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An Expert Strategy for Pai Gow Poker

Since it was created in the 1980s, Pai Gow Poker has consistently grown in popularity. Anyone who has played Chinese Poker in the past will recognise elements of it in Pai Gow. However, there are numerous differences.

There are many things that make Pai Gow Poker very attractive to players. Firstly, it is very easy to learn, secondly, it has a low house edge and thirdly, it is a low volatility game, meaning that it is possible to play for long periods without losing too much, as long as proper strategy is used.

In this guide we will take you through some expert strategy tips for Pai Gow after first recapping the basics to make sure that you have the foundation you need to fully master the game.

Pai Gow Poker Basics

As with all Casino Poker games, the aim of Pai Gow Poker is simply to beat the dealer. The twist is, that you are doing this is two separate hands, both of which need to be stronger than the dealer’s hand.

Pai Gow is played with a regular deck of cards with a joker. The joker has different functions depending on the hand that it is in. It can behave as a wild card if it is being used to complete a Straight or a Flush, otherwise it acts like an Ace.

The round begins with the player placing an Ante bet. The player and the dealer are then dealt seven face down cards each. The player can then look at their cards and can then begin arranging them into two hands, one of five cards and one of two. The game uses the standard poker hand rankings and as mentioned, the aim is to beat the dealer.

One of the most important things to remember is that the two card hand is called the Top and the five card hand is the Bottom. Another important rule is that the Bottom hand must always be stronger than the Top. For example, if the Top hand contains a pair of 8s, then the Bottom hand cannot contain a pair of 7s.

After the player has arranged his cards, the dealer will do the same and then the two hands are compared. If both player hands are stronger than the dealer’s then the Ante bet is paid at 1:1. If only one hand is stronger then the Ante is returned as a push. In the case of a tie, the dealer wins. You should be aware than at some casinos there may be a 5% commission on winnings.

Pai Gow Poker Expert Strategy

When it comes to studying expert Pai Gow Poker strategy, it is assumed that you are aware of and understand the regular poker hand rankings.

There are no decisions to be made during a round of Pai Gow Poker, which means that the strategy is very straightforward. It is not a game like Blackjack where you have multiple choices when playing a hand. The strategy lies in making the best choices when arranging the cards in your hand.

The trick is to find a balance between the two hands; there is no point in having a very strong Bottom hand and a weak Top as that will most likely result in the round ending in a push. Most often, it is far better to have two medium strength hands as this will give you the best chance of beating the dealer with both. That said, when played with optimal strategy most hands of Pai Gow Poker do end in a push.

There are a number of things you should consider when you are dividing your cards between the two hands:

  • If you do not have a made hand (i.e. at least a pair), you should always leave your highest ranking card in the Bottom and place the two second highest ranking cards in the Top.
  • If you are dealt two pairs and one of them is AA, you should split them. The same is true if you have two high pairs (a pair of Jacks through a pair of Aces), or a high pair with a medium pair (7s to 10s).
  • If you don’t have an Ace, split two medium pairs between the hands, and split a combination of a high pair and a low pair (2s to 6s). If you do have an Ace, then you should play two pair in the Bottom and an Ace-high in the Top.
  • You should always split two medium pairs between the two hands, or a medium and a low pair combination, unless you have an Ace or a King. If you have one of those cards, then you should play Ace or King-high in the Top and two pair in the Bottom.
  • If you are dealt three of a kind, always keep them in the Bottom, unless it is triple Aces. In that case, split Aces into a pair in the Bottom and Ace-high in the Top.
  • If you are dealt four of a kind that are Jacks or higher, always split them into two pairs (one in Top one in Bottom).
  • If you don’t have an Ace to play in the Top hand, always split four 7s through 10s into two pairs.
  • If you have four 6s or lower, keep them in the Bottom and play the best possible hand in the Top.
  • If you are dealt a Full House, always split it into a three of a kind and a pair combination, unless you also have a pair to go with it, in which case you should play the higher pair in the Bottom hand.
  • If you are dealt four aces and a joker, you should always split them, unless you have a pair of Kings to pay in the Top hand.
  • Always split five aces (when you have a Joker) unless you have a pair of Kings to put in the front

Once you start playing the game, you will quickly realise that many of the above rules are highly intuitive. Keep them to hand as you play so that you can easily refer to them. It is worth practising the game in demo mode until you get the hang of it, but it shouldn’t take very long.

Side Bets in Pai Gow Poker

Many versions of Pai Gow Poker will give you the chance to win a bit more through various side bets. Most expert players would say that side bets should always be avoided as they only serve to raise the house edge. However, if you budget for them properly, then they can be a lot of fun, and when they do win, they tend to offer much larger payouts than the regular game.

Very often there is a side bet on your hand containing a Three of a Kind, or sometimes a Straight or better across all seven cards. Most often a Straight wins 2:1, Three of a Kind wins 3:1, a Flush wins 4:1, a Full House wins 5:1, Four of a Kind wins 25:1, a Straight Flush wins 50:1, a Royal Flush wins 150:1, 5 Aces wins 400:1, a 7 Card Flush with Joker wins 1000:1, a Royal Flush and Royal Match wins 2000:1, and a 7 Card Straight Flush wins a massive 8000:1.

As mentioned, placing this side bet will definitely increase the house edge. However, as you can see, there is the chance for an enormous payout and the side bet is the only way to win really big money at Pai Gow Poker. Ultimately, it is up to you. If you are going to place the side bets, then be sure to set aside a portion of your bankroll for it and a separate portion for the actual game. This way you should be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

To Summarise

As you can see, it does not take much effort to become a true master of Pai Gow Poker. Practice the expert strategy tips above and you will be off to a flying start.


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