Through my years of analyzing games, I’ve often been asked by friends and family about the type of clients I do work for. When I tell them most of my work has been done by a company called Shuffle Master invariably the response is: “Who? Never heard of them.”
I thought it would become easier when Bally Technologies bought Shuffle Master. Everybody has heard of Bally’s! Of course, almost all of them are thinking about the casino. A few are thinking about the chain of gyms. Once upon a time, they were all part of the same company, but not for a few decades. It certainly didn’t get any better now that Scientific Games bought Bally Technologies. We’re back to “Who? Never heard of them.”
Anybody who goes to casinos on any regular basis and spends any time on the table game side of things knows the games I’ve worked on. Ultimate Texas Hold’em and Mississippi Stud are both staples of most every casino. Throw in the games my dad worked – Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride – and most of the proprietary table games in the market were analyzed by Frome.
But players have no idea who created these games or who owns them. They are all owned by Scientific Games now via their buyout of Bally Technologies which bought Shuffle Master. In all my years in the industry, virtually all of the marketing efforts I have witnessed are aimed at the casinos.
This does make a fair amount of sense, especially for new games. No one will ever see your game if you don’t convince a casino to try it. And, it won’t get very far unless you go that route.
From there, player opinion matters a great deal. But, the players only see that which the casinos will let them. Thus, the need for inventors to go straight to the player is not so obvious.
Personally, I’ve often felt for a more developed game, telling players about it would be a good thing. Getting players interested in a game and familiar with the rules, they are more inclined to play when they see it in a casino. Inventors cannot assume that as long as the casino puts it on the floor players will play. New games can be intimidating.
This past week, I was pleasantly surprised to see a giant billboard overlooking I-15 near the Strip that asked: “Bad at Bluffing?” It was advertising Three Card Poker and had a massive Shuffle Master logo.
Besides being one of the first marketing programs taken directly to the player, it is, in my opinion, a brilliant one. How many times have you heard me say there is no bluffing in video poker? Video poker is not a poker room. I’ve never really said this about any of the table games, but it is just as true. Three Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Four Card Poker and all the rest are not about bluffing. There is absolutely no bluffing.
The dealer doesn’t act based on what you do. In every game, he acts according to a set of rules that are immovable. In blackjack, every player at the table can stop with a 13 and even if the dealer has a 16, he still has to take a hit.
In Pai Gow Poker the dealer doesn’t set the cards depending on how the players do. There is a House Way he must set the cards by. You can stare down the dealer until you are blue in the face and it won’t change the outcome. You can laugh every time you get a 20 in blackjack and it won’t change the outcome. Poker faces have no value outside the poker room.
So, when Shuffle Master asks if you are bad at bluffing, what they are trying to tell you is you don’t have to be a poker player to play Three Card Poker. It is a very simple game and strategy. By the time you finish reading this article, you will have mastered the strategy completely. Here it is:
Play Q-6-4 or better. Fold everything else.
You don’t get much easier than this. With this, you can play the Ante/Play portion of Three Card Poker to a 98% payback. How do I know this is the correct strategy? Because I wrote a computer program that looked at every possible hand combination (player and dealer).
When the player has a Q-6-4, he will win back just a smidge more than his Play wager. At Q-6-3, he will lose just a smidge more than his Play wager. In other words, when he plays Q-6-4, he loses less than if he folds. If he folds Q-6-3, he loses less than if he played it. As hands get stronger than Q-6-4, the numbers get better for the player.
You can’t have a J-10-8 and bluff the dealer into folding. The dealer never folds. All he can do is not qualify, but your decision doesn’t impact whether he does or doesn’t. The laws of mathematics do this.
In a poker room, the other players essentially have to guess what you have and make a decision based on that. Now, there are mathematical odds to that as well. But, since you know your cards and most people react in some way to what their cards are, either by betting patterns or physical reactions (i.e. tells), very good players can go beyond the math.
The dealer doesn’t care one bit about how you react. In many games, your cards are wide open for all to see. In others, the casino won’t care much if you show your cards to the dealer. If anything, they don’t want you to show your cards to other players for fear of collusion (which, by the way, is overblown in most games).
In a way, I have done in this column what Scientific Games is now doing with these billboards. I have long taken the game directly to the player and I’m very happy to have the gaming companies doing the same!
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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 www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].