How to Play and Win at Online Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker is a really interesting variant of poker in which the player faces off against the dealer, rather than other players, just like in other games such as Three Card Poker and Casino Hold'em. Based on the Chinese game of Pai Gow, but using cards instead of dominoes, Pai Gow Poker was invented back in 1985 and has become a staple at most modern online casinos.

While the game may appear to be a little complicated at first glance, it is actually pretty easy to learn, with only a few basic rules governing how it's played. If you already know about poker hand values, then you're one step ahead. If not, don't worry. Here you will learn everything you need to know about how to play and win at Pai Gow Poker, including what the table looks like, the basic rules, the different bets and how much you stand to get back if you win. Let's get started!

Learn to play online pai gow poker in a few steps

How to Play Online Pai Gow Poker

The basic game of Pai Gow Poker involves a 52 card deck plus a single joker. Just like in other RNG-based card games like Blackjack, Three Card Poker and Casino Hold'em, here you are playing only against the dealer rather than other players. After placing your bet, you and the dealer are dealt seven cards each. You then have to split those seven cards into two separate hands, one with five cards and the other with three cards. To win, you aim to beat both of the live dealer's hands in terms of poker hand values.

The first thing to note is the card values. The cards of 2 to 10 all have a face value, with J, Q, K and A increasing importance. As such, the Ace is the highest value card in the game. The other playable card in the game is the Joker, which can stand in to make up straights and flushes, but otherwise acts like an Ace.

Speaking of straights, check the rules of the particular Pai Gow Poker game you're playing to see if the wheel (i.e. A, 2, 3, 4, 5) is accepted, as not every game does. Most games class it as the second-highest value straight after the A, K, Q, J, 10. If you're wondering what a straight is, don't worry! We'll cover the various poker hand values shortly. First, let's check out a typical Pai Gow Poker table.

The Pai Gow Poker Table

The Pai Gow Poker table is usually a semi-circle shape, with the dealer placed at the top, flat side and the player based at the bottom, curved side. Most tables sport a green felt surface design featuring an ornate dragon, echoing the game's eastern origins.

You'll find the ante bet position in the centre of the table, which is usually a white circle. On tables that offer the Fortune Bonus side bet, you'll find this additional betting position near the ante bet, usually as a yellow circle, often with Chinese symbols in it. The Fortune Bonus side bet payouts can often be found on the table surface, too, for ease of reference.

Another important part of the table is the High and Low positions on both the dealer's and the player's sides. These areas refer to the fact that your seven cards must be split into two different hands, one of two cards (Low) and the other of five cards (High). The High and Low refers to the fact that the two-card hand must be of a lower poker hand value than the five-card hand.

Other things commonly found on a Pai Gow Poker table include the various chip values you can choose from, the buttons of Deal, Rebet, Undo and Clear, and a visual representation of a card shuffler. When you're deciding which cards to split, the options of Split and Auto Split also appear, with the latter allowing you to play the House Way automatically. Recommended split cards may also be highlighted for you in some casino games.

The Pai Gow Poker Bets

There are only two bets in the game of Pai Gow Poker: the Ante Bet and the Side Bet, the latter of which is optional. The Ante bet is essential for starting the game. As mentioned above, it is represented by a white circle, usually in the middle of the table, illustrating its importance in the game. To place the Ante bet, choose a chip value from the selection shown, then click on the Ante bet position to place your chip.

Keep clicking until you reach your desired bet amount to increase your Ante bet. If you make a mistake, click the Clear button to start again. The Fortune Bonus side bet can be found as a yellow circle near the Ante bet on Pai Gow Poker tables that offer it. The Fortune Bonus side bet is an additional chance to win separate from the main game, so you can still win it even if you lose against the dealer.

This side bet pays out for poker hands of straight or above (up to a seven-card straight flush!) for all seven of your cards. This bet is placed simultaneously and in the same way as the Ante bet.

Poker Hand Values

In Pai Gow Poker, hands are valued like in other poker games. While the main game outcome is judged according to pretty much typical poker hand values, an additional set is used to determine the hand's values for the Fortune Bonus side bet. Here we'll take you through both sets. Here are the main game poker hand values in order from lowest to highest:

  • High Card: Single highest card in hand (no other poker hand present);
  • Pair: Two cards of the same value, e.g. two 3s;
  • Two Pair: Two cards of the same value plus another two cards of the same value, e.g. two 3s and two 5s;
  • Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same value, e.g. three 6s;
  • Straight: Five cards in consecutive order (any suit), e.g. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6;
  • Flush: Five cards of the same suit (any order), e.g. 2h, 4h, 6h, 9h, Qh;
  • Full House: Three cards of the same value and another two cards of the same value, e.g. three 7s and two 5s;
  • Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same value, e.g. four 10s;
  • Straight Flush: Five cards of the same suit in consecutive order, e.g. 2d, 3d, 4d, 5d, 6d;
  • Royal Flush: The five highest cards in order, all suited, i.e. 10c, Jc, Qc, Kc, Ac;
  • Five Aces: Four Aces plus the Joker.

