How to Play Pai Gow Poker: The Ultimate Guide

Pai Gow Poker is one of the most popular casino games around. Pai Gow is a slower-paced game when compared to other casino games such as Blackjack or Craps and is a great option for when you are in the mood to sit back, relax, and have a few drinks at the table with some friends. Although Pai Gow may look a bit intimidating, the game is rather simple.

Note: Downtown Grand currently does not offer Pai Gow Poker on the casino floor, but hopes to again soon!

The Deal

Card Shuffle

After the player makes their bet, the dealer and the player are both dealt 7 cards which are used to make a five-card Poker hand and a two-card Poker hand. After receiving their 7 cards, the player makes both of their five-card and two-card hands and places them face down on the table. Once the cards are placed, the dealer flips over their 7 cards and makes both of their hands. If both of the players’ hands beat the dealers’ the player wins, if only one hand wins, it’s a push, and if both of the dealers’ hands beat the players’, the player loses. Pai Gow Poker follows Standard Poker hand rankings. The two-card hand is often referred to as “Up top” and the five-card hand is referred to as “Down bottom”. This is because players place their two-card hand above their five-card hand on the table when they have decided on how to play them. In the event of a tie, for example, if the player and dealer both have an Ace and 10 up top, and the dealer’s five-card hand is higher than the players, the dealer would win the overall hand.

When making the five and two-card Poker hands, there is one very important rule to remember: The five-card hand must be stronger than the two-card hand. (Otherwise, players could always go for a push by making a very strong two-card hand). This rule is important because if you play your hand incorrectly, the hand could be declared dead. If the hand is declared dead, the player automatically loses, so if you are unsure if you are playing your hand correctly always ask the dealer for clarification. Let’s look at an example Pai Gow Poker hand:

Player’s cards: K♠8♠A♠K♦8♦3♦6♠

This player has been dealt a good hand. We have a pair of Kings, a pair of 8s, and an Ace. This hand can be played in two different ways, with a pair of 8s as the two-card hand and the pair of Kings and remaining cards as the five-card hand, or with the Ace and Six as the two-card hand and the Kings and 8s in the five-card hand, making two pair. The most optimal way to play a hand is not always clear, but don’t worry, because you can always ask the dealer how to play your cards! If you are unsure how to play your hand, simply ask the dealer for the “House Way” and they will let you know the most optimal strategy for playing your cards (House way is how the dealer would play the same cards). In our example, the House Way would be:


In this case, it is optimal to play the pair of 8s as the two-card hand and the pair of Kings as the five-card hand, as opposed to playing A♠6♣ on the top and two pair on the bottom. This is the most optimal play because having a pair as the two-card hand is always strong, especially a mid-range pair such as 88. With a pair up top, there is a good chance the player will at least push, if not win the hand outright. Now that we have our two hands set, let’s see what the dealer has:


The dealer’s two hands would be:

9♦9♥6♥5♥ 4♦

The dealer has King High up top and a pair of 9s down bottom. When compared to the player’s hand, we have:

K♣7♦ vs. 8♦8♠

The player wins the two-card hand with a pair of 8s, and for the five-card hands we have:

9♦9♥5♥ 6♥4♦ vs. K♠ K♦ A♠6♣3♦

The player wins the five-card hand with a pair of Kings vs. a pair of 9s. Since the player has won the two-card hand and the five-card hand, the player wins their bet!


In most Pai Gow games, when a player wins a hand, the casino charges a 5% commission on their bet, so a winning bet of $100 would return $95 profit.

The Joker


Most Pai Gow games found in casinos have one Joker in the deck. However, the Joker is not a full wild card as it is in many other forms of Poker. The Joker in Pai Gow can only be used to complete a straight or a flush, if it is not used to complete either of these hands, the Joker will always be an Ace. If the Joker is played as an Ace it is often used as the high card in the two-card hand, or to pair with another Ace.

Disclaimer: All gaming advice found on is strictly for entertainment purposes. Know when to stop before you start ®. Gambling problems? Call 1-800-GAMBLER in NJ or 1-800-522-4700 in NV

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