Gaming equipment providers are always trying to come up with new table games, and one of the more recent innovations to appear in casinos is Four Card Poker. This new poker variation is the brainchild of Roger Snow, who joined Shuffle Master in 2000 as the company’s Table Games Product Manager.
Although this game has been described by some players as Three Card Poker with the addition of one extra card, there is a lot more to it than that. Unlike the older game, there is no dealer qualifying hand. Also, more that four cards are dealt, so there is some decision-making regarding how to form the best four-card hand.
Each round of play begins with wagering. There are two initial betting positions in front of each player marked Ante and Aces Up. Only those players who make an Ante wager equivalent to the table minimum or more are eligible to receive a hand. The Aces Up wager is optional, as explained below.
Each active player is dealt five cards face down, while Dealer receives five cards face down and one card face up for a total of six cards in all. After viewing their cards, the players each have the option to Fold or Raise. Folding, of course, means giving up the hand and forfeiting the Ante wager.
Those who chose to Raise must wager an additional amount no less than that of the Ante and no more than three times the Ante. Next, each player forms the best four-card poker hand possible from the five cards and discards the unused card. From lowest to highest, the hand ranks are High Card, Pair, Two Pair, Straight, Flush, Three of a Kind, Straight Flush and Four of a Kind.
Once the players’ hands are set, the Dealer turns over all six of his/her cards and arranges the best four-card hand possible, while discarding the two unused cards. A showdown then ensues between the Dealer and each player, with the higher hand winning in each case. When the Dealer’s hand wins, both the Ante and Raise are lost.
When the player’s hand is higher than or equal to the Dealer’s, the Ante and Raise pay out at even money, 1-to-1. Regardless of what the Dealer holds, bonuses are paid on the Ante wager for high ranking hands as follows: 2-to-1 for Three of a Kind, 20-to-1 for a Straight Flush and 25-to-1 for Four of a Kind.
Players who wager on the optional Aces Up side bet are also eligible for bonuses when holding at least a pair of aces or higher. Regardless of what the Dealer holds, even money is paid on the Ante for a pair of Aces, 2-to-1 for Two Pair, 5-to-1 for a Straight and 6-to-1 for a Flush. Depending on the House Rules, holding Three of a Kind pays 7-to-1 or 8-to-1, a Straight Flush pays 30-to-1 or 40-to-1 and Four of a Kind pays 50-to-1.
Math whiz Stanley Ko has analyzed the game of Four Card Poker and determined the optimum strategy for making the Raise. He advises raising the maximum (3X) when holding a pair of 10s or higher and raising the minimum (1X) with a pair of 2s through 9s. In all other cases, the proper action is to fold. The result is an overall House Edge of 3.396%.
More elaborate strategies take into account the rank of the Dealer’s up card, and some of them, such as a ten-step approach proposed by James Grosjean, purport to reduce the House Edge to 2.840%. On the Aces Up wager, the House Edge has been calculated at between 1.98% and 6.15%, depending on the paytable in use.