Pai Gow Basic Strategy Guide
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Basic Pai Gow Strategy

You may think you don’t know how to play Pai Gow poker, but you actually might if you are acquainted with double hand poker as Pai Gow is frequently called when poker cards are used instead of Chinese dominoes. Pai Gow poker is played with a typical deck consisting of 52 cards plus a joker. Six players plus a dealer play and the goal is to beat the banker. The banker may be the dealer or else another player.

The Basic Strategy

When it comes to playing this game it is important to have the basic strategy down as much as possible. In general terms, the players will want to make the highest two card hand they possibly can according to the house rules. The five card hand must be higher than the two card hand so there are limitations in making the two card hand. Nevertheless, players should exhaust all options to find the highest two card hand they can that still remains within the rules of the game.

Computer software has created the best strategy for this game based on extensive tables. However, it is incredibly difficult to memorize all of the tables and the strategy overall. It is much easier to use some of the most important rules that will still help you over the long term in terms of playing and winning.

One thing that may be done is for a player to ask that his hand be set in the house way. Many times the house strategies are reasonable and will utilize a strategy that is very close to optimal.

  • Should a player have no pairs, flushes or straights then he will need to place the cards that rank second and third in his two card hand. An example of this would be a seven card hand consisting of K-Q-J-9-7-4-3. The way to set up this hand would be to place the second and third highest cards, the Q and J, in the two card hand. Then, the five card hand would consist of K-9-7-4-3. In some cases there will be an exception, but most of the time there won’t be so keeping this as a rule of thumb will help you set up your two hands the best way possible each time.
  • In a situation where the player has only a single pair then he must make some choices. In general, it is recommended to put the pair in his five card hand along with the other cards that do not make up the two highest cards leftover. Instead, these two higher cars that are leftover should make up the two card hand. An example of this would be with an initial seven cards consisting of A-Q-Q-9-6-5-3 the player could choose to make his five card hand with Q-Q-6-5-3 and his two card hand with A-9. Keeping this rule and the first rule in mind will help you with practically 65% of all hands.
  • The most common situation where the necessary strategy is not readily obvious is with two pair. In this situation a player could choose to have pair up front and a pair behind. Alternatively, the player may choose to have two pair behind and just use high cards in the front.

In this situation the player will want to have the two pair behind if the remaining cards are higher and the pair are smaller. However, if the side cards are small or if the highest pair is really high then splitting the pairs makes the most sense. It is all about strategy and doing what is right in the situation. If one of the high pair happens to be a pair of aces then the pair should always be split up between the two hands. And, in most cases, if the high pair is kings or queens then the hand needs to be evaluated carefully to determine what to do. In most cases they should be split up though. In a situation where the player has a pair of jacks and a pair of tens then he might choose to split them simply because a pair of tens in the front is considerably better than cards like A-Q. If a player has a king or ace he can play in front and two pair of lower cards like 6s or 7s, then playing the two pair together behind is a good idea. Pairs should always be split if there is not side card that is at least a jack.

