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Pai Gow Poker is a casino game that combines elements of poker with the Chinese game of dominoes. It was introduced in 1985 in a card club in California and since then expanded to now be available in casinos in different corners of the world. The title can also be found at most online casinos, and new players discover the thrill of Pai Gow Poker every day.

Although some poker elements remain embedded in the game rules, Pai Gow Poker has some distinctive features that make it truly unique. First of all, it is played with a standard deck of 52 cards and an additional joker card. In casinos, you are playing against the banker, a role usually taken up by the dealer but that can also be performed by other players at the table.

The unique elements continue after placing the bet. Each participant receives seven cards from which two hands must be formed, one of five cards and the other of three cards. The hands are then compared to the banker's hands, and even money is awarded for winning both of them. It is this combination of poker factors and simple rules that have helped Pai Gow Poker find countless fans over the decades. From Las Vegas in the 1980s to your favourite online casino today, Pai Gow Poker is a casino game with a great balance of features.

Fans of poker will quickly learn the ropes when switching to Pai Gow Poker. The game uses similar rules and hand rankings, so it is a recommended option for those who enjoy three card poker, video poker, and even Texas hold'em. It is, however, more relaxing since players don’t have to use that much strategy to win.

Those who enjoy Chinese dominoes will also probably like playing this poker variant. While it replaces the standard pieces with playing cards, the concept remains pretty much the same.

Overall, it is a casino game with an acceptable house edge of around 2.7%, which puts it in the same range as European roulette. As a result, it is an excellent choice for casino players and will offer a good return. Not to mention that there are some strategies which can be used to improve the odds further and lower the house edge.

For new players, Pai Gow Poker can be a bit difficult to understand at first, but it doesn’t take long to get how everything works. You can efficiently practice in demo mode and see if it is a game that fits your requirements since it is available online. Based on its popularity, we can say that this poker game has a broad appeal in casinos.

As mentioned previously, Pai Gow Poker uses one deck made out of 52 regular cards and a joker. The standard table has six seats for the players and one for the dealer. When playing online, however, you will only get one seat while facing the dealer side directly.

Each participant at the table gets dealt seven cards that can be used to form two hands, one made out five cards and the other out of two cards. The more significant hand always has to be of a better rank than the smaller hand. Your hand of five cards will be compared to the banker's hand of five cards, and the same goes for the other two hands. To win the bet and get 1:1, minus a 5% commission, both of your hands have to be stronger than the banker’s. It is very common in Pai Gow Poker for rounds to end in a draw, in which case the bet is a push, and it is returned in full.

The joker card is a semi-wild and can play the role of an Ace, or it can be used to form a flush or a straight in the hand of five cards. It also means that players can create a hand of five Aces, which is the strongest hand in the game. On the topic of hand rankings, Pai Gow Poker is similar to standard poker games. The only exception is that a straight from Ace to 5, also known as a wheel, is second in rankings. The list goes on with a royal flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pairs, one pair, and high card. For the hand of two cards, it is impossible to create a flush or a straight, and the best hand possible is a pair of Aces.

The banker always has to create the hands following set rules, known as the house way. Players can opt for different combinations and form the hands they wish with the seven cards available. There is also an option to request the hands to be created based on house rules. When you are playing online, the button for arranging the hands automatically can be useful, although it means that you can't apply Pai Gow Poker strategies. In some casinos, the role of the banker can switch between players and the dealer.

Given the 5% commission on winning hands, the casino edge in Pai Gow Poker when using the house way is of 2.7% when the dealer is always the banker. If you are the banker, you will enjoy a slightly lower house edge of 2% because the banker wins all ties.

You can decrease the house edge at the Pai Gow Poker table by following some playing tips. Optimal play refers to always making the right decisions to maximise the odds of winning both hands with the cards dealt. The strategy is based on certain tips for specific situations. If you follow the simple strategy for Pai Gow Poker, you can lower the house edge to around 2.5% when the dealer plays the banker role. Here are some highlights from our experts that you should follow when possible:

If you are lucky enough to get the very rare combination of four Aces and a joker, you should play a pair of Aces as the low hand and keep three of a kind for the high one. This way, the odds of winning both hands are very high. Another very rare starting hand is of four of a kind and another three of a kind, in which case it is best to use the highest ranking two cards to form one hand and then the remaining cards for the other.

For four of a kind, it is recommended not to split low cards and to split paint cards into two hands. Two pairs of Kings give you better odds of winning the bet than four Kings in the high hand.

Most hands of three of a kind should be played together, but there is an exception in this case. If you have three Aces, you should split them and use one Ace in the two-card hand as the high kicker. The remaining pair of Aces still makes for a steady hand.

If you don’t have any combinations of cards available, you should use the 2nd and 3rd highest ranking cards in the low hand, leaving the highest one in the five-card hand. This way, you meet the Pai Gow Poker rules, and you have good odds of winning at least one hand.

Overall, the goal is not to make the strongest possible hand of five cards while ignoring the other two-card hand. You should maximise the odds of winning both hands since this is the only way to win the bet.

Pai Gow Poker is not as popular as blackjack or roulette, but it can be pretty entertaining. Its rules are a bit complicated, and players are required to have some poker knowledge to enjoy the gameplay. However, the high RTP can make it worth it, especially if you follow the strategy tips provided by our team of professionals. Luck and skill both play a role since there is only so much that you can do with the seven starting cards, but it is crucial to spot the opportunities when they arise.

The game is included in the collections of most online casinos, and you are likely to find tables in brick and mortar establishments as well. Just remember that the five-card hand must be stronger than the two-card hand or your combination is not valid. We recommend that you use the house way when you are starting out so that you don’t miss on combinations and lose bets. Once you have some experience, you will very likely be able to notice the best hands in every round. Good luck!

Date Publication: May 29, 2018 Last Updated: Jun 07, 2022 Gamblescope Research Team