How Pai Gow Poker is Played

Each player places a bet. The throw of three dice or a randomly generated number is used to determine who will receive the first hand. The deal starts with the chosen seat and then proceeds anti-clockwise, distributing the hands to each betting position irrespective whether there is a bettor present or not. If there is no bettor those hands are immediately added to the discard pile.

Each hand dealt consists of seven cards. The player must then use the seven cards to create two poker hands. The first is normally known as the “High” or “Big” hand consists of five cards; the second is usually known as the “Low” or “Small” hand, consists of two cards.

The High hand must contain the stronger poker hand; the Low hand must contain the weaker of the two poker hands. The joker in the pack is the semi-wild card. It can be used to complete a Straight or a Flush in the five-card poker hand, or it can be used as an ace.

In most Nevada casinos, “the wheel”, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, is played as the second highest straight, losing only to A, K, Q, J, 10. However, this is not the case in all casinos, and you should consult the house rules to ensure that you don’t make a mistake. When you have decided how you are going to place your seven cards between the two hands, you arrange them in the two boxes. Once this is done, some casinos allow one of the vacant hands to be left in play and offered to players as what is called the “Dragon hand”. Players are asked in turn if they would like to play this hand. This simply allows you to play against the dealer on a particular deal.

Once all hands have been set by the players, the dealer acts as the bank, turns over his cards and sets them into two poker hands, exactly as the players have done. He will set his hands according to a prescribed set of rules, called the “House Way”. Although the basis of the House Way is standard globally, every casino has its own set of variations.

The dealer compares his two poker hands to each of the players’ hands:

  • If a player’s first and second hands both beat the dealer, the player is paid even money (1-1), minus a house commission of 5 percent. Some card clubs and private games take a flat fee per hand instead of the commission, but most casinos charge commission on winning hands.
  • If the dealer’s two hands both beat the player’s two hands, the player loses his wager.
  • If one hand wins and one hand loses, doesn’t matter which hand, the wager is a stand-off, and the better receives his wager back.
  • In the event of an exact tie, called a “Copy” – a rare occurrence, the tie is awarded to the dealer’s hand.

In some casinos players are allowed to place a bet which pre-pays the commission if they win the hand. Hence, on a $50 bet, you would place $52.50 and win $50 if both your hands beat the dealer’s two hands. This reduces the house edge by approximately 0.25 percent. A small amount, but over time it adds up.

Note, on average 40 percent of the cards dealt in Pai Gow Poker result in ties, where your bets stand off against the house. This makes the game enjoyable and enables you to hold on to your bankroll for some period of time. At times the dealer will make strong hands, but if players manage to beat the banker consistently substantial profits could be made.

Banker Privileges

One of the most exiting elements of Pai Gow Poker just like the old fashioned Chemin de Fer games is that each player is offered the chance to beat the Banker. You don’t have to accept this role, but it is advantageous for you to do so. There are certain responsibilities one has to keep in mind when you are the Banker:

  • You must have played at least one hand against the Banker.
  • You must have sufficient funds on the table to pay off all winning bets that may be made against you in the next deal.

One of the privileges of banking is that you can set your two poker hands the way you wish. There are safe and aggressive ways of doing this. Some casinos offer you the chance to co-bank with the house. This means that you are responsible for 50 per cent off the best made, while the house covers the remaining 50 per cent. However, if you take this option, you will have to set your two poker hands following the “House Way”. This reduces your input, but safeguards you against a multiple losing hand where you have to pay out everyone.

The general house edge in Pai Gow Poker depends on several factors such as the amount of players playing, hand setting skills and how often you get to be the Banker. To make a comparative figure, as a player the edge against you is more or less 2.7 percent; as the Banker the edge is reduced significantly to below 0.3 percent. If there is a full table and you play the Banker, the overall edge will be 1.5 percent against you making Pai Gow Poker a pretty decent bet.

Add to this the opportunity to bank more frequently than one deal in seven (if there are fewer players at the table) and the house edge can be significantly reduced-making it as little as a 1 percent edge against you.

The House Way

The casino will have a pre-determined method of setting its two hands based on key principles. The House Way will be close to the optimal method of setting hands, but will tend to err on the side of optimizing the chances of winning at least one hand and therefore creating a stand-off. Most casinos will allow you the option of letting the house set your hands for you according to the House Way. If you are not sure of the basic idea behind the hand setting, and you are just dipping your toe into Pai Gow Poker this is a good decision to make.