Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Because of the skill level required to make playing pai gow poker on your own better payout-wise than just taking the house way, pai gow poker strategy is a pretty important topic. You have to break it up into a number of different potential situations because of the intersection of straights/flushes and pair-based hands. We're going to look at all of the common situations here so that you'll know exactly how to play your hand a vast majority of the time. It's pretty difficult to learn to play this game perfectly, but you can learn to play most spots correctly in a short amount of time.

No Pair, No Straight, No Flush

You can learn a lot from just being dealt seven cards that make no pairs, no straights and no flushes. The way you play this hand is by taking your second-highest and third-highest cards and placing them in the low. The remaining five cards go in the high. This will always maximize your payout rate, and being able to play this hand correctly and understanding why it's correct are two of the pillars of pai gow poker strategy.

If two of those cards make a pair, it works out almost exactly the same. You take the highest two cards that aren't paired, and you put them in your low hand. Then the pair itself and the three remaining kickers go to the high hand. It's pretty straight-forward.

Three of a kind works almost exactly the same. You keep the trips in your high hand, and you put the next two highest cards in the low. The remaining two cards go to your high as kickers. However, if you have three of a kind in aces with no other pair to go with them, then you only put a pair of them in the high. Instead, you'll put one of your aces in the low along with the other highest kicker to give yourself a strong pair in the high and ace-high in the low.

High-Card Hands and Pairs With a Straight or Flush

A big part of pai gow poker strategy is when you have a straight or flush but you also have a pair-based hand. If you don't have a pair, then you just put the made hand in your high and the other two cards in the low regardless of their value. This can often lead to a push if your other two cards are low, and while that's disappointing because you were dealt a strong high, it's a part of the game.

However, if you have a split pair with a straight or a flush, then you're going to be in a difficult situation if you don't know how to play. A split pair means one of your cards is involved in the making of the straight or flush, and putting the pair in the low would break up your made high. The trick here is that if you have nines or higher, you should break up the made hand and put AK-high in the low if you can. Otherwise, you'll just keep the straight or flush and hope for the best by making your low with your remaining two cards.

Two Pair Hands in Pai Gow Poker

In terms of pai gow poker strategy, two pair hands are likely the most difficult to learn how to play properly. You have a choice between keeping both of your pairs in the high or splitting them and putting the lower pair in the low. This is tricky because you have to take into consideration the values of your pairs along with the values of the high card hand you could create for the low if you don't want to split the pairs.

The key to this is to add up the value of the ranks that make your pairs and use that to make your decision. For example, if you have two pair with sevens over fours, then you'd add seven to four to get a score of 11. Jacks are worth 11, queens are worth 12, kings are worth 13 and aces are worth 14.

If you have a score of 17 and up, then you should always split the pairs. With scores from 12 to 16, then you should split except when you can make ace-high in the low. Scores of 7 to 11 should split when you can't make king-high or ace-high for the low, and lower scores should only split when queen-high or better can't be made for the two-card hand. These guidelines will have you playing almost perfectly for the vast majority of pai gow poker hands.

3 Best Pai Gow Poker Casinos