Five table games with a shot at stardom

Jul 13, 2004 5:10 AM

A few weeks ago, we listed the top 10 proprietary table games currently playing in casinos around the country.

This week, we’ll take a peek at some of the newest games finding their way into the pits. Most players will have never heard of these games. But they have the potential of becoming the next Three Card Poker.

”¡ Big Raise Hold’em — Shuffle Master, the top marketer of specialty table games, launched Big Raise in January. The game is now played in California, Mississippi and Washington. According to the company, Big Raise is headed next to Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, New Jersey and Nevada.

Big Raise is one of several new games trying to capitalize on the Texas Hold’em craze. Another is the World Poker Tour’s All-In Hold ’em game which launched in California two months ago. Rumor has it that Mikohn (Caribbean Stud Poker) and Gaming Entertainment Inc. (3-5-7 Poker) have hold’em games in the works.

Unlike Texas Hold’em, which uses seven cards, Big Raise uses only five. Players compete against the dealer, and they may also make an optional bonus bet. The bonus bet pays odds if their five-card hand is a pair of 8s or better.

Against the dealer, players ante and can raise up to three times the ante amount. Statistically, they should make the big raise bet. If they don’t, they’re playing the game at a decided house edge.

Once they bet, players get two hole cards. They then decide which bet they want to risk — the ante or the big raise. Naturally, they would risk the big raise when they have a good starting hand, and only risk the ante when they have a bad starting hand. Something else: Players may go all-in (risking both bets) if they have a pocket pair.

The dealer then reveals his hole cards and three community cards. Players win even money if their hand beats the dealer’s.

A caveat: Players do not always have the ability to remove the big raise bet. In this game, the dealer turns one of his hole cards face up, and if it’s an ace or a king, he calls players all-in, meaning they must risk their ante and big raise.

This rule turns the game into an all-out slugfest. Sometimes players get the best of it, sometimes they don’t.

One last thing: According to Roger Snow, the game’s inventor, the house edge on Big Raise is less than 1 percent, lowest of any poker-style game on the market. He says the strategy is a bit complex, but Shuffle Master provides it on the game’s how-to-play cards, which are available at the table. This allows even first-timers to play like experts.

”¡ Blackjack Switch — like Double Attack Blackjack, this is a variation of 21. "Switch" is played in a few casinos, including the Four Queens in downtown Las Vegas. It is also available at numerous Internet casino sites.

Here’s how it works: Players make two equal blackjack bets to play two hands. After receiving their cards, they may switch the second card in each hand.

As anyone who’s played blackjack knows, this feature can come in handy. Suppose you have 6-J in one hand and K-5 in the other. By switching your second cards, you could turn those stiffs into a 6-5 and a K-J. This is one of the most imaginative and interesting rule variations ever offered in a blackjack variation.

Of course, nothing is free. The house has a few countermeasures at its disposal: The player’s blackjacks pay even money; and players push if the dealer reaches a total of 22.

Nevertheless, Blackjack Switch has an extremely low house advantage. According to game analyst Michael Shackelford, Switch has a 0.2 percent advantage — lower than traditional blackjack!

Of course, players must know proper strategy in order to whittle the edge down to that figure. Shackelford’s website (wizardofodds.com) provides the optimal playing strategy for this game.

”¡ Flop Poker — marketed by Gammax of Louisiana, the 15 Flop Poker tables in the market are offered exclusively in Mississippi casinos, including Boomtown, Isle of Capri and the Palace. Flop is reminiscent of Let it Ride or Double Down Stud as players compete against a paytable, not against the dealer. It takes a pair of jacks or better to win.

Here’s how it works: Players ante and receive three cards. They may then fold or stay in the game by making a call bet equal to the ante. The dealer then reveals three community cards. Players combine their three cards with two of the community cards to make the best five-card hand. If players have at least pair of jacks, their ante and call bets win. While the ante always pays even money, the call bet pays odds. The top payoff is 250-to-1 for a royal flush.

Flop Poker also features a "Pot Bet," in which players contribute an equivalent amount before each hand. The player with the best hand takes the entire pot. This bet is particularly attractive because it has no house edge — 100 percent of the money wagered goes to the player with the best hand.

”¡ Double Attack Blackjack — this is a blackjack variation offered at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. The game, invented by dealer Joe Centrone, debuted in May and so far has been well-received. According to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, Double Attack dropped $12,000 per day and won $3,000 per day at the Taj. Those are solid results for any game, never mind a new one.

Double Attack, like the more established blackjack variation Spanish 21, is played without 10s (jacks, queens and kings remain). Here’s how it works: Players make a standard blackjack bet, and then the dealer reveals his up-card. Based on this information, players may stand or double their bet. Then players receive their two cards and resume a normal blackjack hand.

This doubling-down element gives players a huge edge over the house. Naturally, if players see a weak dealer up-card (such as a 6 or 5), they should double their bet. Likewise, if the dealer has and ace or 10, players should stand pat.

The house uses two countermeasures to regain the edge. First, removing those 10s works in the casino’s favor, just as it does in Spanish 21. Secondly, player blackjacks pay even money instead of the traditional 3-to-2.

Double Attack also has an optional bonus bet. Players win this bet if the dealer busts on his third card. The amount won depends on the card the last card the dealer received. For example, if the dealer busts with a J, Q or K, the bonus bet wins 3-to-1; if he busts with a 6, the bonus bet wins at 15-to-1.

The top bonus payout is 200-to-1. This happens if the dealer busts with three 8s of the same suit.

”¡ Power Play Six Poker — the final game on our list is the only one not yet installed in a casino. It is, however, submitted to Mississippi and should receive approval by the end of July.

Power Play Six is a five-card poker game that offers players an advantage: They get six cards while the dealer gets only five. The game also features an optional bonus bet with a top payout of 2,500-to-1 for a royal flush.

Players must make two equal wagers, called Ante and Bet. Players may also make the Bonus bet. The dealer then reveals two three-card starting hands — these are dealt face-up in the middle of the table. The dealer always takes the better starting hand; all players share the weaker hand. At this point, players have their only decision: check or make another bet, called Double, that’s equal to the Ante.

The dealer then gives each player three cards. Players combine them with the three community cards to make a five-card hand. The dealer gives himself two cards and combines them with his three original cards.

If the player’s hand (best five out of six) beats the dealer’s (five out of five), the player wins even money on his Ante, Bet and Double. One exception: If the player’s winning hand is less than ace-high, the Ante pushes and the other bets win. If the player loses to the dealer, the Ante, Bet and Double lose.

Power Play Six boasts some interesting statistics. According to inventor Phil Schultz, players win 49 percent of the time — higher than virtually all poker-style games — and they never have to fold. Plus, the average bet is high (2.5 units), which makes for terrific action.

The Bonus wins when the player has a pair of kings or better. This occurs 23 percent of the time.