Pai Gow Rules You Should Know Before Playing

Pai Gow Rules You Should Know Before Playing

Paigow Poker Need To Know

If you have wandered through just about any casino on the planet in the last couple of years, you may have noticed that poker derivative games have exploded onto the scene!

Pits that were once packed full of traditional casino games like blackjack, roulette, or craps are now littered with poker-based table games.

Games like 3 Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, and High Card Flush are some of the most popular games on the floor, but all of these games owe their success to the poker derivative pioneer, Pai Gow Poker!

Pai Gow Poker has become a staple in most casinos, and nowadays, you would be hard pressed to find any table games pit that doesn’t have at least one Pai Gow Poker table.

The game offers the perfect mix of strategy, excitement, and huge payouts, which has made it a fan favorite of gamblers everywhere.

If you haven’t had a chance to give Pai Gow Poker a try just yet, you are in luck, as we here at TheSportsGeek are going to tell you all of the Pai Gow rules that you are going to want to know before you take a seat at the table.

Knowing all of the rules for Pai Gow is key to winning on your first try at the game, and we here at TSG have got you covered!

With that, let’s jump right into it, with our top-5 Pai Gow rules you should know before playing! Let’s get started with the basics, on how to set your hand!

Pai Gow Rules

Check out TheSportsGeek’s top-5 Pai Gow Poker rules below, so you can be an expert at the table when you take your seat!

Your Bottom Hand Must Beat Your Top Hand

Pai Gow Poker is played with 7 cards. Players use those 7 cards to make 2 separate poker hands, a 5 card hand, known as the bottom hand, and a 2 card hand, known as the top hand.

Please Note:

In order to win, both of your hands must beat both of the dealer’s hands, and in order to lose, both of the dealer’s hands have to beat both of your hands. If you split with the dealer, the hand is a push, and you get your money back.

The only real hard-fast rule when it comes to setting your Pai Gow Poker hand is that your 5 card bottom hand, must be better than your 2 card top hand.

If you miss-set your hand, and your top hand is higher than your bottom hand, your hand is considered fouled, and you automatically lose. The 5 card bottom hand plays just like normal poker. Pairs, straights, flushes, and full houses all rank the exact same in Pai Gow as they would in a normal poker game.

That isn’t the same for the 2 card top hand though, as on top, cards only play based on their rank, and straights and flushes don’t count.

Pro Tip – Spilt Your Bigger Pairs

As you get dealt 7 cards, getting multiple pairs is a fairly common hand when playing Pai Gow Poker.

To be a winner at the Pai Gow table, you have to balance your hands to give yourself a good chance to beat both of the dealer’s hands and win, while also protecting it, so you don’t lose both and get scooped.
A great way to accomplish this balance is by splitting your bigger pairs between your top and bottom hands while keeping your smaller pairs together on the bottom.

I consider any 2 pair hand where both pairs are above 7s to be a hand where you will want to play the big pair on the bottom, and the smaller pair on top. If you have 2 pair, but they are both 7s and under, keep them together on the bottom to protect your bet.

Really the only time that you are going to run into your top hand being better than your bottom hand is when you don’t have any pairs, straights, or flushes at all. This hand is known as a Pai Gow.

Whoever decided to name this game after the worst possible hand you can make needs to get with the guy that invented blackjack, as I never understood why you would want to name the game after a bad hand!

Naming issues aside, as long as you make sure that when you do have a Pai Gow, that your highest card goes on the bottom, you are going to be in good shape, and your hand won’t be fouled. The only other time that comes up often where you will want to make sure your bottom hand beats your top hand is when you have 2 pair.

In this situation:

You have to set your hands where the bigger pair is on bottom, to avoid fouling your hand. Just about every other type of hand is going to set itself, where your bottom hand is going to rank higher than your top hand.

It is always a good idea to do one final check to ensure your hand isn’t fouled before setting your hand and letting the dealer reveal their cards.

How You Set Your Hand Doesn’t Affect The Bonus Bet

We just talked about how the only real rule when it comes to setting your Pai Gow Poker hand is that the bottom hand must beat the top hand. But a little-known fact about Pai Gow rules is that how you set your hand, doesn’t affect your bonus bets.

If you have a hand that qualifies for a bonus payout, you don’t even have to set your hand with that bonus, to get paid.

