Pai Gow Poker | Bovada
If you’re familiar with the classic game of Poker then test your skill by learning to play Pai Gow Poker – it will surely feel like a breath of fresh air. This American take on the classic Chinese pastime is played with a standard 52-card deck, plus one joker.
The player faces off against the dealer in this online casino game. Once your bet is placed, you are dealt seven cards. Split your cards into two hands with the 5-card hand being of greater value than the 2-card hand. If both of your hands beat the dealer’s, your skill has proven you wise and you wind up the victor.
How To Play Pai Gow Poker
- The 5-card hand must rank higher than the 2-card hand.
- Standard poker ranking rules apply (see below).
- A joker can only be used to complete straights or flushes, otherwise it counts as an ace.
- The dealer wins any tie.
- The player wins if both their 5-card and 2-card hands are higher than the dealer’s.
- If the player wins one hand and the dealer wins the other there is a push.
The hands are ranked according to standard poker rules, except for an Ace-2-3-4-5 straight, which is ranked as the second-highest straight. Also, the best 2-card hand is a pair of aces, and a 2-card hand doesn’t allow flushes.
Straights rank, from highest to lowest:
Winnings paid are even, minus a 5% commission. If you bet $100, the winning hand would return the bet amount plus an additional $95. The game will round up to the next $0.25 when taking commissions.
- Bet – Used to place a bet and select the chip value you want to bet.
- Deal – Used to start the game after you place a wager. You get 7 cards face up and the dealer gets 7 cards face down.
- Split – To split the first two cards dealt into 2 hands. You have to click on the 2 cards that will make up the 2 card hand before you click ‘split’.
Comprehensive Guide to Playing Pai Gow Poker Online
Rudyard Kipling famously wrote in 1889 that East is East, West is West, and never the twain shall meet. Kipling was wrong: You can get the best of both worlds when you play Pai Gow Poker at Bovada Casino. This ingenious casino game is a combination of poker and the classic Chinese dominoes game known as pai gow. It’s a lot of fun, and with a little strategy, you can get the most out of your Pai Gow Poker sessions at Bovada’s online casino.
Our comprehensive online Pai Gow Poker guide will help you. We’ll show you how this great game was born, how to win at Pai Gow Poker, and the best Pai Gow Poker casino game strategies you can use to your advantage. But first, we travel back in time to ancient China, where they played arguably the first casino game ever invented.
History of Pai Gow Poker
It’s hard to say if pai gow (literally “make nine” or “card nine”) is indeed the world’s oldest casino game – because we’re not sure exactly when they first started playing. Pai gow has been around for centuries, maybe even thousands of years; it’s a game of dominoes, also known as tiles, where each player receives one stack of four and has to divide it into two “hands,” each containing two tiles. Then the hands are compared to the Dealer’s; if one wins both hands, one wins the bet.
Poker is a newer Western invention, although it does have roots tracing back to Eastern games like As-Nas. Chances are you’re familiar with it; the 52-card play deck contains four suits (spades, hearts, clubs and diamonds), and 13 cards for each suit: Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, and Tens through Twos (aka Deuces). The Ace counts as the highest or lowest card in the deck. The object in poker is to make the best five-card hand possible using the standard poker hand rankings, with the Royal Flush (Ace-King-Queen-Jack-Ten of the same suit) being the strongest.
So how did these two casino games come together? In 1985, at the California Bell Club just outside of Los Angeles, owner Sam Torosian was looking for a way to bring customers into his struggling card room. Pai gow games were getting some action, but not much – it’s a somewhat difficult game to learn, and not very popular outside the Asian community. Poker had yet to experience the Moneymaker Era. So Torosian combined the two, using a Chinese card game called pusoy (aka “Chinese Poker”) as a guideline. The rest is casino playing history.
How to Play Online Pai Gow Poker
Pai Gow Poker games uses the same deck as standard poker, but with a Joker included, making it a 53-card game. After one places one’s play bet at Bovada’s online casino using the virtual chips provided, one will receive seven cards, face-up, while the casino Dealer’s seven cards will be face-down. At this point, one splits one’s cards into two hands; the “high” hand will have five cards, and the “low” hand will have two. Once you’ve made your decision, the casino Dealer will do the same, using a predetermined method known as the “house way,” and the hands will be compared to see who wins.
