Rules and Strategy

Pai Gow Rules

Pai Gow is above all a variant of the game of poker, but its roots trace back all the way to a game similar to that of Chinese dominos. Like other poker games, it’s played with a deck of cards with a few differences, most notably the inclusion of the Joker as a wild card which can serve as an Ace or be used to complete hands like a straight.

How to play Pai Gow Poker

At the start of the game, each player will make their initial bet. The dealer will then distribute seven cards to each player. At this point players divide their cards into two playable hands; a strong and a weak ‘hand’. The strong hand is composed of five cards while the weak hand is composed of only two cards. The strong hand should always have a numeric value that is superior to the weak hand. If this isn’t the case you could find yourself being disqualified, with some online casinos not tolerating players who flaunt the rules. In a land-based casino, the dealer will request that you correct your error. After that, you risk either being asked to learn the rules or leave the table.

The first hand (the strong hand) has the same value as that in traditional poker, the only difference being that the combination of A-2-3-4-5 would be considered the 2nd highest draw after that of 10-J-Q-K-A. The second hand (the weak hand) may only be comprised of a pair or a draw of weaker cards than those that comprise the first hand. A pair of Aces for example is considered stronger than a pair of 2’s so if the dealer and player both have a pair, the stronger of the two will win. If both have the same pair, it’s the dealer who wins.

A show of force

After consulting and ordering their cards, the player then shows their hand to the dealer who compares the two hands to get a result. First, the strong hand is compared and then the weak hand is compared. If the dealer wins on both hands then the player loses. If likewise, the player wins on both hands then the dealer will lose. If the dealer wins one hand and the player wins the other then the round results in a tie and the player earns back his initial wager.

What role does the Joker Play in Pai Gow?

You know how you usually remove the joker out of a standard deck of cards? This time round, you’ll come to find out that it’s one of the most valuable cards in the game. As per standard Pai Gow Rules, the joker is included in the game.

In a nutshell, the joker is semi-wild, and it plays an important role in substituting a card in the following ways:

  • It can substitute a numerical card to complete a straight
  • It can substitute a suit to complete a flush
  • It can complete a straight flush
  • It can complete a royal flush
  • As a rule of thumb, it will always be an ace if it can’t substitute a numerical card or suit

Pai Gow Terminologies

To fully understand all Pai Gow Rules, we’re going to give you the lowdown of some basic terminologies of the game. In the end, this will help you gain a better understanding of the game, and ultimately learn how to play Pai Gow.

The Back – (5 Card Hand)

If you’re familiar with poker, you’ll realize the Back card, is ranked exactly the same as in poker. The back/big/high hand features 5 cards. As a general rule, your 5-card hand must outrank your 2-card hand.

The Front – (2 Card Hand)

As opposed to the back card, the 2-Card Hand, or the Front Card, ranks lower than the back card. In this case, 2 Aces are considered to be the highest pair, and pair of 2s is the lowest. If you find yourself in a situation where a hand is not a pair, then your hand is ranked as high. This means that J9 is Jack High.

If two high hands have the highest card, in this case, the second-highest card determines the winner. For example, if two players have a high Ace – Player A has an AQ and Player B has an A9, the player with AQ wins the game.

House Way

You should also familiarize yourself with an important a term known as the House Way. In short, the house way is a part of a set of instructions that is used by dealers in land-based casinos. Generally, they use these rules when they are forming the seven-card hands. When it comes to online platforms, the house way comes in the form of a button. In this, way you can take this

You need to understand that the house way strategy doesn’t always guarantee a win, but rather, it keeps losses to a minimum, even if the casino wins. In a nutshell, a house way strategy is a great option for players who may not be interested in big wins, but rather a low-risk game.

Additionally, house way buttons automatically play the chosen hand once it’s been set. Although others form the hand, you have the option to either play it the way it’s set or not. Ultimately, this can help you get a better understanding of the strategy you’ve chosen.

Pai Gow Variants

Considering that Pai Gow stands as one of the most popular casino games, it comes as no surprise that there are a number of variations to the game. Especially between the years 2004 to 2009, more and more versions continued to come out.

First up, we’ve got Pai Gow Mania. This was the very first variation of the game, which features two side bets instead of the standard sole side bet per hand.

Fortune Pai Gow or Bonus Pai Gow Poker is another popular variant that allows players to base a hand ranking on a poker hand of trips or better.

There are other variants of the game, including Emperor’s Challenge. Its main feature is to allow a side bet on 7-card Pai Gow.

The last version that was developed was Progressive Fortune Pai Gow. It’s very similar to how progressive jackpots work in slot machines etc. In this case, a progressive jackpot is added to the Pai Gow table. As per Pai Gow Rules, players will compete for the same prize pool by added $1 side bets to the jackpot.

How Fortune Pai Gow is Played

In this section of the guide, we’re going to focus on one particular variation of the game – Fortune Pai Gow. Sometimes, you’ll find that this is also called Bonus Pai Gow Poker. Although it’s a variant, there’s no need for any confusion.

It follows the exact same Pai Gow Rules, with the only difference being that you can get your hands on a staggering payout of 8000x your original stake if you wager a bonus bet, as well as a 7-card hand that features a winning pattern. That’s right, no matter how you form your front and back hands, you stand a chance of winning a record-breaking payout.

Additionally, it’s also important to note that Fortune Pai Gow targets high-risk players, rather than low-risk ones. First off, you’re wagering your original bet as well as the bonus bet; this means that you’re betting twice as much in every game that you play.

Secondly, if the game ends in a tie, you will completely lose your bonus bet. If this is the case, there are ways and means to go about it. If your seven cards feature 4-of-a-kind, you are entitled to a bonus payment of 25x your bonus bet, irrespective of your wins and losses in standard gameplay.

