Pai Gow poker is a fascinating card game that fuses the hand ranking rules of traditional poker with the Chinese tile game, Pai Gow. Originally invented by US casino owner Sam Torosian in 1985 as a unique attraction for players to his club in Southern California, the game quickly caught on with bittersweet results for Sam – because he failed to patent the game, whilst it spread like wildfire across land-based casinos (and subsequently to online casinos with the rise of the Internet gambling) he never fully capitalized on its success!

The basic appeal of Pai Gow poker for casino players is twofold; first it includes an element of strategic skill to challenge them and, secondly, using good strategy can deliver a very low house edge indeed. Such qualities mark it out as an interesting game to explore for anyone who already loves Blackjack or Poker and is looking for a fresh challenge. If that sound like you, then do check out some of our recommended online casinos below that offer this intriguing game.

How to play

The game aim: The basic aim of Pai Gow poker is for the player to set a hand of seven cards, dealt to them from a standard deck of 52 playing cards augmented with a single Joker, into the best ranking two-card (“Low”) and five-card (“High”) hand they can. For the player to win their bet, their Low and High hands must both outrank their opponent’s. Where one hand is beaten, the bet is pushed, and if both are outranked the bet is lost.

Play as banker: The result where at least one of the player’s hands ties depends on who is playing at the table as the game’s banker for that deal. The banker always wins ties, so part of Pai Gow strategy when playing the game at land-based casinos can involve opting to play as banker if that is offered to you under the house rules. Online Pai Gow poker often simplifies things with the Dealer playing as banker at all times.

The one exception: Hand ranking in Pai Gow poker follows traditional poker rules for the five-card High hand, with one potential exception. Some casinos pay the rule that the A-2-3-4-5 straight – sometimes referred to as “the wheel” – is the second highest-ranking straight rather than K-Q-J-10-9, but this is not always the case so be sure to check this before getting stuck into a session. The Low hand can only rank with pairs and high cards, and must be a lower ranking hand than the High hand to be valid.

Mentioned earlier, this poker game plays with a Joker in the pack and this plays as an Ace, or can be played as a Wild in the High hand where it can complete a straight, flush, straight flush or royal flush.

With regards to the Dealer’s hand, they must set their hand according to a fixed strategy, called the “House Way”, in the same way that the Dealer must follow a fixed strategy in Blackjack.

Pai gow poker vs. regular poker

From the details given above it’s clear that this game adds an intriguing new level of strategy for players, with the balance of the High and Low cards meaning that the highest-possible ranking five card hand might not be optimal if it contains cards that might be better played in the low hand. A compromise must be sought to ensure you build the strongest combination of High and Low hand outcomes, since both must beat your opponent’s hand to win the bet.

The Pai Gow poker rules also mean push bets are more common than regular poker games.

playing pai gow poker online

Where to play this game: To help you find a great online casino to enjoy Pai Gow poker we’re happy to recommend the clubs shown on this page. All of them offer the game, amongst a fine selection of other casino gaming treats, backed up with rock-solid banking, security and customer service, plus all hold gaming licences from the most rigorous gaming authorities for remote online gambling.

Free demo mode: You will also find all the listed clubs offer Pai Gow poker with a free demo mode, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of that to try the game out, and become comfortable with the rules and user interface before you decide to get into some real-money wagering on this excellent game.

pai gow poker tips

Prepare yourself for a challenge: This great game is probably one of the most complex casino games to learn for new players, however that also means it can become the most rewarding to play as you build your skills at the table. And that reward is literal too, since skilful play can hone the house edge to a very lean level – lower than the games of pure chance such as slots and Roulette.

Became Pai Gow master: The popularity of this game means there’s plenty of specialist guides to its strategy online, so take time to read these if you’re serious about mastering the game. That said, many online Pai Gow poker games also allow you to automatically set your hands using the House Way, which the Dealer follows, and this can be a quick way to enjoy the game ­– the House Way follows a good basic strategy and can help you learn that too as you become familiar with its rules.

Last tip: One final tip is, as mentioned above, don’t hesitate to make use of free demo versions of this online game at our recommended casinos since that can be a great way to experiment with strategy too, and all without risking any cash until you’re happy you know what you’re doing!