Four Card poker is an interesting poker game

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After Three Card Poker takes the casinos by storm, there is a bit of a lull in activity of new games.

That’s not to say there weren’t many attempts, some with moderate success. Up until Three Card Poker, casinos were not exactly chomping at the bit to put in new games.

Of course, as Three Card Poker grew in popularity and casinos started making that much more money even AFTER paying for the table, they probably began to realize there was more money to be made with newer games.

Enter Four Card Poker.

My initial reaction to hearing the name of the game was I hoped it was NOT just Three Card Poker with four cards.

Fortunately, it isn’t.

Four Card Poker holds an interesting place in my heart. On one hand, it is one of the few successful table games that wasn’t analyzed by my father or myself. It was developed after my dad passed away and before I jumped into the profession. Nonetheless, it helped speed my entry into the profession.

Shortly after starting to write for GamingToday in 2003, I received an e-mail from a reader about my Three Card Poker article. He asked me if I had ever heard of Four Card Poker. I had just read about the game earlier that day.

I asked him if he had a financial interest in the game (based on his questions). He told me he had just become the president of Shuffle Master (Paul Meyer). Obviously, he had not been using his company e-mail address.

A few months later, after completing an analysis of Four Card Poker, I wrote an article about it in GT. Again, I received an e-mail from Paul, this time commending me on nailing the math for the game. I had accurately repeated the original analysis of the game.

Paul wound up putting me in touch with Roger Snow, then manager of table games for Shuffle Master. Roger gave me a few small projects to ‘test’ me and the rest is, as they say, history. Roger and I have been working together ever since.

Four Card Poker does have some similarities to Three Card. It is broken down into two games – the Ante/Play and the Aces Up wagers. The latter is like Pair Plus. The player is paid if dealt a pair of aces or better. Despite the name of the game, neither player nor dealer get dealt four.

The Player is dealt five to make his best four card hand. The dealer, in the meantime, is dealt six cards to make his best four card hand. One of his cards is dealt face up, but this makes only a minor amount of difference to our strategy.

To help compensate the player for the dealer’s extra card, the player has the opportunity to bet up to three times his base wager as part of ante/play. So, he can fold (forfeiting his ante), play one or three times his ante.

Also, there is no qualifying in Four Card. Once you decide to play it is your hand vs. the dealer. An additional benefit is that the player wins all ties (identical four card hands). The cards not used to make the four card hands are NEVER taken into consideration.

If the player’s hand beats or ties the dealer’s hand, he is paid even money on his ante/play wagers. Additionally, the player is paid an ante bonus if he has a three of a kind or better.

With five player cards and six dealer cards, there are 28 trillion possible hands that can be dealt. This makes creating a program to run all of them impractical.

Instead, we go in search of the beacon hands. These are the hands that are at the strategy points. In the case of Four Card Poker, we need to find two of them. We need to know when to fold vs. play 1x, and we need to know when to play 3x instead of 1x.

Much to my surprise, Shuffle Master provided a basic strategy for the game on their information card. When I simulated this strategy, I found a payback of 98.41%. When I performed a more complete analysis, I found I could push this up to 98.60%, but it requires memorizing a strategy that is a bit more complex.

The basic strategy is as follows:

Play 3x if you have a pair of 10’s or better

Play 1x if you have a pair of 3’s through 9’s

Fold if you have a pair of 2’s or less

The Expert Strategy I developed has six rules for when to bet 3x, which more fully takes into account the dealer upcard. While the additional 0.19% might not sound like a lot, it cuts the house edge by about 12%, which is significant.

Four Card Poker was an important milestone in table game development as it showed Three Card wasn’t just a fluke success. The players were looking for more games with more excitement than the casino standards of blackjack, craps and roulette.

Four Card Poker would soon lead to Crazy 4 Poker and then the Texas Hold’em craze started to build. You can read about some of these other games on my website at www.gambatria.com or just stay tuned here and I’ll be covering them in the coming weeks.

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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