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Questions about Tre Card Stud Poker

Jul 29, 2008 7:00 PM

Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome | This week, I received an e-mail from a reader who had a question about Tre Card Stud Poker.

Tre Card was originally a Mikohn/Progressive Gaming game and was recently purchased by Shuffle Master when they purchased all of Progressive Gaming’s table games.

As there are only two games in the marketplace, this column is not so much about trying to educate you on how to play the game, but to show you what the impact of seemingly minor changes can do to both the strategy and payback.

Tre Card Stud is essentially the same as Three Card Poker with one difference. The dealer must have at least a Queen-8 or better to qualify. In Three Card Poker, only the Queen is required.

This would seem to be a rather minor change to the game, so how much difference could it make? How many hands have a Queen high, but not a Queen-8 high?

As it turns out, 900 of 22,100 hands meet this requirement. This works out to be just over 4 percent of the hands. When you consider that the player plays roughly 2-of-3, these extra non-qualifying hands costs one unit on most that don’t cause you to fold. This should equate to about 2-3 percent in payback that the house keeps.

There is a law in physics that goes something like this: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This concept sort of holds true in casino gaming. For every rule change, and paytable change, there are strategy changes that the player can make to help offset the impact.

I always find it humorous that various casinos have different ‘house ways’ for a game like pai gow poker. The impact to the payback is barely noticeable as for every minor change the casino makes, the player can pretty much match it and leave the payback in the same place. Of course, this ‘law’ is not always true.

When some casinos changed blackjack so it paid 6 to 5 instead of 3 to 2, there was little the player could do to offset this other than to change where he plays the game.

In the case of Tre Card Stud, what can the player do to help offset this rule change, relative to Three Card Poker? The answer is to fold less often. Because the dealer will now qualify 4 percent fewer times, the proper strategy is staying in on a few more hands and taking advantage of ‘so-so’ cards that you’ll now win automatically because the dealer will not qualify.

So, the player should now play all hands with a Queen high or better. The impact of the player having a Queen (which reduces the likelihood that the dealer will qualify) and the extra requirement of the 8 makes these hands now playable.

Additionally, the player should also play any Jack high hands that include two additional cards above a 7. This amounts to playing J-10-8 and J-9-8. Because the player has three cards of 8 or above, this also causes the dealer to not qualify just often enough to make these hands playable.

So, when the player makes the appropriate adjustments to strategy, we find that the payback of Tre Card Stud is about 1.5 percent below Three Card Poker, before taking into account the ante bonus. This means our strategy change has cut the advantage the house gets by changing the qualifying hand by roughly half.

Also, in this particular case, I don’t believe the original goal of Tre Card was to create a game with a lower payback, but rather emulate the very successful Three Card Poker while avoiding the stare of the patent lawyers. So, the ante bonus can easily be used to make the payback similar to that of Three Card Poker, but only if the player adjusts his strategy appropriately.

Again, the point of this week’s column is not to make you an expert at a relatively hard to find game. It is to show you how what appear to be small changes in how the game is played requires the player to alter his strategy.

This is especially true for video poker. Even a minor paytable change (reducing the flush payout by one) can cause strategy changes. Games like Bonus Poker (and its variants) can offer excellent paybacks, but not if the player insists on continuing to use the same strategy he learned for the original Jacks or better.

You may not lose a lot by using the original strategy, but as I covered last week, there is a big difference by giving just an extra point to the house.