Different Three Card Poker games have different paybacks

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I live in Las Vegas. I know that so many people on hearing this wonder which one of the casinos I live in, over or around.

I’ve had friends who have visited me who are amazed when they come to our house. I live about 10 miles from the Las Vegas Strip in what is probably erroneously called a suburb. Technically, it is a privately-owned city called Summerlin, but in many ways we are considered part of Las Vegas. And despite the fact that everyone who has never been here thinks that we all live, figuratively and literally, in the casino, the reality is that most of the people here don’t know the first thing about casinos or casino games.

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This past week, I bumped into an acquaintance who asked me if it was true that Three Card Poker has the best odds in the casino and that Casino War has the worst. He wasn’t even close on either account.

Well, this assumes that when he says ‘odds’ he means payback. Because having the best ‘odds’ can mean just about anything. The best chance of winning a single hand? Best chance of winning in a night? The only game this guy ever played was table poker, which is not a bad choice. Especially, given he knows little about the rest of the casino.

Let’s get to the point. Which casino game has the best odds (aka payback in this case)? I’m going to ignore the poker room and the sportsbook for this exercise. The top two would be certain variations of video poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em, followed closely by Blackjack.

Of course, these answers all presume that we are talking about specific paytables/rules of each game. For video poker, we’re clearly talking about the specific paytable. I’ve covered many times in this column that there are several that have paybacks over 100 percent and no table game can match this. They are getting harder to find, but they are still out there.

Behind these games are a multitude of others with paybacks above 99.5 percent. Again, not as easy to find as they used to be, but they are out there.

Next up is Ultimate Texas Hold’em. There are a few different paytables (Blind paytables), but for the most part, you will find the full 99.7 percent in most casinos. The strategy is so complex that few humans can even get it to 99.5 percent. In reality most playoff a few percentage points off of that.

I covered a few weeks ago the main reason for this (too timid playing 4x), but if you’re willing to learn the strategy and stick to it, there is no table game in the casino that can match the payback that can be found so readily.

Finally, in the upper echelons is Blackjack. A bit more like video poker in terms of variations, one most be careful that they pick the right table. Find yourself playing at one that pays 6 to 5 for Blackjack or that limits your ability to split or double down and you will no longer be at 99.5 percent.

The commonality of these games is the complexity of the strategy, which is why they can offer paybacks so high. The casinos rely on human error to line their pockets. But that’s O.K. You simply don’t have to be one of those people. The strategies of all three games can be complex, but not beyond human capabilities. Learn the strategy, use the strategy and stick to the strategy and you can play a game with the tiniest of house edges.

So, where does that leave Three Card Poker and Casino War?

Three Card Poker’s Ante/Play Wager comes in at 97.98 percent. Casino War is just a bit lower at 97.83 percent. On the whole, I would probably call these average paybacks for a table game. Considering that Three Card Poker has simplistic strategy and Casino War effectively has no strategy, it’s not all that bad.

But, clearly this is not the best or the worst. Four Card Poker has a payback of 98.6 percent for its Ante/Play wager. Crazy 4 Poker has a payback of 98.92 percent for its main wager. Mississippi Stud has a payback of 98-98.5 percent depending on which paytable is being used. These all have higher paybacks than Three Card Poker while only having similar to slightly more complex strategies.

On the other side of things, we have Caribbean Stud Poker with a payback of 97.4 percent and Let It Ride at 97.2 percent — again, all depending on the specific paytable being used. Then, of course, we have the slot machines which average about 92-93 percent and things like the live Keno which is probably at about 80-85 percent at best.

It should be noted that these paybacks are based on the total amount wagered. So, a game with a lower payback and a lower average wager might actually cost the player less than one with a significantly higher average payback and a slightly higher payback. I’ll save this topic for another week.

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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