How To Play Pai Gow Poker

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The best way to learn Pai Gow Poker is to actually play the game. The game may seem intimidating at first, as it requires a sharp eye for poker and a fair bit of decision-making. Fortunately, you can learn the basics by playing Pai Gow online for free, and that can help you get started with the basics. And, once you get the hang of it, Pai Gow is a fairly easy game to play.

Here’s what you need to know to play Pai Gow, including an instant-play demo, basic rules, strategy, and where to find the game to win real money playing Pai Gow online.

Play Pai Gow Poker Online For Free

If you want to jump right in without risking any money, you can start by playing the free Pai Gow demo below:

Pai Gow is offered by Golden Nugget Casino in New Jersey and developed by Light & Wonder (formerly SG Digital). Note that this version is called Fortune Pai Gow. It includes a special side bet that pays out for certain hands. If you want the basics before you dive in, simply read on!

Golden Nugget offers Fortune Pai Gow from Light & Wonder. The Fortune side bet adds a new dynamic to the game, paying out when the player hits a good hand. 

Where To Play Pai Gow Poker Online

You can play Pai Gow online for free to get in the swing of things. It’s the same as playing other online games, but your bets have no value. Most online casinos — even those that allow real-money play — will let you demo a game before you actually risk your hard-earned cash.

Free Online Pai Gow Poker

Whether you’re learning the ropes or just want to enjoy some no-stakes Pai Gow, you have free options online. The demo above is easily accessible for anyone who wants to play. Other options include free Pai Gow apps, though these may offer in-app purchases once you run through free credits. 

Real Money Online Casinos

If you are in a market with legal online casinos, you can play Pai Gow at those sites. Here’s a list of states with legal online casinos:

Not in one of those states? Play casino games and win cash prizes at the top social casinos in the US.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker: The Basics

Pai Gow is played with a 53-card deck, consisting of a standard 52-card deck, plus one joker. The joker can be used as a wild card to complete a straight or a flush. If no such opportunity is available, the joker functions simply as an ace. You’ll need to understand the spectrum of basic poker hands, as each hand in the game consists, basically, of constructing two poker hands. To start each hand seven cards are dealt to each of seven spots on the table (the dealer, plus six players’ spots, regardless of whether or not there is anyone playing), and the final four cards are “burned”, or discarded.

At this point, each player separates their cards into two poker hands, one of five cards (or the “high hand”), and another of two cards (or “low hand:). In a physical casino, once a player has separated the two hands, the cards are placed, face down, on the corresponding places on the table. Really, the only irrefutable rule of Pai Gow Poker is that one’s five-card hand must be stronger than the two-card hand.

This means that, for instance, if a hand contains only a single pair (two 10’s, let’s say), with no straight or flush possible, that pair goes into the high hand, and the low hand is made up of the next highest cards in the hand (say, and king and a queen). Another example: if you have a pair of threes and a pair of fives, plus three other cards that don’t contribute to a better hand, you’d use the threes as your low hand and keep the fives in your high hand.

How to Win Pai Gow

Once all of the players have set their hands, the dealer’s cards are opened up and similarly separated into high and low hands. In order to win the hand, a player’s high hand must beat the dealer’s high hand and the player’s low hand must beat the dealer’s low hand.

If a player does this, they are returned their original wager, plus winnings of 95% of that wager. For example, if a player wagers $20 and wins, afterward they will have $39 – the original $20 stake, plus $19 in winnings. This is because, due to Pai Gow Poker’s slim standard house edge of 2.84%, casinos take a 5% commission on each winning hand. If the player beats the dealer on one hand (high or low, doesn’t matter which) but loses the other, the result is a push. In this case, no money changes hands, and the original wager remains on the table.

Finally, if the dealer beats the player on both the high and low hand, the dealer wins, and the player’s original wager is lost.It’s worth noting that ties typically go to the dealer, meaning that, for instance, if both player and dealer have a low hand of ace-king, the dealer wins.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy – 9 Tips & Insights

After the dealer doles out the cards, you must decide, keeping in mind that your high hand must be better than your low hand, the high-low hand combination that you think stands the best chance of beating the dealer’s.

There are 9 variables at play that can affect how a player chooses to play a hand:

  1. In the case of a single pair and no straight or flush, the scenario is straightforward: select the two highest cards in the hand that are not part of the pair and put them in the low hand, with the pair (and the remaining three cards) and the high hand.
  2. In the case of two pairs, depending on the pairs themselves and the player’s own aggressiveness, one might choose to keep two pairs together in the high hand, or put the lower of the pairs in the low hand, as a pair in the low hand is quite strong, and greatly increases the chances of at least a push on the hand. Typically, if both pairs are 7’s or lower, it’s advisable to keep them together in the high hand and simply put the next two highest cards in the low hand. However, if those next two cards provide no realistic shot at winning (a 9-10, for instance), a player can choose to split up two pair.
  3. On the rare delightful occasion when a player fans open the cards and sees three pairs strategy is extremely straightforward: the highest of the three pairs is the low hand, with the remaining two pairs anchoring the high hand.
  4. A full house is always broken up, with the pair going into the low hand, and the three of a kind into the high hand.
  5. In the case of a straight or flush, the natural inclination is to simply play those five cards together, and simply play the remaining two as the low hand. In many cases, though, simply keeping a straight or flush together may cause the player to play an extraordinarily weak low hand that hurts their chances of actually winning. In many cases, splitting these hands up makes a lot of sense. For example, with a hand of 6-7-8-9-10, with an additional 9-10, it’s advisable to break up the straight and play the pair of nines as an extraordinarily strong low hand, and keep the pair of 10s in the high hand. Flushes can be treated similarly.
  6. On the flipside, it’s worth noting that a straight or flush, when not broken up, increases the chances of escaping a hand with no worse than a push. Don’t worry, even if you split a straight or a flush, you’ll still be paid your fortune bonus! (More on this in a second).
  7. In an overwhelming majority of cases, three of a kind is kept together and played in the high hand. However, in the case of three aces, players are advised to play two aces as a pair in the high hand, and use the third to strengthen the low hand, as an ace in the low hand is quite strong. Plus, at this point the player knows exactly where three of the five aces (counting the joker) in the deck are.
  8. It’s also suggested that four of a kind be split up, with one pair going to each of the two hands.
  9. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the hands that are commonly referred to as “pai gow”. These are the unfortunate scenarios in which nothing comes together. No pairs, no straight, no flush. In this case, the player simply takes their second and third highest cards and plays them as the low hand, while keeping the highest card in the high hand, and crosses his or her fingers. 

