Why Pai Gow Poker Is the Best Game If You Want to Use the Martingale System

By Randy Ray
Published on February 10, 2018

The Martingale is one of the most popular betting systems in gambling. But it’s also one of the riskiest strategies available.

Given the high risk associated with the Martingale, it pays to be selective with what games you use this strategy on.

And I strongly believe that Pai Gow Poker is the top game you can use with the Martingale.

Why is this the case?

I’ll begin this discussion by covering the Martingale and Pai Gow Poker. I’ll then discuss why this game and betting system work in perfect harmony.

What Is the Martingale System?

A big reason for the Martingale’s popularity is that it’s so easy to use.

All you have to do is double

your bet following any loss.

Ideally, you’ll use the Martingale on games that pay even money. Pai Gow Poker mostly fits this description, since you’re paying even money on winning wagers, minus a 5% commission.

The Martingale also works well with other table games that offer even money payouts, including baccarat, blackjack, craps, and roulette.

How Does the Martingale System Work?

As mentioned above, the Martingale works by doubling wagers every time you lose. The benefit of doing so is that you’ll eventually win and not only earn back your losses, but also collect a small profit.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out so neatly in Pai Gow Poker, due to the 5% commission. While you can still win a small profit after a losing streak, your chances of doing so diminish as losses pile up.

This is why it’s better when you experience shorter losing streaks, so that the commission doesn’t eat into your wins as badly.

You can see this in the following two examples:

Example #1

  • You bet $10 and lose (bankroll at – $10)
  • You bet $20 and lose (bankroll at – $30)
  • You bet $40 and win (bankroll at $10)
  • 5% commission is worth $2 (40 x 0.05)
  • You earn an $8 profit

Example #2

  • You bet $10 and lose (bankroll at – $10)
  • You bet $20 and lose (bankroll at – $30)
  • You bet $40 and lose (bankroll at – $70)
  • You bet $80 and lose (bankroll at – $150)
  • You bet $160 and lose (bankroll at – $310)
  • You bet $320 and win (bankroll at $10)
  • 5% commission is worth $16 (320 x 0.05)
  • You lose $6 overall

The first example still sees you earn a profit after a two-hand losing streak. But you would lose $6 under the conditions presented in the second example.

Again, the 5% commission is the one drawback to using the Martingale in Pai Gow. But the advantages I’m going to discuss later still make it worth using this system.

How Do You Play Pai Gow Poker?

Perhaps you’re already well versed in playing Pai Gow Poker. But if not, then you’ll want to read this section on how to play the game.

Pai Gow Poker is played with a fifty-two-card deck, plus a joker.

Each player receives seven cards, and they must make both a five-card and two-card hand. The goal is to beat the dealer with both of your hands and win your bet.

Your five-card hand must rank higher than the two-card hand. The only hands that you can form with the two-card hand include a pair and high card.

The five-card hand is based on standard poker rankings, for the most part. The only exception is that the “wheel” (A 2 3 4 5) is the second-highest straight.

This contrasts regular poker games, where the wheel is the lowest-ranking straight.

Also note that the joker can be wild in the five-card hand. This allows you to complete powerful hands with the joker, such as three-of-a-kinds, straights, and flushes.

The joker always acts as an ace in the two-card hand, unless otherwise stated.

Once you and other players have set both hands, the dealer will turn over their cards and divide them the same way (a.k.a. “house way”).

The two hands are then compared to see who has the stronger holdings. Here are the different outcomes that can occur:

  • You win both hands; you’re paid 1:1 on your bet, minus a 5% commission.
  • You win one hand and tie the other; your bet is a push.
  • You win one hand and lose one; your bet is a push.
  • You lose one hand and tie the other; you lose your bet.
  • You lose or tie both hands; you lose your bet in both cases.

Casinos gain their edge over players based on the commission for winnings hands and how dealers win all ties.

Also note that you can act as the banker in Pai Gow Poker. This is preferable because you’ll be facing a lower house edge.

The only catch is that you need a bankroll to pay all of the players who beat you. Provided you don’t have much money, you can always decline to be the dealer.

A new player is offered the chance to be the banker in every new round.

Common Pai Gow Poker Strategy

The easiest way to execute Pai Gow Poker strategy is by setting your hands the same way as the house (a.k.a. house way strategy). You can even ask the dealer to help you set your hand if you’re sketchy on the best strategy.

The house way strategy has a 2.72% casino edge, which is pretty good for not having to think very hard. Furthermore, this is better than what you’ll see in most games.

