HOW TO PLAY AND WIN at Today’s Table Games

If you’ve been around the casino scene for a couple of decades, chances are you remember table game pits being dominated by four games.

Blackjack was the most popular of course, followed by craps, then roulette, and for the high rollers there was baccarat.

Well…things have changed and today there is a lot more to choose from.

At first, the additional game options came in the form of college dorm room card games like ‘Red Dog’ (similar to in-between) where players bet that a third card would rank between the first two dealt. Then can the notorious ‘Big Six’ wheels, ones that featured different currency denominations in slots on a vertical wheel.


However, there was only one poker-based game among the common mix of the time. That was Pai-Gow Poker, and not every casino had it. So what about poker? Back then, the place for poker was in the poker rooms.


A big change has come with today’s table pits. Caribbean Stud Poker started a revolution in the 1990’s, followed by Let It Ride and Three Card Poker. All are based on stud poker, and all are easy to understand within a few hands of play. Those of us who grew up playing some kind of poker at home have an easy grasp on the ranking of poker hands. We know that two pair beats a pair, and three of a kind beats two pair. And if Three Card Poker throws us a curve with straights that outrank flushes, well, we can adapt to that easily enough.


Those three games have been around long enough now to become casino standards. They’re not as popular as blackjack or craps, but they fill larger niches than Pai-Gow Poker or Sic Bo, and have proven far longer lasting than Red Dog.

Once the breakthrough was made, making games available that are easy to understand and easy to deal just made sense to casino operators, game manufacturers and players alike. Shuffle Master, the largest developer and distributor of new table games, has been especially quick to build on the success of poker-based games.


One look around a modern casino and you will find poker games are a standard part of the mix, and it’s not only that new-era big three of Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride and Three Card Poker. Another generation of games has arrived, building on the success of the originals. You won’t find them in every casino, but don’t be surprised to run across Mississippi Stud, Four Card Poker, Crazy 4 Poker, High Five Poker or Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker.



How to Play This is a five-card stud poker variation that you start by making an ante. The dealer then gives you two cards face down, and deals three community cards face down.

After you look at your cards, you may make a bet of one to three times the ante. There’s a second round of betting after the first community card is turned face up, and another after the second community card, for a total of three rounds of betting. During each round of wagering, the player may bet one, two or three times the ante, or they may fold the hand. If you go all the way through with 3x bets, you can end up with 10 times your original ante on the table, meaning your $5 ante can turn into $50 in total wagers. If you’re playing optimal strategy and betting the max at every opportunity, then most of the time you’ll have a winner.

After the last card is turned up, bets are paid according to a pay table that starts at getting your money back on a pair of 6s through 10s and tops out a 500-1 on a royal flush.

The full pay table: Royal flush 500-1; straight flush 100-1; four of a kind 40-1; full house 10-1; flush 6-1; straight 4-1; three of kind 3-1; two pairs 2-1; high pair (Jacks or better) 1-1; middle pair (6s-10s) push–you get your money back.

There is no dealer hand to beat; there is no qualifying hand to worry about as with many other stud poker-based games. You’re not going to end up with a great hand only to find you’re being paid only on the ante because the dealer didn’t have good enough cards. The intrigue and strategy in this game comes solely from knowing when to raise and when to fold.

Strategy Never make bets of double the ante. Your viable choices on each round are to bet three times your ante, match your ante or fold. Michael Shackelford’s website,, has a complete analysis of the game. There is a fairly lengthy strategy table with a breakdown on what you should do after 2, 3 and 4 cards.

  1. After two cards, raise three times your bet with any pair, or one time your bet with at least one high card; two middle cards, or consecutive cards 6-5 or better of the same suit.
  2. After three cards, raise three times your bet with any paying hand of a middle pair or higher; three cards to a royal; three cards to a straight flush, 5-6-7 or higher and no gaps; three cards to a straight flush with one gap if you have at least one high card, and with two gaps with at least two high cards. Raise an amount equal to your bet with three parts of flush; a low pair; two or three high cards; three middle cards; one high card and one middle card; or three parts of a straight, 4-5-6 or higher, with no gaps.
  3. After four cards, raise 3x with any winning hand; four parts of a flush, or four parts on outside straight, 8 high or better. Raise 1x with any other straight draw; a low pair; at least two high cards; on high cards and two or three middle cards; one high card and two previous 3x raises; three middle cards and at least one previous 3x raise.
  4. If your hand doesn’t make the list, fold.



