Mastering the Rules of Pai Gow: A Complete Overview

If you’re looking to shake up your usual card game routine, why not explore the world of Pai Gow? This Chinese gambling game is a blend of poker and ancient Chinese dominoes, offering a unique twist to your typical casino night.

In this article, we’ll break down the rules of Pai Gow, making it easy for beginners to get a grasp of the game. From the basic setup to strategic moves, we’ve got you covered. So, whether you’re planning a trip to Vegas or just looking to expand your card game repertoire, keep reading to master the art of Pai Gow.

Remember, Pai Gow isn’t just about luck, it’s also about strategy. By understanding the rules, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Pai Gow pro. So, get ready to dive into this fascinating game and see why it’s a favorite in casinos around the world.

Game Overview

While most associate Pai Gow with poker, it’s more than just a luck-based card game. It’s really a fusion of ancient Chinese dominoes and modern American poker, providing an intriguing blend of strategy and chance that’s both challenging and fun.

Understanding the basics of Pai Gow is essential in mastering the game. In Pai Gow, up to seven players compete against a dealer. Each player is dealt seven cards, which they must split into two hands: a two-card hand and a five-card hand. The five-card hand, known as the “high hand,” must outrank the two-card hand, termed as the “low hand.”

The goal in Pai Gow is not to beat every other player at the table, but to outrank the dealer’s two hands. This is where the strategy comes into play. Arranging the cards to form the most potent high and low hands is paramount for success in Pai Gow. It’s not just about creating the strongest possible combination like in conventional poker. A player must strike a balance between their high and low hands, as winning requires both hands to be higher than the dealer’s.

Equally as critical is understanding the role of ‘the joker,’ a semi-wild card in Pai Gow. It can be used as an ace, or to complete a straight or flush in the high hand. In the low hand, the joker acts strictly as an ace. This unusual role adds a unique twist to the game, providing an additional dimension to strategy and making Pai Gow a truly captivating game.

Around the world, the game’s popularity in casinos is undeniable. As players delve deeper into the rules and strategies of Pai Gow, they often find themselves entranced by the challenge and complexity. Determining just the right move, balancing risks and rewards, and outwitting the dealer – all contribute to the game’s allure. A game of both fortune and finesse, Pai Gow, continues captivating players across the globe with its unique blend of poker and dominoes.

Basic Setup

Before diving into the intricacies of the game, understanding the basic setup of Pai Gow becomes fundamental. Let’s dissect the typical setup of a Pai Gow game.

First and foremost, the game uses a standard 52-card deck along with a single joker. This card plays a unique role and isn’t always considered a wild card. It can only be used to complete a straight, flush or straight flush; otherwise, it’s considered an ace. The number of participants in Pai Gow can range from two to seven, including the dealer. These unique elements spice up an otherwise standard poker format, infusing it with an additional layer of strategy and clash of cultures.

Onto betting. Each player places a bet before cards are dealt. After the bets are placed, the dealer doles out seven cards to each player. The mission for the players is to split these cards into two hands —a five-card “high” hand (also known as the “behind” or “big” hand) and a two-card “low” hand or “front” or “small” hand. The high hand must have a greater value than the low hand according to traditional poker rules.

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The dealer typically arranges their own seven cards, following the pre-set “house way”…+

After organizing their cards, the dealer may compare their high and low hand with each of the other players’ hands. The objective is to outrank the dealer’s hands, not each other. A win could mean the player’s both high and low hands outrank the dealer’s. In some cases, the player might win one hand and the dealer the other, resulting in a push. Or, the dealer wins both hands, and the player loses their bet.

Advanced Tips

Hand Rankings

Understanding hand rankings in Pai Gow is essential for any player wanting to win. The hand rankings in Pai Gow are somewhat similar to those in traditional poker. Here’s what you should know:

The Five-Card High Hand is also known as the “big”, “high”, or “back” hand. It’s imperative to make sure this hand has a higher value than the Two-Card Low Hand, also known as the “small”, “low”, or “front” hand. In the high hand rankings, the royal flush (Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10 – same suit) reigns supreme, followed by the straight flush (any five-card sequence in the same suit), four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pairs, one pair, and high card.

The Two-Card Low Hand can only comprise a pair or the highest cards. The best two-card hand is a pair of aces, with pairs depreciating in value as the card face decreases. The low hand can’t form straights or flushes and is ranked by the highest card or the second card if the first is a tie.

Equally important to note in Pai Gow rules is the role of the Joker Card. A wild card that can complete a flush, straight, or straight flush in the high hand. If it can’t do any of the above, it then defaults to an Ace.

To outrank the dealer, both your high and low hands must beat the dealer’s hands. If you win one and lose one, it’s a push, and no money changes hands.

While these are the main points to keep in mind for Pai Gow hand rankings, remember, getting a grasp of these rankings can give anyone a stronger foothold in the game. Nevertheless, nothing beats practice and experience. Over time, you’ll be better equipped to evaluate the worth of your hands and the manner in which they should be split, propelling you forward in this game of strategy and chance.

The Joker

The joker holds a unique position in the game of Pai Gow. It’s unlike other card games where the joker is simply a wild card. In Pai Gow, the joker can be used in specific ways that add a twist to the game.

It’s a semi-wild card. It can act as an ace, or it can complete a flush or straight. This means the joker potentially holds multiple values, it’s not merely filling in as another card. This flexibility enhances the game’s strategic depth and can give players a slight edge if they know when best to use it.


  • The joker is an ace unless it completes a flush or straight.
  • Players ought to consider this when dividing their seven cards into the high and low hands.