For example, let’s say that you have a flush. You could set your flush on the bottom, as that is a very good hand, and you are likely to beat the dealer’s bottom hand. In this scenario, you would then set your other 2 cards on your top hand, whatever they might be.

But remember, in order to win, you have to beat both the dealer’s bottom and top hands.

If you have a pair or an ace up top with your flush on the bottom, great, set it that way! But what if you have your flush on the bottom and 6 high on top, with no chance to win? This is where you can break up your flush, and instead play your hand to give yourself a better chance to win both hands and win your main bet.

The best part about setting your hand to give yourself a better chance to win, is that you still get paid for your flush, even if you break it up! That means that there is literally no reason not to set your hand in a manner to give you your best chance to win.

The bonus is the most exciting part about playing Pai Gow, as you can win life-changing money, but just know that the bonus payout is coming no matter what, so don’t let it mess with your strategy on how to set your hands!

Pro Tip – You Can Play The House Way

This is another lesser-known fact, as many players are surprised to hear that you can actually ask the dealer for advice on how to play your hand!

And unlike asking the dealer at a blackjack table whether you should hit or not, when you ask a Pai Gow dealer about your hand, they will help you set it based on the house rules of the game, using perfect strategy, not just give you advice.

Personally, the strategy aspect of Pai Gow Poker is my favorite part of the game. But even an experienced player like myself sometimes ends up in a spot that they aren’t sure about. If this happens to you, turn your cards face up and ask the dealer to set it the house way!

Jokers Can Only Be Used For Aces, Straights, and Flushes

Most casino poker games don’t use jokers. So, the first time that you play Pai Gow and find a joker in your hand, you might be a bit surprised!

The addition of a joker is a fun quirk to Pai Gow, but make sure that you understand what it can be used for before setting your hand. Pai Gow rules state that the joker can only be used to complete a straight or a flush, or as an ace. If you have a pair of kings and a joker, you do NOT have trip kings.

But if you have 4 clubs and a joker, you can absolutely use the joker to make a flush, which will qualify for a bonus payout. Aces, straights, and flushes only for the joker!

A Wheel Is The Second Highest Straight

This is another little quirk that is unique to Pai Gow Poker, as, in Pai Gow Poker, a wheel is the 2nd highest straight, behind only an ace-high straight. For those of you that aren’t up to speed on poker terminology, a wheel is a 5-high straight consisting of an ace, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

In standard poker:

The wheel is the lowest straight, but in Pai Gow Poker, it is the 2nd highest straight that you can make. You have to keep this in mind when setting your hand, as you would much rather set a wheel than say a 6-high straight, as it is a much stronger hand.

And don’t forget, you can use that joker as an ace, and to complete a straight, so using the joker to make your wheel is perfectly acceptable.

All Ties Go To The House

This final Pai Gow rule is a bit of a downer, but something you must be aware of, as all exact ties go to the dealer. That means if both you and the dealer have an ace and a king on top, it isn’t a push like it would be in most other games, as the tie goes to the dealer, and you will lose the top hand.

Ties on top do happen quite often as there are only 2 cards in play, and it can certainly be frustrating when you tie and lose. But when you look at how the game is played, the fact that the house wins ties is really their only advantage, as besides the ties, and the commission they charge you when you win, the game is basically a coin flip.

Tie hands on the bottom happen far less frequently, as it has to be an exact tie for you to lose. If you both have flushes, it’s not a tie because flushes are flushes, it would only be a tie if all 5 of the cards match exactly.

Please Note:

We see this happen with straights on occasion, and every once in a while, you will see hands like a single pair that end up as an exact 5 card tie.

There really isn’t anything that you can do to avoid these tie hands and I wouldn’t let it bother you too much when they happen. Ties are part of the game, and while it isn’t my favorite part of the game for sure, they happen rarely enough that they shouldn’t bug you too much.


Now that you know all of these Pai Gow rules, are you ready to get in on the action? That’s what I thought! If you have never tried Pai Gow Poker online, you should give it a try, as the gameplay is faster paced, and the progressive payouts can get huge in a hurry!

Playing Pai Gow Poker online is a lot of fun, but before you log on, you need to head to The Sports Geek’s safe poker sites page, where we review all of the top online casinos, and give you offers for all kinds of free cash!

Everybody loves free money, so make sure that you take advantage of all of our exclusive deals. Thanks for reading and good luck playing Pai Gow Poker!


Author: Tamara Kim