That said, the odds of getting 4-of-a-kind in your hand are higher than the payouts, meaning that the game will have a higher house edge. Nevertheless, if you’re a high-roller or someone who loves to live life on the edge, by all means, give it a whirl!

We will give you the full details about winning combinations and bonus payouts in the Pai Gow Poker Odds table in the upcoming sections.

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Side Bets

Now that you have a better understanding of the game, let’s talk side bets. What are they? How can they increase your chances of winning?

Interestingly, more and more casinos are including a number of Pai Gow variants because one of their main features is the side bet. As stated in standard Pai Gow Rules, side bets are particularly useful because they can increase the player’s chances of winning. While they do not add or reduce the amount of the bet for the hand, side bets allow the player place extra bets on 3-of-a-kind, 4-of-a-kind, a full house, a straight flush, and a royal flush.

Naturally, it goes without saying that the higher your hand is, the higher are your chances to land a whopping bonus payout. Without further ado, let’s look at what kind of side bets you can place in Pai Gow variants.

  • Fortune Pai Gow: Side bets can be made on trips or better
  • Pai Gow Mania: You can place two side bets
  • Emperor’s Challenge: You can place a side bet on a Pai Gow
  • Progressive Fortune Pai Gow: You can place side bets with a 7-card straight flush

As you will see in the payout table below, some online casinos offer envy bonuses. In this case, you need to place another bet that will allow another fellow player to hit a premium hand.

That said, you need to be mindful of side bets. As seen in other staple casino games like blackjack, sometimes you end up wagering more than you initially bargained for. The bottom line, it’s best to avoid taking the side bet unless you really want to gamble more.


As per Pai Gow Rules, the following table displays all the important information about the types of hands, as well as their payouts and bonuses. Along with the rest of the sections of this Pow Gow guide, please refer to this table if you need more help on how to play Pow Gow.

HandPayoutEnvy Bonus
7 Card Straight Flush8000:1$5000
Royal Flush and Royal Match2000:1$1000
7 Card Straight Flush without Joker1000:1$500
5 Aces400:1$250
Royal Flush150:1$50
Straight Flush50:1$20
Full House5:1N/A

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

Now that you have a better idea of how to play Pow Gow, we’re going to delve into more detail about the Poker Hand Rankings. Keep in mind that these are all based on what you normally find in a game of poker.

The table below features all the possible hand rankings, as well as what they consist of.

Hand RankingsWhat do they consist of?
Five AcesFour Aces and Joker (which is always an Ace)
Royal Flush10-J-Q-K-A of the same suit (Hearts)
Straight Flush5 cards belong to the same suit in ascending order (5-6-7-8-9 of diamonds)
4-of-a-Kind4 cards pertaining to the same value. (7-7-7-7)
Full HouseA 3-of-a-kind pair that breaks ties between the highest-ranking 3-of-a-kind.(Q-Q-Q-7-7 beats J-J-J-10-10)
FlushA suit that features 5 cards irrespective of the ranking (3-6-8-19-J of Hearts)
Straight5 cards from different suits ranked in ascending order (5 hearts, 6 clubs, 7 diamonds, 8 hearts, 9 spades)
3-of-a-KindThree cards that hold the same value. (5-5-5)
Two PairTwo sets
One PairTwo cards that hold the same value. (3-3)
High CardThe highest-ranking card wins if no one has a pair. (A-10-5-4-2)

Why players Love Pai Gow poker

Most players adore Pai Gow for the simple fact that it requires some form of strategy to play effectively. It requires way more than just luck to win. The type of player it attracts is the type that likes to have some control over their casino game, rather than just leaving it to pure chance. Pai Gow is a dynamic game which keeps a player-focused and entertained from start to finish.

With this in mind we suggest to practice a simple strategy that works which is found in our Pai Gow Startegy Page:

Note: Pai Gow is also featured in a government-funded study about adventure tourism as featured in the book "Adventure Tourism The New Frontier" and can be found online in pdf form:

Where to Play Pai Gow for real Money

Now that you have a clear idea of this game thanks to this guide, we suggest that you should put your newly acquired knowledge to the test by playing Pai Gow for real money. There are many operators that feature Pai Gow in their casino game libraries and only a few excel in providing you with a great overall experience. Since we are a casino comparison site, we already have done the heavy lifting for you and will present you a decent casino that has met our strict criteria which are as follows:

  • All Game Variants available to play
  • Games are optimised for both mobile and desktop devices
  • Demo games are available
  • Licensed and Reputable Casinos Only
  • Fast Payouts and plenty of banking options
  • Fair RTP % (aka payout ratio)
  • Generous Welcome Bonus and Regular Promotions
  • Reasonable Wagering requirements on Bonus Types
  • Multi-layered customer support (live chat, phone, email)

Ignition Casino

Ignition Casino has been chosen as it has a great reputation with online players. You can find and play the Pai Gow variants on their platform but before you rush to the casino, make sure to claim your welcome bonus as this is often overlooked. If you are unsure, you can always try out the casino without risking any of your cash by claiming a no-deposit bonus which enables you to test the casinos' ecosystem without depositing real money. We have shortlisted Ignition Casino for the following 3 criteria:

  • ✅ Best Pai Gow Poker Games on the Market
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  • ✅ Superb Cross-Device Compatibility
  • ✅ Fast Payouts and Plenty of Banking Options

Karen Newport, Casino Table Games Expert & Reviewer @ Casino Bonuses Index

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So now you’re up to speed with the rules, are you starting to feel a bit more confident? Check out another of our pai gow poker articles for more info on this exciting variant of poker:


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