How to Organize Your Hands in Pai Gow Poker
There’s an important rule to keep in mind when you split your hands in Pai Gow Poker games, online or live: The high hand (the one with five cards) must rank higher than your low hand. If you were to get this wrong at a live casino, you would “foul” your hand and lose your bet. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about this happening at Bovada’s online casino; if you make a mistake with your split, you’ll be allowed to try again.
Winning at Pai Gow Poker
In order to win your real money bet at Pai Gow Poker games, online or live, which pays out even money minus a 5% commission, both your high and low hands have to rank higher than the casino Dealer’s. If only one of your hands is better, it’s a push – all bets returned. If the casino Dealer has both the better high and low hand, you lose the bet. Any tied hands go to the casino Dealer.
The same standard hand rankings for poker are used in Pai Gow Poker games, online or live, but with a couple of twists. Since there’s also a Joker in the deck, you can make monster hands like Five of a Kind – the best possible hand, online or live. Here are the hand rankings for Pai Gow Poker from top to bottom, with example hands included:
Five of a Kind (As-Ac-Ad-Ah-Joker)
Royal Flush (Ah-Kh-Qh-Jh-Th)
Straight Flush (7c-6c-5c-4c-Joker)
Four of a Kind (5s-5h-5d-5c-As)
Full House (3c-3s-3d-2s-2h)
Three of a Kind (Qh-Qs-Qd-4h-3h)
Two Pair (Ks-Kh-2s-2d-9h)
High Card (Qd-Js-7c-2h-Joker)
Note that the Joker is a semi-wild card in Pai Gow Poker: It can be used to complete Flushes and Straights; otherwise, it counts as an Ace, online or live. That means the only way you can get Five of a Kind is with the four Aces and the Joker. Also, if you get the wheel (a Straight containing Five-Four-Three-Deuce-Ace) in Pai Gow Poker, that’s the second-highest Straight behind Broadway (Ace-King-Queen-Jack-Ten), as opposed to the lowest possible Straight, as it is in standard poker.
These rankings apply to your high hand, of course. Your low hand in Pai Gow Poker only has two cards, so the only possible hands you can make are Pairs and High Card – connected cards and suited cards don’t matter. Just remember to split your cards so your high hand ranks better than your low hand.
What is the Banker’s Edge?
If you’ve seen Pai Gow Poker at the live casinos, or played it yourself, you’re probably familiar with the concept of the Banker’s edge. That’s because the players have the play option of banking the game during the hand, meaning they collect the bets and pay out the winners with real money. The banker can also bet against the play Dealer and the other players. Choosing to bank can actually give you an edge in Pai Gow Poker, but a lot of players choose to forfeit this play option; banking is a bit complicated, both financially and socially, and you need enough money on hand to cover the table. When you play Pai Gow Poker online at Bovada, you’re the only player at the table – all the banking is done for you by the house.
Pai Gow Poker House Edge
As with all casino games you’ll find online, every hand of Pai Gow Poker comes with a house edge attached. This is the real money commission you pay the casino to provide the games. Since Pai Gow Poker is a game of skill as well as luck, the house edge will depend on how good your Pai Gow Poker strategy is. If you play your cards right, you can whittle that house edge all the way down to around 2.5%, which is even lower than European Roulette at 2.70%.
Pai Gow Poker Strategies
So how should you play your cards in Pai Gow Poker, online or live? Thanks to the power of computers, we know the answer – although the optimal strategy is rather complex, and will take quite a while to learn. A more simplified, near-optimal strategy will help you get that house edge close to 2.5% without melting your brain, and you’ll be less likely to make costly real money mistakes along the way.
The first thing to do with your seven cards in Pai Gow Poker is see whether a Flush or Straight is possible. The next thing to do is see whether you have five cards to any other “made” hand (at least a Pair). Depending on what you have, you’ll either keep all those play cards in your high hand, or split them so you can have a more powerful low hand. For example, if you do actually have four Aces and a Joker, the correct strategy is to split them and put two Aces in your low hand – thus giving you the best low hand possible, and a likely winner for your high hand with the other three Aces.
