However, the rules of Pai Gow are not as complicated to learn as regular poker. Here players play against the House (or a predetermined banker) rather than one another.
You Can Be the Banker
In brick-and-mortar casinos, a hand of Pai Gow sometimes starts with each player in turn is given the option to be the banker. The banker plays against all the other players and covers all bets.
This is an advantageous position to be in and players should take the banker option whenever possible.
In online Pai Gow, however, you don’t get the chance to “run the game”. Here you’re always the player trying to beat the dealer.
Play of the Hand
After placing a bet, you receive seven cards with which you’re supposed to create two individual poker hands – one with two cards called the front hand and one with five cards called the back hand.
You can arrange the cards which way you want to. However, there’s one rule you always have to follow:
The five-card hand must be stronger than the two-card hand.
If you make a mistake online and put a stronger two-card hand – for instance A-A in the front hand and K-K-Q-J-2 in the back hand – nothing will happen. The software simply won’t accept it and you get the chance to rearrange your cards.
But if you’d make such a mistake online, your hand is dead and no matter what you have the dealer will take your wager.
Once all players have set their hands, the dealer turns the cards over to see who won.
But before we go into that, let’s make sure we know the hand rankings.
Pai Gow Poker Hand Ranking
The back hand, or the five-card hand, almost follows regular poker hand ranking – the same as in five-card draw, seven-card stud or Texas hold’em.
The only difference is that the wheel – straight from ace to five – is considered the second best straight. Consequently, the three best straights are:
Also, Pai Gow is often played with a regular 52-card deck plus a joker. This joker is semi-wild and can be used to complete straights and flushes. If that’s not an option it becomes an ace.
Therefore, having five aces is a (rare) possibility and is the best hand you can have in Pai Gow.
Apart from this, the hand ranking should look familiar to most of you.
Royal straight flush
Four of a kind
Three of a kind
In the front hand, or two-card hand, a pair of aces is the nuts. Second best hand is K-K followed by Q-Q down to 2-2.
A-K is the best unpaired hand followed by A-Q, A-J and so on down to A-2.
Below that, king-high hands is best, then queen high and so on down to three high, which obviously is the worst front hand you can have.
How Wins in Pai Gow
Your goal is to beat the dealer both ways – front and back. When that happens, your initial bet is matched.
If you win one hand and lose one, you break even and your original bet is returned.
If you lose both bets, the dealer rakes in your wager.
Now you might think: “If these are the only rules, and I learn to play optimally, there is no house advantage.” And you’re right. But casinos like to have the percentages on their side, so they sorted that out.
When there is a tie – when the player and the casino have the same hand – the casino wins.
Pai Gow Rules Conclusion
The rules of Pai Gow are rather simple. You only have to make sure your back hand is stronger than your front hand.
However, just because you know the rules doesn’t mean that you’ll play optimally.
Before you hit the tables we suggest that you read through our article on Pai Gow strategy. There you’ll learn the best way to arrange your seven cards, and if you follow our strategy guidelines, you won’t give an extra edge to the house.
The casino will be fine anyway. Trust me.