Pai Gow Poker

About Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker is a poker version of a domino game called Pai Gow. It is a table poker game with medium house edge and low variance. Low variance can make it useful in playing bonuses “with less risk” because the bankroll goes up and down much less during wagering.

Pai Gow Poker Rules

The player and dealer are both dealt 7 cards. Both the player and dealer must separate the 7 cards into two poker hands, one 5-card hand and one 2-card hand.

The player separates his cards into two hands first while dealer’s cards are not shown. After this the dealer separates his cards according to predefined rules called “The House Way” which is usually the nearly optimal way to split the cards into two hands. After this player’s and dealer’s both hands are compared. If player wins one of the hands but loses another, then the bet is returned (a push). If the player wins both hands, he wins 1:1 the bet minus 5% commission. If player loses both hands, he loses the bet.

The two hands are ranked according to standard poker rules, but there are some exceptions. Two card –hands are only ranked for pair and high card. There are no flushes or straights in the two card –hand. For example a pair of deuces beats suited Ace/King. The highest ranked two card –hand is therefore a pair of Aces and the lowest two card –hand is 3,2 (suited or not). Also, the two card hand cannot be ranked higher than the five card hand. So to make a two card hand pair of Queens, the five card hand has to be ranked at least pair of Queens as well.

All the cards are dealt from a single 53-card deck, which includes a joker. The joker counts as an ace or it can be used to complete 4-card straights, flushes or straight flushes. However the joker cannot be used to form a pair. So for example a two card -hand with Joker/King counts as Ace/King. Also second highest straight after A-K-Q-J-T is A-2-3-4-5. In case of a tie between player and dealer (exactly matching hands) the dealer wins the hand.

Optimal Strategy

The strategy decision is to how to split the 7 cards into two hands. Most casino softwares offer an automatic “House way” button. This splits player’s hand using the same rules as the dealer uses to split the hand. The “House Way” of splitting usually gives a strategy that is within 0.2% of the optimal strategy. Otherwise the optimal strategy splitting can be a bit hard for a non-poker player, but use following guidelines:

1. With no pair, try to win the two card hand by putting 2nd and 3rd highest card to the 2-card hand

2. With a pair, put Pair into the 5-card hand and next two highest cards to the 2-card hand

3. With two pairs, always split the pairs unless other of the pairs is low (22-66) and you have ace to put in 2-card hand

4. With three pairs, obviously put highest pair in 2-card hand

5. Other guidelines:

A) Split full houses to a three of a kind and a pair

B) With a straight or flush – play two pairs over straight/flush, otherwise play straight/flush

C) With 4 of a kind – generally split high four of a kind into two hands.

House Edge and Rule Variations

The house edge of Pai Gow poker is ~2.7% when player splits the hands using “The House Way”.


As large number of hands in Pai Gow Poker are pushes, the variance of the game is lower than any other common game at online casinos. These values result in a standard deviation of 0.75 per round.