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As the name implies, Pai Gow Poker is a combination of the games Pai Gow and Poker. Players arrange 7 cards to make 2 poker hands. The game's low variance and moderate house edge make it a useful option for bonus play when blackjack, video poker, and hold'em are not available.


Rules and Play

In Pai Gow Poker, the player and dealer are each dealt 7 cards. Both the player and dealer must separate their cards into two hands -- a 5-card hand and a 2-card hand. The hands are ranked according to traditional poker rules with the four differences listed below.

1. The highest ranking 2-card hand is a pair. Straights and flushes are only ranked with the 5-card hand.

2. A joker counts as an ace. It can also be substituted for any card to complete a straight, a flush, or a straight flush.

3. A-2-3-4-5 is the second highest ranking straight, after A-K-J-Q-10.

4. Matching hands are treated as dealer wins.

If the player wins both hands, he receives 1.95x his bet (5% commission on wins). If the player loses both hands, he loses his bet. If the player and dealer each win one of the two hands, the player's bet is returned to him.



Many casino softwares offer Pai Gow with a "house way" button. Simply click on the button to split your cards. The house way button typically produces a house edge within 0.2% of optimal strategy. You can use the Pai Gow strategy calculator to approach closer to optimal strategy or confirm strategy decisions.

The rules below summarize strategy for Pai Gow Poker. "Sum of ranks" refers to the card values. The sum of ranks of a pair of 4s and a pair of 8s is 4+8=12.

A. No Pair: Place the highest card in the 5-card hand and the next two highest cards in the 2-card hand.

B. One pair: Place the pair in 5-card hand and the next two highest cards in the 2-card hand.

C. Two pairs: Split the pairs into two hands unless:

1. The sum of the ranks of the pairs is 9 or less, and the 2-card hand contains king or better
2. The sum of the ranks of the pairs is 16 or less, and the 2-card hand contains ace

D. Three pairs: Place the highest pair in the 2-card hand. Place the remaining two pairs in the 5-card hand.

E. Three of a kind: For 2-K, place the three of a kind in the 5-card hand. For three aces, place a pair of aces in the 5-card hand and the remaining ace in the 2-card hand.

F. Full house: Place 3 of a kind in the five-card hand and a pair in the 2-card hand.

G. Straights, flushes, straight flushes, and royal flush:

-- With no pair: Select the straight/flush combination which will allow the highest two cards in the two-card hand

-- With one pair: Play the straight/flush

-- With two pairs: Play the two pairs over the straight/flush unless:

1. The sum of the ranks of the pairs is 9 or less, and the 2-card hand with the straight/flush contains king or better
2. The sum of the ranks of the pairs is 16 or less, and the 2-card hand with the straight/flush contains an ace

-- With three of a kind: Play Straight/Flush + Pair

H. Four of a kind: Play according to the rank of the four of a kind:

2 through 5: Play the four of a kind
6 through 9: Split into two pairs unless 2-card hand contains a king or better
10 through King: Split into two pairs unless 2-card hand contains an ace or better
Ace: Split into two pairs contains unless 2-card hand contains a pair or better

I. Five aces: Split into 3 of a kind + Pair


House Edge

The house edge in Pai Gow depends upon both player strategy and dealer strategy. Dealer strategy may have slight variations from one casino software to the next. If the player and dealer use the same strategy ("house way" button), the house edge on the player bet will be ~2.7%. Approximately half of the house edge comes from the 5% commission on wins. The other half comes from the dealer winning matching hands. With optimal strategy against typical dealer "house way" rules, the house edge can be reduced to between 2.5 and 2.6%, with the exact value depending on the dealer strategy. The Pai Gow strategy calculator can be used to approach optimal strategy, reducing house edge.

At most online casinos, the player must bet as "player." In brick and mortar casinos, players may take turns as banker, resulting in a lower house edge. Like brick and mortar casinos, Kismet software gives the option to play as banker on alternate hands. This reduces the house edge to ~1.45%. The 5Dimes bonus casino offers Pai Gow in which a 2% commission goes to the player, rather than dealer, resulting in a house edge of ~0.7%.

Microgaming casinos offer an optional bonus bet with a 5.79% house edge. Other softwares that I am aware do not offer side bets.


Variance and Bet Size

The standard deviation per hand of Pai Gow Poker is ~0.75, significantly lower than any other common game in the casino. The low variance relates to a maximum payout of 1:1 and a large portion of the hands being pushes.

Real Time Gaming casinos round down the commission to the nearest 0.25. This rule increases the commission to beyond 5% and increases the house edge, if your bet is not a multiple of $5.

The table below shows the chance of ending above the deposit balance with unlimited bankroll, after completing a wagering requirement with 5 bet sizes. See the return & variance calculator for more specific estimates.

Bet Size Playthrough Requirement
5xB 10xB 15xB 20xB 25xB 30xB 35xB
B/100 100% 99.9% 98% 91% 80% 66% 53%
B/50 100% 98.5% 92% 83% 72% 62% 52%
B/20 99% 91% 82% 72% 64% 58% 51%
B/10 95% 83% 74% 66% 60% 55% 51%
B/5 87% 75% 67% 62% 57% 54% 50%


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