Pai gow is a gambling game created in China that uses 32 Chinese dominoes. Pai gow poker is a card game created in the U.S. that is a version based on the Chinese game and played with cards. It uses a standard 52-card deck with one joker. It is played at a table that is set for six players as well as the dealer. The aim is to defeat the banker who may be the casino dealer or one of the players. Pai gow loosely translates to make nine and is considered the basis for the game of baccarat.


The American version was invented by Fred Wolf who was a casino manager in the early 1980s, and needed a new game to attract gamers.

How to Play

The dealer deals seven piles of cards in front of the chip tray. The hands are given to the players clockwise from the dealer’s position according to a dice roll. This leaves four cards that are unused. These cards are not seen and put away. If there are not seven players, the left-over hand is put away and not seen. The players must arrange the seven cards into two hands of five and two cards. The hand with five cards must rank higher than the hand with two cards. The two-card hand is called the front, top, hair, small, low or minor hand, and the five-card hand is called the high, bottom, big, or behind hand.

When this is completed, the player/dealer reveals and arranges his or her hand. Then, one player at a time, clockwise around the table, each hand competes against the player/dealer’s hand. The first hand to compete is often determined by another dice roll.

The value of the five-card hand is the same as in poker, but there is one exception. In most of the casinos in Nevada, the order for ranking straight flushes is A-K-Q-J-10, A-2-3-4-5 then K-Q-J-10-9. In most of the casinos in California and Michigan, this rule is not observed. The joker can only be used as an ace or to complete a straight, a flush or a straight flush. The highest hand has four aces and the joker. In some casinos in Southern California, the joker is completely wild. There are only two values for the two-card hand which are a pair or high cards. A pair will beat two unmatched cards and high cards.

If the player arranges his hand so that the two-card hand ranks higher than the five-card hand, or there is not the correct number of cards in each hand, this is called fouling the hand, and the player can be penalized. The penalty may force the player to rearrange the hand according to house rules or forfeit the hand. The house rules is how the dealer arranges his hand. This may vary from casino to casino, but the differences are minimal.

If a player doesn’t want to set his hand, he can ask the house dealer to do it for him. In this case, the hand will be set according to house rules. When the players have arranged their hands, they place them face down in front of themselves and not touch them again. The hands are never discussed at any point. The banker/dealer shows his or her cards and arranges them in the same way as the other player’s hands. After that, all the player’s cards are exposed, and the results are seen.

More than one player can bet on a hand. If a player who is not seated bets on a hand, it is called backline betting. These players stand behind the player on whose hand they are betting. The player who makes the largest wager can determine how to set the hand.

Who Wins

If both of the player’s hands beat both of the banker’s hands, the player wins. This means the five-card hand beats the five-card hand of the banker and the two-card hand beats the two-card hand of the banker. If only one of the player’s hands beats the corresponding banker’s hand, it is called a push and no one wins. If the player loses both of his hands to the banker’s hands, the player loses the bet.

The banker has an advantage because he wins all ties. For example, if the player loses his five-card hand to the banker’s and ties the banker with the two-card hand, the banker wins. Since the dealer has the advantage of winning ties, it will be fair if each player has an equal number of turns being dealer during one playing session.

In some cases, not all hands will be able to play against the dealer/player. If the player/dealer stake is lost before all players have played, the remaining players will not get to compete. This is called the bank does not cover and is the reason the order of play is important. For example, if the dealer/player wages $100 and the action button wagers $50 and the next player also wagers $50 and they win, the bank is empty, and the other players get no action on their wagers even if they would have won.

The player/dealer put up a bank twice before the next player clockwise can put up a bank if they choose to. Any player can decline to put up a bank and the button goes to the next player. The house dealer controls the shuffling and dealing, the orderliness of the play and the house collections.