You can find recommended play strategies for Pai Gow Poker online, some simpler than others. Feel free to use these while you’re playing at Bovada’s online casino; we recommend sticking with the easiest ones first, then moving up to more optimal strategies as you get a feel for how to play the game.
Pai Gow Poker Side Bets
Side bets like Dealer Bonus, Emperor’s Challenge and Lucky 8’s are very popular in the live version of Pai Gow Poker, but that’s partly because players are allowed to do the banking. These money side bets have been left out of the online version of Pai Gow Poker to keep things simple.
You can give the game a try for free at Bovada’s online casino using the Practice Play mode. Once you’ve gotten accustomed to how it works, and maybe practiced some play strategy, switch to Real Play mode and play Pai Gow Poker like a true end boss. It might even be your new favorite game to play online at Bovada.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker
Poker players can’t get enough of the poker-inspired table games offered in our online casino. That’s why there are so many popular table games based on poker, like Caribbean Hold’em and Stud Poker, Let ‘Em Ride, and Tri-Card Poker. You can’t make a living at these games, but you will find plenty of professional poker players taking a break from the grind and enjoying themselves at the tables. Pai Gow Poker might be the most entertaining of these table games. Combining poker and the classic Chinese pai gow, this is a fun game to play both live and online here at Bovada. You can learn Pai Gow Poker in minutes; we’ll get you started with a few simple basics.
What Is Pai Gow Poker?
Invented by Sam Torosian in 1985, Pai Gow Poker is a table game played in casinos that pits players against a Dealer. Unlike the original Pai Gow, Pai Gow Poker uses a standard deck of playing cards (plus a Joker) instead of dominos and uses poker hand rankings instead of a domino point system.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker
Each round of Pai Gow Poker begins with a wager. In our online version, you can wager between $1 and $500 per round. After putting your bet on the table, you’ll be dealt seven cards face up, and the Dealer will be dealt seven cards face down. You must divide the seven cards into two hands; one five-card hand and one two-card hand. The five-card hand must be higher in poker value than the two-card hand.
The Dealer divides his hand the same way. Once you’re ready to compare, the dealer’s two hands are revealed. In order to win, you must have the higher five-card hand and the higher two-card hand. This results in an even-money payout minus a 5% commission. If you have one stronger hand and one weaker hand, the round is a push and your wager is returned. If both your hands are lower than the Dealer’s, you lose your wager.
Pai Gow Poker Rules
Pai Gow Poker has some quirky rules that make the game unique compared to the other poker-inspired table games. One tricky rule to remember is that the wheel (5432A) is the second-highest straight in Pai Gow Poker. Also, the game uses a standard playing deck plus a Joker, which is an Ace, but can also be used to complete straights and flushes, making it semi-wild. Because of the inclusion of the Joker, you can make Five of a Kind with Aces, which ranks higher than a Royal Flush.
As mentioned, the five-card hand must be of higher poker value than the two-card hand. If you try to create a better two-card hand, you’ll be prompted to rearrange your hands.
The house edge comes from instances where you have the exact same hand as the Dealer, (for example, 7,6 for the small hand). The Dealer wins these ties.
Pai Gow Poker Hands
The five-card hand in Pai Gow Poker adheres to standard poker rankings plus the five of a kind for having four Aces and a Joker. See below for the Pai Gow five-card hand rankings beginning from the best hand and going down to the lowest hand.
Hand rankings for the two-card hand are much simpler; you either have a pair or don’t have a pair, in which case your hand is assessed based on your high card. The highest hand for the two-card hand is a pair of Aces. The highest non-pair hand is Ace, King.
Pai Gow Poker Tips
- Most Pai Gow Poker hands will include one pair and nothing else. These are easy to divide. Put the pair in the high hand, and the two highest single cards in the low hand.
- If you can arrange a straight in two different ways, arrange it in the way that will give you the stronger low hand. Chances are the lower straight will still beat the dealer, and then you have a competitive low hand too.
- Always split up full houses so that the pair goes into the low hand, and the three of a kind goes into the high hand.
