Pai Gow Poker basic strategy

Pai Gow Poker is the American version of a popular Chinese game of chance, called – how obvious – Pai Gow. Originally it is played with a set of 32 Chinese dominoes. The American version is played using a standard deck of 52 cards, plus one joker that acts as a wildcard.

In Pai Gow Poker the players have to use their 7 cards to form two poker hands – one ‘small’ hand of two cards and one ‘big’ hand of five cards. Hand rankings correspond to standard poker rules. If both the player’s hands beats the house’s hands the player wins.

Although it might seem like a game of pure chance – there are no betting rounds, no draws and no community cards, as in the most popular poker games – Pai Gow Poker requires some strategy for maximizing the chance of winning.

One of the rules of Pai Gow Poker states that the small hand cannot surpass in rank the big hand – meaning that the rank of the five-card hand will always be bigger than the rank of the two-card hand.

In case of a no-pair hand – called a Pai Gow hand – the highest ranking card should stay in the big hand and the second and third ranking hands should move to the small hand.

If you have a hand with a single pair, it should – and must – stay in the big hand, and the highest ranking cards should move to the small hand.

These moves will improve your chances of winning – these also cover over 60% of all hands in Pai Gow poker.

In case of two pairs it’s usually wise to leave the higher pair in the big hand and move the lower pair to the small hand. When one of the pairs is low, though, and they are accompanied by high cards, these should leave for the small hand, and the two pairs should remain in the big hand.

Three pairs is a strong hand in Pai Gow Poker. In this case the highest ranking pair should move to the small hand, and the two remaining pairs should stay in the big hands.

In case of three of a kind, it’s usually wise to leave them in the big hand and move the highest ranking cards to the small hand, except for three Aces – three Aces should always be split into one pair in the big hand and a single ace in the small hand.

Full house should be split in Pai Gow Poker – the three of a kind stays in the big hand, and the pair leaving for the small hand. If the pair is low, though, it might be wiser to leave the full house in the big hand and place high cards in the low hand.

In case of two three-of-a-kinds the highest one should be split into a pair (that goes into the small hand) and the lowest one left in the big hand.

Four of a kind should be treated as a two pair and usually split, except for the case when the cards have low value (say 8 or lower) – in this case the four of a kind should stay in the big hand and the high cards should be moved to the small hand.

Three pairs and a straight or flush are only possible with the joker. These hands should be played as a three-pair – see above.

Pai Gow Poker is a fun game to play even for ‘virtual’ money. It’s a game of chance, so Good luck!

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