Pai Gow poker is a slow-paced card game based on the rules of Chinese Pai Gow dominoes. One Pai Gow poker table can accommodate multiple players, and their objective is to defeat the dealer’s hand. Because many rounds end in a push and players aren’t required to take any significant risks, Pai Gow poker is widely considered to be a social game, one that quickly builds a sense of camaraderie between participants.
Unfortunately, playing online Pai Gow poker for real money is a solitary experience, but many casino enthusiasts still enjoy it for its relaxing pace and low house edge.
How to select an online Pai Gow poker casino
Pai Gow poker is a niche game and many casinos don’t feature it in their game libraries. This limits your choice to the largest platforms, but don’t worry – in the world of iGaming, bigger is usually better and more trustworthy.
While size is a good indicator of reliability, you should always check whether your casino has the right paperwork. Legitimate international platforms are often licensed in Isle of Man, Malta, Gibraltar, or other tax havens because this allows them to pay lower taxes, which translates to better bonuses and bigger market shares. If you live in a place where online gambling regulations force you to stick to a fenced-off market, you should pick a site that’s been approved by a local regulatory body.
For example, if you live in New Jersey, join a casino that holds a license issued by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. If your only option is to join an offshore platform, stick to casinos that have an excellent track record, such as Bovada or BetOnline. The internet is full of shady operators who attract inexperienced players with generous bonuses and then put their withdrawal requests on permanent hold. If you fall victim to such a scam and the site in question is based offshore, you might have very little legal recourse.
Casino welcome bonuses provide you with an opportunity to start your gambling adventure with a bigger bankroll. In most cases, the size of the bonus is determined by the value of your deposit. For example, if you transfer $100 to a site that offers a 100% bonus, the casino will give you $100 in bonus cash, and if the bonus is a 200% match, you will receive $200.
A big bonus might allow you to enjoy the games for longer, but if you’re interested in maximizing your chances of turning a profit, focus on wagering requirements instead. This requirement usually applies to the size of your bonus. For example, a 20x requirement on a $100 bonus means that you must wager $2,000 in order to request a cash-out.
Sometimes, the requirement applies to both your bonus and your deposit combined. If that’s the case, your wager requirement would double.
Pai Gow poker is a table game and as such doesn’t contribute 100% towards clearing welcome bonuses at most casinos. Usually, table games only contribute 10%-25% of your wagers. For example, if you receive a $100 bonus with a $2,000 playthrough requirement and Pai Gow poker wagers contribute only 20%, you’ll need to wager at least $10,000 before the casino will allow you to withdraw.
How Pai Gow poker works
Pai Gow poker is played with a 52-cards deck and a single joker. The goal is to create two poker hands out of the seven cards dealt that beat both Dealer hands. One hand, called the low hand, must be created using two cards. The second hand is composed of the remaining five cards and is called the high hand. Players can’t replace their cards, so everything boils down to forming the strongest possible hands.
If the player wins only one hand, the round ends in a push. If the combinations are tied, the hand goes to the banker, which gives the house a small edge. Some casinos also deal so-called “dragon hands” to empty seats, which can be accepted and played by any passive observer sitting at the table.
Hand rankings in Pai Gow poker are very similar to those in standard poker. The only exception is A-2-3-4-5, which at most online casinos is considered the second strongest straight. Some gambling establishments don’t follow this rule and rely on standard poker hand rankings instead, where A-2-3-5 is the weakest straight.
The Dealer is required to play out his hand in accordance with predetermined rules, which are called the house way. The house way differs from one casino to another. As a result, establishing an optimal playing strategy that’s guaranteed to work at every casino is impossible. If you want to achieve the best possible return-to-player, you’ll have to adjust your tactics to your casino’s rules. This is true for both online and live Pai Gow games.
Is land-based Pai Gow poker different from online Pai Gow poker?
Yes. Live Pai Gow poker is a social game, while online Pai Gow is played one-on-one against a simulated Dealer. What’s more, in land-based Pai Gow poker players are allowed to act as the banker, in which case the house edge is reduced to less than 1%. This option isn’t available online.
Internet Pai Gow poker is also significantly faster-paced than its land-based version. It allows you to play dozens of hands per hour. This can have a serious impact on your long-term results if you aren’t careful, because the house edge becomes more relevant as the volume of hands grows.
When it comes to odds and returns, online Pai Gow poker is the same as the live game played with real cards. The outcome of each round may be provided by a random numbers generator (RNG), but the probability of drawing any particular card combination remains the same. Legitimate casinos submit their RNG software for rigorous testing to ensure that.
Free play Pai Gow
Testing the Pai Gow poker games offered by your casino in free play mode makes more sense than in the case of other games because it allows you to familiarize yourself with the specific House Way employed by the casino. It also allows you to get used to the user interface and animations of the game without risking any real money, which is important for games where skill has a significant impact on results.
We recommend trying every Pai Gow poker game for free even if you’re a seasoned casino aficionado.
Glossary of Pai Gow poker terms
- Betting systems: techniques for placing bets that are supposed to negate the house edge. All “surefire” betting systems are based on fallacies, which renders them completely ineffective.
