Pai Gow poker is played with a deck of 53 cards: a standard deck plus one wild joker. Each player is dealt 7 cards and must split them into two hands. The first hand is referred to as “the highest hand,” and consists of 5 cards. The second hand is referred to as “the second highest,” and consists of only 2 cards. The game follows general poker ranking rules: one pair, three of a kind, etc. The 5-card hand must always rank higher than the 2-card hand. For example, if your seven cards are: ace + ace + 9 + 7 + 5 + 4 + 3, you cannot place the two aces as in your 2-card hand. The pair of aces must be kept in “the highest hand” (i.e. the 5-card hand).
Your goal as the player is to beat both of the dealer’s hands; the highest and the second highest. If you only succeed in winning one of the two hands, the round results in a tie, or “push.” If both your hands lose against the dealer’s hands, the dealer takes the bet. If both of your hands beat the dealer’s hands, you receive “even money” on your bet (i.e. 1 to 1), with the exception that the bank takes a 5% commission from your winnings.
When you play in a traditional, real-life casino, it is very important to keep “the dead hand” in mind. A dead hand results when the Pai Gow player fails to divide the seven cards properly into a highest and second highest hand. If the player places his two best cards in the second highest hand, the player’s hand is considered “dead” and he loses instantly. This will not happen to Pai Gow players at most online casinos. When you make a mistake dividing your seven cards, you are merely notified by the game that your cards must be redistributed between the two hands.
The wild card, or joker, may be used only as a single ace; or to complete a flush, straight, or a straight flush. Highest, Five-Card Hand The 5-card hand must be “the highest.” The player must try to create the best possible 5-card hand from his seven dealt cards. In Pai Gow poker, the highest-ranking hand is 5 aces (i.e. 4 aces plus the wild card). This poker hand beats a royal flush. Second Highest, Two-Card Hand The 2-card hand is referred to as “the second highest.” The 2-card hand of highest rank is a pair of aces. If the second highest hand is not composed of a pair, the value of the cards determines the hands rank.
When the player and the dealer compare hands that have the same rank, that hand is referred to as a “copy hand.” Unlike in blackjack, where a copy hand results in a push; the dealer wins the copy hand in Pai Gow. Pai Gow Hand Ranking
1: 5 Aces
2: Royal Flush
3: Straight Flush
4: 4 of a kind
5: Full House
8: 3 of a kind
9: 2 pairs
11: High card
The only difference between the system of ranking hands in Pai Gow poker and in other poker games is that A-K-Q-J-10 ranks as the highest straight, A-2-3-4-5 ranks as the second highest straight, followed by K-Q-J-10-9.
In traditional, real-life casinos, Pai Gow players can play the dragon. The dragon is moved clockwise around the table, and is offered to one player at a time as an extra game. If no one desires to play the dragon, it is put aside.
In traditional, real-life casinos, a Pai Gow player can act as the dealer. The player who acts as dealer must be able to cover all bets at the table. In the Pai Gow Poker games at most online casinos, the option of becoming dealer is excluded.
Players win even money ( i.e. 1 to 1) on their bets, but must pay a 5% commission on their winnings to the bank. Your actual winnings are thus 95% of your bet.