5 Best Tips for Winning at Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker Table, Hand Holding Queen Poker Card
So, you’ve seen Pai Gow Poker at the casino and thought it looked neat. You’re not alone! Since the late 1980s, Pai Gow has been featured in a number of American casinos and gambling establishments abroad.

It’s a fairly simple game derived from a dominos game (also called Pai Gow) that involves forming two of the best hands possible from a pool of seven cards. There are no additional draws and no ways to improve your hand. It’s just you versus the dealer in a showdown of hands where anything is possible.

Some might think that the fact there is no ability to draw and no community pool would mean there is little skill in Pai Gow Poker. Actually, the opposite is true, as you have to form two hands that can beat the dealer or come away with nothing.

Sound fun? It is. Let’s look at the game itself and how to make money off of it.

What Is Pai Gow?

A lot casino-goers and gamblers have heard of this poker variant, but probably have never played it and may not know the rules. If so, that’s fine. It’s an easy game to learn, though it can be difficult to master.

Also, it should be noted that “Pai Gow” is really shorthand for “Pai Gow Poker” in this article, because Pai Gow is a dominoes game played in China while Pai Gow Poker is the card equivalent of that game.

Confused so far? Good! This game is played with a standard 52-card deck with an additional joker. The joker is wild and can complete a straight or a flush, or it counts as an ace. It’s not completely wild like in some games.

In a hand, each player and the dealer are dealt seven cards.

The objective is to make the best hand of five and the best hand of two (note that the hand of five is called the “high hand” as we discuss the game).

“Best” in this case is defined by the typical poker hand ratings. Also, the high hand has to be of a higher rank than the low hand.

Once the players make their high hand and their two-card hand, the dealer assembles her hands and the hands are compared. If the player has a better high hand and two-card hand, they win their bet.

If the dealer has one better hand and one worse hand, the game is a push. Any other result, including ties, go to the dealer. At the end of the day, the casino may ask for a commission from your winnings. The standard commission is 5%.

Other Bets in Pai Gow Poker

There are also some other factors that go into Pai Gow Poker. First, there are a lot of other bets that can be placed to make the game more interesting.

For example, you can make a side bet that you will make a certain type of hand (for instance, a three of a kind or better). You can also make envy bets in which the house pays out based on the seven cards and doesn’t matter if the player wins or loses.

Three of a Kind Poker Hand, Green Poker Table

Finally, Pai Gow offers an almost unique betting experience. You can bank in Pai Gow Poker, which means you make a bet that you will beat another player’s hand, not just the dealer’s hand.

Now that you have at least a taste of the game of Pai Gow, let’s talk about how you can win at it. Like games such as online baccarat, it can be somewhat difficult to really win at Pai Gow because it lacks hand improvement via drawing and more skill-based actions like waiting for position, bluffing, or even doubling down.

Still, there are ways you can come out on top in the game. Just follow these tips.

1 – Make a Side Bet

Depending on the game, there are different types and amounts of side bets you can make. Sometimes, you’re betting on a certain hand strength. Other times, you’ll be entering into a progressive jackpot.

You may be able to make a single side bet, other times, you can make two. Check with the rules or your dealer to find your options.

No matter how you make the side bet, it will be paid out in multiples based on the strength of the hand. For instance, a straight pays out 3 to 1, while five aces pays out 250 to 1.

With that said, making side bets in any game is usually fairly risky. The odds always favor the house a lot more than the game you’re playing.

In this case, though, Pai Gow offers you very little else that you can do that will allow you to flex your skills. Therefore, if you’re feeling it, place a side bet.

But don’t go too crazy with your side betting because you will be asked to bet on things that are improbable. The house doesn’t want to pay out a lot of the hard-earned money it has collected, so please remember this tip.

In this case, “not going crazy” means don’t bet too much above the minimum side bet. Also, bet on hands you’re more likely to achieve. You can track if you win or lose your side bets. If you lose more than you win, find another bet to make.

2 – Make an Envy Bet

Envy bets work a lot like side bets except you’re betting that another player at the table will hit a hand of a certain strength. For instance, you might bet that a player will make a straight or a flush. If any other player at the table has a hand of that score, you get an envy bonus, which is a set dollar amount.

Unsurprisingly, the envy payouts are smaller than the side bet payouts. For instance, a four of a kind might pay $5, while five aces might only pay $50 for the first hand.

Four of a Kind Poker Hand on Poker Table

There are a number of reasons for this, the most obvious being that with more players at the table, there’s a greater chance you will hit the envy bonus. This brings us to the topic of winning with envy bonuses.

First, when you sit to play Pai Gow, you’ll want to find a crowded table. This is an important Pai Fow tip because it increases the odds you’ll hit an envy bonus. Second, the payouts for them aren’t huge, so don’t bet more than the minimum.

Finally, when you’re betting an envy bonus, try to bet hands that someone is more likely to get (a four of a kind or a straight flush). They will pay more than the minimum bet and someone is at least a little likely to get one of those hands.

3 – Deploy Your Joker Wisely

The strange thing about Pai Gow Poker is that you’re making two hands. Therefore, you have two potential places to use your joker. The natural tendency will always be to complete a straight or a flush with your joker, but don’t neglect your two-card hand.

Sometimes, it might be worth having a pair of aces or an ace high just so your small hand isn’t terrible.

A lot of that depends on what else you can put into your high hand. Just don’t make a high hand without thinking about the low.

4 – Be Aggressive

Aggressive is the name of the game in Pai Gow and, in this case, aggressive means presenting the highest value in both your high and your two-card hand.

The house makes money in Pai Gow Poker because you only get paid if you win both the high and the two-card hand outright.

Therefore, you need to win outright. How you do that will vary from hand to hand.

However, don’t get carried away with this tip… meaning don’t fall into the trap when you make a great high hand and a bad two-card hand. Try to find a way to maximize your strength so you can win the game.

5 – Bank Like Crazy

Banking is the part of Pai Gow when you play against other players. Do it. Especially if you’re playing on real money online casinos.

Stacks of Casino Chips, Poker Cards Spread Out on Table

Unless you’re at a table in which banking makes you out to be the villain (in which case, find a new table), bet against other players as much as you can.

This way, you can earn money from them on top of money from the house.

Conclusion

Pai Gow is a fun casino game with just enough skill to make it exciting, but not so much that beginners feel totally lost.

As long as you can play aggressively and make enough side bets to keep some extra money rolling in, it can be a lucrative game as well. Sadly, not every casino offers it, but when you find one that does, play it. You will not regret the experience.