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Pai Gow Poker Strategy and How to Play

Poker is such a popular game that has spawned dozens of variants, and many of those have become popular on their own. Pai Gow Poker has emerged as one of the more popular variants, thanks to its challenging and unique game structure. Playing Pai Gow Poker at Blue Lake Casino gives you the chance to win big while enjoying a game that will put your skill to the test. Learning how to make an effective Pai Gow Poker strategy can help you increase your chances of winning and boost your confidence so that you can better enjoy the game.

What is Pai Gow Poker?

Pai Gow Poker takes its name from the ancient Chinese game of Pai Gow, which is played with a set of 32 Chinese dominos. Elements of Pai Gow are mixed with elements of traditional poker to create Pai Gow Poker. The game is played with a standard 52-card deck, plus a joker, and up to six players are dealt in to compete against the dealer. The objective is to create two poker hands—a five-card hand and a two-card hand — that beat the dealer's corresponding hands to win. The dual requirement for the win makes Pai Gow Poker more challenging than many of the other variants, which keeps things interesting even for seasoned players, making it crucial to have a good Pai Gow Poker strategy.

How To Play Pai Gow Poker

A game of Pai Gow Poker begins with each player receiving seven cards from the dealer. The players must then arrange these cards into a five-card hand and a two-card hand. The five-card hand, known as the "back" or "high" hand, must outrank the two-card hand, referred to as the "front" or "low" hand. For example, if the low hand is a pair of 3s, the high hand must be a pair of 4s or higher, or it must be a higher-ranking hand such as three-of-a-kind or a full house.

If a player gets a Joker, it can only be used to complete a flush or a straight. If the player does not have a nearly complete flush or straight, the Joker will default to being an Ace.

Players make their hands from the seven cards they are initially dealt. They are not able to trade in cards or get new cards. A player who does not have at least one pair in their hand has a “pai gow,” or a non-hand.

Beating Pai Gow Poker

To succeed in Pai Gow Poker, not only do players have to create the right high hand to beat their low hand, but they also have to create two hands that are stronger than the dealer’s hands. That’s a lot that has to align, and players have to do it with the cards they are dealt.

Winning both hands against the dealer results in a win. Conversely, if the dealer’s hands are stronger, the player loses. In some cases, one of the player’s hands may beat the dealer’s, while the other loses. In this scenario, the hand will result in a push, and no money is lost or gained. With an effective Pai Gow Poker strategy, you will have an even greater chance of beating Pai Gow Poker.

Setting the House Way in Pai Gow Poker

When uncertain about the best arrangement for their two hands, players can rely on the “House Way.” This term refers to the established method used by casinos to set a dealer’s Pai Gow Poker hands optimally against players. It provides a standard guideline to arrange the cards in a way that statistically improves the casino’s chances of winning. Players can opt to use that same advantage for themselves in their Pai Gow Poker strategy.

To set cards the house way, players must face all their cards face down in the high hand area of the table. The dealer will place a “House Way” button on top of the cards until they are revealed in the order of play. Then the dealer will remove the button, turn over the cards, and arrange them according to rules that are posted at the table.

Pai Gow Poker Strategies

While Pai Gow Poker is largely a game of luck, there is some skill involved, and strategy can be used to your advantage. Consider one of these popular Pai Gow Poker strategies to improve your chances of winning at Blue Lake Casino:

Starting and Managing a Poker Bankroll

Now that you understand the importance of poker bankroll management, let’s explore the practical aspects of starting and managing your poker bankroll effectively.

1. High Card

Having a high card means that you have no pair, straight, or flush available for your hand. With just a high card, the best strategy is to put in the five-card hand. Then you would choose the next two best cards to create the low hand, and the rest of the cards would complete the five-card high hand. With this Pai Gow Poker strategy, you would end up with two hands that are carried by the highest card possible in both.

2. No Straight or Flush Possible

In this scenario, the two highest cards should form the low hand, while the remaining five-card hand should contain the next best cards.

3. One Pair

With this Pai Gow Poker strategy, place the pair in the five-card hand. Of the remaining cards, put the two highest in the low hand and the three remaining cards in the five-card hand with the pair.

4. Two Pair

Split the pairs between the low and high hands, unless one pair consists of Aces. Put the higher pair in the five-card hand and the lower pair in the two-card hand.

5. Three Pair

When dealt with three pairs, the optimal strategy is to place the highest pair in the low hand and the two lower pairs in the five-card hand. This Pai Gow Poker strategy provides an arrangement that assures you have a strong low hand while still having a five-card hand that beats the low hand.

6. Three-of-a-Kind

A three-of-a-kind hand should always be placed in the five-card hand. (It wouldn’t fit in the low hand, anyway.) Of the remaining cards, the two highest cards should form the two-card hand. This strategy maximizes the chances of winning both hands against the dealer.

7. Four-of-a-Kind

Four-of-a-kind is one of the strongest hands in Pai Gow Poker. All four cards can go in the five-card hand. Some exceptions would be if you can use one of them with another card to create a stronger two-card hand. This way, you secure a powerful five-card hand and maintain a solid two-card hand, making it a very strong Pai Gow Poker strategy.

8. Full House

With a full house, place the three-of-a-kind portion in the five-card hand and the pair in the two-card hand. This ensures a strong five-card hand while also maintaining a good two-card hand. You create a stronger chance of winning with these two hands.

9. Five Aces

The five aces hand is the highest-ranking hand possible in Pai Gow Poker. Place three aces in the five-card hand and the remaining two aces in the two-card hand to maximize the strength of both hands.

Payouts for Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker payouts can vary slightly between different casinos but typically follow a standard structure. Winning hands against the dealer usually earn a 1:1 payout. That means that if you bet $50, you’ll get back your original bet plus $50.

Check your Pai Gow Poker table for specific payout information. Look for variations in payouts for specific high-ranking hands like five aces or a royal flush.

Pai Gow Poker Tips

Though many casino games, including Pai Gow Poker, are largely games of luck, there are many things that you can do to improve your chances of success and better your Pai Gow Poker strategy. Learning some of the above strategies will help you, as will following these simple tips:

  • Understand the game rules thoroughly before playing. Don’t lose money just because you made a simple error in your gameplay or you didn’t bet properly. If you aren’t sure about the rules, check with the table dealer, who will be happy to answer any of your questions.
  • Use the House Way as a guideline when uncertain about hand arrangements. It’s designed to give the casino an edge, so let it work for you the same way.
  • Manage your bankroll effectively to extend your playtime. Set a budget before you start playing, and stick to it. Don’t chase losses. Protect your bankroll so you can return to play another day.
  • Practice with free online Pai Gow Poker games to improve your Pai Gow Poker strategy. The dynamic at the table will be much different, but playing online can create a kind of “muscle memory” that will make you more comfortable when you’re playing against real people for real money.
  • Remain patient and don’t rush decisions when arranging your hands. Impulsive decisions can cost you big. Keep your emotions out of your choices as best you can to make good choices. Taking your time will help you do that.

Play Pai Gow Poker at Blue Lake Casino Hotel

Pai Gow Poker is a fun and challenging poker variant, and Blue Lake Casino is proud to offer it among our table games. With friendly dealers and an exciting gaming atmosphere, Blue Lake Casino offers an ideal setting to test your strategies and enjoy this unique poker variant. Visit us to enjoy a thrilling game of Pai Gow Poker or explore our many other exciting gaming options.