Pai Gow Poker Rules

The rules of pai gow poker are a little tricky to learn at first because they're a bit different than any other table game out there. They include elements of a number of different games, and this includes the original pai gow that was played with Chinese dominoes. The basic gameplay is easy to learn, but there are some intricate pai gow poker rules that aren't readily apparent and that are sometimes easy to forget. We want to help you out by walking you through the rules of this game in a way that's easy to learn and easy to remember.

How Hands Are Dealt

You start off with a bet, and then the hands are dealt. You're going to start out with seven cards that you'll use to make two hands. The high hand is a five-card poker hand based on normal rankings, and the low hand is a two-card poker hand that's only based on pairs and high-card hands. Your goal is to arrange your cards in a way that the high hand is a stronger poker hand than the low hand, but you also have to remember that you're trying to beat the dealer who is doing the same thing.

The deck used is a 53-card standard deck with a single joker. The joker is a point of contention for many players because it doesn't work like a normal wild card. It's always considered an ace unless it's used to complete a straight or a flush. When it's used to complete one of these two types of hands, then it fills in for the highest available card to complete the hand. For example, if you have AK94 all in spades with a joker, that joker would act as the queen of spades. However, if you have KK84 with a joker, that joker wouldn't give you three of a kind because it would only count as an ace.

Determining the Winner

When your cards are set, your high hand faces off against the dealer's high hand, and your low hand faces off against the dealer's low hand. If either individual hand comes out as a tie (eg: you have AJ in the low against a dealer who's showing AJ in the low), then that hand goes to the dealer instead of making it a push. This is where a significant part of the house advantage comes from even though this situation very rarely comes up.

If you win with both the high and low hands, then you take down a payout of even money on your original wager. Losing both hands means you lose your bet, obviously. However, winning one and losing one is a push. This is a common outcome, and the pai gow poker rules create a situation where there are a lot of pushes overall a lot of the time.

Special Rules

There are a few special pai gow poker rules that happen in some games, and they can cause confusion at times if you aren't prepared for them. The first major rule change has to do with the ranking of five-card straights in the high hand. The best straight is called a broadway straight, and it's the cards AKQJT. The next-best straight is usually KQJT9, but in pai gow poker, it's the wheel straight A2345 instead. KQJT9 falls just below A2345 in ranking in this game. It's not clear why this was changed for pai gow poker, but it's definitely in the rules in this game in a lot of places both online and in person. If you aren't sure, then check the house rules before playing.

Another special rule that can change is how the dealer sets his or her seven cards. A set of pai gow poker rules for the dealer called the "house way" is always used, but this house way can vary from casino to casino. Normally most of the situations are handled the same, but some specific scenarios can be played differently. Changes in the house way can change your overall available payout rate to a small degree, but it's not normally a big deal.

Finally, there's a third rule that you'll see sometimes that helps the player, and that's when the joker is made into a traditional wild card. The house way for these situations are often simplified to make things easier on the dealer, and these simplifications lead to not-so-optimal play. Along these lines, the player has more opportunities to play the cards into hands better than the dealer, and this increases the player's theoretical advantage with correct play.

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