Pai Gow

That this is an old game proves the dynasty in which Pai Gow was first played. This was during the Chinese Song dynasty between the years 960 and 1279.

Since then it has slowly spread to other parts of the world. Today, Pai Gow can be played in land-based casinos in Asia, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. What is this ancient game?

Pai Gow difficult to learn

People interested in learning about new casino games: Pai Gow is tricky to learn. It says a lot about the early intelligence of Asians that the game ever became big, or was invented. Within Pai Gow, you play with a random order of dominoes or cards, where it is difficult to remember which one came along and when. For gamblers who are lucky enough to remember cards well, the game is therefore an extra challenge.

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How does it work?

So Pai Gow is originally played with dominoes, but we tell more about the game using the American Pai Gow, namely the one with cards. The game is played with the usual 52 cards within a deck (13x the four suits) and including the joker. Pai Gow is very similar to Poker in terms of chances of winning. However, there is something strange going on with the Ace in Pai Gow. Again, the Ace can serve as the highest card or as a ‘1’ in a street. For example, the street A-2-3-4-5 is the same as in Poker, except that this street wins out over the street 9-10-Boer-Woman-Head.

To make it clear, it’s good to just start. Each player at the table gets 7 cards and the dealer also gets 7. Next, the idea is to divide the 7 cards between one hand with 5 cards and one hand with 2 cards. The hand with 5 cards should always be ‘higher’ than the hand with 2 cards. Try to get a combination in both hands, for example in one hand a Pair 8 and in one hand another lower Pair. The dealer does the same with his 7 cards, but places the 5 card combination and the 2 card combination face up on the table. Only then may all players place their hands face up on the table.

The calculation of the winner

Next we will see who has won the game. The combination of 2 and 5 cards of both the dealer and the player is considered. Three options are then possible:

  • Player wins both hands; Dealer pays out winnings to player (wager), minus 5% commission to the bank
  • Player and dealer both win one hand; Draw, money back
  • Dealer wins both hands; Player loses his or her wager

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Pai Gow strategy

As with other casino games, it is sometimes useful to have a ‘winning’ strategy behind you, which you can always fall back on if things go a little less smoothly. Of course, gambling remains something that requires the luck factor, but you can increase your chances of winning with an idea behind each bet. Can you do that at Pai Gow too? Yes it can!

It’s not that Pai Gow has the winning strategy, but there are several strategies that can increase your chances of winning. What strategies are known at Pai Gow and how can they work to your advantage?

An overall tie happens quite often at Pai Gow – 41.5% of all games. A tie is possible if you win one of the two combinations and the dealer also wins. Read more about the rules in the relevant article on this page.

How to beat the bank?

Everyone, of course, is looking for the one and only way to beat the bank or dealer. The dealer uses a “house-way” tactic, which means the house determines what the best combination is. Time for a real-life example.

Suppose you are dealt a hand with four Aces, a five, three and two. You must choose a higher combination in the five-card hand than in the two-card hand. Thus, many players choose to keep all four or sometimes three Aces in the five-card hand, while only one Ace or even none is used in the two-card hand. This looks like this:

  • Five-handed: 4 Aces and a 2
  • Two-handed: 5 and 3
  • ÓFivehand: 3 Aces and a 2+3
  • Two-handed: 1 Ace and 5

The bank knows you will play this hand because you assume the highest combination in the five-hand. However, the bank automatically chooses to keep a combination of two Aces in the two-hand, so the bank never loses. As a player, you could have chosen these hand combinations as well, as you would still have a higher combination in the five-hand. However, many, especially newer players, do not assume this and lose the pot. So always make sure you can also create a good combination with the two-handed hand.

Other effective strategies for Pai Gow

Of course, it can happen that you are unlucky with your seven cards and cannot create any combination. In other words, at that moment you do not have a pair, straight or flush. In that case, always play the high card in your five-hand, while playing the next two highest cards in the two-hand. So five-handed (Ace) and then the two-handed combination (King-Boer). This gives you the best chance of still winning at least one of the two combinations from the dealer.