  • An excellent hand has three pair. In this case, the highest pair should always be played up front without exception. In the case the player has a hand consisting of K-K-7-7-4-4-A then it makes sense to play K-K and then 7-7-4-4-A.
  • Should a player have nothing better than three of a kind then the three of a kind should always be played behind and the other cards up front except in the case these cards are aces. In the case of three aces they should always be split with a pair of aces behind and a single ace high up front. In some cases three kings may be split as long as the side card is not a queen high. An example of this situation would be a hand consisting of K-K-K-J-9-7-6. In this case the best way to play the cards is with K-J up front and K-K-9-7-6 behind rather than playing a different pair of hands like J-9 up front and K-K-K-7-6 behind.
  • When a player has the right cards for a flush or a straight, or both of these, then the hand that should be played depends on which five card hand results in the best two card hand. That is the most important part of this game because if you have an excellent five card hand and a so-so two card hand you could lose more readily than if you have a great five card hand and a good two card hand. An example of this situation would be an initial hand that included K♠-9♠-8♣-7♠-6♣-5♠-4♠. In this situation, the best way to play the hand would be to have the 8-6 up front when playing the flush. The nine high straight would require the K-4 up front. According to the experts the best way to play this hand is to put the K-9 up front with the 8-7-6-5-4 behind. In the case the player has two pair in addition to a straight of flush then he should ignore the existence of the flush or straight and simply play the two pair. Even if a straight flush may be played it is important to play it up front if that makes the best hand.
  • When a player has the option of playing a full house the best way to play is with three of a kind in the back and the pair up front. There are exceptions to this rule, however, which includes a pair that is really low or side cards that are exceptionally high. A good example of this situation would be an initial hand dealt with 5-5-5-3-3-A-Q. In this situation it might be better to play the full house behind with the A-Q up front. If a player does not play his full house behind then this is not a grave mistake. In general the house way is to split the full house.
  • In the case you have two sets of three of a kind then the highest three of a kind should be split into a pair to be played in front and the lower three of a kind and the other cards behind. An example to illustrate this situation would be an initial seven card hand of Q-Q-Q-7-7-7-A. The way this hand should be played is to play the pair of queens up front and then the 7-7-7-A-Q behind. This hand should ALWAYS be played this way without varying.
  • In the situation a player is deal four of a kind then it is recommended to play this hand as if it were two pair. Splitting does not always have to occur, but in many cases it is the best way to play. In a situation when the first seven cards are 10-10-10-10-J-5-4 then the player will need to play the pair of 10s up front and then 10-10-J-5-4 behind. However, should the player receive a hand like 3-3-3-3-K-Q-7 then the smartest way to play is with K-Q up front and 3-3-3-3-7 behind. In general, the house way is to split the four of a kind.
  • In the case a player has three pair with a straight or a flush, made possible only with a joker in the hand. Then, the hand should be played with the aces in front and the hand as three pair.
  • In the case that you have a pair and four of a kind you should play the pair up front. That is unless the four of a kind is really high and the pair is really low. An example of this situation would be to be dealt 9-9-9-9-7-7-K to start. Then, you would play the sevens up front and the 9-9-9-9-K behind. However, should you be dealt K-K-K-K-3-3-9 then you might would play K-K up front and then K-K-3-3-9 behind.
  • Should you be dealt a pair with a full house then you should try playing the full house in the back and the pair in the front. ● when a player is dealt both four of a kind and three of a kind, which is rare, he should play a full house behind and a pair up front. This requires splitting the four of a kind into two pair. Yet, if the three of a kind happens to rank higher than the four of a kind then use a pair from the three of a kind up front and keep the four of a kind together in the back.
  • When you have the joker and all four aces then play the aces up front and either a full house or three aces behind. That is unless the back is kings.

Knowing a sample strategy and the house way can be helpful. Read the rules of the strategy and try to memorize them if you plan on playing Pai Gow on a regular basis. Knowing strategy is what increases your odds of playing your best.

-High cards: Place the highest card in your five card hand and use your next two best cards in your two card hand.

- Single pair: When you have a single pair you should always place the pair behind in your five card hand. Then, in your two card hand place the next two best cards.

- Two pair: When you have two pair you will always want to split Ace high or Kings if you have 7s or higher. If you have an Ace for the top then keep both pair together. That is unless the pair are face cards and you don’t have an AK top. If you have 3s or better and King pairs then you will split the two pair. The same goes for Qs with 5s or higher and Jacks or 10s with 9s or 8s. If you have two pair of 6s or lower then don’t ever split them. If you have an ace top then keep all other two pairs together.

- When you have three pair you will play the highest pair up front in your two card hand.

- Three of a kind: With three aces then it is recommended you split them up to create a pair for your five card hand. When you have three kings then you will want to split them if you have a jack or lower for the top. Otherwise, you should keep them together if you have a queen or ace for the top. Queens or lower three of a kind should never be split.

- Pair of three of a kind: When you have a pair of three of a kind then you will want to take a pair of the higher ones and place them at the top.

- Straights/Flushes/or both: Put a pair or Ace with a face card at the top and your straight or flush at the back. Unless you have two sets of Aces with 8s or higher. Also, if the straight or flush has no pair then you would play the straight or flush.

- Straight/Flush/two pair: In this situation you would only play the cards as the two pair you were dealt in certain situations. This includes if there is no Ace top for the straight or flush as well as if there are two pairs with face high, which would be exemplified by Ks and 6s. Or, if you have two pair with an ace high for your two card hand then you can play the two pair in the back hand.

- Straight with flush: In this case you might not be able to make a good hand with either one of this. In that situation you will need to play the cards that make the best top. However, you wouldn’t do that in the situation that the tops were basically the same like A-9 vs. A-7, or K-Q vs. K-10.


If you don’t mind the risk then be the banker. When you are not the banker then the house edge is higher so this means you need to reign in your bets and pay attention. In general, playing the house way is the best way to go. You should in general split two pair, but other than that you will find you can’t play significantly better than what the house way will allow you to play. Pai Gow is a fun game and one that will keep your mind busy trying to figure how to create your hands. When getting started always follow the house way and then if you feel like branching out do so at your own risk.



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