Basics of Pai Gow Poker
Pai Gow Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck plus one joker. After making a bet, each player is dealt seven cards and must make two poker hands: A standard five-card poker hand and a two-card poker hand. The five-card hand is often called "behind", or the "bottom," "high," or "big" hand, while the two-card hand is called "in front", "on top", or the "small," "minor," or "low" hand.
When forming your two hands from your seven cards, the five card hand must be higher than the two-card hand. In other words, if you are dealt A-A-3-5-7-10-J and you can‘t make a flush, you must include the pair of aces it the five-card poker hand, not the two-card poker hand.
Five card hands follow the standard what-beat-what rules, with one exception in some casinos that count A-2-3-4-5 as the second-highest straight. This is the case in some places in Nevada.
The best two-card hands are pairs and then simply high cards. Straights and flushes don’t matter in the two-card hand. The worst possible 2-card hand is 2-3, while the best is a pair of aces.
A big surprise to me when I first started playing Pai Gow Poker was to learn that the joker is not the traditional whatever-card-you-want joker. Instead, it can be used only to fill in a gap in a straight or sill out a flush, otherwise it is ALWAYS an ace. In the two card hand, it is ALWAYS an ace. I’ve been told in some Southern California Casinos the joker is completely wild, but I have not seen this myself.
Once players have set their two poker hands, they place their hands in front of them, the two-card hand in front, and the five-card in back (hence those nicknames). All the players at the table are playing to win both hands against the "banker." The banker can be the dealer, or one of the players at the table.
Determining Who Wins
Each player compares his hands to the banker’s hands. If both the player’s hands beat the banker’s, the player wins. If one of the player’s hands beats the banker’s hands but not the other, it’s considered a push or draw and the player takes back his money. If the banker’s hands beat the player’s, the player loses. If the either of the player’s hands ties with the banker, the banker wins -- this is one of the ways the house keeps the advantage.