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Four Card Poker has a special place in my heart because it sort of launched my career as a gaming analyst.

Ironically, I didn’t analyze it as it was being developed. Rather, I wrote about it right here in GamingToday way back in February 2004. The column got noticed by the then-president of Shuffle Master, who put me in touch with Roger Snow, the inventor of the game and, at the time, manager of table games for Shuffle Master.

That introduction was the beginning of what has been a very successful collaboration, which has included blockbuster games such as Ultimate Texas Hold’em and Mississippi Stud, along with countless sidebets for virtually every game in the casino.

Four Card Poker was also an important game for the evolution of proprietary table games. By the time Four Card Poker hit stride, there had been a bit of a lull in table game creation. The casino floor had already changed a good deal with Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud Poker, Three Card Poker and Spanish 21, but those games were all already several years old.

Perhaps there were some other games in between I am unaware of. Admittedly, this lull occurred after my father passed away and before I entered the field.

The game itself didn’t really break any new ground in terms of betting structure or rules. The new ground was broken by Four Card Poker’s “crazy” cousin – Crazy 4 Poker, which introduced the Super Bonus wager, more commonly known as the Blind wager on more recent Shuffle Master games.

This wager will push if the player wins with a poor or so-so hand and will win odds if the player wins with a strong hand. I’ll cover more about Crazy 4 Poker in a few weeks. Crazy 4 Poker has about 100 tables in the marketplace as compared to Four Card Poker, which has about 250.

Four Card Poker utilizes the same betting structure as Three Card Poker. There are two separate wagers – Aces Up and Ante/Play. The Aces Up pays on a pair of Aces or better and is not concerned with the dealer’s hand at all.

The Ante/Play is the wager where you are playing head-to-head against the dealer’s hand. You make an Ante wager to begin play and you are dealt your hand, which you can review.

Now you can either make a Play wager of 1x-3x your Ante or Fold, forfeiting your Ante wager. If you beat the dealer’s hand, you are paid even money. If you don’t you lose both wagers.

Also, similar to Three Card Poker are the Ante Bonuses. These pay the player whether he wins or loses against the dealer – if the player can achieve a Four of a Kind, Straight Flush or Three of a Kind. They pay 25, 20 and 2, respectively.

So, by this point, if you are not familiar with Four Card Poker already, you’re probably guessing the player and dealer each get four cards. And, you might be wondering what hand the dealer needs to qualify.

Wrong! The name comes from the size of the hand the player makes. He is dealt five cards to make a four-card hand. The dealer is dealt six cards to make a four-card hand. Thanks to this little benefit, the dealer does not need to qualify in Four Card Poker. Every hand plays.

In Three Card Poker, many people follow a strategy to just do what the dealer does – and play any hand that is Queen or better. This is a little below perfect, but will not hurt your bankroll significantly. If you want to play like an expert, you go with Queen-6-4 as the lowest hand you play.

So, with the dealer qualifying on every hand in Four Card Poker, you have nothing to guide you at all. Adding to the dilemma is when to play 1x vs. play 3x. As is normally the case, we never bet 2x. We either cut our losses (fold), hedge (play 1x) or slam on the gas (play 3x).

When Four Card Poker was introduced, Shuffle Master supplied information cards that included a basic strategy on them. This strategy produced a 98.41% payback and includes only three rules. In my analysis of the game, I took that strategy a bit further and produced one with about seven rules (admittedly, more complex rules) that takes the payback up to 98.6%.

Even this strategy is not absolutely perfect as it does not take into account specific suit make up of the player’s hand nor go any further than the first “kicker” in the player’s hand. It is my expert opinion that to do so would only get the player an additional 0.01-0.02% in payback, but it would also greatly increase the probability of errors by making the strategy that much more complex.

Without further ado, I present the basic strategy Shuffle Master initially developed and I have verified.

•Fold with a pair of 2’s or less

•Bet 1x with a pair of 3’s thru 9’s

•Bet 3x with a pair of 10’s or better

It’s that simple if you want to earn the 98.41% payback, which is respectable. Expect to fold a good amount of the time – just under half. Four Card Poker was designed to be quite a bit more volatile than Three Card Poker.

As Roger told me way back in 2004, “one of three things typically happens. One, you double up. Two, you get crushed. Three, both one and two, and not necessarily in that order.”


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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