No peeking at cards, please!

Nov 14, 2005 1:25 AM

Recently, I got into a discussion with a gentleman who felt that Progressive Gaming’s Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker (THBP) was flawed because it was possible for the players to gain an advantage if they just showed each other their cards.

I replied that many games play similar to this one, in that they are being played with a single deck, and in theory, it was possible to get a glimpse of the other players’ cards and thus change strategy. So far, I know of no one who has claimed to be able to get an advantage by doing so.

First of all, the rules of the game state that players should not do this. So, basically, the casino can ask you to leave if you do. But, the gentleman I was talking to persisted, trying to cite an example where it can help in this game. He said supposed you are dealt a pair of queens, and you notice that to the right and left of you, each player also has one queen.

Now you know that you can’t draw any more queens. I couldn’t argue with this part of the logic. But I presented back to this person, "Now that you know that, what are you going to do differently?"

His first response was that he might fold instead of playing. I told him that we should look at the math.

In THBP, after getting your first twocards, you either fold, surrender your wager, or you play, by wagering twice your initial wager. As you only get paid on your initial wager if you win and you have a straight (or flush, depending on the paytable) or better, we can only say that you should play if you’re going to win approximately 33% of the time.

Of course, with a pair of queens, there isn’t much to think about. You’re going to win nearly 80% of the time, so you’re not going to fold. But what should you do if the other two queens are already burned? Well, there’s no doubt you’ll wind up with no three of a kind and fewer full houses, but you’re still going to win the hand nearly 75% of the time. So, you’re still going to play.

If we follow this hand through the rest of the wagers, we’ll find that knowing that the other two queens have been dealt doesn’t change our strategy at all. Yes, it is less likely that we will win, but quite frankly, the knowledge of this doesn’t help us in any way.

In the end, we will find that there are very few hands in which knowledge of other cards will help us. In the rare case that this situation occurs, perhaps it will increase our advantage on those hands by 2%or 3%.

But if only 1% of the hands meet this criteria, we’re talking an increase of .02% to .03% to the overall payback, and I doubt there are actually even this many hands that can be impacted. In the end, .02% to .03% won’t turn a game into a sure winner for the player.

This is true for all the other table games like THBP. In Three Card Poker, the strategy will change slightly if you can see two other player hands and these hands contain a significant number of low cards (jack or less) or high cards (queens or better), as this will affect the likelihood of the dealer qualifying.

In some cases, this can cause us to change our strategy from playing on Q-6-4 or better to something like Q-8-4. Of course, first you have to be dealt a hand between Q-6-4 and Q-8-4 (there aren’t that many) and the other player’s hands have to contain just the right mix of cards.

Then, by altering strategy, you’ll pick up a couple of percentage points in payback for those hands. The impact to the whole game will be minor. In the meantime, you’ll be adding a great deal of complexity to the strategy, and quite frankly, risk getting tossed out of the casino.

So, if this is the case for these games, why are the casinos so scared of card counters in blackjack? There is a huge difference in this case. Card counters, when they sense an advantage, can increase their wagers greatly.

So, while the game is neutral, they can wager $5 per hand and play blackjack at 99% or so. When the shoe is in their favor, they can raise their bets to perhaps $100 per hand, and play at 101%. Because they are playing the 101% game with 20 times the wager, this is what can allow the player to gain a long term advantage.

In the other table games like Three Card Poker and THBP, the player can only use this advantage after he has made his initial wager, which limits how much more he can bet. So, if you gain a small advantage once every 100 hands, but it is at the same wager size as when you were playing the game at a disadvantage, the net is you’re still playing a game with a house advantage. Despite all this, the casinos still discourage and technically do not allow players to show their cards to other players.

So, it would appear that the only thing that was flawed was the logic in why these table games are flawed! I strongly recommend that before anyone tries to eke out that .02% they make sure they are using the correct strategy in the first place for the game.