How to Play Another stud poker game, Four Card Poker involves playing against the dealer. You start by making an ante then you’re dealt five cards and the dealer gets six. After you’ve seen your cards, you may bet one, two or three times your ante, or fold the hand.

If you stay in the game by making a bet, you then choose four cards to make your best hand, while discarding the fifth. The dealer also chooses his or her best four cards, and discards two. Having one more initial card than the players means the dealer has more chances to make better hands—that sixth card is why the house has an edge in this game.

After four-card hands are selected and the discards made, it’s a game of whose hand ranks higher. If the dealer’s hand beats yours, the dealer will sweep away both your ante and bets. If you either bet or tie the dealer, you’re paid even money on both ante and bet. That tie provision cuts down a bit on the house’s natural edge from the dealer getting a sixth card.

One quirk in settling who wins? In Four Card Poker, three of a kind outranks flushes and straights because both flushes and straights occur more often than three of a kind in a four-card hand.

There’s also a bonus pay if you have at least three of a kind. There are multiple pay tables available for the bonus, but the one I saw in action when Midwest Gaming and Travel compatriot Henry Tamburin and I went to a Four Card Poker table in Windsor a few years ago. The pay was 25 times your ante on four of a kind, 20-1 on straight flushes and 2-1 on three of a kind.

Strategy Forget about raising two times the ante. You’ll be going for 3x or 1x wagers, or else folding. Strategy is easy. Fold with a pair of 2s or less, bet 1x on a pair of 3s through 9s, or bet 3x on a pair of 10s or better.

Side Bet Four Card Poker comes with a second betting option called Aces Up. In most casinos that have Four Card Poker, you can either play against the dealer, or bet Aces Up, or play both–just as you have options in Three Card Poker with play against the dealer and Pairs Plus.

Aces Up gets its name from the bottom payout. If you have a pair of Aces, your Aces Up bet will be paid at even money. The dealer’s hand doesn’t matter in this portion of the game, you’re paid according to a pay table that rises to 2-1 on two pairs, 5-1 on a straight, 6-1 on a flush, 7-1 on three of a kind, 30-1 on a straight flush or 40-1 on four of a kind.



How to Play Like Four Card Poker, Crazy 4 is decided on four-card hands and, both player and dealer start with more than four cards. However, here both player and dealer get five cards–there is no sixth card for the dealer.


At the start, you make ante and Super Bonus wagers of the same size. After you’ve seen your five cards, you must either make a play bet, or fold and lose both ante and Super Bonus bet. If you stay, your play bet must be equal to your ante unless you have a pair of Aces. With an Ace pair, you may bet three times the ante.


You then discard one card while making your best four-card hand, and the dealer does the same. When hands are compared, the dealer must have King-high or better to qualify. If the dealer does not qualify, you’re paid even money on your Play bet, and you get your ante back. If the dealer qualifies and you have the better hand, you’re paid even money on ante and bet, and if you lose, you lose both ante and bet. As in Four Card Poker, three of a kind outranks both flushes and straights.


On the Super Bonus bet, you’re paid on any hand of a straight or better, with a pay table of 200-1 on four Aces, 30-1 on any other four of a kind, 15-1 on a straight flush, 2-1 on three of a kind, 1.5-1 on a flush and even money on a straight.


Strategy Game analyst Stanley Ko, who does the math for many game designers for their submissions to regulators, has devised a simple strategy for Crazy 4. Match your ante with a play bet whenever you have King-Queen-8-4 or better, and bet three times the ante whenever you have a pair of Aces. With anything less than King-Queen-8-4, fold.


Side Bet Crazy 4 comes with an optional side bet called Queens Up, and the name tells you just what it is–you’ll be paid on any hand from a pair of Queens on up. There are several pay tables available, with the best paying 50-1 on four of a kind, 30-1 on a straight flush, 9-1 on three of a kind, 4-1 on a flush, 3-1 on a straight, 2-1 on two pairs, and even money on a pair of Queens, Kings or Aces.


On some games, the straight flush payoff will rise to 40-1, but the three of a kind pay will drop to 8-1 or 7-1. Because three of a kind occurs much more often than a straight flush, the highest-paying games are the ones with the higher three-of-a-kind payoffs.



