos.
Variety of banking options
Most gaming sites offer multiple deposit and withdrawal methods. After all, they want you to feel comfortable depositing with them.
Nevertheless, you should visit a casino’s banking section to preview the available options. Most accept some combination of bank transfers, Bitcoin, credit cards, e-wallets, and/or prepaid cards.
Casino customer service should be friendly and knowledgeable when handling any issues you may have. Quality support usually indicates a reputable gaming operator.
Earning pai gow poker bonuses
Pai gow bonuses aren’t as common as slots offers and regular casino bonuses. However, they still exist at plenty of internet casinos.
The following steps will put you in line for one of these deals:
- Read the fine print behind a casino’s welcome bonus.
- Ensure that pai gow qualifies.
- Register for an account.
- Enter a bonus code (if required).
- Place a deposit.
- Satisfy terms and conditions.
Casinos place terms and conditions behind offers to ensure that you play for offers. You need to satisfy each term before withdrawing bonus funds.
Therefore, every term is important when it comes to bonuses. The following T&Cs, though, are especially notable.
Gaming sites require you to wager a multiple of the bonus, or bonus plus deposit. You can’t cash out your bonus until meeting rollover.
Here’s an example of satisfying rollover:
- You qualify for a $100 bonus.
- Rollover is 50x.
- $100 x 50 = $5,000 must be wagered
Casinos offer bonuses so that you continue using their sites. They do not want you placing huge wagers just to meet rollover faster because you may discontinue using their site.
Gaming sites solve this issue by instating a maximum bet (e.g. $150). You can’t exceed the maximum wager with an active bonus without forfeiting your deal.
Days to claim bonus
You must claim/activate your bonus within a certain number of days. Once you have earned the bonus, most casinos give you 3-7 days to visit your account section and claim an offer.
Days to meet rollover
Casinos also limit how many days you have to satisfy rollover. For example, you might need to meet rollover within 60 days of depositing.
Certain deposit options might disqualify you from bonus deals. Gaming sites commonly ban Neteller and Skrill deposits from offers.
Some casinos restrict one or more nations from qualifying for bonuses. Restricted countries typically include those that have a history of “bonus abuse”.
The term “bonus abuse” refers to unfair practices that gamblers use to meet T&Cs. In short, casinos don’t want players gaming the system just to unlock bonuses.
Pai gow poker strategy
Pai gow features separate strategies for when you’re acting as the player versus when you’re acting as the banker. Assuming you’re playing online, you only need to worry about the player’s side.
On the simplest level, you can focus on forming the best-possible two-card hand (within the rules). As long as you win this hand, you’re at least guaranteed to push.
However, you should deviate from this strategy when there’s an opportunity to create a strong five-card hand. Here are basic rules for handling different strategy scenarios:
You don’t hold a pair
- Put the highest-ranked card in the five-card hand.
- Place the two next-highest cards in the two-card hand.
You hold one pair
- Leave the pair in your five-card hand.
- Place your two next-highest cards in the front hand.
You hold two pairs
- You should split aces.
- Split two high pairs (AA through JJ).
- Split one high pair and one medium pair (TT through 77).
You hold two pairs without an ace
- You should split two medium pairs.
- Split one high and one low pair (66 through 33).
You hold two pairs without an ace or king
- You should split one medium and one low pair.
- Split two low pairs.
You hold a full house
- Play the three-of-a-kind in your bottom hand and the pair in your front hand.
- An exception to the above: if you hold a second pair, you should put the better pair in your bottom hand.
You hold five aces (four aces plus a joker)
- Split them up. Exception: you should put all five aces in the bottom hand if you also hold kings.
You should always:
- Play a three-of-a-kind in your five-card hand. Exception: you split three aces with the pair going in the five-card hand.
- Split a four-of-a-kind into two pairs. Exception: keep quad jacks or better in the five-card hand.
- Put flushes and straights in your five-card hand. Exception: you should split a two pair according to the previously described pair rules.
- Place quad 6s through 2s in the five-card hand.
- Put quad Ts through 7s in the five-card hand if you hold an ace.
These rules don’t represent perfect Pai Gow strategy. However, they’ll get you close enough to the game’s optimal 2.78% house edge.
You can see our take on the top pai gow poker sites at the top of this page. We’ve spent considerable time reviewing casinos and making our picks.
The key features behind a quality pai gow casino include multiple banking methods, bonus offers, and helpful support. You should also consider website security, licensing, and a site’s history.
Yes, online casinos let you play for free after you’ve registered for an account. The registration process requires you to fill in blanks and submit the form for approval.
Once approved, you can enjoy free pai gow poker as long as you’d like. Demo mode is perfect for practicing strategy without risking anything.
You form the front hand with two cards. This hand draws its name from being placed in front of the bottom hand.
You form the latter with five cards. The bottom hand must be stronger than the front hand.
Pai gow poker features one of the lower house edges in casino gaming. You can reduce the house advantage to 2.8% with optimal play.
However, you’ll still be at a disadvantage in this case. You need some luck to overcome the house edge.
Pai gow occasionally presents advantage-play opportunities in land-based casinos. Assuming you act as the banker and compete against unskilled gamblers, you may be able to gain an edge.
Some gaming sites feature pai gow bonuses. You should read the fine print behind a deal to ensure that pai gow poker qualifies.
Certain casinos exclude most/all table games from their bonus offers. You want to avoid such sites when possible.
Yes, you can generally feel safe when playing pai gow poker for real money. Most gaming sites undergo testing to ensure that their games offer fair results.
Third parties test these casinos’ random number generators and odds. Assuming everything checks out, the testing lab will offer a certificate of approval.
Some online gambling jurisdictions require that casinos pass testing before being approved for a license.