A Primer to the Basics of Most Pai Gow Poker Hands

January 23, 2015


Pai Gow Poker is a tricky game that involves a fair bit of strategy, and that's one of the reasons why it's so popular among Australian casino fans. The basic idea is that you're having to arrange seven cards from a standard deck into two hands. The front hand is a five-card hand ranked by traditional poker hand rankings, and the second is a two-card hand only ranked by pairs and high cards. The front hand has to be better than the back hand, and that's the main restriction that you'll have to keep in mind as you try to maximize the value of your two hands together as you look to beat the dealer.

While there are plenty of scenarios where playing this game can be difficult, a lot of common hands can be played almost on auto-pilot provided that there are no flushes or straights available. For example, with no pair, you'll always play the second- and third-highest cards in the back with no exception. Along similar lines, hands with one pair always play with the best two non-paired cards in the back. Again, there are no exceptions to this rule, and that makes it easy to learn.

Playing three of a kind is really easy along similar lines, but it does have one exception. In most cases, you'll put the trips in the front hand with the two strongest non-trips cards in the back. However, if you have three of a kind in aces, then it's actually better to just put two of the aces in the front with an ace and the next-largest card in the back. This has to do with distributing the power of your cards over both hands in a way that maximizes your average win overall.

Two pair is a bit trickier because you have to decide to split your pairs or not. All you have to do is add together the value of your pairs, so if you had 88TTxxx, then you would do 8 + 10 = 18 for a power ranking of 18. If your power ranking is 17 or higher, you always split the pairs. Lower power rankings will split only if you can play strong high-card hands in the back. For example, if you have a power ranking of 12 to 16, you'll only keep the pairs together if you have an ace to put in the back hand.