Play Pai Gow Poker at the Best Online Casinos
Welcome to our guide on how to play Pai Gow Poker online. In the sections that follow, we will give you a primer on everything you need to get started with this fun, straightforward game, including a walkthrough of the rules, odds and payouts, and some simple strategies to get you on the winning track.
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Pai Gow Poker Online – Free vs Real Money
You can play Pai Gow Poker online for free and for real money. Most players have enjoyed both versions at one point or another, and while they are the same game, the experience differs depending on which you choose.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of both free and real money Pai Gow.
Free Pai Gow Poker
- You can’t lose money
- It is a good way to practice the game and learn the rules
- It is a no-pressure way to get used to the site’s software
- You can’t win any money
- Less exciting than playing for real money
Real Money Pai Gow Poker
- You can win money
- The closest you can come to the excitement of a real-world casino
- Betting real money can help meet the playthrough requirements to earn bonuses
- You can lose money
How to Play Pai Gow Poker Online
Pai Gow Poker uses a standard 52-card deck plus one joker.
Like most casino table games, the object of the game is to beat the banker. In this game, the banker can be another player at the table, but when playing Pai Gow Poker online, it is typically just you against the house. To keep things simple, we will assume you are not playing as the banker through most of this guide.
Pai Gow Poker Structure
After placing your bet, the banker will deal you and themselves seven cards each. You must arrange these cards into two hands: a two-card hand and a five-card hand. The two-card hand is often called the front or top hand, and the five-card hand is often called the back or bottom hand because of where they positioned on the table.
The only rule in arranging your hands in Pai Gow Poker is that the five-card hand must be stronger than the two-card hand. The five-card hand can be any poker hand from a royal flush down to just a high card. The two-card hand, by its nature, can only be a pair or high card.
The joker can be a wild card to complete a straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush. If it cannot accomplish that task, it is an ace.
Most online Pai Gow Poker sites will highlight the cards it suggests for your two-card hand, so you often don’t even have to make any decisions if you don’t want to. You do not have to accept the suggestions, however, and can always arrange your two hands however you would like, as long as the five-card hand is the strongest.
Ending the Hand
After you lock in your hands, usually by clicking on the two cards for the front hand and the confirming your selection, the banker will turn over their cards and arrange their two hands. You now compare your hands with the banker’s hands. If both of your hands beat both of the banker’s hands, you win your bet, less a commission. The commission is typically 5%.
If you lose both hands, you lose your bet. If you win one hand and lose the other, it is a push and no money changes hands.
Keep in mind that if you make the five-card hand weaker than the two-card hand, you automatically lose. Fortunately, online casinos often don’t even let you do that, but it is still a good practice to make sure your hands are always in the proper order, just in case.
Pai Gow Poker Side Bets
You can also place a separate side bet, the outcome of which is determined by the best single poker hand you can make with all seven cards you receive. Hands from three of a kind on up to a seven-card straight flush pay out on the bonus bet. The payouts are typically displayed on the table. The house has a bigger edge on these, so they are not generally recommended.
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Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings
Since Pai Gow Poker is a poker game, it is important that you understand poker hand rankings. Sure, if the online casino helps you split your hands, you don’t have to think about anything, but there will be times where you will want to use your own strategy. And for that, you need to know the hand rankings. The “Cards” column in the table below gives just one of many examples of specific hands.
|Royal Flush||A, K, Q, J, 10 (Spades)||10, J, Q, K, A of the same suit.|
|Straight Flush||9, 8, 7, 6, 5 (Clubs)||Five consecutive cards of the same suit.|
|Four of a Kind||A, A, A, A, 5||Four cards of the same numerical value (or rank).|
|Full House||5, 5, 5, Q, Q||Three cards of the same rank and two cards of the same rank; in other words, three of a kind and a pair.|
|Flush||2, K, 5, ,8,10 (Spades)||Five non-consecutive cards of the same suit.|
|Straight||5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (Different suits)||Five consecutive cards not of the same suit.|
|Three of a Kind||3, 3, 4, Q, K||Three cards of the same rank.|
|Pair||6, 6, 7, A, Q||Two cards of the same rank.|
|High Card||10, 3, 7, 2, 5 (Different suits)||Five cards that don’t match any of the above hands.|
Pai Gow Poker Payouts and Odds Explained
You can place a side bet on the best poker hand that all seven of your cards make. The table below shows the odds of hitting each type of hand and the usual payout for each.
|Pai Gow Poker Hand||Payout||Odds|
|Seven-Card Straight Flush (No Joker)||8,000:1||5,000,000:1|
|Seven-Card Straight Flush (With Joker)||1,000:1||800,000:1|
|Four of a Kind||25:1||500:1|
|Three of a Kind||3:1||20:1|
Pai Gow Poker Strategies to Help You Win
With no betting after the cards are dealt and most online casino sites helping you choose how to split your hands, Pai Gow Poker doesn’t require all that much in-depth strategy. But there are still decisions that need to make when there are multiple, reasonable ways to sort out your hands. In this section, we will briefly discuss some general and some quite specific strategies that can help you win more in the long run.
There is still flexibility within these tips; as you become more familiar with Pai Gow Poker, you can adjust some of these strategies to suit your play style.
Don’t Be Afraid to Split Monster Hands
Being dealt a full house is a great feeling, but it doesn’t do you much good to put the full house in the five-card hand, only to leave your two-card hand with garbage like 5-3. It is almost always best to split it into a three of a kind and a pair to maximize your chances of winning both hands.
Split Pairs Often
It is usually the right decision to split two pair, putting your best one in the five-card hand and the weakest one in the two-card hand. A pair in the front hand – no matter the value – is very strong. Exceptions would be if you have a weak two pair plus an ace or even a king with a high kicker – in this case, it can be a good idea to keep your two pair together in the five-card hand and take your chances with an ace-high in the two-card hand.
It’s a Balancing Act
Piggybacking on the above, sometimes it just comes down to your gut feeling. You want to win both hands, but sometimes it’s best to give yourself a near lock to win one of the hands, while reducing your winning probability on the other.
It just depends how you feel. Do you want to almost guarantee a tie, or do you want to increase your chances of winning both hands while also increasing your chances of losing both? There are always the “correct” mathematical plays, but in the end, it is up to you to manage your risk tolerance.
Put Trips in the Back Hand
If you are dealt three of a kind, put it in the five-card hand to nearly assure you will win that hand. Splitting it only weakens your five-card hand and doesn’t improve your two-card hand much, if at all. The exception can be with three aces – here you might consider just using a pair of aces in the back hand and an ace-high in the front hand.
I know, you really want to keep that four of a kind, but like we’ve already mentioned, it’s pointless if it means your two-card hand is trash. If you have an ace, though, you could keep the quads intact, since an ace-high still has a solid chance to win the two-card hand.
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