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The Rules of Pai Gow Poker


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A poker game spin-off from domino’s

Pai Gow Poker is based on the Chinese domino game called Pai Gow. It was invented in 1985 by a man named Sam Torosian who was also the owner of the Southern California-based Bell Card Club. The game is pretty low-risk given its slow pace and high tendency to end in pushes (i.e., one hand wins and the other loses) where no money actually changes hands.

It’s fairly easy to strategize in this game because the hands themselves, in most cases, dictate what a player should do. So, we won’t dwell on that subject and instead just focus on the actual rules of the game. If you wish to learn more about Pai Gow strategies (along with the basics of the game), however, then click here. Otherwise, let’s move on:

Card mechanics

The game uses a single standard deck of 53 cards (i.e., 52 cards plus one joker). Each player is dealt a total of seven cards, with jokers usable in five ways:

  1. As an ace
  2. As any card to complete a straight
  3. As any card to complete a flush
  4. As any card to complete a straight flush
  5. As any card to complete a royal flush

Building hands

Each player must build two hands each: one five-card hand and one two-card hand. The former must always be stronger than the latter.

Hand rankings

Pai Gow Poker uses the standard five-card rankings used by other popular varieties of poker, like Texas Holdem, Stud, and Draw, albeit with one minor difference: the introduction of the wheel*. Let’s take a look:

  • Royal Flush – five consecutive suited cards topped by an ace
  • Wheel – a straight consisting of A2345
  • Straight Flush – same as a royal flush but topped by a king or lower
  • Four of a Kind – four cards of the same rank plus a random fifth card
  • Full House – three cards of the same rank plus two cards of another rank
  • Flush – five suited cards of any rank
  • Straight – five consecutive cards of at least two suits
  • Three of a Kind – three cards of the same rank plus two random cards
  • Two Pair – Two cards of the same rank plus two more cards of a different rank and a random fifth card
  • Pair – Two cards of the same rank plus three random cards
  • High Card – five random cards of at least two suits

The two-card hands, on the other hand, can only be either a pair or not.

*It depends on the rules of the specific casino that you are playing in. Some venues view wheels as a regular straight, which, interestingly, is the lowest value straight (or straight flush) you can build because it uses the ace as a low card.


Players must place their bets before dealing can begin.


Each player compares each of their respective two hands to those of the banker** (five-card to five-card, two-card to two-card). Each round can end four ways:

  1. One of the player’s hands wins and the other loses = no money changes hands and the bet pushes
  2. Both of the player’s hands win = player wins 1:1 on their bet minus a 5% commission
  3. Either one of the player’s hand ties with that of the banker (also known as a copy) = banker wins
  4. Both of the player’s hands lose = banker wins

**The banker position typically either rotates around the table or alternates between the dealer and each player. Players, however, can decline the position, and when this happens, it moves on to the next player in line or back to the dealer.

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