Pai Gow Poker


Rules

Pai Gow Poker originated as a variation of the Chinese domino game Gai Gow. Pai Gow is played with a 52-card deck plus one Joker. The players complete one on one against the banker, with the objective of making the best possible poker hands out of seven cards. Pai Gow players use their seven cards to make a two-card hand and a five-card hand. A “Pai Gow” is a hand with no pairs, such as Q-J / K-7-8-6-2. Pai Gow poker tends to be a fairly slow paced casino game. A small buy in can usually last a long time.

The Pai Gow table layout has 7 spots, one in front of the dealer and 6 for players, like this:
Dealer
7
1 6
2 5
3 4

The game of Pai Gow Poker begins with the each player making a wager. The dealer then gives each player seven cards. The banker usually designates which hands go to which player by shaking a dice cup with three dice; the banker’s position is either 1, 8 or 15 and the hands are passed out counterclockwise. Each player then arranges their seven cards into two hands, a five-card hand and a two-card hand. The five-card hand is ranked as in standard poker, with the exception that an A-2-3-4-5 straight is the second highest straight. The two-card hand will either be a pair or two individual cards. The highest two-card hand is a pair of aces and the lowest is a 2-3.

A player puts their two-card hand face down in the box closest to the dealer, and their five-card hand face down in back. After all the players have arranged their hands the banker then arranges their seven cards according to a set of fixed rules, called the “house way.”

The player’s five-card hand is then compared to the dealer’s five-card hand and the player’s two-card hand is compared to the dealer’s two-card hand. If there is an exact match between hands the tie goes to the banker, this is know as a “copy.” If the player beats the dealer with both hands the player wins even money, less a 5% commission. If the player wins one hand and loses one hand then the bet is a push. Pushes are very common. If the player loses both hands the player loses the entire wager.

The two-card hand may not rank higher than the five-card hand. For instance, if a player is dealt A-A-1-2-6-8-K, the two-card hand may not be A-A unless the five-card hand is single suited. If the two-card hand is higher ranked then both hands are deemed “foul” and both lose. The joker can only be used to complete a straight, flush, or straight flush; otherwise it is treated as an ace. In some casinos, if there is an empty seat the dealer will also deal a “dragon” hand. Another player may assume the dragon hand if they wish, essentially playing two positions rather than one. The player may have to use the house way in setting the dragon hand.

Any player may elect to be the banker in turn. If a player banks, the 5% commission is charged on the net win. When a player is the banker the dealer will still play, betting an amount equal to the last bet the player made when the dealer was banking. It is to the advantage of the player to be the banker as much as possible because the dealer wins on copies and the 5% commission is charged after losses are set against winnings.

The opportunity to bank usually rotates from person to person, including the house, but sometimes will zigzag between the players and the dealer. If the player wants to bank they must have enough money on the table to pay off all winning bets of the other players and the dealer. The player must also have played a previous hand against the house banker to bank. Some casinos will allow the player to co-bank with the house. If this option is elected the casino will assume half the financial responsibility of the outcome. The player must set their hand according to the house way if co-banking.

Strategy

The best way to increase your odds in Pai Gow is to increase the ratio of how much is bet when you are the banker to as a player. Another important factor is how well you arrange your cards. The house way is a very safe strategy that is difficult to improve upon. The house way to arrange the seven cards is how the dealer arranges their own hand. It can vary from place to place but the differences are marginal.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy – The House Way
Initial Seven-Cards Five-Card Hand Two-Card Hand
No Pair Highest Card Next Two Highest Cards
One Pair Pair Cards Next Two Highest Cards
Two Pair
Both Low (2-6)
Holding King Or Better
Two Pair Two Highest Cards
Two Pair
Both Low (2-6)
Not Holding King Or Better
One Pair One Pair
Two Pair
Low Pair (2-6) and Medium Pair (7-10)
Holding King Or Better
Two Pair Two Highest Cards
Two Pair
Low Pair (2-6) and Medium Pair (7-10)
Not Holding King Or Better
One Pair One Pair
Two Pair
Low Pair (2-6) and High Pair (J-K)
Holding Ace
Two Pair Ace
Two Pair
Low Pair (2-6) and High Pair (J-K)
Not Holding Ace
One Pair One Pair
Two Pair
Both Medium (7-10)
Holding Ace
Two Pair Ace
Two Pair
Both Medium (7-10)
Not Holding Ace
One Pair One Pair
Two Pair
Medium Pair (7-10) and High Pair (J-K)
One Pair One Pair
Two Pair
Both High (J-K)
One Pair One Pair
Two Pair
Pair of Aces and Any Other Pair
One Pair One Pair
Three Pair Lower Two Pair Highest Pair
Three Of A Kind
Aces
Aces Pair Ace
Three Of A Kind
Not Aces
Three Of A Kind Next Highest Cards
Three Of A Kind Twice Lower Three Of A Kind Highest Pair
Straight/Flush
With No Pair
Straight/Flush With Lower Cards Highest Cards
Straight/Flush
With 6th or 7th Card
Straight/Flush With Lower Cards Highest Cards
Straight/Flush
With Pair
Straight/Flush Pair if does not disrupt Straight/Flush
Straight/Flush
With Two Pair
Use Two Pair Rules Use Two Pair Rules
Flush
With Three Pair
Use Three Pair Rules Use Three Pair Rules
Straight/Flush
With Three Of A Kind
Straight/Flush Pair
Flush
With Full House
Use Full House Rules Use Full House Rules
Full House
Pair is Twos
Holding Ace and King
Full House Ace and King
Full House
With Three Of A Kind and Two Pairs
Three Of A Kind and Lower Pair Highest Pair
Full House
With Two Three Of A Kinds
Lower Three Of A Kind Highest Pair
Full House
All Other Conditions
Three Of A Kind Pair
Four Of A Kind
Low (2-6)
Four Of A Kind Next Highest Cards
Four Of A Kind
Medium (7-10)
Holding King Or Better
Four Of A Kind King Or Better
Four Of A Kind
Medium (7-10)
Not Holding King Or Better
One Pair One Pair
Four Of A Kind
High (J-K)
Holding Ace
Four Of A Kind Ace
Four Of A Kind
High (J-K)
Not Holding Ace
One Pair One Pair
Four Of A Kind
With Pair
Four Of A Kind Pair
Four Of A Kind
With Three Of A Kind
Four Of A Kind Pair From Three Of A Kind
Five Aces Three Of A Kind With Aces Pair Of Aces

Probability

The probability of forming any specified poker hand in Pai Gow Poker is shown in the table below. These probabilities have been calculated considering all seven cards in the initial Pai Gow hand, regardless of how the player may choose to play the hand.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Probability
Poker Hand # Of Combinations Probability
Five Aces 1128 0.00000732
Straight Flush 210964 0.00136862
Four Of A Kind 307472 0.00199472
Full House 4188528 0.02717299
Flush 6172088 0.04004129
Straight 11236028 0.07289350
Three Of A Kind 7470676 0.04846585
Two Pair 35553816 0.23065464
Pair 64221960 0.41663862
Nothing 24780420 0.16076246