Now that you know how to play Pai Gow Poker, and are equipped with tips to win, are you ready to put theory into practice? Try on Practice Play at first, and switch to Real Play when you’re ready to play Pai Gow Poker for real money.
Pai Gow Poker Strategy Guide
How to Play Pai Gow Poker Online
If you’ve ever had the chance to play at one of California’s many great card rooms, you might have noticed there’s one section where the people always seem to be having a good time. Chances are they’re playing Pai Gow Poker. This is a fun game that’s played at a fairly relaxed pace, but has just enough strategy to keep you engaged. And you don’t have to be in California; you can play the Pai Gow Poker game at Bovada Casino anytime you like. Let’s see what makes this game so popular.
Pai Gow Poker Overview
You may have heard of the ancient Chinese dominoes game called pai gow, which you can also play at card rooms in California, and at casinos in Las Vegas and around the world. There used to be a card room in east Los Angeles called the California Bell Casino; Sam Torosian bought the Bell club in 1984, and one year later, decided to invent a new game to drum up some business. He took the basic principles of pai gow, adapted them for use with playing cards, and just like that, Pai Gow Poker was born.
Unfortunately for Torosian, he got some bad advice (apparently from poker legend Mike Caro) about whether he could patent the game he invented. He didn’t, so when Pai Gow Poker quickly became a big hit across the United States, Torosian missed out on what could have been $100 million in royalties. But at least his casino was busy – for a while. It closed in 1988.
The thing about pai gow that inspired Torosian was the way the players split their dominoes into two hands: the front hand, and the rear hand. Then the hands are compared to the Dealer’s to see who wins. Torosian thought something similar would work with playing cards. When you play Pai Gow Poker, you place your bet, then receive seven cards from the standard 52-card deck, plus a Joker. You then divide those cards into two hands: Your front hand gets two cards, and your rear hand gets five cards.
The object of Pai Gow Poker is to make stronger hands than the Dealer’s. Your front hand is compared to the Dealer’s front hand, and your rear hand to their rear hand. If both your hands are stronger, you win the bet and get paid out at even money, minus a 5% commission. If both the Dealer’s hands are stronger, you lose the bet. If you have one strong hand and the Dealer has the other, it’s a push, and your original bet is returned to you. Any ties with the front or rear hands go to the Dealer.
Pai Gow Poker uses the standard hand rankings for poker, with a few exceptions. The Joker in question is a “semi-wild” card that you can use to complete Straights or Flushes. If the Joker is used for any other purpose, it’s considered an Ace; that means you can get Five of a Kind in Pai Gow Poker, but only if you have four Aces and the Joker. This is the highest-ranking hand in the game – it even beats a Royal Flush.
One other twist with the hand rankings: In regular poker, the lowest Straight you can make is the wheel: Five-Four-Three-Deuce-Ace. In Pai Gow Poker, the wheel is the second-highest Straight, behind only the Broadway Straight (Ace-King-Queen-Jack-Ten). Otherwise, the usual hand rankings apply. Note that with your 2-card front hand, you either have a Pair or you don’t. Two consecutive cards don’t count as a Straight, and two suited cards don’t count as a Flush.
Odds and House Edge
There are some other special bets you can make when you’re at the live casino, and you can even act as the Banker, which allows you to bet against the Dealer and the other players at the table. However, when you play Pai Gow Poker online at Bovada, it’s just you versus the Dealer, playing by the rules laid out above. Once you know these rules, you can use a little math to figure out your chances of making any particular 5-card hand. Here’s the breakdown:
Five of a Kind: 0.000732%
Straight or Royal Flush: 0.137%
Four of a Kind: 0.199%
Full House: 2.72%
Three of a Kind: 4.85%
Two Pair: 23.1%
One Pair: 41.7%
High Card: 16.1%
As for your 2-card Pai Gow Poker hand, there’s a roughly 13.39% chance you’ll have a Pair, although it ultimately depends on how you decide to split your cards. Put all those numbers together, and you’ll end up with a house edge of around 2.5%– not too shabby. That’s even better than the house edge for European Roulette (2.7%). But that’s if you play your cards the right way.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker
There’s only one decision point in Pai Gow Poker: How do you split your seven cards? It’s not quite as easy as it looks. If you’re at a live casino and you accidentally set your cards so the rear hand (the 5-card hand) isn’t stronger than the front hand, you’ll foul and lose your bet. That’s one of the great things about playing Pai Gow Poker casino games online at Bovada – if you foul, you get to try again without penalty.