How to Play Introduced in 2008 and not yet as widespread as some other poker-based games, High Five uses a 53-card deck. The extra card is a joker than can be used to complete flushes or straights, a la pai-gow poker. Players start with an ante, then players and dealer each receive seven cards. You can either fold and forfeit your ante, or make a bet equal to the ante. If you bet, you discard two cards and make your best five-card hand. The dealer qualifies with a pair of 6s, or if the player has a straight. If the dealer has lower-ranking hand than two 6s, and I have a straight while you have a pair of 10s, then the dealer qualifies against me but not against you.


If the dealer does not qualify, then the ante pays even money and the bet pushes. If the dealer qualifies and the player hand is higher, the ante and bet both pay even money.


Strategy Bet with a pair of 7’s or higher, fold with a pair of 6’s or lower. You’ll make the bet and stay in the hand nearly 68 % of the time. It is theoretically possible to improve on this strategy, staying in some hands with a pair of 6s and folding some pairs of 7’s of 8’s. However, Michael Shackelford of notes that kickers, discards and suits are all factors in the decisions, and that the exceptions are extremely difficult to study.


Side Bet The Trips side bet pays on any three of a kind or better. Game manufacturer Shuffle Master makes several pay tables available to manufacturers. All start with an even money payoff on three of a kind, and rise to 2-1 on straights, 4-1 on flushes, 7-1 on most full houses, 40-1 on four of a kind, 50-1 on straight flushes, 100-1 on royal flushes and 200-1 on five Aces—remember, High Five has that joker that can be used as a fifth Ace.


The variation comes in the return on a full house that includes three aces. The best version pays 25-1 on Aces-up full houses, while others pay 20-1 or 15-1.



How to Play With the popularity of Texas Hold’em in poker rooms, on television and online, it’s only natural that table games versions would be developed with play against the dealer instead of against other players. Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker became one of the more widespread of these.


It’s a seven-card, Hold’em-based game, complete with two hole cards on the initial deal, a three-card Flop, a one-card Turn and a final-card River. Just as in other poker-based games, you start with an ante. Players and the dealer are each dealt two cards face down. After you look at yours, you may either fold or make a Flop bet of twice the ante. The dealer turns three cards face up (the Flop) and players may either make a Turn bet of equal the ante, or check and stick with the bets already on the table. After the one-card Turn is dealt, the process repeats. No bet is necessary, but players may either check, or make a River bet equal to the ante. Then the final card, the River, is turned face up.


At that point, players and dealer all use their own two hole cards plus the five community cards to make their best five card hands. If the dealer bets you, you lose all your bets on the table—ante and Flop bets, plus any Turn or River wagers. If you beat the dealer, you win even money on the Flop, Turn and River bets. You’re paid even money on the ante only with a straight or better. With lower-ranking hands, if you win, you get the ante back.


Strategy After you’ve seen your first two cards, fold with 2-3, 2-4. 2-5, 2-6 or 2-7 of mixed suits. Otherwise, stay in the game and see what the Flop brings. After that, strategy gets very complicated, with a large number of possibilities. If you want to play around with close-call hands, check out the Texas Hold’em Bonus strategy calculator


Bonus Bet There’s an optional side bet on your first two cards. The big payoff is a 30-1 on a pair of Aces, followed by 25-1 on Ace-King suited, 20-1 on Ace-Queen or Ace-Jack suited, 15-1 on Ace-King of different suits, 10-1 on pairs of Jacks, Queens or Kings, 5-1 on Ace-Queen or Ace-Jack of different suits, and 3-1 on pairs of 2’s through 10’s.


There’s a different version of the bonus bet that takes into account both player and dealer hole cards, but I’ve not yet seen that one in a casino. Should you spot that one, the big payoff is a 1,000-1 bonanza when both you and the dealer have pocket Aces.


Easy enough? Sure. Even with the most complex of these, any player who knows their flushes from their straights would pick up the basics within a few hands. The casinos are counting on it.


Author Bio: JOHN GROCHOWSKI is a syndicated gaming columnist who has been covering the industry for 17 years. He is the author of several top selling gambling books including The Slot Answer Book and The Video Poker Book both availble on his web-site






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