Here is the Fortune Bonus side bet poker hand values from lowest to highest:

  • Straight: Five cards in consecutive order (any suit), e.g. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6;
  • Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same value, e.g. three 6s;
  • Flush: Five cards of the same suit (any order), e.g. 2h, 4h, 6h, 9h, Qh;
  • Full House: Three cards of the same value and another two cards of the same value, e.g. three 7s and two 5s;
  • Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same value, e.g. four 10s;
  • Straight Flush: Five cards of the same suit in consecutive order, e.g. 2d, 3d, 4d, 5d, 6d;
  • Royal Flush: The five highest cards in order, all suited, i.e. 10c, Jc, Qc, Kc, Ac;
  • Five Aces: Four Aces plus the Joker;
  • Seven Card Straight Flush with Joker: Seven cards of the same suit in consecutive order, with one of the cards a Joker;
  • Royal Flush with Suited Royals: The five highest cards in order, all suited, plus a K and Q of the same suit, with or without a Joker, e.g. 10c, Jc, Qc, Kc, Ac, Kh, Qh;
  • Seven Card Straight Flush: Seven cards of the same suit in consecutive order, without a Joker, e.g. 5d, 6d, 7d, 8d, 9d, 10d, Jd.

The Fortune Bonus side bet hands allow that seven cards are taken into account, creating some unique seven-card poker hands.

Step by Step

Next, we'll take you to step by step through a round of Pai Gow Poker, so you know what to expect from start to finish:

  1. Place your bets: Choose your chip value and click on the white circle Ante bet position to place your bet. If you want to put the optional Fortune Bonus side bet, this is also done at this stage.
  2. Click Deal: Once you're happy with your bet value(s), click the Deal button to deal the cards.
  3. Choose your split: Once seven cards have been dealt with both you and the dealer, you will be able to choose which two cards to place above the rest into the Low hand. Two cards will be highlighted for you as a recommended split, but you can choose any cards you like, as long as the poker hand value of those two cards does not exceed that of the remaining five cards. Click the Split button once you're happy with your chosen split cards.
  4. Collect your winnings: The dealer's cards will be revealed and split in the same way. If both of your hands beat both of the dealers, you win. If only one of your hands hits one of the dealer's, it's a push, and you'll get your Ante bet back. If your initial seven cards create one of the Fortune Bet poker hands, you'll also win this side bet's corresponding payout!

Best strategies to play and win online pai gow poker

Pai Gow Poker Strategies

So can you influence the game in any way to get an edge? With only two bets, you may think there isn't much scope for controlling the game at this best online casino game, and they're certain it isn't when it comes to betting. However, you get to choose how to split the cards, so there is some scope here for optimising your chances of winning. Following what's called the House Way (i.e. the way the dealer plays) is the best way of doing this:

  • No pair: Play the highest card in High hand and 2nd and 3rd highest cards in Low hand;
  • One pair: Play pair in High hand and two highest kickers in Low hand;
  • Two pairs: Always split AA and any other pair, high or high and medium pairs. Don't split low pairs. Play Ace in Low hand with common pairs in High hand;
  • Three pairs: Split the highest pair in the Low hand;
  • Three of a Kind: Split three A with A in the Low hand and AA in the High hand; otherwise, keep three of a kind in the High hand.

The remaining rules follow a similar format, emphasising putting your highest value cards in the Low hand while still maintaining your High hand as the one with the highest overall value. Full details of the House Way can usually be found in the game's rules.

How to Win Pai Gow Poker

To win in the game of Pai Gow Poker, both of your two hands must beat those of the dealer in terms of poker hand value. If only one of your hands beats that of the dealer, it's classed as a push, and you'll get your Ante bet back. Remember that you can also win by landing a poker hand from your seven dealt cards if you bet on the Fortune Bonus side bet, which stands to pay out much more than the Ante bet does!

To compare these two bets, let's check out the payouts of each.

Ante Bet Payouts

The Ante bet pays out if your Low hand beats the dealer's Low hand and your High hand beats the dealer's high hand. In this case, you get an evens (1/1) payout. So an Ante bet of €100 will pay back €200 (i.e. your €100 winnings and your stake). If only one of your hands beats the dealer's, it's a push, and you'll get your Ante bet back, though some games incorrectly class this as a win. If neither of your hands beat the dealer's, your Ante bet is lost.

Side Bet Payouts

When it comes to the Fortune Bonus side bet, you stand to win up to 8,000 times your stake if your seven dealt cards form a high-value 3 card poker hand. Here are the payouts you can expect for each:

  • Straight: 2/1;
  • Three of a Kind: 3/1;
  • Flush: 4/1;
  • Full House: 5/1;
  • Four of a Kind: 25/1;
  • Straight Flush: 50/1;
  • Royal Flush: 150/1;
  • Five Aces: 400/1;
  • Seven Card Straight Flush with Joker: 1,000/1;
  • Royal Flush with Suited Royals: 2,000/1;
  • Seven Card Straight Flush: 8,000/1.

Ready to play online pai gow poker for real

Do You Want to Play Pai Gow Poker?

Ready to start playing Pai Gow Poker? Join and make your first deposit at one of the carefully reviewed online casinos featured on this site, then open the game and start playing Pai Gow Poker for real on our recommended websites!

Where can I play Pai Gow?

Many operators and brands offer a fantastic Pai Gow experience. By reading above, you'll find everything you need to know about where to play and who has the best features. 

Giuseppe Faraone
Giuseppe Faraone verified symbol Author
379 Articles gmail linkedin
Based in Valencia, Spain, Giuseppe gave up Milan for sunny shores. New licenses, new casinos, new bonuses, new games - there's always something to write about. Being so close to the action in the gambling industry, he's on top of any new developments the minute they come through the door. Aiming to deliver updates and comprehensive information to you, he does his best to test out and rate what he reviews thoroughly. Giuseppe is also a book writer. In October 2022, he published his first book called The Untold Story of Online Gambling, available on Amazon.
More about this author

Reviewed by Julia Attard, Senior Author