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Pai Gow


Pai Gow poker is unique to other poker games in that it can last a long time, games often end in a push (tie) and the house edge never changes (casinos charge a constant commission called a ‘vig’ or charge a flat rate per hand fee).

In Pai Gow poker, you’re dealt seven cards that you split into two hands: five cards in the low hand (also called back hand) and two in the high hand (also called front hand). The naming has to do with where the hand is placed on the actual table and has nothing to do with the hand’s value. To make matters more complicated, your five-card low hand has to be a stronger poker hand than your two-card high hand. If you don’t do this and your two-card hand is stronger, your hand is fouled and you lose.

In order to win, both of your hands have to beat the dealer’s and you’re paid out even money (minus commission). If one hand wins and the other loses, it’s a tie and you neither lose nor win money. If you hand matches the dealer’s, it’s called a copy & the bank wins.

The odds

The odds are mostly even in Pai Gow poker, but the bank has a minor edge as it wins copies. Each player has the opportunity to play the bank, which you should do from time to time to improve your edge/advantage. But you don’t want to play the bank all of the time as you stand the risk of losing up to six times on a normal bet. Most casinos have policies in effect to discourage people from banking too much, but more commonly, you’ll find that nobody wants to be the bank. In that case, the house does the banking.

Setting hands

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The main strategy in Pai Gow poker is how you choose your front and back hand. If you have four Jacks in your hand, you shouldn’t necessarily put them all in your five-card back hand. Yes, you’ll probably beat the bank’s back hand, but remember, you need to win both the back and front hands in order to win. That means you might do better to split your Jacks and put a pair in both hands to increase you chance of winning both hands. In other words, you’re better off making two average hands than one super-strong ones. Don’t be worried about making an average hand the winning two-card hand is often simply a high card.

If you’re not too interested in learning the following hand-selecting table, you can always ask the dealer to arrange your cards for you! The way they select cards is determined by house rules. This feature of allowing the dealer to help the players during a game is unique to Pai Gow poker.

The following is a general guide to Pai Gow hand selecting:

Pai Gow Poker Hand Selection Strategy


Back Hand (Five Cards)

Front Hand (Two Cards)




No pair

Highest card

Second and third highest card

One pair


Two singletons

Two pair (& one pair is Aces)

Pair of Aces

Two highest singletons

Two pair (without Aces)

High pair

Low pair

Two pair (with a single Ace)

Both pairs


Three pair

2nd and 3rd highest pair

Highest pair




Two Aces

One Ace & the next highest card

2 to King

Three of a kind

Two highest cards

Two sets of three of a kinds

Lower three

Two from the higher trips



Without a pair

Lowest full hand

Two highest cards

With one or two pair

Lowest full hand

Pair (if doable); if it isn’t, then two highest cards

With three of a kind

Full hand


With full house

Three of a kind


With two sets of three

Lower three

Two from the higher set


Three of a kind





Two of the four

Two of the four

8 to King (without an Ace)

Two of the four

Two of the four

8 to King (with an Ace)

Four of a kind


2 to 7

Four of a kind

Two highest cards

Five aces (the Joker’s an Ace)

Three Aces

Two Aces

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