Not ideal simply to follow casino dealers

May 03, 2016 3:00 AM


In the game of Pai Gow Poker, playing the House Way will get you very close to the best possible paybackIt would appear, lacking any real knowledge of casino table game strategy, someone came up with the idea of just following what the dealer does.

In some games, it is not a horrible idea, but it is still not ideal. In the game of Pai Gow Poker, playing the House Way will get you very close to the best possible payback. Given what it would take to memorize the few exceptions to the House Way rules would likely cost you more in errors than it would save you in added payback, so following the dealer here is not a bad idea.

But, then people came up with it for some other games too. For Three Card Poker, if the dealer qualifies with a Queen up, just play all hands with a Queen High too.

Now, if you have no idea what the right strategy is, you won’t exactly be doing major damage to your bankroll. But, how hard is it to learn the proper strategy of Q-6-4? The impact on the payback between Q and Q-6-4 is pretty small. Let’s face it there aren’t a lot of hands between Q-6-3 and Q-3-2 and these hands admittedly are only a marginal fold.

But, unlike Pai Gow, it wouldn’t take memorizing a handful of complex variations to the House Way. You just have to remember Q-6-4 instead of Queen.

Of course, you’re left twisting in the wind with a game like Four Card Poker. The dealer has no qualifying hand. So, now what is a player left to do? Adding to the complexity is the player has the option to Fold, Bet 1x or Bet 3x.

The dealer’s advantage comes from getting a 6th card to the player’s 5-card hand. So, following the dealer’s lead isn’t going to work.

The thing to do is learn that following the dealer’s lead is simply not a good axiom to live by. You should be following proper strategy for each game.

Now, some of you might simply come to the conclusion a game like Four Card Poker is simply the exception because the dealer doesn’t really have a strategy. The problem with this thinking is there are plenty of games where the dealer has a “strategy” and the player’s strategy simply doesn’t fall in line.

If we look at Four Card Poker’s sister game, Crazy 4 Poker, we find the dealer qualifies with King High. So, does this mean the player should play with a King High? Or does it follow Three Card Poker and perhaps there are a handful of King High hands that should be folded. Not exactly. In Crazy 4 Poker the strategy is K-Q-8 or better. There are a fair number of hands between K-4-3-2 and K-Q-8. The impact is a bit bigger than in Three Card Poker.

The best example of why not to follow the dealer’s lead comes from blackjack, however. The worst (sort of) of all strategies a player could follow would be the Hit until you get to 17 strategy. In blackjack, the house advantage comes from the player having to go first. This essentially means if the player and dealer bust, the dealer wins. The fact that the dealer has to hit 12’s-16’s no matter what the player has is frequently a plus for the player.

It can get really bad for a player if he plays like the dealer. The payback for blackjack (3 to 2) is about 99.5%. If he plays to hit all 16’s and under and stick on all 17’s, even while properly splitting pairs, but not doubling down on 10’s and 11’s, the payback will drop to under 94%. Might as well go play a slot machine.

Of course, this is an extreme strategy. What if the player goes with the notion of hitting 16 and less only against a 7 through Face and always stopping on 17+? This gets us about halfway back to a payback of about 96.5%. But, this still leaves us with a really bad paying table game.

So, let’s continue. Assume the player learns the right hit/stick strategy but continues to follow the dealer in terms of doubling. After all, the dealer can’t double so why bother? This brings the payback to 97.5%. Doubling is worth about 2% to the player and this is a feature the dealer can’t even do.

While there is no doubt player strategy is developed knowing the limitations of what the dealer can do (not just in blackjack, but in all games), assuming they mimic each other in any way is a bad mistake to make for the most part.

As I’ve shown here, in Four Card Poker and blackjack there is little in common between the way the player should play his hand and the way the dealer must play his hand. In Crazy 4 Poker and Three Card Poker there is a bit closer connection, but the player is still giving up way too much to avoid learning a relatively easy strategy.

The fact that the strategy works for a game like Pai Gow Poker seems to follow one of my father’s favorite quotes – even a blind squirrel can find an acorn once in a while.

Buy his book Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker now!

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is Email: