Pai gow is the oldest casino game that’s still played regularly around the world. It’s similar in concept to pai gow poker, which is actually a modern variation on the ancient game played with domino tiles. However, the original pai gow is much more difficult for players to learn, as it uses very unusual scoring and the importance of individual tiles (and the relationship between various tile combinations) takes some time to grasp.
That said, it’s certainly not impossible to pick up this game. Once you understand what’s going on, you don’t even have to fear making mistakes, since you can always have the dealer set the tiles using the “house way,” making sure that you won’t make any serious mistakes. Many online pai gow games also give you this option, which definitely provides a security blanket for new players. Of course, if you want to utilize your own strategy, we can help you with that too!
A full set of 32 Pai Gow Tiles that can be used to play a game. Image Credit: PaiGow.com
Best Online Casinos for Pai Gow
While there are some online casinos that do offer pai gow, they are few in number, and we don’t feel confident in recommending any specific casinos for pai gow. However, if you enjoy the very similar game of pai gow poker, there are many online casinos that do spread this more accessible variation.
Take a look at our online casino reviews to see which casinos offer the best overall value for your gambling dollar. We’ll keep an eye out for casinos that may add pai gow to their suite of games, and update this page with more information if and when it’s available.
Online Pai Gow Rules
The object of pai gow is to make two hands out of four dominos that can beat each of two dealer hands (again, similar to the goal in pai gow poker, with which many players are more familiar). Each player it dealt four dominos out of a set of 32; the dealer is also given four dominos. All dominos are given face down, but players may examine their own dominos.
Each player must then arrange their dominos into two hands of two dominos each. As in pai gow poker, the player must make a high hand and a low hand. However, the scoring of hands in pai gow is extremely complex, especially for new players. The following is a complete guide to scoring pai gow hands; it may be worth reading through this section more than once, until you are sure you completely understand how hands are ranked and scored.
Scoring Pai Gow Hands
The basic scoring of pai gow hands is rather simple to understand. For most hands, you can simply add the total number of pips (or dots) on your two dominos. As in baccarat, only the number in the ones column of the total counts; if you have 21 pips between your two dominos, then you have a hand worth 1 point.
The lowest possible hand is 0 points; the highest possible total for this type of hand is 9 points. It’s also worth noting that the gee joon tiles – one of which features a single red pip and two white pips, the other of which features four red pips and two white pips – can each be counted as either three or six points, depending on which would better serve your hand. Some hands, however, are worth more than nine points.
The first of these hands are known as Gongs. These hands are made up of a combination of any eight point domino with either a two or 12 point domino. These hands can be thought of as being worth 10 points. Scoring above the Gongs are hands known as Wongs. Wongs are made up of combinations of any nine point domino along with either the two or 12 point domino. These hands can be thought of as being worth 11 points. The highest scoring hands – and the ones that inevitably cause the most confusion when scoring hands – are pairs.
The 32 dominos can be split into 16 pairs, all of which score above any non-pair hand, including Gongs or Wongs. However, each pair is ranked separately, and the ranking of the pairs is not simple and follows no obvious pattern. Instead, players must memorize the rankings of all 16 pairs in order to understand which hands are best. The following list ranks all 16 possible pairs from strongest to weakest, with descriptions of the tiles used in each pair:
Ranking of Pai Gow Pairs
- 1. The Gee Joon tiles (the ‘wild’ 3 pip and 6 pip tiles)
- 2. The “Teens” – the 12-point tiles
- 3. The “Days” – the two-point tiles
- 4. The red eight-point tiles
- 5. The four-point 3-1 tiles
- 6. The ten-point 5-5 tiles
- 7. The six-point tiles with pips arranged in a ‘2-2-2’ pattern, with two white dots in the center of each tile
- 8. The four-point 2-2 tiles
- 9. The eleven-point 6-5 tiles
- 10. The ten-point 6-4 tiles
- 11. The seven-point 6-1 tiles
- 12. The six-point 5-1 tiles
- 13. The mismatched nine-point tiles (5-4 and 6-3)
- 14. The mismatched eight-point tiles (6-2 and 5-3)
- 15. The mismatched seven-point tiles (5-2 and 4-3)
- 16. The mismatched five-point tiles (3-2 and 4-1)
This makes up the entire ranking order of hands then, from best to worst – the sixteen pairs (in order), the Wongs, the Gongs, and hands worth 9 points down to 0 points. But, of course, it’s not quite that simple. If a player hand ties a dealer hand, the tie is broken by which player has the tile that belongs to the best pair on the following chart. In other words, if the player has a four-point 3-1 tile in their hand, while the dealer’s “best” domino is a seven-point 6-1 tile, then the player would win that hand.
However, there is one exception; the Gee Joon tiles are not used when determining who wins a tie, so they have no value when comparing two equal hands. In the rare case that the best tile in both the player and dealer hands belong to the same pair, the dealer wins the tie. The dealer also wins all ties between hands that are scored as zero points.
