Will less be more when casinos re-open?

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Last week, I talked about what we can expect when casinos reopen. A tentative date of June 4 has been set for them to open here in Las Vegas.

One of the things I mentioned is that many table games may be dealt face-up, where possible. This will remove or diminish the need for players to touch the cards. For astute players, I assume their ears perked up with this one. Seeing your own cards is nothing new. But the possibility of seeing other players’ cards before you need to act means more information in your hands. Barring other rule or paytable changes, this gives the player an extra opportunity.

Of course, we’ve also been told that the casinos will be limiting the number of players at a table game to three. This greatly diminishes the value of seeing other player’s cards because it means at most, you’ll see two other players and not potentially six others. But good players take advantage of what they can. Additionally, with the cards being dealt face up, you won’t have to rely on other players helping out — which can be considered collusion to the casinos — and get you banned. Taking note of the cards dealt face up on each hand is a lot like simply taking note of what card the dealer has face up in blackjack.

That said, the casinos do take exception to players counting cards in blackjack. Personally, I don’t consider this cheating in any way, shape or form. Paying attention to the cards in play should not be considered an issue, but we know it can be.

It might be a problem to the casinos because players who do count well can cut the house edge down to near zero in blackjack and potentially even turn it into a player advantage. This can be done in blackjack mostly because it uses a shoe and the player can increase his wager considerably when the remaining shoe shows he has an advantage. Wagering $5 when the game indicates a 0.5 percent house edge is quickly balanced against the fewer times the player can wager $100 or more when he has a 0.1 percent advantage.

This isn’t as applicable to most table games. With a single-deck game, there is no way to adjust the initial wager with any additional knowledge. At most, you can alter your Play/Fold/Check strategy and in some cases, perhaps bet more on the Play wager when the game allows. This greatly limits how much a player can take advantage when he has an advantage.

As such, to the best of my knowledge, there is no table game that allows a player to gain an advantage over the house when there are only three players. I have read of some circumstances where the players at a full table can “turn the table” when they collude, but this collusion requires that all players cooperate and leaves them vulnerable to the casino catching on.

But let us be real. If you play in the casino, you really do not expect to have a player advantage. You know that in the long run, the casinos will win. But that doesn’t mean you can’t shave the house edge down with a few adjustments to the strategy of certain games.

Three Card Poker is a game in which the house edge can be shaved about 0.1 to 0.2 percent with a few minor adjustments for a game dealt face up with three players. The nature of Three Card Poker is such that the change in strategy is mostly based on the probability that the dealer will qualify or not, which is greatly impacted by Queen, King or Aces being shown (or not) to the player.

There are two changes that can be made to Three Card Poker strategy that can maximize the player’s payback. The first is when none of the six cards dealt to the other two players are Q, K or A. In this case, the dealer is more likely to qualify and the player should fold all Q-6, Q-7 and some lower Q-8 hands. When you play these hands, you are counting on the dealer not qualifying the “normal” amount of times. With so few high cards dealt, the probability of him qualifying goes up and the expected value of the hand drops to the point that it should be folded.

On the other side of things, and considerably more impactful are the cases where five or six of the cards dealt to the other two players are Q/K/A. In these cases, though they are rare, the player should never fold. The probability of the dealer qualifying drops so much that the player is better off playing and rooting that the dealer can’t find a qualifying hand.

With four of these six cards being Q/K/A, it is a very close call. It would come down to the specific rank/suit combinations of all nine cards and this would be far too complex for a human to accurately play.

My advice for most of you would be to sit these out. But if you’re in the mood to gamble, you can go for it.

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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