Card games have always been favorites among casino players, and blackjack has led the way as the most popular table game for more than 50 years.

Which turn of the cards gives you the best odds to win? Let’s take a look at half a dozen games from two standpoints: the house edge and how much opportunity the games give players to improve their chances of beating the house.

BLACKJACK ODDS

The house edge: The house had an edge because you have a chance to bust and lose before the dealer plays his hand. Both dealer and player bust on about 8% of hands, and if there were no other factors, the house would have about an 8% edge.

The rules give part of that back to players by paying 3-2 on blackjacks in the best games or 6-5 in games that are worse for you.

Opportunity to improve: Blackjack gives you the biggest chance to improve your shot to win of any casino card game. You don’t have mimic the dealer. You can find the optimal plays for hitting, standing, splitting pairs and doubling down on basic strategy charts.

With basic strategy, the house edge can be reduced to less than 1%, the precise edge depending on house rules such as how many decks are in use and whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17. For example, in a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17 and you are allowed to double down on any first two cards, including after splitting pairs, basic strategy players face a house edge of about 0.6%. With favorable rules, some blackjack games have house edges of less that 0.2%.

Skilled card counters can go a step farther and get an edge over the house, but counting cards usually is not possible online where it is common for every deal to come from a freshly shuffled deck.

BACCARAT ODDS

The house edge: Two hands are dealt, and you have three options: Bet on the banker hand, bet on the player hand, or bet the hand will be a tie.

If you bet on banker or player, ties are pushes. Rules are set so banker wins more than player, but it’s close. Banker wins 45.9% of hands, player wins 44.6%, and 9.5% are ties. 

Because banker wins more than it loses in baccarat, the house charges a 5% commission on winning banker bets. That gives the house edge a 1.06% edge. There is no commission on player bets, where there is a 1.24% edge.

Both of those are among the better bets in the house, but don’t bet on ties. The house edge there is 14.4%.

Opportunity to improve: All decisions on whether to draw a third card to the two-card starting hands are automatic under set rules. You make no hit/stand decisions and can’t change the odds. Your impact on your own chance to win comes from deciding whether to bet banker or player, while ignoring the tie bet.

CASINO HOLD’EM ODDS

The house edge:  As in many poker-based table games, in casino hold'em you start with an ante and later make an additional bet if you like your cards. But if the dealer doesn’t have a qualifying and of at least a pair of 4s, and the bet is a push.

Players who either fold too often instead of following their ante with a bet face or who are too aggressive and make that bet even with weak cards might face a house edge of 3 to 4%, but you can improve that.

Opportunity to improve: There are so many variables in seven-card poker games that no one has yet devised a strategy chart for Casino Hold’em. There is a strategy calculator in which you can choose individual hands around the web. 

In general, you should follow your ante with a bet and stay in action on all but the worst 18% of hands. If your first two cards are low and unpaired – meaning the dealer probably has stronger hole cards – then you’d fold. Exception: Even with low hole cards, you’d stay in action if they mesh with the community cards for a strong chance at a straight or flush.

With optimal strategy for staying in the hand, you can reduce the house edge to about 2.2%.

3 CARD POKER ODDS

The house edge: As in Casino Hold’em, there is a dealer qualifying hand. In Three Card Poker, it’s a Queen or better – if the dealer doesn’t have at least a Queen, you’re paid only on your ante and not on your bet.

If you followed your ante with a bet and stayed in every hand, you could face a house edge in excess of 5% the ante. Both your ante and bet are at risk against the dealer’s best hands, but when the dealer hand is weak and doesn’t qualify, only your ante is paid.

There is another Three Card Poker option, Pair Plus, in which you are paid according to a pay table without having to beat the dealer. At the most common pay table, the Pair Plus house edge is 7.28%.

Opportunity to improve:  You can’t improve your odds in Pair Plus, but there is a basic strategy for three card poker that helps in the ante-bet portion of the game.

If you make the bet only with Queen-6-4 or better, you reduce the house edge to 3.37% of your ante, or 2.01% of total action once ante and bet are both taken into account.

VIDEO POKER ODDS

The house edge: Video poker is based on five-card draw poker. You don’t have to beat a dealer. Your hand just has to fall on a pay table that usually starts with getting your money back on a pair of Jacks or Better and rises to a 4,000-coin bonanza for a five-coin bet when you get a royal flush.

The house edge is dependent on both your strategy for drawing cards and on the pay table of the game you’re playing. Even on a favorable game such as 9-6 Jacks or Better, an average player can face a house edge of 3% or more if they don’t know proper strategy.

Opportunity to improve: Seek out the games with the best pay tables. Usually, that means checking the payouts on full houses and flushes. There are many video poker themes, each with its own pay tables and strategies, but let’s use Jacks or Better as an example. if you can find 9-6 Jacks or Better games where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1, you’re playing a higher-paying game than Jacks or Better with an 8-5 or 7-5 pay table.

With optimal play, 9-6 Jacks or better pays 99.5%, compared to 97.3 for the 7-5 version or 96.2 on 6-5. That’s equivalent to a 0.5% house edge on the 9-6 Jacks version.

MISSISSIPPI STUD ODDS

The house edge: There is no dealer hand to beat in Mississippi Stud, a five-card game in which you ante, see your own two cards, then may bet one-to-three times your ante after your cards, and again after seeing the first and second of the three community cards. If you don’t bet at any of those points, you must fold and lose your bets up to that point.

Payoffs are made according to a pay table that starts at a push for a pair of 6s through 10s and advances up to 500-1 on a royal flush.

The house edge derives from the pay table, and is highly variable according to your bet patterns, but can reach 10% or more of your ante if you make poor decisions.

Opportunity to improve: With multiple opportunities to bet, basic strategy is more involved than in Three Card Poker but not as complex as Casino Hold’em.

With that strategy, the house edge is 4.91% of the ante or 1.37% of total action, including both analysis and bets.

SUMMARY

The most popular table game is still the best opportunity for players who put in the time to learn basic strategy. Video poker also is a game where those in the know can reduce the house edge to less than 1%, but the pay tables that make that possible are becoming less and less common.
 

But the other card games here have reasonable house edges and all but baccarat have elements of skill. And for a game requiring no skill and no learning curve, baccarat has about as low a house edge as you’ll find.

About the Author
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For nearly 25 years, John Grochowski has been one of the most prolific gaming writers in the United States. He’s been ranked ninth by GamblingSites among the top 11 gambling experts at Gambling Sites and his Video Poker Answer Book was ranked eighth among the best gambling books of all time.