Pai Gow Poker Strategies

How to beat Pai Gow Poker

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2-Card Pai Gow Hands. Photo Courtesy (Nevada Casino History)

Beating Pai Gow Poker at your local casino isn't as tough as you think! Although there are books on the subject like Sanford Wong's Optimal Strategy for Pai Gow Poker, there are some simple things you can do to increase your chance of winning without reading a 150-page book!

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow poker is played with a standard English deck of 52 cards plus the joker, or bug. The joker can only be used as an ace, or a card that completes a straight or flush.

Players and the dealer receive seven cards they place into two hands: five cards and two cards. The five card hand must be of a higher total rank than the two-card hand. Also, an Ace-2-3-4-5 straight is the second highest after Ace-K-Q-J-10.

Ultimately, Pai Gow is about hand setting. The hands are grouped into a high hand made up of five cards, and a lower value low hand of just two cards. Because there are many possibilities with seven cards, a high hand might be a straight and the low hand just a pair, or you might be dealt an actual pai gow - a hand with no straight, flush or pair.

The player's job is to set their cards into two hands, making sure the five-card hand is the highest. Once the dealer sets the Banker hand using a casino-chosen house way, the hands are compared. If the player's two-card hand beats the banker's two-card hand AND the player's five-card hand beats the banker's five-card hand, the player wins.

If one wins and one loses, it is a push. If either player hand is the same value as the banker’s hand it is a tie or copy, and the Banker wins. If the Banker’s two hands beat both of your hands you lose.

The Banker's Edge

It's that copy aspect that gives the house (or banker) an edge since two hands will copy about 2.6 percent of the time, so the banker wins 29.9 percent of the outcomes and the player wins 28.6 percent.

In addition, when the player does win, the house charges a 5 percent commission, except in EZ Pai Gow. There will be an overall tie 41.5 percent of the time.

Beating Pai Gow Poker

The house uses a house-way to set each hand, and a player can stay almost even with the house by playing in a similar manner. In fact, you can ask the dealer to help you set your hand. The house always starts with the idea that it does not want to lose. You want to play the best two hands, which is not always the best hand possible in the high hand.

If you are dealt four aces and a two, three, and four, you could play the four aces in the high (five-card) hand with the deuce, and the 4-3 in the low (two-card) hand. Or, you could play three aces in the high hand and an ace-4 in the low hand (which most players do). However, the house knows that if it plays an ace-ace in the low hand it can not be beat, since four aces are out and the best any other player could play in the low hand is a king-king, and it will beat a few other hands with the pair of aces in the high hand. So, don't gamble - always try to play a very good two-card hand. Learn Pai Gow strategy like blackjack basic strategy.

Simple Pai Gow Strategies

  • When you have no pair, straight, or flush, play the highest card with your high hand (the five-card hand) and the next two highest cards in the low (the two-card hand) hand.
  • Two pair where the top pair is an aces, split. Two pair where the top pair is kings, split except when the other pair is deuces, then play together and play the two highest remaining cards in the low hand. Otherwise use the two-pair rules that follow:
  • Two pair: sixes and below, split unless you hold an ace, then play together with the ace and the next highest card in the low hand.
  • Two pair: 7's thru 10's, split unless you hold an ace, then play together with the ace and the next highest card in the low hand.
  • Two pair: Jack's thru Aces, split - obviously with the highest pair in the high hand.

Three Pair

Play the highest pair in the low hand.

Three of a Kind

Always play together except when the cards are aces, then play a pair of aces in the high hand and a single ace with the next highest card in the low hand.

Full House

Always split with the pair in the low hand unless you have a second pair also, then play the highest of the two-pair's in the low hand.

Straight and Flushes

Keep the straight or flush in the high hand, choosing whichever gives you the highest card for the low hand. The exception is when you also have two pair, then split according to the two pair rules. Straights and Flushes are always kept together in the five card hand unless you also have a pair of tens or better. In cases where you have a pair of tens for a five card hand WITH an AK or better for the two card hand – you might consider splitting up a straight or a flush.

Four of a Kind

  • Four of a kind, sixes or lower, keep together.
  • Four of a kind, seven thru tens, split unless you have an ace or better to play in the low hand.
  • Four of a kind face cards, Aces, Kings, Queens, or Jacks, always split, unless you have another pair to play in the low hand.

Five Aces

Always split unless you also have a pair of kings, then play the kings in the low hand.

Bonus Bets

The house makes more money on the bonus bets (Fortune bonus, etc.) than on the commission it charges at Pai Gow. The bonus bets make the game more exciting and provide the anticipation of big payoffs, but if you want to beat Pai Gow, don't play the bonus bets.

Banking

The best chance a player has of beating Pai Gow is when they are given the chance to Bank on a regular basis. I've seen heads-up games where the player was allowed to bank every other hand. That's a wonderful game, but don't expect to find it. Instead, most casinos offer the player a chance to bank once every seven hands. If you have the bankroll, take the bank, which means you are playing your money against every other player on the table!

In this case, you might just use the house-way to set your hand. And, you'll pay commission on what you win. The best part of banking is winning when the other players make mistakes setting their hands. That's your edge!