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The game of pai gow poker is relatively simple in terms of learning how to play the game. A grasp of poker hand rankings and an adherence to the rule of always making the five card hand stronger than the two card hand is all that is really required to take part. The trick is to learn the best way in which to split the initial seven card holding in order to maximise your chances of success in the game.

Perfect strategy for pai gow is a fairly complicated business. There is one strategy for when you are playing against the dealer and a separate and subtly different strategy for when you hold the deal yourself. This brings us to our first rule to follow. When offered the opportunity to take the deal and be the banker, you should always take it. When acting as the banker and employing perfect strategy the edge against you is a tiny 0.04%. This compares favourably with the edge of 2.51% when following perfect strategy as a player against the banker and compares very well with just about any game you’ll find in the casino.

Now, on a seven handed table you can expect to have the deal only 14% of the time and as such we recommend following one set strategy regardless of whether you are acting as banker or player. Playing in the manner outlined below will result in an overall edge in favour of the casino of 1.45%. We believe this is acceptable, especially considering the slow paced nature of the game relative to other casino offerings and makes memorising the single strategy a lot more manageable.

The Strategy

This method of play is relatively easy to remember when compared to the much more complex perfect strategy and not much is given up in terms of overall edge. Perfect strategy would result in an improvement of 0.16% but requires the player to remember a significantly larger amount of information. For further information regarding the odds of the game please see our “How to Play Pai Gow” article.

The first thing to consider when looking at a hand is whether it is possible for a straight or a flush to be made for the high hand, don’t forget that the joker can be used for the completion of straights and flushes. If it is possible to make a straight or a flush the following rules should be adhered to. The hand labels refer to a hand also contained in your straight/flush holding. E.g. a hand of Ah-Joker-2h-3h-3s-4h-4s contains both a flush and three pairs.

  • No Pair or One Pair - Keep a straight or flush as the high hand and play the best low hand possible.
  • Two Pairs - This is the most complicated aspect of the strategy to remember. Many find this aspect against their instinct as it often requires the breaking up of a straight or a flush. The first step is to calculate the sum of your pair values. E.g. a pair of eights and a pair of fours has a value of 12 (8+4). For this system Jacks are worth 11, Queens worth 12 and Kings worth 13. Having done this, play according to the following. - 18 points or higher, break up your straight or flush and split the pairs. i.e. play one as your high hand and one as your low. - 12-17 points: if you can manage an ace high for the low hand then you should play the two pairs as your high hand. If you can’t manage an ace high for the low hand then the pairs should be split. - 7-11 points: play the two pair for the high if you can manage a king high for the low otherwise play a pair for high and a pair for low. - 5-6 points: play the straight or flush for high unless you can play the two pair for high and queen high or better for low.
  • Three Pairs - A hand containing three pairs plus a flush is only possible if the hand contains an ace and a joker. The flush should be broken up in this instance and the aces played for low and the two pair played for high.
  • Three of a Kind - Play the best low hand you can whilst keeping the straight or flush for high.
  • Full House - Again, this hand is only possible with a joker. Keep your straight or flush if you can play a pair of sevens or better for the low. Otherwise play three of a kind for the high and a pair of aces for the low.
  • Four Of A Kind - Another outcome only possible with a joker. Play a pair of aces for the low and the highest straight or flush you can make for the high.

The second part of this strategy concerns those hands where neither a straight nor a flush is possible. In this case the following rules should be followed.

  • No Pair - Keep the highest card for your high hand and set the second and third highest cards as your low.
  • One Pair - Always keep the pair in the high and play the highest two of your remaining cards as the low.
  • Two Pairs - Use the points total outlined above and play as follows: - 17 points or more: higher of the pairs in the high and the other pair in the low. - 12-16 points: if you can play an ace high for the low keep the two pairs otherwise play one for high and one for low. - 8-11 points: if you can play a king high or better for the low keep the two pair otherwise play one for high and one for low. - 5-7 points: if you can play a queen high or better for the low, keep the two pairs, otherwise play one for high and one for low.
  • Three Pairs - Play the lowest two pairs for the high hand and the highest pair for the low.
  • Three Of A Kind - If you have three aces split and play a pair of aces for high and ace high for low. For any other three of a kind, keep the three of a kind for high and do the best you can for low.
  • Full House - Play the three of a kind for high and the pair for low.
  • Full House plus One Pair - Play the highest of the two pairs for low and a full house for high.
  • Two Sets of Three of a Kind - Play the lower of the sets for high and a pair for low.
  • Four of A Kind - Correct strategy here depends upon the value of the four of a kind. Twos, threes and fours should always be played for high with the highest two remaining cards played for low or an additional pair if you have one. Split fives unless you can also manage a 10 high or better for low. Split sixes and sevens unless you can also manage a queen high or better for low. For eights and nines unless you can also manage a king high or better for low split them, whilst you should split tens or jacks unless you can also manage an ace high or better for low. You should always split queens, kings and aces unless you have another pair you can play for low.
  • Four of a Kind plus Three of a Kind - Break up the four of a kind and play a full house for the high if your four of a kind is at least two ranks higher than your three of a kind. If this is not the case break up the three of a kind to play a pair for low, keeping the four of a kind for high.
  • Five Aces - Obviously this is only possible with a Joker. Play a pair of aces for low and keep three aces for high. The only exception is if you hold five aces and two kings. In this case play the kings for low. Five aces plus any other pair should be played as a pair of aces for low and a full house for high.

Whilst this may all sound incredibly complex, it is much easier to understand whilst playing the game and much is fairly obvious when you actually have the cards in front of you. Many top online casinos will have either tutorials or the option to play in “Just for Fun” mode and this is a good idea until you grasp the game. If you are playing in a bricks and mortar casino then many will provide assistance with games for beginners so never be put off trying a new casino game just because you’re unsure of how to play.