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What makes a great casino game? It’s a matter of personal preference. If you like a game with just a little bit of skill to keep things interesting, but not so much skill that it hurts your brain, Pai Gow Poker is about as good as it gets. Invented (but not patented) in 1985 by Sam Torosian, owner of the since-closed California Bell Casino in Los Angeles, Pai Gow Poker combines the ancient Chinese dominoes game of pai gow with the less-ancient game of poker – as the name suggests. You can find Pai Gow Poker at live casinos around the world, and you can play it online at Bovada Casino.


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While both pai gow and poker can take some time to learn, Pai Gow Poker is easy to pick up. The game uses a standard deck of 52 playing cards, plus a Joker. After you place your bet, you and the dealer each receive seven cards – yours are face-up, the dealer’s are face-down. The object of Pai Gow Poker is to split these seven cards into two hands: one containing five cards, and the other the remaining two, trying to make the best poker hands possible. Then the dealer’s cards are revealed. If both your hands beat the dealer, you win. Piece of cake.

Pai Gow Rules

There are a few subtleties to Pai Gow Poker that you should know about before you play. First, the five-card hand you create has to be stronger than your two-card hand. Second, your two-card hand can only fall under the ranks of Pair or High Card; two Aces is the best hand possible. And third, the Joker is a “semi-wild” card that can act either as an Ace, or to complete a straight or flush.

You should also know how the payouts work in Pai Gow Poker. When both your hands beat the dealers’, you get paid out at even money, minus a 5% commission. If you win one hand and the dealer wins the other, it’s a push, and all bets are returned. Lose both hands, and you lose the bet. Ties go to the dealer if the two of you have the exact same hand value.


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One last thing: At most casinos, including Bovada Casino, the second-highest straight you can make in Pai Gow Poker is the wheel (A-2-3-4-5). Otherwise, the usual poker hand rankings apply. Once you’ve got these basics down, you can start working on developing an optimal strategy – it’s not terribly difficult, and you can use the Practice Play mode at Bovada to work on your Pai Gow Poker skills. It just might be your new favorite game.