Each player arranges their four tiles into two such hands, with the higher scoring hand being the high hand, and the lower scoring hand being the low hand. When all players have arranged their hands, the tiles are flipped over and the dealer arranges their dominos based on the house way. Each player then compares their high hand with the dealer’s high hand, and their low hand with the dealer’s low hand. If both player hands beat the respective dealer hands, the player wins even money on their bet, minus a 5% commission. If both dealer hands win, the player loses their bet.
If the dealer and the player each win one hand, the bet is considered a push. As in pai gow poker, players al have the option of banking in pai gow (this option is usually not available in online pai gow games). The option to bank usually rotates around the table. In order to bank, a player must have enough money to cover all bets made by the other players at the table. The player must also arrange their hands according to the house way. The banker pays a 5% commission on their net win after collecting bets and paying out winning players.
Online Pai Gow for Real Money
Online pai gow games for real money are few and far between, with the game not being supported by most of the popular casino platforms – which in turn means that most major casinos simply don’t have the game on offer. However, it’s not unheard of! If you do find a casino that is spreading this game, expect to play with a standard 5% commission, but without the option to bank.
Online Pai Gow Strategy
Whenever you are looking at four dominoes with which to make two pai gow hands, there are (at most) three different hands you can make. This makes pai gow strategy seem quite simple; there are few options, and therefore few ways to go wrong. However, designing a system that plays most or all hands correctly is difficult, as many decisions will be very close. In general, the toughest decisions to make usually come down to choosing between making one very strong hand and one very weak hand, or making two moderately strong hands.
Obviously, if both hands can be quite strong, that play is easy to make; if both hands must be weak, then you’re in trouble no matter what you do. The following strategy is based heavily on one taken from The Wizard of Odds, where it is known as the “J.B. Easy Strategy.” Full credit goes to their site for coming up with several excellent strategies for pai gow, all of which outperform the house way methods used in most casinos. We’ve tried to add some clarifications in where possible, as some pai gow terminology can be confusing to new players.
The way to use this strategy is to look down the chart and utilize the first rule that applies to your hand. Of course, if there is only one way to play the hand which results in the best high and low hands (such as when you have two pairs), play the hand the obvious way. Otherwise, start from the top and work your way down:
Pai Gow Strategy Card
- Never split a pair of fours, tens or 11’s.
- Only split a Gee Joon pair if you also hold 6-4, 6-5, or 6-6.
- Only split a pair of twos or 12’s if you hold 9-11, or if you can make two hands of 6/8 or better.
- Only split a pair of fives if you hold 2-12.
- Only split a pair of sixes if you hold 2-11, 2-12, or 11-12.
- Only split a pair of sevens if you can make two hands of 7/7 or better.
- Only split a pair of eights if you can make two hands of 8/8 or better, or if you hold 9-11.
- Only split a pair of nines if you can make two hands of 9/9 or better.
- Play a Gong or a Wong with a low hand of 0 or 1.
- Play a “Low 8” Gong – that is, one that contains an eight other than the red eight – if your low hand is a 2, 3, 7 or 8.
- If you have a 2 or 12, play a 5/7, 6/7 or 7/7 if possible.
- Play a High Nine – that is, one that contains a Teen or Day tile.
- Play any Low 8 Gong.
- If the best total you can make between your two hands is 3-5 points, play the best low hand possible.
- If the best total you can make between your two hands is 6 points, play 3/3 if you can; otherwise, play the best high hand possible.
- If the best total you can make is 7 points, play the best high hand possible.
- If the best total you can make is 8 points, play 5/5 if possible; otherwise, play the best possible high hand.
- If the best total you can make is 9 points, play the best high hand if it is worth 7 points or more; otherwise, play the best low hand.
- If the best total you can make is 10-12 points, 14 points, or 16 points, play the best low hand if it is a 5, 6 or 7; otherwise, play the best possible high hand.
- If the best total you can make is 13 or 15 points, play the best possible low hand.
- If the best total you can make is 17-21 points, play the best possible high hand.
Pai Gow Tiles Odds
If you play by the house way, the house edge as a player in pai gow is around 2.37%, though that figure can vary slightly depending on exactly what method your casino uses to play the game. However, if you use the strategy outlined above, you can actually reduce that edge to about 1.90%.
A perfectly optimal strategy would result in a 1.60% house edge for the casino. As the banker, the house edge is around 0.46% when using the house way method, which is usually required. If you are allowed to use any strategy you prefer as the banker, then it is possible to cut this edge down significantly; the house edge would be 0.10% using the strategy above, and an optimal strategy would actually result in a small edge for a banker even after the 5% commission!
It’s also interesting to note that pai gow features a very high percentage of pushes. Depending on the exact strategies being used by the banker and the player, the percentage of pushes will typically range from about 40.5% to 41.5%.