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Four Card Poker

In the new breed of proprietary table games that have been released in the gaming industry over the past couple of decades, a handful of games have really made their mark. One of these has been Three Card Poker, which has become beloved by many players for its reasonable odds, relaxed pace of play, and exciting jackpot-like payouts that are reasonably possible on any hand.

But why stop at three cards? An even newer game that is now commonly found throughout the casino world is Four Card Poker. It’s a similar concept, only – as you’d expect – with an extra card being used to make hands. But while there are some rules that are great for the player in this game, there’s also one that is designed to test your strategy and keep you on your toes: while you’ll have five cards to make your hand from, the dealer gets six, giving the house an obvious advantage.

The Basics

At the beginning of each hand, each player will have the opportunity to make one or both of two bets: the ante bet or Aces Up. The ante bet is often treated as the “main” bet in this game, but much like in Three Card Poker, there is no obligation to make it in order to play Aces Up, nor vice versa. We’ll deal with the flow of the ante bet in this section, then return to the simpler Aces Up bet below.

Each player will be dealt five cards out of a standard 52-card deck. After the players receive their hands, the dealer will get six cards of their own. One of the dealer cards is placed face up; all other cards are face down. In a live setting, players are not supposed to look at each other’s cards at this stage, as this information could potentially be used to their advantage.

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Four Card Poker

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Every player who has made the ante bet must then decide whether to fold or raise. If they choose to fold, they must forfeit their bets. If they instead want to raise, they must make a second wager – the raise – of a size anywhere between 1x and 3x the ante amount.

Players may now choose the four cards they wish to use in order to make up their hand, discarding the excess fifth card. Of course, you’ll want to keep the strongest hand possible. Rankings are similar to those used in standard poker, with higher ranks beating lower ranks (aces are high) within the same type of hand. However, since there are only four cards in a hand, the possible rankings are slightly different. From best to worst, the hand categories are as follows:

  • Four of a Kind
  • Straight Flush
  • Three of a Kind
  • Flush
  • Straight
  • Two Pair
  • Pair
  • High Card

Once all players have finished making their hands, the dealer will reveal their cards. They will make their own best possible hand, discarding the two other cards. The player hands will then be compared to the dealer hand. If the dealer hand can beat a player, then that player will lose their bets. If the player hand is better (or in the case of a tie), the player wins.

Winning players receive even money on both their ante and raise bets. If the player makes a hand of three of a kind or better, they also receive a bonus – which is paid whether or not they actually won the hand. The most common bonus pay table is as follows:

  • Four of a Kind: 25-1
  • Straight Flush: 20-1
  • Three of a Kind: 2-1

The Aces Up Bet

If you’re familiar with the Pair Plus bet in Three Card Poker, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of how Aces Up works. This bet is completely dependent on the strength of your hand, and doesn’t consider how the dealer does at all; in fact, in some casinos, you can even win this bet if you fold your hand for the purposes of the ante wager (though you should never, ever fold a hand good enough to win this bet anyway).

In order to win at Aces Up, you’ll need to make a strong hand – at least a pair of aces. As your hands get stronger, you’ll get a bigger and bigger bonus, up to a maximum of 50-1 for four of a kind. Again, there are various pay tables that are possible for this game, but the most common one is as follows:

  • Four of a Kind: 50-1
  • Straight Flush: 40-1
  • Three of a Kind: 8-1
  • Flush: 5-1
  • Straight: 4-1
  • Two Pair: 3-1
  • Pair of Aces: 1-1

Complex Strategy Can Be Simplified

Four Card Poker is a very fair game by casino standards. While it doesn’t offer quite as favorable odds as blackjack or the pass line on craps, the house edge is a reasonable 2.79%, putting it in line with many of the most popular games you’ll find on the gaming floor.

The only problem is that the strategy required to achieve that exact return to player is devilishly complex. In fact, we’ve never seen anyone post a strategy chart that covers every possible situation and combination of the player cards and the dealer up card, all of which matter in some of the edge cases. Instead, there are a number of simplified strategies that can get players fairly close to the best possible results.

For instance, there’s a “beginner strategy” that has been proposed by several gambling writers, which cuts the house edge to just below 3.4%. This strategy only requires you to remember three rules, which are as follows:

  • Raise 3x with a pair of tens or higher.
  • Raise 1x with any other pair.
  • Fold all hands less than a pair.

More complex strategies require that the player think about both their hand and the visible card in the dealer’s hand. The best strategy that we’ve seen in terms of the balance between getting the best returns while keeping it simple enough to easily use was published by Michael Shackleford at The Wizard of Odds, and is good enough to get the casino’s advantage down to 2.85%. The rules of that strategy are as follows:

  • Pair of Aces or Higher: Raise 3x.
  • Pair of Jacks through Pair of Kings: Raise 3x if the dealer’s card is lower than your pair, or if you can match it; otherwise, raise 1x.
  • Pair of Nines or Tens: Raise 3x if the dealer’s up card is equal to or lower than your pair, otherwise, raise 1x.
  • Pair of Eights: Raise 3x if the dealer is showing a 2; otherwise, raise 1x.
  • Pair of Threes through Pair of Sevens: Raise 1x.
  • Pair of Twos, or Ace-King-Queen High: Raise 1x only if the dealer’s card matches the rank of a card in your hand; otherwise, fold.
  • Lower Hands: Fold.

What about the Aces Up bet? On the most common pay table, this wager comes with a house edge of about 3.89%, slightly higher than the ante bet, but far better than most “side bets” in the casino. As an added benefit, this wager can be cheaper to play, as there are never any additional bets that you have to make. That – along with the potential for a 50-1 payout – make this a very popular bet, even if it is slightly less favorable odds-wise.

A Fun Spin on a New Classic

Three Card Poker is already a classic that will remain on casino floors for generations to come, and while Four Card Poker may never quite reach that level of popularity, it is definitely a worthy addition to the family. The game offers reasonable chances for players, and plenty of opportunity for those who enjoy reading up on strategy to improve their odds – while also not being daunting or unfair for those who just want to sit down and play. Like with its three-card ancestor, the ability to win a huge sum of money just by being dealt a nice hand on a secondary bet is also a big draw.

We doubt that this game will ever supplant the three-card version in the minds of gamblers, but it does offer a more complex framework for those who like the action of the original but find it too simple. If you want a game that doesn’t require too much thought, Three Card Poker is definitely the way to go; if you want something that will take a little more time to master while still having the same basic gameplay, then we suggest giving Four Card Poker a try.

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