• More Casinos Reviewed than Anyone Else
  • A Panel of Renowned Casino Experts
  • Dedicated Conflict Resolution Team

Simple Pai Gow Rules And Strategy: A Top Guide

Pai Gow is a popular card game played in casinos from Macau to Singapore, and beyond. It's easy to learn and features lots of exciting betting due to the presence of the joker.

Essentially, it works a little like Chinese Poker where players have to make the best poker hands and beat the house. If you understand Texas Hold'em you'll already have a basic grasp of what to look for. Let's take a closer look at Pai Gow rules and how you can make your bankroll go further.

This page is for you if:
  • You want to learn basic Pai Gow rules online
  • You're after some simple Pai Gow strategy and tips
  • You want to understand the house edge
  • You want to find a game online

Understanding Basic Pai Gow Rules

Pai Gow starts with each player placing their own bet. The order the cards are dealt in is determined randomly by the dealer, who then deals each player 7 cards from a 53 card deck containing the usual 52 card poker deck plus a single Joker. In online pai gow, this is handled electronically through a specialised online pai gow room.

Many of the cards and five-card hands in pai gow are the same as in most other poker games. The possible exceptions are:

  • The use of the Joker may vary, so be sure to find out which rules the room you are playing in uses. For many games of pai gow poker, the Joker may be used as an Ace in order to complete a straight, a flush, or a straight flush. In some games, it may simply be equivalent to an Ace. Many casinos only allow the Joker to act as an Ace in the two card hand, but occasionally the Joker may be wild without limitation.
  • When playing pai gow in some casinos and in some versions of online pai gow, the hand A/2/3/4/5 is placed higher than K/Q/J/10/9 and lower than A/K/Q/J/10. This variant is not universal, and is notably avoided in many casinos in California.
  • Due to the Joker representing an Ace, it is possible to get a five-card straight in pai gow. This outranks the Royal Flush and is the highest ranked five-card hand in pai gow.

Pai Gow Rules: Winning a Hand

Other than these exceptions, the ranking of five-card hands in online pai gow is the same as for 5-stud poker. The order of the ranks from high to low in pai gow is thus 5 Aces, Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Four-Of-A-Kind, Full House, Flush, Straight, Three-Of-A-Kind, Two Pair, Pair, Nothing.

The best two-card hand in pai gow is a pair. One of the interesting rules of pai gow is that the two-card hand must not be of a higher value than the five-card hand. There can be penalties for not arranging your hands correctly in pai gow. This can range from being forced to rearrange your hand in a particular way through to an automatic loss. Some online pai gow rooms may warn you of a possible foul hand before you play it, though it is best not to rely on it.

In order to win a hand of pai gow, the player must beat both of the dealer's hands. If one hand wins and the other loses, then the player pushes and no money changes hands. In the event neither hand beats those of the dealer, the player loses, and their stake goes to the dealer. Anytime the dealer and player tie on a particular hand, the dealer wins that hand.

A winning player is paid even money on their stake, but casinos may require a 5 per cent commission on wins. Some casinos merely charge a flat fee per hand played, though. When playing online pai gow, it is advantageous for players to try many different online pai gow rooms to guarantee the best price per hand.

Pai Gow Strategy: Using the Joker

Pai gow strategy is mostly universal, though differences in how the Joker may be used as well as the way the A/2/3/4/5 hand is ranked could see minor changes in specific circumstances. The first thing you must remember when playing pai gow, however, is that draws are extremely common. You can easily find yourself with a good five-card hand only to find the dealer has a strong enough two-card hand to force a draw.

The challenge of pai gow is in constructing the best two hands from your cards. While it is difficult to win on both hands, it can be easy to lose on both if you are not careful to set up a draw. Pai gow is incredibly defensive compared to other forms of poker.

How to Reduce the House Edge

If you are playing online pai gow, then it is especially advantageous to do everything you can to reduce the house edge. This means that improving the odds of winning in your five-card hand may not always be preferable to splitting a good five-card hand to make two decent hands. The following combinations may help you in reducing your losses, though many are designed to make draws more likely than wins.

High Card

Use the highest card for your five-card hand and the second- and third-highest cards for your two-card hand. This should hopefully improve your odds of a draw, though winning with such a combination is unlikely in pai gow.

One Pair

Use the pair for your five-card hand, but use the next two highest cards for your two-card hand. Again, the idea is that you are unlikely to win with a mere pair and thus are better off using your next highest cards to try to win the two-card hand and possibly force a draw.

Two Pairs

If you hold an Ace that isn't part of one of the pairs, then put both pairs into the five-card hand and the Ace into the two-card hand. If you do not hold an ace, then put the high pair in your five-card hand and the low pair in your two-card hand.

Three Pairs

Put the highest pair into your two-card hand. Put the other two in your five-card hand. This may seem unusual, but again the idea is that you can give yourself better odds of forcing a draw if your five-card hand loses by putting the highest pair in the two-card hand.


Put the Straight in the five-card hand and then make up the two-card hand out of the remaining cards.

However, if you have six cards that could make a Straight, use the highest cards you can for the two-card hand while still preserving the Straight.


Use the Flush for the five-card hand and then use the remaining cards for the two-card hand.

Full House

This may seem odd, but the usual advice for a Full House in pai gow is to use the pair for your two-card hand and the Three-Of-A-Kind for the two-card hand. This should give you a good chance of winning with the two-card hand while still giving good odds to win with the five-card hand.


If you have three Aces, put one into your two-card hand with the next highest card and the remaining pair of Aces in your five-card hand.

Essentially, when playing pai gow, you will often need to aim for a draw rather than focusing on just one hand. Pai gow is definitely a game of patience and online pai gow makes it much easier for you to remain patient. Just remember when playing online pai gow to look for the lowest cost rooms to play in, as while many casinos will take a 5 per cent commission from wins, some others will simply charge a low flat rate per hand, which may work out better for you.

Finding Good Pai Gow Sites Online

Pai Gow is hugely popular at casinos across Asia, and now you can get a taste online. Many Internet casinos have real-money Pai Gow games from low stakes. And if you sign up for an account you can enjoy a great deposit bonus upon sign-up.