- Expected Value: the average value of a long series of bets or actions, abbreviated as EV. Actions that benefit the player are referred to as EV-positive, while actions that benefit the house are called EV-negative.
- Gambler’s fallacy: the assumption that isolated random events can impact the outcome of causally unrelated events.
- The grind: the effect of the house edge eroding your bankroll in the long term.
- House Edge: the ratio of the expected player loss to total wagers made, which expresses the casino’s advantage.
- RTP (return-to-player): the amount of money players can expect to receive back from a casino game.
- Tilt: a state of mental and emotional confusion in which the gambler adopts sub-optimal playing strategies.
- Banker: the player’s opponent in a Pai Gow poker game.
- Hand behind, high hand: the five-card hand placed behind the two-card hand in a game of Pai Gow.
- Hand in front, low hand: the two-card hand placed in front of the bigger five-card hand.
- Wild card: the joker. Can be used as an ace or to complete any straight or flush.
- House way: a set of predetermined rules governing the actions of the dealer.
- Dragon hand: a hand dealt to an empty seat at the table in a live Pai Gow game.
- Four-of-a-kind: a poker hand that contains four cards of the same value.
- Full house: a hand composed of three cards of the same value and a pair of a different value.
- Pair: two cards of the same value.
- Two pair: two cards of the same value and two cards of a different value.
- Straight: a hand composed of five cards in sequential order.
- Straight flush: a hand composed of five cards of the same suit in sequential order.
- Flush: a hand composed of five cards of the same suit.
- Royal flush<: the highest possible straight flush – AKQJT.
How to beat online Pai Gow poker
There’s no strategy that will allow you to play Pai Gow poker for profit – even in a live setting, the house always has an advantage. Nevertheless, your decisions will have some impact on your overall returns, especially if you adjust your playstyle to match the house way.
There are no tactics that are guaranteed to perform equally well against every house way, and copying the house way usually results in worse performance than playing an optimal or even simplified strategy.
For example, if you play against the Foxwoods house way, following a simplified strategy results in a 97.31% RTP, while copying the dealer results in 97.27% RTP. Fortunately, most Pai Gow hands are intuitive to play. The only difficult ones involve straights, flushes, and other similar combinations.
A simplified strategy generally involves prioritizing your front cards. For example, if you’re holding a full house with no additional pair, you should split it into a three of a kind and a low hand pair. If you have a full house with two pairs or two three of a kinds, always play the higher pair in front. If you have a 6-card straight or a 7-card straight, always play the highest card in the front.
A four of a kind can be particularly tricky to play in Pai Gow poker, and your actions should depend on its value: low combinations should be kept together, aces should be always split, and medium combinations should be split unless you can play a strong front without doing that.
Sizing your bets and the grind
If you want to maximize your odds of turning a profit or clearing a casino welcome bonus, placing large bets is more important than the betting strategy you assume. This is because the house’s small advantage is guaranteed to be reflected in the results of a long series of hands, but anything can happen if you only play a few or a dozen rounds. In an infinitely long series of Pai Gow poker hands, your bankroll is mathematically guaranteed to be ground to zero. The process of bankroll erosion due to placing a lot of EV-negative bets is sometimes referred to as “the grind”, and avoiding it is the goal of all profit-oriented gamblers.
All in all, it’s always more optimal to place a single $50 bet than to place fifty $1 bets, but many gamblers avoid this approach because it has the potential to reduce their bankroll’s play time.
Pai Gow betting systems
Betting systems shouldn’t be confused with legitimate strategies. The latter improve your odds to a certain extent, while the former is supposed to defeat the house edge and turn Pai Gow poker into a steady source of income. The house always has an advantage due to the rules of the game, so all betting systems are invariably based on fallacious reasoning.
A good example is the Martingale technique, which boils down to doubling your bet whenever you lose a hand. This is supposed to cover for your previous losses, while simultaneously allowing you to turn a small profit once you’ve won. Because the limited size of your bankroll and the casino’s betting limits make it impossible to double your bet infinitely, every time you employ the Martingale technique you risk going bust or losing a lot of money. Since the house edge doesn’t go away, your long term performance won’t better compared to using any other betting strategy – your biggest losses will outweigh your more numerous victories.
You should also avoid falling prey to gambler’s fallacy, which in Pai Gow poker usually boils down to assuming that a series of wins or defeats can impact the outcome of the next hand. While it is true that a very long series of one-sided victories is unlikely to occur, this doesn’t matter when you’re already in the middle of a streak because the outcomes of previous rounds have already been established and they are no longer part of any future results.
Tips for playing online Pai Gow poker
To conclude, everything that we’ve discussed so far can be summed up in a series of practical tips:
Don’t bet more than you can afford to lose
Your bets in Pai Gow poker are going to be negative regardless of your strategy, so don’t expect to turn a profit. Treat making a deposit to an online casino like spending money on entertainment. If you notice that you’re spending too much, you casino will help you set weekly or monthly deposit limits. You can also self-impose a permanent ban on your account if you deem it necessary.