You can also use optimal strategy and trim the house advantage to 2.51%. Here are some different ways to play hands when you’re trying to get this extra 0.21% in value:

  • No qualifying hand – Put your highest card in the five-card hand, and your lowest in the two-card hand.
  • Two pair (aces or kings) – Split, unless the other pair is deuces.
  • Two pair (6s and below) – Split, unless you have an ace, which you should play along with the next highest card in the low hand.
  • Two pair (7s through 10s) – Split, unless you have an ace, which you should play with the next highest card in the low hand.
  • Two pair (jacks through aces) – Split, putting the highest pair in the high hand.
  • Three pair – Play the best pair in the low hand.
  • Three of a kind – Play together, unless you have aces; you should take one of the aces and put it in the low hand.
  • Full house – Split and put the pair in the low hand, unless you also have a second pair, which should be played in the low hand.
  • Flushes and straights – Keep in the high hand; the exception is if you have a two-pair or pair of 10s or better.
  • Four of a kind (6s or lower) – Always keep this hand together.
  • Four of a kind (7s through 10s) – Split, unless you can play an ace or pair in the low hand.
  • Four of a kind (aces through jacks) – Split, unless you can put another pair in the low hand.
  • Five aces – Split, unless you have a pair of kings to play in the low hand.

The best opportunity to win in Pai Gow Poker involves being the banker. As mentioned earlier, casinos give everybody the opportunity to act as the banker.

You still pay a commission on your wins. But you have the added benefit of winning ties against other players.

Overall, acting as the banker reduces the house edge to 1.42%.

Why Is the Martingale Perfect for Pai Gow Poker?

Earlier I covered how the one downside to using the Martingale with Pai Gow Poker is the commission on winning hands. The 5% commission makes it so that you don’t always win a profit following long losing streaks.

But this is a hiccup in what’s otherwise a good game for the Martingale. Here are a few reasons why I love using this betting system with Pai Gow Poker:

  • You have a low chance of losing on any hand (dealer wins 29.9% of the time).
  • The house edge is relatively low at 2.72% (for house way).
  • The house way strategy is really easy.
  • You don’t assume much risk in Pai Gow Poker based on these factors.

Out of these reasons, my favorites include the low chance of winning combined with the lower risk. This contrasts every other table game where players commonly use the Martingale.

Let’s look at your chances of losing in a few other games:

  • Baccarat (banker hand) = 50.38% chance of losing
  • Blackjack = 49.10% chance of losing
  • Craps (pass line) = 50.71% chance of losing
  • European roulette (even money) = 51.4% chances of losing

Your odds of losing any given round are much higher in each of these games. Pai Gow Poker, on the other hand, sees you lose less than one third of the time.

The bigger risk with using the Martingale occurs when you lose several hands or more in a row. But this is less likely in Pai Gow because so many losing streaks are broken up by ties.

Rather than a lengthy losing streak, your losing sequences are more likely to look like this:

  • You bet $10 and lose (bankroll at – $10)
  • You bet $20 and push
  • You bet $20 and lose (bankroll at – $30)
  • You bet $40 and push
  • You bet $80 and lose (bankroll at – $150)
  • You bet $160 and win (bankroll at $10)
  • 5% commission is $8
  • You win $2 overall

Besides the fact that you assume less risk when using the Martingale in Pai Gow, another benefit is the low house edge and easy strategy. You can use the house way strategy and still achieve a 2.72% house advantage, which is on par with European roulette (2.70%).

Will You Beat Pai Gow Poker with the Martingale?

The Martingale system has two serious downsides:

  • You need infinite money to guarantee that you never lose.
  • You may hit the table limit during a long losing streak.

The latter is a big problem because many casinos have table limits ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. Even with the slow nature of Pai Gow Poker and its numerous pushes, you could reach the table limit and not be able to double your bets anymore.

This effectively keeps you from executing the Martingale and winning back all of your losses. Casinos purposely use betting limits for this very reason.

Fortunately, your chances of experiencing a winning Pai Gow Poker session with the Martingale are really good. This means that you only have to worry about the downsides to the Martingale on certain occasions.


Everybody in Pai Gow Poker is playing against the same dealer hands. This means that players tend to win and lose together, creating a sense of camaraderie during wins.

Because of this, Pai Gow Poker is already an exciting game when played in land-based casinos. But you can further spice up the action by trying the Martingale in Pai Gow.

The Martingale adds more thrills because you have a solid chance to win back losses following losing streaks. And you get the added bonus of picking up small profits along the way (commissions permitting).

I should reiterate that using the Martingale in Pai Gow Poker isn’t exactly like employing the strategy in every other table game. The numerous pushes and slow play in Pai Gow minimize the risk that you face.

In summary, I encourage you to try this system in Pai Gow Poker.

And if you haven’t played Pai Gow yet, visit an online casino and play for free to familiarize yourself with it.