Let’s run through an actual scenario that I encountered while playing Pai Gow for free online, and how played a hand for the best chance at a win. I was dealt:

  • 8 of clubs
  • 4 of spades
  • King of hearts
  • Ace of diamonds
  • Ace of hearts
  • 6 of diamonds
  • 10 of hearts

The first thing that sticks out is my pair of aces. Since I don’t have a straight, a flush or three of another card, I knew that those would go into my stronger, high hand. Now I had to put together my low hand. Setting the aces aside, I saw that my two next-highest cards, a king and a 10, made for a fairly solid low hand. After all, after a pair and an ace-high, king-high is the best you can do in the low hand. 

I confirmed my hands and let the dealer show their cards. The dealer had a high-card nine in the low hand (which I beat) and a straight in the high hand (which beat me), resulting in a push.

Let’s look at one more scenario. Here’s my seven-card draw:

  • Joker
  • King of clubs
  • Queen of clubs
  • 3 of hearts
  • 7 of hearts
  • 5 of hearts
  • 2 of hearts

Remember, a joker is wild if and only if it completes a flush or a straight (or a straight flush or royal flush). In this case, along with my four hearts, the joker completes a flush. This hand was now a no-brainer. I kept the flush together, and put my final two cards, a rather strong king-queen combo, into my low hand. The dealer flipped a low hand with a high-card queen (which I beat) and a high hand with a pair of fives (which I also beat). As both of my hands beat both of the dealer’s hands, I won the hand, received my near-1:1 payout (remember the 5% commission), and, thanks to the Fortune Bonus, got a little something extra.

Once you’re familiar with the gameplay mechanics and have a firm grasp of poker hands, Pai Gow is fairly easy to play. You just need to make smart decisions when you draw a good hand and give yourself the best possible shot at a win. 

Fortune Pai Gow Poker At Golden Nugget

The demo we have above is of the Fortune Pai Gow game. The game itself is the same, but also features a special side bet you can place. The side bet, which is one-time and doesn’t roll over, pays out if your seven-card hand, regardless of how you split it, and whether you win, lose or draw, includes certain strong hands:

  • Straight — 2:1
  • Three of a kind — 3:1
  • Flush — 4:1
  • Full house — 5:1
  • Four of a kind — 25:1
  • Straight flush — 50:1
  • Royal flush — 150:1
  • Five aces — 400:1
  • Seven-card straight flush with a joker — 1000:1
  • Royal flush with suited royals — 2000:1
  • Seven-card straight flush — 8000:1

Obviously, these outcomes are increasingly unlikely the further you move up the paytable. However, the Fortune side bet can give you a nice shot at recouping some money even if you lose to the dealer, or, on the rare occasions when you land a monster of a hand, of winning more than merely 95% of your original bet.

Look for other fun variants and side bets that can amp up your Pai Gow experience!

Playing at a Real Casino

It can be intimidating to sit at a real casino table even if you know the game in and out. Pai Gow is no different. However, it’s a fun game that deserves your time, and the dealers (and often even other, more experienced players, since, unlike blackjack, nothing that one player does will affect another’s hand) usually like to help newcomers. Most real Pai Gow tables will allow dealers to help players make ideal decisions when forming a high and low hand. As you’re learning, feel free to ask for help.

Free Pai Gow Poker FAQ

Yes! You can play Pai Gow Poker online for free, and it’s completely legal. You can play game demos online or download a Pai Gow app. Players can also claim online casino bonus codes to play Pai Gow for free online for real money.

No. You can download an app and play that way, but do not necessarily need to. You can play for free using the demo we have on our Pai Gow Poker page.

Yes, provided you are within the borders of a state that has legalized online casinos (at the time of writing these are Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) and the online casino of your choice offers Pai Gow Poker, you can play Pai Gow online for real money.

No. You can play online at most online casino sites in demo form. As there’s no real money involved, you won’t be required to create an account. However, if you want to play in an app or for real money, you’ll need to create an account.

Yes, Pai Gow Pokers is an extremely beginner-friendly game! Online versions of the game have helpful guides to get you started. At a real casino, the dealers (and sometimes even other players) will usually help you make decisions if you tell them you’re learning the game.

Yes, playing Pai Gow online without real money at stake has big benefits. It is a great way to learn the rules and strategies of Pai Gow Poker, without risking any money!

About the Author

Cole Rush

Cole Rush is a Chicago-based writer and contributor for Bonus.com. His work has been showcased in various gaming industry magazines and online columns. Prior to freelance writing, Cole spent seven years in communications at a gambling and lottery supplier. A Chicago native, Cole's favorite teams are, predictably, da Bears and da Bulls. When he visits the casino, you’ll most likely find him betting on golf, playing Mississippi Stud, or eyeing the roulette wheel.

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