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Four play, anyone?

Sep 27, 2004 12:44 PM

Winning Strategies applies to more than just video poker. Video poker offered for many years the only positive games in a casino. Unfortunately, as more players use proper strategy to play, the number of positive games has decreased, and even the number of 99.5 percent and higher payback games has decreased. This has allowed some of the table games to start competing with many of the video poker machines in terms of payback.

One of the newest of these games is called Four Card Poker. According to Roger Snow, manager of table games for Shuffle Master and the inventor of Four Card Poker, there are now about 135 Four Card Poker tables in circulation. What started about a year ago in California has now spread to Las Vegas, Atlantic City and very soon to Connecticut.

Four Card Poker resembles Three Card Poker in a few ways, but also differs from it in many significant ways. Like Three Card Poker there are two distinct games. The first, called Aces Up, is like Pair Plus. It pays if the player is dealt at least a pair of aces.

The second wager is called ante/play and pits the player’s hand directly against the dealer’s hand. That’s where the similarities end. First of all in Four Card Poker the player gets five cards to make his best four card hand. The dealer gets six cards to make his best four card hand. As an added bonus for the player, one of the dealer’s cards is dealt face up. Also, unlike Three Card Poker, the dealer does not need his hand to qualify. This means if you’re dealt a big hand, and the dealer is dealt junk, you’re still going to get your big payout.

Once you’ve seen your cards and the dealer’s up card, you can either fold forfeiting your ante, or play, placing an additional bet up to three times your original ante. This allows you to really sock it to the house when you’ve got a big hand. Additionally, if you have one of the top three hands — four of a kind, straight flush or three of a kind, you’ll get an additional bonus payout.

From a payout perspective, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that Aces Up has a payback of only about 95.8 percent. There are different possible paytables the casinos can use, but the ones in use today leave a lot to be desired in terms of payback. Given that it is not required to play both wagers, you may want to think about passing on this one and sending the message to the casinos that you want a better payback before you’re willing to risk your money.

The good news is that the ante/play portion of the game returns 98.4 percent payback. If you follow Shuffle Master’s basi’ strategy, you can get about 98.4 percent payback. If you go with my "expert" strategy that I’ve discussed in previous articles, you can push that up to 98.6 percent. This isn’t quite equivalent to most full-pay video poker machines, but it does beat most of the other table games, and gives the player a respectable chance at leaving a winner. Players should be advised, however, that the betting structure of Four Card Poker does leave the game a bit more volatile than similar games.

As a final note, in previous columns about Four Card Poker, I’ve made mention of an upcoming booklet, Expert Strategy for Four Card Poker. I’m proud to announce it’s here. For those of you local to Las Vegas, you should be able to find it at the Gambler’s Book Club or Gambler’s General Store within the next few days. I should also have it available on our website (www.vpheaven.com) shortly as well.