How To Play Pai Gow Poker

The game of pai gow poker is based on a 53-card deck. This includes the standard 52-card French deck along with a semi-wild joker. This style of joker is also known as a "bug" among poker players because it will always count as an ace if it's not used as a part of a straight or flush. As you'll see, this joker doesn't really influence all that much in the game, but when you're learning how to play pai gow poker, it does add a slightly more exciting element that you'll have to account for, mostly in making sure that you don't make the mistake of believing it to be a regular wild card that substitutes for anything.

Basic Gameplay

To play this game, you make a bet, and then you are dealt seven cards. What you're wanting to do here is break up those seven cards into a five-card hand and a two-card hand. The five-card hand will be ranked according to standard five-card poker hand rankings, and the two-card hand will be ranked according to pairs and high-card hands only. The five-card hand is typically called the high hand, and the two-card hand is normally referred to as the low hand. Having labels for these hands makes it easier to learn how to play pai gow poker since you can reference the two hands quicker.

There's one exception to the rule about five-card poker hands. When it comes to the ranking of straights, in some games, the A2345 wheel straight will beat all other straights except for the AKQJT broadway straight. This is a somewhat strange rule, but it does come up in a whole lot of games. This is the only little quirk like this that you'll have to learn when it comes to knowing how to play pai gow poker, but if it comes up without you realizing it, then you'll probably be irritated to say the least.

Pai Gow Showdown

Once you make your hands from the seven cards you were given, they're compared to the dealer's two hands that are sorted based on what's called a house way. The house way is just a set of rules that the house uses for sorting their cards in this game. For each of the two hands, ties go to the dealer, so if you both have AK in the low, then the dealer wins that part of the hand. If you win both hands, then you win, and winning only one hand makes the game a push. Losing both hands obviously loses your bet.

The key restriction on how you sort your hands is that the high hand has to be a higher poker hand than the low. A big part of learning how to play pai gow poker is actually internalizing this rule and using it as a tool to quickly find the best way to play a lot of the common situations. In fact, having this rule in place actually simplifies the game quite a bit, and that's good news for players who don't have dozens of hours of free time each week to study strategy.

The Nature of the Game

If you're familiar with other casino table games, then you might be in for a bit of culture shock when it comes to learning how to play pai gow poker. The reason for this is that there are a lot of pushes in this game, so the volatility is particularly low. While this means that you won't suffer long swings, it also means that you won't have as many long winning streaks. However, you will book frequent small and medium-sized wins, and that's something that any player can get behind.

The pace of the game is also slower than you might expect if you're a fan of other table games, and that's something that a lot of people have some trouble getting used to. In fact, the slower action is probably the number one complaint of players, but that's just an inherent part of the game. However, when you play online, you don't have to wait on other players to sort their hands, so the games go a lot faster.

Overall, what you're looking for when you're learning this game is a focus on strategy that will allow you to boost your chances of winning in the long run. Bad play is punished fairly harshly in this game, but you don't have to play perfectly 100 percent of the time to enjoy a good payout rate. In fact, this is one of the most forgiving table games when it comes to making lots of small mistakes over time.