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You’ve got to know
when to fold

Oct 12, 2004 2:06 AM

Spending the past three days wandering around the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) at the Las Vegas Convention Center has left me with enough material to last for years. I didn’t bother to count them up, but at best guess, I’d say I looked at 30 new poker style table games, 15-20 blackjack variations and a dozen other table games.

Over the next few weeks (or months or years), I’ll be writing about some of these new games. My goal is not just to describe the game, but rather to give you the information that will enable you to be one of the first people to really know what’s going on, should you find one of these new games and choose to sit and play.

In the end, it’s all about the strategy. The developer can tell you the game has a house edge of 1.5 percent, but most of the games do not have an intuitive strategy. If, for example, you’re playing some variation of Texas Hold’em for a casino table, which two cards are worth playing or folding? The simple reality is that without knowing the betting structure, there is no way you can know what the proper strategy is. Some of the new games will have relatively simple strategy, while others will be more complex, depending on the rules of the game.

Of course, just because a game has simple strategy doesn’t necessarily mean people will follow it. At the Expo, I chatted with a gentleman who was demonstrating his company’s latest Hold’em game. I introduced myself, and the discussion quickly turned towards the strategy for the game. In telling this person about my credentials, I discussed my booklet on Three Card Poker, and how the game has a relatively easy strategy to remember. If you have Q-6-4 or better, you play, otherwise you fold.

The gentleman found this hard to believe. I found it harder to believe that he found it so hard to believe! I explained that I had developed a program that played every possible hand out, and the math was pretty concrete. You’re better off folding the hands below Q-6-4. Yes, you’ll win when the dealer doesn’t qualify, but this is more than offset by the number of losses, compounded by the fact that the losses will be with twice the money. You’ll be betting two units for a chance to win one. When a player has no cards Q or higher, the dealer will not qualify 5,277 out of 18,424 possibilities or less than 30 percent of the time. When you fold, you’re expected value is .50 (you get to keep the unit you never bet). Whereas, if you Play these hands, the expected value drops to about .43. This is not a small discrepancy. Just for fun, I modified my Three Card Poker program to play with a strategy of never folding. The overall payback of the game drops to 96.7 percent, or about 1.7 percent less than expert strategy.

Keep in mind that this is for a game with a simple strategy. Start playing blackjack or video poker using an "intuitive" approach and you could easily find yourself giving the casino an additional 5-10 percent advantage. Most importantly, the guy I was talking to was knowledgeable about casino games. If the guys who KNOW that there is strategy to go with the games don’t use them, imagine how many people there are who don’t even know strategy exists! This is why casinos can offer games with paybacks of 98+ percent yet can still enjoy holds of 25-30 percent. Too many players simply don’t know when it’s better to fold and live to play another day.