The Rules of Pai Gow Poker

In the past twenty years, since the casino card game of Pai Gow Poker was launched in American casinos, it has enjoyed ongoing success at both land-based gaming houses and online card rooms. The game is simplicity itself and although players have to make up two separate poker hands, the hand rankings and other rules are very much part of traditional poker.

A standard 52-card deck is used but there is one exception, a single joker is added to the pack. The table is always made up of six players and the banker, and even if a player is not sitting at a designated spot, the hand is dealt and then placed on the discard pile with the other unused cards.

Players compete against a banker which may be the casino dealer, or, as is common in most reputable gaming rooms, the players themselves. The object of Pai Gow Poker is to create two separate poker hands out of the seven cards dealt to each player. The hands will consist of five cards and two cards respectively, and the five-card hand must always rank higher than its two-card counterpart.

Traditionally the two-card hand is known as the hand ‘in front’ or ‘on top’; whereas the larger hand is the hand ‘behind’ or ‘bottom’. This simply describes the way the hands are placed when the player is done sorting or setting them. The game begins when each player places their bet.

The Deal

The deck is shuffled and 7 cards are place face down in 7 piles – this will mean that 4 cards are always unused and placed on the discard pack. Each player is then allocated a betting position number according to their position at the table, starting from the banker, who will be #1 and going on in a counter clockwise direction. A number between 1 and 7 is then randomly chosen, either electronically or by the throw of the dice, and the deal begins with the corresponding position of the chosen number and then progresses counter clockwise.

Hand Rankings

  • In the two card hands there are only two possible alternatives – a pair or high cards and the joker is always regarded as an Ace.
  • In the five card hands the standard poker rankings apply and the joker may be used to complete a straight or a flush, otherwise it is regarded as an Ace.
  • There is one exception to the rule but this varies according to where you are playing – at most Nevada casinos A-2-3-4-5 ranks higher than a King-high straight, but is below an Ace-high straight – A-K-Q-J-10. In other areas, including Atlantic City, A-2-3-4-5 is considered the lowest possible straight.

The Win

  • If both hands beat the banker’s corresponding offerings, the player wins even money less the 5% commission for the house
  • If only one hand beats the banker, the player pushes
  • If both hands lose to the banker, the player loses
  • Ties go to the banker
  • Should a player have the low hand outranking the high hand, or, if the incorrect number of cards is dealt, the player is penalised according to the house rules.
  • At many casinos the dealer/banker is required to set his hand according to a specified manner by the house which, in effect, means that he does not have to implement any sort of strategy to beat the players.