How Pai Gow Poker Combines Chinese Tradition With Card Game Thrills



In an age where online gaming on an Apple iPhone or consoles like the PlayStation 4 seems more popular than ever, the idea of picking up a pack of cards can often feel a little bit old-fashioned. However, as we’ve covered in great length across the site, there is something about card games which means they are simply built to last.

Standard playing cards and variations like UNO have become timeless classics which appeal to all different levels of player, from those seeking to fine-tune their poker strategy to people simply looking to get their heads around the rules of a new game.

Considering the huge number of years that people have been playing cards, there are obviously a number of games which have a rich and ancient history. Furthermore, there are also a handful which have origins in a different form of gaming but have then been adapted into the card-playing world.

A huge hit

Among the most popular to fall into the latter category is undoubtedly Pai Gow Poker, a game which has roots that go all of the way back to ancient China but has become a huge hit in the modern gambling world.

Not only is it now a mainstay of many land-based casinos but players also have the chance to try it online with all sorts of sites like Betway including it in their line-up of traditional card game options. But just what is Pai Gow Poker and where does it actually come from?

As ever it is best to start at the very beginning, with the game being adapted from the ancient Chinese game of Pai Gow which was played with dominoes. Thought to date back to the Song dynasty between 960 and 1279, the game is played with a set of 32 tiles and sees players given four tiles which they need to use to create two separate hands often known as the ‘high’ and the ‘low’. The aim of the game? To create two hands which are both good enough to beat the banker’s own combinations.


According to, players involved in Pai Gow generally bet on the game by creating their hands then placing the tiles face down on a table with their stake next to them. Players then expose their high hand followed by the banker, before then repeating the process for the low.

The game’s name actually translates roughly to ‘make nine’, with this linking to the fact that the highest score possible in most hands tends to just be nine.

A modern twist

So just how did this tile-based brainteaser become a poker variation and evolve to become renowned across the globe? Well while the tile game originates in centuries past, the decision to adapt Pai Gow into playing cards only happened relatively recently.

Sam Torosian is widely credited with coming up with Pai Gow Poker while he worked at the Bell Card Club in California in 1985. According to World Gaming Magazine though, despite his reputation as its creator he is not thought to have gained financially from it – apparently poor legal advice meant it was never patented and other establishments were free to offer the game too.

In terms of the rules, the basic premise is that the game is played using a standard card deck. Players are dealt seven cards in total and they have to then use those cards to create two hands – one consisting of five cards and another featuring just two. In the context of this game, the five-card hand would be the ‘high’ and the other would be the ‘low’. Just as in the domino game, players win if both of their hands beat the banker’s cards and it is classed as a tie if only one of the hands is successful. If both hands lose then the player has lost.

While you can expect many places to offer Pai Gow Poker in a manner which follows this format, bear in mind that just like with other games, many different online and offline casinos may well offer variations on the theme. As such, it is worth checking the detail or watching a couple of games to see how the rules of one form of the game might differ to another.

Rich heritage

Many games which originate from Asia have become a core part of gaming across the world. Indeed, the chances are that you have played a few in your lifetime, whether you’ve tried to get your head around the complex strategies of Go or even had Mahjong pre-loaded onto a Microsoft Windows PC that you’ve bought in the past.

The continent undoubtedly has a rich heritage in gaming and its influence is particularly strong when it comes to the world of cards. Pai Gow Poker is a great game which builds on a domino classic and takes it in another exciting direction. It is well worth taking some time to develop a greater understanding of the game.