How To Play Pai Gow Poker

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

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. Online casinos in real-money markets will allow you to play Pai Gow with real bets and chances at real wins so long as your preferred online casino has the game in its library. On this page, we’ll walk you through what you need to know to play Pai Gow, including the basic rules and where to find the game. 

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

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:

  • New Jersey
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania
  • Connecticut
  • West Virginia

Game libraries and the online casinos available can differ by state, so check with your preferred site to confirm whether Pai Gow Poker is available there. 

How to Play Pai Gow Poker: The Basics

Pai Gow is played with a 53-card deck—a full deck and one joker. It helps to understand basic poker hands, as you’ll be constructing the best possible hands as you play. To start, you’ll get seven cards. You then have a decision to make. You must separate the cards into a five-card hand (called the “high” hand) and a two-card hand (the “low” hand).

The dealer will also have even cards, though they’ll be face down. Your goal is to construct a high hand that will be the dealer’s high hand and a low hand that will beat the dealer’s low hand. The only rule here is that your high hand must be better than your low hand. So 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 would need to use the threes as your low hand and keep the fives in your high hand. 

One other thing to note is the joker is a wild card of any suit if and only if it completes a straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush. In all other scenarios, the joker functions as an ace. Once you separate your cards into high and low hands, the dealer will do the same with theirs. 

How You Win

In Pai Gow, you want to beat the dealer with both your high and low hands. Here’s how different scenarios would play out:

  • Player’s high and low hands are better than the dealer’s hands: WIN (2:1)
  • One hand beats the dealer’s cards and the other hand loses to the dealer: PUSH (1:1)
  • Both hands lose to the dealer’s hands: LOSE

Ties typically go to the dealer in Pai Gow. So if your high hand is a pair of fives and the dealer has the same high hand, the dealer would win. 

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

After the dealer doles out your cards, you have to make a decision and build the high and low hands that you think stand the best chance to beat the dealer’s face-down cards. Remember, your high hand must be better than your low hand. Plus, your low hand can only contain two cards, so the best-case scenario is a pair. You’ll often find yourself putting your highest card in your low hand to compete against the dealer’s highest card. 

Let’s run through a scenario. Here’s an actual hand I was dealt while playing Pai Gow for free online and how I split it to give myself the best chance at a win:

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

Here, the first thing that sticks out is my pair of aces. I can’t make those my low hand, because it wouldn’t beat my high hand. So to make this the best possible hand for myself, I would bring the king and the 10 into my low hand, which isn’t too bad for a non-pair. After a pair, ace-high and king-high are the best you can hope for in the low hand. 

That leaves my high hand with a pair of aces. Not terrible, but nothing to call home about. I confirmed my hands and let the dealer show their cards. The dealer had a high-card nine for the low hand and a straight for the high hand, resulting in a push. 

Let’s do one more scenario to help you grasp Pai Gow a little better. 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, straight, straight flush, or royal flush. In this case, it does that, giving me five hearts. This is a no-brainer. I split the king and queen into my low hand and kept the hearts and the joker for my high hand.  The dealer flipped a low hand with a high-card queen and a high hand with a pair of fives. Both my hands beat the dealer’s cards, resulting in a 2:1 payout for me. 

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 a special version of the Fortune Pai Gow game. The only major difference is that there’s a special side bet you can place. The side bet pays out if your seven-card hand, regardless of how you split it, forms a straight or better. If you place the side bet and get a good hand, here are the payouts:

  • 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. 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 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. As long as you’re not risking real money, this action is safe to do.

Not necessarily. You can play for free using the demo we have on our Pai Gow Poker page. If you’d like, you can download an app and play that way.

Yes, you can play if you’re within a state that allows it. Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and West Virginia all have legalized online casinos. You can play for real money there as long as the online casino you choose has a Pai Gow game available.

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

For the most part, it is beginner-friendly! Online versions of the game have helpful guides to get you started. At a real casino, the dealers will usually help you make decisions if you tell them you’re learning the game.

Yes, playing it online has benefits! It helps you learn the rules and strategy of Pai Gow Poker, plus you don’t need to risk 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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