Pai Gow Rules

In that sense, Pai Gow has more similarities with casino games like baccarat and blackjack than poker.

A Hand in Pai Gow

The game begins with the dealer giving the player seven cards. The player then divides his cards into two hands, one five-card hand and one two card hand, and places them face down on the table.  

There’s only one rule to remember:

  • The two-card hand must have a lower value than the five-card hand.

The dealer then does the same thing – makes two separate hands. When he’s done, the player’s hands are turned over and compared to the dealer’s.

Hand Values in Pai Gow

The strength of the five-card hand – also referred to as back hand – follows standard poker rules with one small exception.

 In Pai Gow, the A-2-3-4-5 straight (the wheel) is considered the second highest straight. It loses to A-K-Q-J-T but wins over K-Q-J-T-9.

Most Pai Gow games use a standard 52-card deck plus a joker. The Joker can be only be used as an ace or to complete a straight or flush.

Back hand ranking from best to worst

Royal straight flush

Straight flush

Four of a kind

Full house



Three of a kind

Two pair


High card

Front hand ranking

The best possible holding in the two-card hand – or front hand – is pair of aces followed by pair of kings and so on down to two deuces.

The best unpaired hand is ace-king followed by ace-queen, ace-jack and so on.

No other combinations are possible in the front hand, i.e. you don’t get anything for having a flush or straight.

Payouts in Pai Gow

Ok, so now you and the dealer have two hands each, one with two cards and one with five. It’s time to compare them.

Unless no hand is tied, these are the three possible outcomes:

  1. Player wins both ways and his initial bet is matched.

  2. Player and dealer win one hand each and it’s a push (the bet goes back to the player).

  3. Dealer wins both hands and the player loses his bet.

But if these were the only rules there would be no house advantage. That’s where the ties come in.

If the dealer and the player have the same hand, the dealer wins. So if you win one hand and tie the other, it’s a push and if you lose one hand and tie the other, you lose your entire bet.

Pai Gow Rules Summary

As you see, the rules of Pai Gow are rather simple. You only need to decide how much to wager and how to divide your seven cards into two separate holdings.

However, even though this is easy from a rules point of view, the strategy can be rather complicated. If you don’t divide your hand the right way, you may give the casino a huge advantage.

Before you start playing real money pai gow, read this article on Pai Gow strategy. You will learn the most optimal way to play in every situation.