Knowledge of the joker’s role in Pai Gow significantly affects players’ strategies. When drawing the joker, a player’s approach to dividing their cards may change, influencing the potential outcomes of the game.

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While one could view the joker as an added complication, many find it an intriguing aspect of Pai Gow. The joker provides opportunities for players to get creative with their hands and introduces an element of surprise to each round.

It’s worth noting that the joker card doesn’t guarantee a win. Despite its unique characteristics and potential benefits, it all comes down to how effectively it’s used. Understanding the game, including the complex role of the joker, is necessary to improve and succeed. It’s still crucial to consider traditional poker hand rankings when dividing cards and forming high and low hands.


  • Studying and understanding the importance of the joker card is a key aspect of Pai Gow.
  • Always consider the role of the joker when deciding how to split your cards.
  • The joker doesn’t guarantee a win, knowing when and how to use it is essential.

The depth and complexity of Pai Gow, including the role of the joker, underscores the game’s appeal. Each round presents players with a unique challenge requiring strategy and skill, and that’s what makes Pai Gow a constant favourite among card game enthusiasts.

How to Play

Stepping into the arena of Pai Gow, a player has to arm themselves with the knowledge of how to play. The game begins with seven cards dealt to each player, including the dealer. Every participant then splits these cards into a five-card hand known as the ‘back’ or ‘high’ hand, and a two-card hand known as the ‘front’ or ‘low’ hand.

In the jigsaw of Pai Gow, one must remember that the high hand must always outrank the low hand. For instance, if a player’s low hand consists of a pair of sixes, their high hand must contain a pair of sevens or better.

Once the hands are arranged, they’re compared to the dealer’s hands. If a player’s both high and low hands beat the dealer’s respective hands, the player wins the bet. If just one hand wins but the other one loses, it’s a “push,” which simply means the player’s bet is returned. If, unfortunately, both of a player’s hands are weaker than the dealer’s, the player loses their bet outright.

Remember, in Pai Gow the joker isn’t a wild card that can take any value. People often mistake it for an all-defining card. The joker can only be used as an ace or to complete a straight, a flush, a straight flush, or a royal flush. It’s a small twist in the game that adds a multitude of strategies and outcomes, widening the range of possibilities.

Pai Gow is a game of intricate subtlety and finesse. It not only hinges on the luck of the draw, but also on the player’s strategic acumen and understanding of the game’s rules. The key to success lies in the experienced handling of the joker and correctly dividing the hands.

They say practice makes perfect. As players continue on their Pai Gow journey, they’ll slowly start to unravel the game’s complex depths: the slight nuances, the range of hand rankings, and the unique role of the joker. This game is never just about the rules, but how one bends them to their advantage.

Strategy Tips

In Pai Gow, just knowing the rules isn’t enough. To win, players also need to understand strategy, and that’s where experience comes in. Let’s delve into some strategy tips that will help in improving your Pai Gow gameplay.

Understanding Hand Balance

To create a winning hand, it’s essential to prioritize balance. When dividing cards, it’s best not to focus solely on creating the strongest five-card hand. Rather, divide your cards in a way that leaves both hands solid. This often means breaking up a full house to strengthen the two-card hand.

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Strategic Use of Joker

The existence of the joker card in a Pai Gow deck adds a level of complexity. If player lands a joker, it acts as an ace or helps complete a straight, flush, or straight flush. In other scenarios, joker plays a little role and doesn’t fill in for any card player might need. Hence, it’s a different kind of wild card.

Learning to Be the Banker

The role of banker in Pai Gow rotates. When it’s your turn, remember that the banker wins any ‘copy hands’ – hands that are exactly alike. This slightly increases your chances of winning, making it a valuable position to play from.

Play it Safe

Pai Gow is a game of patience. It’s often more about losing less than winning more. So, play it safe, avoid high-risk bets, and focus on small, steady gains.

While implementing these strategies, remember that Pai Gow is as much an art as it is a science. It’s a game of balance and cautious risk-taking. Continued practice and experience are major keys to mastering the game. It’s not just about winning but also about enjoying the subtle intricacies this unique poker variant offers.


Mastering Pai Gow can be a thrilling journey. It’s a game that requires a clear understanding of hand rankings and a strategic approach to card splitting. With the joker card adding an extra layer of complexity, players have an opportunity to exercise their tactical skills.

The key to success in Pai Gow lies in balancing your hands well, making smart use of the joker, and taking calculated risks. Being the banker can also provide an edge, enhancing your chances of winning.

Remember, Pai Gow isn’t just about luck. It’s a game where strategy plays a significant role. So, keep practicing, refine your strategies, and watch your Pai Gow skills improve over time.

As you continue to play, you’ll find that Pai Gow offers an exciting blend of challenge and enjoyment. It’s a game that’s well worth the time invested in learning and mastering its rules.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Pai Gow?

Pai Gow is a traditional Chinese gambling game played with a set of 32 dominos. In the American version, it is played with a standard deck of 52 cards plus a joker.

2. How are hands ranked in Pai Gow?

In Pai Gow, the five-card high hand and the two-card low hand are ranked according to standard poker rules. The high hand must always outrank the low hand.

3. What is the role of the joker in Pai Gow?

The joker can be used as an ace or to complete a straight or flush. It adds an element of strategic depth to the game, as players must decide how best to utilize its potential in their hand.

4. How do you play Pai Gow?

In Pai Gow, each player is dealt seven cards, which they must then split into a five-card high hand and a two-card low hand. The objective is to have both hands beat the dealer’s hands.

5. Any tips for playing Pai Gow?

Some strategy tips for playing Pai Gow include prioritizing hand balance, using the joker strategically, learning to be the banker, and playing it safe. Practice and experience are key to improving in the game.

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