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Face-Up Pai Gow Poker

10 Oct 2020

By Jerry Stickman
Many casino gamblers enjoy playing Pai Gow Poker. It is a relaxed, slow-playing game with a lot of “pushes” where neither the house or player wins or loses. Because of this, there is a relatively low player loss rate.

The traditional game of Pai Gow poker is played with one deck of 53 cards – the normal four suits of 13 cards each and one joker. The joker is semi-wild. It can be used only as an ace or to complete a straight or a flush including straight flushes.

Seven cards are dealt to each player and the dealer. From these seven cards each player makes two poker hands. The first (high hand) is a standard five-card poker hand and the second (low hand) is a two-card “mini” poker hand.

The five-card high hand must outrank the two-card low hand. In most casinos a player can ask the dealer to set their hands the “house way” after all the other players have completed setting their hands. The house way is the way the dealer must set his or her hand.

Once all players have set their hands, the dealer turns over the house’s hand and sets it the house way.

Each player’s two hands are then compared to the dealer’s two hands using standard poker rankings. If both of the player’s hands beat the dealer’s two hands, the player wins. He or she is paid even money minus a five-percent commission.

If one of the player’s hands beats the same dealer’s hand (high vs high or low vs low) and the other loses to the dealer’s, the hand is a push.

If neither of the player’s hands beats the dealer’s hands, the player loses the bet.

Assuming the player sets the house way the house edge on this game is 2.72 percent. While this is relatively high, the slow pace of play mitigates much of that edge.

Another version of Pai Gow poker is also available at several casinos. It is called Face-up Pai Gow poker.

It uses the same 53-card deck as standard Pai Gow poker and the same high hand and low hand setup. What is different is the dealer goes first – turning over his or her hand and setting the two hands that house way. It is then up to the players to arrange their cards into two hands.

Knowing what the dealer has is an immense advantage to the player. Let’s look at some examples.

Assume your hand contains a pair of 3’s, a pair of 5’s, and a jack. The house way to set this hand would be to keep the two pairs in the high hand and put the jack and the next highest card in the low hand.

Now suppose the dealer has a hand with a pair of 4’s and an ace as well as other smaller cards. The dealer would put the pair of 4’s in the high hand and the ace and next highest card in the low hand.

In normal Pai Gow poker this would be a push. However, in face-up Pai Gow poker, the player could put the pair of 5’s in the high hand and the pair of 3’s in the low hand, making it a winning hand for the player.

Here is another example. The player hand has a pair of aces, a queen, and a jack. House way would put the pair of aces in the high hand and the queen/jack in the low hand.

The dealer hand contains three 5’s, a king and a jack. The house way puts the three 5’s in the high hand and the king/jack in the low hand. The player would lose this way.

By seeing the dealers hand the player could put the ace/queen in the high hand and the ace/jack in the low hand, making this hand a push.

Not only does seeing the dealer hand help the player in the setting of hands, it also makes the game a whole lot more interesting. Play in regular Pai Gow poker tends to be rather boring. Face-up Pai Gow poker, however, requires thinking by the player. Sometimes it requires some outside of the box thinking to improve the outcome, but that makes it more fun to play.

Okay, so face-up Pai Gow poker helps the player win (or push) more hands. What is the down side?

For the privilege of seeing the dealer's high and low hands before playing, whenever the dealer has a hand containing an ace high as the highest hand, all the player’s hands automatically become pushes. An ace high hand is not particularly strong, so it is a good bet that only a few, if any, players would lose.

What is the house edge of the game? 1.81 percent. This game has a lower house edge than the standard game’s 2.72 percent house edge – almost a full percentage point lower.

If you enjoy playing Pai Gow poker, make sure to look for face-up Pai Gow poker. Not only is it more interesting, it costs less to play!

May all your wins be swift and large, and your losses be slow and small.

Jerry “Stickman”

Jerry “Stickman” is an expert in craps, blackjack and video poker and advantage slot machine play. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. You can contact Jerry “Stickman” at

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at

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