Other, more logical strategies involve Two Pair. This occurs, for example, when you have one pair of Ace or King and one pair of 7 (example). Always split this Two Pair over two combinations so that you have a chance to win in every hand. If your Two Pair is always or one Pair is King or Ace; always split unless your other Pair is twos.

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Important to know

The Joker

Finally there is one joker in the game, which obviously can only end up with one player or the dealer. The Joker does not count for any value, which is a disadvantage. Therefore, the Joker in Pai Gow usually holds the value of an Ace, unless you can use it to either complete a straight or a flush.

Dealer’s equal hand and payout percentage

A fairly unique, but also common, possibility is that if one or two hands are equal, you own an equal value to the dealer. If both hands are equal, then you lose all your bet. Should one hand be equal to the dealer and the other lower, you also lose your bet relative to the dealer. Finally, the payout percentage of Pai Gow is 97.15% which is very decent.


Pai Gow is well known in various areas around the world, but less so in the Netherlands or Europe. The entrance of online casinos has changed this somewhat, as now it is possible for many more people worldwide to play Pai Gow. Pai Gow does not have an exact literal translation, but can be traced back to the goal of the game; make 9. Although Pai Gow is primarily played with dominoes in Asia, in many casinos it is played with cards and is now officially part of the poker family. Also, since the expansion to other parts of the world, especially America, the rules of Pai Gow have been slightly modified.

Advantage for the bank

The banker’s house advantage in Pai Gow is not shockingly high; only 2.6%. In practice, this means that statistically the bank wins 29.9% of all games, while you, the player, win 28.6%. Pai Gow also has a notable advantage for the banker. If you win a pot, you have to give 5% of the profit to the bank as commission. Unfortunately, such are the rules of the game.

Pai Gow History

The game is also called double-handed poker. Probably because each player plays a round with two hands. One with 5 cards in hand and one with 2 cards in hand. The goal is to create two combinations as high as possible with the seven cards each player is dealt in order to beat the bank. There is one Joker in the game that can be used for making a straight or flush, or as a high card ace.

Founded in China

The name Pai Gow makes many people think of Asia, which is correct. Pai Gow originated in China and, according to tradition, has been played since the year 900. Originally, Pai Gow was played with dominoes, 32 in total.

Pai Gow HistoryHistory of Pai Gow – Source: Wikipedia

The origin lies at the time of the Song Dynasty in China. It says a lot about the developments and overall intelligence of this dynasty and its people that a relatively difficult game like Pai Gow was already being played back then. A different and local name for Pai Gow is Pinyin.


So in total, Pai Gow is played with 32 dominoes. With these stones, you can put a total of 21 unique patterns on the table, which can be used to make combinations. Each domino can have one or two colors (red and white), also known as the “military” and “civilian”, referring to the situation of China at the time.

The only thing to remember when playing with these dominoes is which stone belongs to which set of stones. Each player was (or is) given seven stones and based on the highest combinations, it is decided who wins each round of play.

Expansion to the rest of the world

Pai Gow has a unique character and this can still be found today in the largest casinos in the world, such as Nevada, Atlantic City, New Jersey and large Chinese casinos. However, with the expansion of Pai Gow, some of the uniqueness was lost, as in America they chose not to play with the characteristic dominoes anymore, but with standard playing cards.

Sam Torosian, manager of the California Bell Casino, merely took the outlines and ideas of Pai Gow and gave it his own twist with playing cards. He thus combined Pai Gow with Poker for the first time and as a result Pai Gow is currently becoming one of the most popular poker games on the Internet and in casinos worldwide. The highest combinations from seven cards (or dominoes) are still the leading factor in the game, but for Americans and also Europeans it is now easier to recognize what high combinations are with standard playing cards.

Unique Combinations

  • Three Pair: Play with the highest pair in the two-handed hand.
  • Full House: Always split, unless you have a pair in addition to the five cards. Then play the highest pair in the two-handed hand (logical)
  • Four of a Kind: 6 or lower is not splitting.
  • Four of a Kind: Between 7 and 10 split over two hands.
  • Then there’s Four of a Kind: Jack to Ace? Always split, unless you have another pair for the two-hander to play with.