You’re playing for entertainment, so don’t get angry if you don’t win or fail to clear your bonus. Pai Gow is an EV-negative game and you know it (hopefully). Try not to tilt: don’t make sub-optimal decisions based on the outcome of previous rounds because you’ll likely start losing more hands on average, which is only going to lead to more frustration.
Don’t spend money on “surefire” betting systems
Betting systems that are supposed to give you an advantage over the house are all based on fallacious assumptions. They don’t improve your chances, and in some cases can even have a negative impact on your long-term results, especially if they require you to place a lot of small bets. Never pay for a betting system – you’re better off depositing that money with your online casino and using it to enhance your bankroll’s play time.
Consider quitting while ahead
If you care about turning a profit, leave the game as soon as you’re satisfied with your winnings. If you continue playing after winning big, odds are high the casino will reclaim some or all of its money due to the grind.
If possible, try the game in free-play mode first
Testing the game in free-play mode is even more important for Pai Gow poker than for other casino games, because it allows you to get accustomed to the online casino’s rules and betting operations. It’s also a great way to get accustomed to the game’s interface and layout.
Online Pai Gow poker FAQ
Q: Can you really win money playing Pai Gow poker online?
A: Yes, if you follow the right strategies against the relevant house way, the house edge can be reduced to less than 3%. While this isn’t as great as playing some of the more generous variants of video poker or blackjack, you’re still likely to score a winning streak and walk away with a substantial profit if you keep your gambling sessions short.
Nevertheless, the more hands you play, the closer the house edge will be reflected in your results. Long Pai Gow poker sessions are guaranteed to slowly erode your bankroll. This phenomenon is also known as the grind and has been discussed in more detail earlier.
Do online casinos offer dedicated Pai Gow bonuses?
Unfortunately, most don’t. Pai Gow poker is not particularly popular online. In fact, many casinos don’t spread the game at all. Dedicated bonuses are typically only offered to slots and Bingo players.
Can I clear a casino welcome bonus through Pai Gow poker?
Most casinos allow this. However, due to the game’s relatively low house edge, online casinos usually limit its contribution towards meeting wagering requirement – 10-25% is the norm.
What is the house edge in Pai Gow?
The house edge depends on multiple factors including the house way, whether the dealer or player is banking, and on the strategy being used. It ranges from around 97.30% to 99.80%.
How large should my bankroll be to play Pai Gow?
This depends on whether you’re playing for fun or to turn a potential short-term profit. If it’s the former, any bankroll that allows you to place a hundred or more bets should provide you with plenty of play time and entertainment. For those looking to exploit the game’s variance, the proper bankroll size is limited by how much they are willing to risk (and looking to win) on a few larger bets.
Q: How do I deposit money with an online Pai Gow casino?
A: In most cases, you can choose between an e-wallet solution, such as Neteller or Skrill, Visa/MasterCard, and other popular local payment processing services. PayPal deposits aren’t supported by most sites.
If you live in the United States, consider avoiding credit card payments. This is because American banks often block iGaming-related transactions. This also applies to locally-licensed internet casinos available in Delaware and New Jersey.
Q: If I win at Pai Gow poker, how will the online casino pay me?
A: When you request a cash-out, the casino will ask you to choose a banking method. In most cases, there’s going to be a significant overlap between the supported deposit options and withdrawal options. The availability of specific methods may depend on your banking history and activity. For example, high-rollers may be offered expedited withdrawals and other perks.
Most casinos have monthly or weekly withdrawal limits, which can become relevant if you’re a high-roller or if you get very lucky and need to process a huge cash-out. If this is the case, contact your casino support team to request a batch withdrawal.
Q: What happens if I get disconnected in the middle of an active Pai Gow hand?
Pai Gow poker requires you to make important decisions during an active hand. If you get disconnected before you select your low hand, your bet will be forfeit. Unfortunately, any other solution would allow dishonest players to abuse the game by disconnecting whenever they were dealt a hand they didn’t like.
If you manage to select and confirm your low hand before being disconnected, the casino might process the outcome of the hand – the result will be reflected in your bankroll once you sign in again.
Q: What about cryptocurrencies? Can I use Bitcoin to fund my betting account?
A: The number of legitimate casinos that support Bitcoin deposits is very low. If you live in the United States or Canada, your only options are Bovada, Slots.lv, and BetOnline. Players from Europe can also give Bodog a try.
A brief history of Pai Gow poker
According to Chinese legend, Pai Gow dominoes are the oldest casino game in the world, but many scholars are skeptical about the validity of this claim. What we know for certain is that the modern, westernized variant of Pai Gow offered by online casinos was invented in 1985 by Sam Torosian, owner of a Los Angeles card club.
The game quickly gained popularity, and by the late 80s it was available at most gambling venues in Las Vegas. Online casinos started offering Pai Gow poker in the 00s, which is coincidentally when most modern house ways were developed.
Pai Gow poker is definitely past its turbulent growth period, but casinos still haven’t established a standard house way that would be followed throughout the industry. Whether this changes remains to be seen, but a major turn seems unlikely in the close future.