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A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the strategy and methods used to analyze the game of Three Card Poker.

Three Card Poker is the most successful proprietary table game of all time, in terms of the number of tables. This makes it a very good game to use as an example for a variety of reasons.

Most of you have probably seen or heard of it. Also, it is a very simplistic game, both in terms of betting structure and the number of cards, so it works as a good example of a lot of concepts.

Today, I’m going to discuss a far less popular game in terms of the number of tables. But, its importance in the history of table games as well as my own professional history is tremendous

For those of you familiar with the history of table games, you may know that Caribbean Stud Poker and Let It Ride were the first two games created. It was a number of years before Derek Webb invented and successfully marketed Three Card Poker. Given its success, one may have expected the games to start flowing freely. But that’s not what happened. It was a number of years before Roger Snow invented Four Card Poker.

From its name, you’d probably expect it to play just like Three Card Poker but with an extra card. Fortunately, it was more than just that. In Four Card Poker, the player gets dealt five cards to the dealer’s six cards (with one of those cards dealt face up). This creates the house advantage and does away with the need to have a dealer qualifying hand. In fact, so much so that the player can make a Play wager that is up to three times his Ante wager.

So, if the player gets five cards and the dealer six cards, why is it called Four Card Poker?

It got its name from the number of cards used to make the actual hand. The game starts like Three Card Poker with the player making an Ante wager. The player can then review his hand and has the extra knowledge of one of the dealer’s cards, which is turned face up. The player may either fold, forfeiting his Ante, or he may make a Play wager of 1x to 3x his Ante.

Once all players have made their decisions, the dealer reveals his hand and settles all the wagers. As there is no qualifying, all wagers are either lost – if the dealer’s hand outranks the player’s hand or they are paid even money if the player’s hand is better. There are also Ante bonuses that are paid regardless of the showdown if the player has trips or better.

There is an extra decision in Four Card Poker that does not exist in Three Card Poker. This is the decision about when to Play 3x instead of 1x.

Even if allowed, the player would never want to bet 2x. The math is pretty straightforward here. If the player is more likely to win than to lose, he is going to want to wager as much as he can. If those other two units (going from 1x to 3x) are expected to win more than they would lose, then you would want to wager them. If you could, you’d want to wager as much as the casino lets you, which is why you would never wager 2x only.

The decision to fold or play 1x is similar to the decision in Three Card Poker. But there is no qualifying, so the player always wins four units back. This makes the math a bit simpler. We are simply looking for the lowest possible hand that the player can have that will win 25 percent of the time. If it wins 25 percent of the time, the hand will win back at least the Play wager and will lose less than if it Folds.

The last wrinkle in all this is that dealer upcard. It matters, but far less than some might think it does.

Three Card Poker has the simplest strategy you could hope for. It is one hand that you must remember that tells you the whole strategy – Queen-six-four. If your hand is at least that, you play. Otherwise, you fold.

Four Card Poker is not nearly as straightforward. When the game was first released, Shuffle Master (then the owner) published a basic strategy as follows:

Bet 3x if you have a Pair of 10’s or better

Bet 1x if you have a Pair of 3’s – 9’s

Fold if you have less than a Pair of 3’s

This is not that hard of a strategy to memorize. With this strategy, you get to a payback of 98.41 percent, which is a very solid payback. But the strategy above is not like the one for Three Card Poker, because it is far from perfect. Far, being somewhat subjective in this case.

A more accurate strategy will bring us to 98.6 percent and that is where Four Card Poker came into my professional space. I did not do the original analysis for Four Card Poker, but my eventual analysis would be instrumental in launching my gaming analysis credentials.

More on this, along with that more accurate strategy next 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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