How to Play Face Up Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker Online Table

Have you ever been playing a casino table game and thought it would be easier to win if the dealer had to play their cards face up? If you could see both of the dealer cards in blackjack, you could always make the right decision on your hand.

A few casino table games are available with the dealer playing with their cards face up, but there’s always a trade-off in these games. Face up pai gow poker is no different. You get to see what cards the dealer has, but the rules are a little different from regular pai gow poker.

Here’s a complete guide on how to play face up pai gow poker, including the rules, strategy, and whether or not you should bother playing this newer version of the game.

Face Up Pai Gow Poker Rules

If you know how to play regular pai gow poker, you already know how to play face up pai gow poker. Both games are played the same, with just a couple of rules variations between the two games. Here’s a quick overview of the rules for face up pai gow poker.

  • Face up pai gow poker uses a standard deck of playing cards plus one joker.
  • The joker is wild but can only be used to complete specific hands or as an ace. The specific hands that can use a joker are straight or a flush, other than counting as an ace.
  • All hands are ranked in pai gow the same as in traditional poker except straights. All straights have the same rank as in traditional poker except a five-high straight. A five high straight is the second-highest straight in pai gow poker.
  • The dealer and each player receive seven cards. Both the dealer cards and the player cards are dealt face up in this version of pai gow.
  • The dealer and players each build a five card hand and a two card hand. The five card hand must rank higher than the two card hand.
  • The dealer follows a specific set of instructions to build their hand. The casino sets the set of instructions. Players may build their two hands in any way, as long as their five card hand is ranked higher than their two card hand.
  • When the best five card hand the dealer can complete is an ace-high hand, the game ends and is a push. Thus, the ace high dealer hand is the main difference between regular pai gow poker and face up pai gow poker.
  • The dealer and player five card hands now get ranked against each other, and the dealer and player two card hands are compared. When the dealer wins both hands, the dealer wins. When the player wins both hands, the player wins even money on their bet. When the dealer wins one hand and the player wins one hand, the hand is a push.
  • In regular pai gow poker, the casino collects a 5% commission on winning player wagers. The commission isn’t part of face up pai gow poker.
  • In some regular pai gow poker games, players have the opportunity to bank the game. By banking the game, players get a higher overall return, but the return is still less than 100%. However, in face up pai gow poker, players don’t have the opportunity to bank the game.

Does It Matter Which Version of Pai Gow You Play?

The return for face up pai gow poker is 98.4%. While this isn’t the best return you can find in most casinos, it is a good overall return. It’s also close to the return you can get when you play traditional pai gow poker if you’re able to bank the game often.

When you take everything about both versions of the game into account, there’s not much difference in your long-term returns. In other words, it doesn’t matter much which version you decide to play.

I recommend the face up version of pai gow poker to most gamblers because the strategy is simple and easy. You’re going to learn more about pai gow poker strategy in the next section.

What you’re going to find is that both the traditional version of pai gow poker and the face up version of the game end up being the same game. The reason is that your long-term returns will be close to the same, and the strategy you use will end up being about the same.

Face Up Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Many pai gow poker players simply create the best possible five card poker hand and then put the two cards left in the two card hand. When you play this way, it isn’t the best strategy. Instead, the best strategy is to make the best two card hand you can while still having your five card hand rank better than your two card hand.

When you’re playing traditional pai gow poker, you have to guess what the dealer has until after you set both of your hands. You never have to guess what the dealer has in face up pai gow poker. By seeing the dealer cards, it makes it easier to choose how to build your two hands.

Sometimes you’re going to have a set of cards that allows you to beat both of the dealer’s hands without the need to create the best possible five card hand. Remember that you can build a two card hand that beats the dealer with any two cards, as long as your five card hand is better than your two card hand.

Pai Gow Poker Table

For example, you have six clubs, including the ace and king, and also have the ace of spades. So the best five card hand you can create is an ace-high flush. But the better play is to create a king-high flush and use the two aces for your two card hand.

In this example, you don’t have to guess if this is the correct decision because you can see the dealer’s hands. While this hand will win most of the time in either form of pai gow poker, it’s nice to know what the dealer has instead of being forced to guess.

Experienced pai gow poker players quickly learn that there’s almost no difference between the way they set their hands in the traditional game and the face up version of the game.

The best strategy is the same in both games. But you will be able to create a push from time to time where you might have lost before because you can see the dealer cards. And you can occasionally win instead of getting a push for the same reason.

Face up pai gow poker is a better choice for inexperienced players because it’s easier to make the right decisions. But once you gain enough experience, so you know the best strategy for setting both of your hands, both games are close to the same in the long run.

Push Ace High Side Wager

At the beginning of each hand in face up pai gow poker, each player makes a bet for the main game. Players also have the option of placing a side wager called the push ace-high bet.

The push ace-high side bet uses the following pay table:

  • The wager pays 40 to 1 when both the dealer and player have an ace high five card hand.
  • The wager pays 15 to 1 when the dealer has an ace high pai gow five card hand that uses a joker for the ace.
  • The wager pays 5 to 1 when the dealer has an ace high pai gow poker five card hand that doesn’t have a joker.
The return to player percentage for the push ace-high side wager is 90.71%. In comparison to the return for the standard wager for the game, this is a bad return. It’s also a worse return than most other traditional wagers in the casino.

Your best strategy for the side bet is not to make it.


If you like to play traditional pai gow poker, the face up version of the game is something that you should try. It ends up being close to the original game, but it is an interesting change. And it is one Asian game that is worth trying if you get the chance!

You can find casino table games that offer higher returns, with blackjack being the best option in most casinos. But there are so many hands that end up in a push in pai gow that you often lose less money even with a lower return over the same playing period.

I recommend face up pai gow poker because you can play for a long time on a reasonable bankroll and because the strategy is straightforward.