The Dealer doesn’t have to worry about how to split their cards, either. Their decision is made automatically using the house way, which can differ slightly from location to location. You, on the other hand, have to decide the best way to split your cards. Here’s the good news: Thanks to computers, we can figure out exactly which two cards to set aside for your front hand, to keep the house edge as tiny as possible.
Learning that strategy isn’t quite so easy. If you’ve played any Blackjack games, you may be familiar with the “basic” strategy to use for optimal results. The optimal strategy for Pai Gow Poker is a lot more complex. It’s even more nuanced than the optimal strategy for Video Poker games – and that’s already a tough nut to crack.
Here’s some more good news: You’ll get almost all the benefits by playing a near-optimal Pai Gow Poker strategy. Just like Blackjack or Video Poker, these simplified strategies will get you close to the lowest house edge possible, and they’ll be a lot easier to learn and memorize than the optimal strategies. Here’s an example of a 20-step Pai Gow Poker strategy that will generate a house edge of around 2.7%. To use this strategy, first determine whether your seven cards have the power to make a Straight or a Flush. If they can, see which of the following categories apply to your cards, and follow the directions, remembering to maintain that Straight/Flush in your 5-card rear hand. If more than two categories apply, pick the one closest to the top of the list.
1. Four of a Kind: Play the highest Pair possible up front.
2. Three of a Kind and a Pair: If you have a Pair of Sevens or better, put them up front if you can maintain your Straight/Flush. If not, put Three of a Kind in your rear hand.
3. Three of a Kind: Play your best two kickers up front.
4. Three Pair: Play the highest of your Pairs up front.
5. Two Pair: This will depend on the strength of each Pair and the kickers left over. Definitely put your better Pair up front if the face value of the Pairs adds up to at least 17; for example, Queens and Fives (12+5). The lower you get from 17, the more you’ll want to keep that Two Pair in your rear hand.
6. One Pair: Play the best front hand you can – unless you have Queens through Nines, in which case play Ace-King up front if possible.
7. No Pair: Play the best front hand you can.
If your seven cards don’t have any Straight/Flush potential, use the following 13 categories instead – again, pick the one closest to the top if more than one category applies.
1. Five of a Kind and a Pair: Put two Aces in the front, and leave a Full House in the rear.
2. Five of a Kind: Put two Aces in the front, and leave a Set of Aces in the rear.
3. Four of a Kind and Three of a Kind: If your Quads are at least two ranks higher than your set, split those Quads and put a Pair up front, leaving a Full House in the rear. Otherwise, split your set.
4. Four of a Kind and a Pair: Put the Pair up front.
5. Four of a Kind: If you have Queens or better, split them up and put a Pair in your front hand. If you have Fours or worse, keep your Quads together in your rear hand. Everything in between will depend on the strength of the kicker you can put up front.
6. Three of a Kind and Three of a Kind: Split your higher-ranking set and put two of those cards up front.
7. Three of a Kind and Two Pair: Put the higher Pair up front.
8. Three of a Kind and One Pair: Put the Pair up front.
9. Three of a Kind: Put the two highest kickers up front, unless you have three Aces, in which case use an Ace and your highest kicker.
10. Three Pair: Put the highest Pair up front.
11. Two Pair: Follow the same strategy you use when you have seven cards that can make a Straight/Flush.
12. One Pair: Put your best two kickers up front.
13. No Pair: Put your second- and third-best kickers up front.
That’s still a lot to handle if you’re new to Pai Gow Poker, and as you can see, there are a few steps (No. 5 on each list, and No. 11 at the bottom) where you still might have to decide for yourself what to do. But this near-optimal strategy won’t take too long to get ingrained – you can use the Practice Play mode at Bovada Casino and try it out for free before hitting the real money Pai Gow Poker tables. Best of luck, and we’ll see you on the felt.