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Finally: Strategy for 4 Card Poker

Jun 1, 2004 2:09 AM

A few months ago, I wrote a column in GamingToday that took a first look at Shuffle Master’s latest game, Four Card Poker. At that time, I promised a closer look at the strategy that Shuffle called Basic Strategy. It’s taken a few months, and countless hours of pouring over computer output, but I believe the wait was worth it.

To refresh your memories, Four Card Poker, like its predecessor Three Card Poker has two distinct games. The first, called Aces Up, requires no strategy. The player is dealt five cards to make his best four card hand. In Aces Up, the player wins if he is dealt a pair of aces or better.

The second and far more complex portion of the game is the Ante/Play version. After seeing his five cards and ONE of the dealer’s cards (i.e. an upcard) the player may either fold or play. When he chooses to play, he places an additional bet from one to three times his original ante. As stated in my prior article, in reality, the player NEVER bets two times his original bet. The dealer will get a total of six cards to make his best five card hand.

Shuffle Master’s Basic Strategy will net us a payback of 98.41%, which is highly competitive for a Table game. Of course, the Basic Strategy doesn’t take into account the dealer’s upcard which must prove to be of some use to the player.

So, today I will review the Expert Strategy for Four Card Poker. However, it should be noted that this Expert Strategy will not be perfect strategy. Perfect strategy for Four Card Poker would require a strategy table, several pages long, that would require close scrutiny of all five cards dealt to the player. As each player card can act as a penalty card to the dealer’s hand, even the exact suit makeup of the player’s hand can become relevant to the strategy. While I won’t go so far as to say that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be this precise, I will say that if someone wishes to go for the final .01%, they’re on their own! The likelihood of misplaying a hand with such complex strategy will offset any additional advantage the player will get.

Expert Strategy for Four Card Poker is a strategy that will account for the dealer’s upcard and occasionally a single kicker in the player’s hand. It will NOT look at the other cards in the player’s hand (i.e. ”˜second’ kickers) or at the suit makeup of the payer’s hand. What will Expert Strategy buy us vs. using Basic Strategy? Basic strategy will achieve a payback of about 98.41%. Expert Strategy will push that up to 98.60%. This may not sound like a lot, but it will cut the house edge (”˜vig’) by more than 10%.

According to Basic Strategy, you should bet 3x anytime you have a Pair of 10’s or Better. As stated earlier, this ignores the dealer’s upcard completely and is not taking advantage of this benefit. We should be betting 3x ANYTIME the expected value (EV) of the hand goes positive, meaning we expect to win the hand more often than we will lose the hand. Through computer analysis, the following Expert Strategy has been devised:

”¡ Bet 3x on all pair of aces or Better.

”¡ Bet 3x on all pair of kings, except bet 1x if facing an ace and you don’t have an ace in your hand.

”¡ Bet 3x on a pair of queens looking into a 2-Q. Bet 3x if dealer has a K or ace up, and you have the dealer’s upcard in your hand.

”¡ Bet 3x on a pair of Jacks looking into a 2-J. Bet 1x if dealer has an ace up. If the dealer has a Q or K up, Bet 3x if you have the dealer’s upcard in your hand.

”¡ Bet 3x on a pair of 10’s looking into a 2-9, Bet 1x if dealer has a J-Ace. If the dealer has a 10 up, and you have a Jack or better kicker, bet 3x, otherwise bet 1x.

”¡ Bet 3x on a pair of 9’s looking into a 2. All other pairs of 9’s, bet 1x.

The strategy listed above is for the decision to bet 1x vs. 3x. The other decision that needs to be made is when to fold vs. bet 1x. According to Basic Strategy, you should bet 1x on all pairs of 3’s or better (except when you bet 3x), and fold all pairs of 2’s. Expert Strategy will alter this, as well, albeit only slightly. Again, through computer simulation, the following strategy has been developed: bet 1x on a Pair of 2’s looking into a 2

One reader informed me, and it was confirmed by Shuffle Master, that at Thunder Valley Casino in California, the game is played with all dealer cards down. In such a case, there is not much more you can do beyond Shuffle Master’s basic strategy. For those who play at Thunder Valley, the only change I would recommend is that you bet 3x on a pair of 10’s ONLY if you have at least a Jack or better as a kicker. The overall payback will be the same, but you’ll put a little less money on the table. For any game with less than 100% payback, this will slow the long term loss rate.

As many of you know by now, Expert Strategy for any game, consists of three basic components. Knowing the right game to play, playing the right strategy and knowing what to expect. So far, I’ve basically covered what the right strategy is. There isn’t a lot to discuss in terms of ”˜knowing the right game to play’, as there really are no variations in paytables for the ante/play version of the game. There is the bonus payouts for four of a kind, straight flush and three of a kind which pay 25, 20 and two respectively, but to the best of my knowledge, no casino has altered these payouts.

Aces Up is another story. The casinos have a lot more flexibility with the paytable for Aces Up. The most common table in use returns a less than stellar 95.76%. Remember, that you do not have to play both Aces Up and ante/play. The paytable for Aces Up is listed below:

Aces Up Paytable

Four of a Kind

50

Straight Flush

40

Three of a Kind

 8

Flush

6

Straight

4

Two Pairs

2

Pair of Aces

1

The last part of Expert Strategy is knowing what to expect. There are countless statistics that I could cite from my analysis, but I’ll stick to some key ones here.

”¡ You can expect to fold about 47% of the time

”¡ You can expect to bet 3x about 29% of the time

”¡ You can expect to bet 1x the remaining 24% of the time

”¡ When you bet 3x, you will win about 71% of the time

”¡ When you bet 1x, you will win only about 38% of the time

According to Shuffle Master, Four Card Poker now boasts nearly 100 tables, which means it may be poised for a long and successful run. Many readers have already written to me to tell me how much they enjoy the game, and so far they’ve been doing it without the benefit of Expert Strategy. Hopefully, they (and you) will now be able to enjoy it all the more.

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