Rabbit Hunter: New poker game

Feb 8, 2011 6:07 AM

Happy Chinese New Year! 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit on the Chinese calendar. I think the folks at Shuffle Master are hoping it’s the Year of the Rabbit too!

In the last few months, one of their latest table games, Rabbit Hunter, launched at two casinos in California – Pala Casino and Jackson Rancheria. I wrote about this game back in November in a lead-in to the game being on display at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas.

I had the pleasure of working with Roger Snow, executive VP at Shuffle Master, in developing the math for the game.

Rabbit Hunter is very unique in its betting structure and rules of play. I don’t know of another game in which you have the opportunity to literally buy an extra card, and as a result, play six cards to the dealer’s five. Let me review the basics of the game and then I’ll go into more detail about buying a card.

To begin play the player makes an ante wager and an optional bonus bet. While this bonus bet is "optional," I will tell you the strategy makes this wager all but mandatory.

The player and dealer are each dealt five cards face down. The dealer will also deal a sixth card to each player face down in a separate spot. The player may look at his 5-card hand and then he has to make a choice as to how to play it.

He can fold, forfeiting his ante and bonus wager. He can make an additional wager (play wager) equal to his ante, which will allow him to go head-to-head against the dealer or, he can make that play wager and buy the sixth card for an amount equal to his ante wager.

Note, the player cannot buy the card without also making the play wager. If you choose to buy the card, the money you pay goes right to the casino. This extra card can help you win more on your other wagers, but the money you pay is gone.

Assuming the player does not fold, his five- (or six) card hand will go head-to-head against the dealer’s five-card hand. His hand will also be used to determine if he wins the bonus wager. In both cases, if he bought the extra card, he can use any five of the six to make his hand.

If the dealer’s hand is not at least an ace high, the player’s ante wager is a push, and the play bet will be paid even money if the player’s hand outranks the dealer’s hand.

If the dealer’s hand qualifies with an ace high or better, then both the ante and play wagers will pay even money if the player’s hand outranks the dealer’s hand. If the dealer’s hand outranks the player’s hand, the play wager is lost.

I have little doubt many players will sit down to play Rabbit Hunter and find the notion of buying a card rather distasteful. That said, the analysis takes this fully into account, and the pay table in use at the two casinos has a payback of 99.35 percent, which is more than a little competitive. It is one of the highest for any table game anywhere and just a smidge below blackjack.

The strategy for Rabbit Hunter may seem a bit odd at first. Buying the additional card is mostly for the benefit of the bonus bet. While it can have some residual impact to the play against the dealer, this benefit is limited to low ranking hands or partial hands improving.

For example, if you buy a card with two pair and it turns into a full house, your bonus pay goes from two to 30 – well worth the expense. But, the impact to beating the dealer is much smaller. With two pair you’ll beat the dealer 92+ percent of the time vs. 99.9 percent for a full house. The extra seven percent is nice, but would not be worth buying the extra card on its own.

As a result, we find there are certain high pairs that are not worth buying the card for. The improvement from a high pair to a two pair or trips is simply not enough to warrant buying the card. Whereas when a low pair improves to a two or trips, we find it does pay to buy the card because we turn the bonus bet from a loser into a winner while also improving our hand.

When all is said and done, this is the complete strategy for Rabbit Hunter for the pay table in use currently. I should point out there are a couple of minor exceptions, but we’re talking about 0.01 percent or 0.02 percent of payback as a result.

Play and buy the card when:

- Player has a straight flush that is a 4-card royal

- Player has a flush that is a 4-card straight flush or 4-card inside straight flush

- Player has a straight that is a 4-card straight flush or 4-card inside straight flush

- Player has three of a kind

- Player has two pair

- Player has a high pair that is a 4-card straight flush, 4-card iside straight flush or flush

- Player has a pair of 10, J, Q that is a 4-card straight or 4-card inside straight

- Player has a pair of kings that is a 4-card straight

- Player has a low pair

- Player has nothing, but a 4-card straight flush, 4-card inside straight flush, 4-card flush, 4-card straight or 4-card inside straight

Fold when:

- Player has A-8 or less and is not a play/buy hand

Play and not buy when:

- Any other hand

With this strategy you will fold 23 percent of the time and buy the card about 47 percent of the time. When you buy and miss, it will hurt. When you buy and get that rabbit, it will pay off big time!

Shuffle Master has eight additional casinos lined up for Rabbit Hunter, including a Las Vegas trial at the Luxor. Stay tuned for more information on it. As Elmer Fudd would say, "Here’s to the year of the wabbit. Hehehehehe."

Like my columns? Check out my blog at Gambatria.blogspot.com.