Dealer's advantage should not deter you

February 14, 2017 3:10 AM
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This past week, I was having a conversation about Four Card Poker with a colleague when one of us remarked how the average Dealer Hand will outrank the average Player Hand. This is because in Four Card Poker, the dealer gets six cards to the player’s five to make the best possible four-card hand.

As those words lingered over me, I realized how devastating saying those words could be to a game. Why would anyone play a game where the dealer has such an obvious advantage? If players realized this they’d avoid it like the plague.

Of course, then I realized how ridiculous I was being. First of all, it’s not like it is a secret the dealer gets one more card and I’m sure most players realize rather quickly the dealer’s average hand is greater than the player’s. Given the success of the game, most players have realized “so what!”

Every casino game has a dealer advantage. Quite frankly, every game has some player advantages, too! Look at blackjack. If player and dealer bust, dealer wins (dealer advantage). If player gets a blackjack, he’s paid 3 to 2 (player advantage). Player can double down or split or surrender (player advantages).

Anyone who plays in a casino knows when you add it all up, the casino is going to have the advantage. The differentiators in games is exactly how much of one there is and how the casino gets it.

In blackjack, it is that “if both bust” thing that gives the house its edge. In Four Card Poker it is that extra card. Everything else that happens is to the player’s advantage.

Players can wager more than 1x with a strong hand or fold. This might not seem like a player advantage, but it is. The fact that you can walk away from a bad hand without making any additional wagers saves you money. When we’re all done, we have a payback of about 98.6%. This is fairly high for a game with relatively easy strategy.

Across the table game space, there are a variety of mechanisms that are used to create the house advantage. Free Bet Blackjack uses the push 22 rule whereby if the dealer busts with a 22, any non-busted (non-blackjack) hands still in play will push instead of win.

 I remember how many people told me the players would hate that and never accept it. It took some time, but they accepted it. In the end, Freebet has a payback very similar to traditional blackjack, but the game is considered by many to be more fun, so the players decided it was a worthwhile tradeoff.

Quite frankly, that’s about all any of these mechanisms are – tradeoffs. The paybacks of table games simply don’t vary all that much. The lowest is probably in the mid-97% range and the highest mid- to high-99%. The deciding factors for where exactly a game will be is usually the complexity of the game and the average wager.

The paybacks given are on the total average wager. Thus a game with an average wager of four units and a payback of 99% will actually have about the same real cost to a player as a game with an average wager of two units and a payback of 98%.

Thus, a game like Ultimate Texas Hold’em can offer a payback of 99.5%-plus because the average wager is high and the strategy is very complex. Three Card Poker can only go to 98% as its strategy is very easy and the average wager relatively low.

What do we learn from all of this? Inventing a game is a crapshoot! I’ve watched focus groups indicate they hate a game over some mechanism, feeling it is “unfair.” Mathematically, the mechanisms even out so this means it only gives the perception of being unfair. But, if you are trying to attract players to your game and it has the perception of being unfair, there is a good chance you’re in deep trouble.

To have any hope of success you have to get people playing your game. That means it has to at least look fair. Once they start playing they have to get the feel that it is fair and fun. The fair part is almost assured if the game design is remotely sound. That leaves fun.

If a successful game can give an extra card to the dealer, clearly the problem is not simply because the game has a house advantage.

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