From name alone, Four Card Poker looks like players could expect a rerun of Three Card Poker. But there are twists and turns that make Four Card Poker its own game with its own intrigue.
Devised early in the 2000s by Roger Snow at Shufflemaster – now part of Scientific Games – Four Card Poker sometimes pops up in large live casinos, but of late is finding a new niche in online casinos. That's a strength of online play: physical space isn't a constraint, so online operators can offer more varied games.
Overview of Four Card Poker
Four Card Poker has an ante-play option and an Aces Up option. That's similar to Three Card Poker's ante-play and Pair Plus options.
A key difference is that in the ante-play section, dealers don't have to make a qualifying hand for play bets to be active. In Three Card Poker and many poker-based games, the house edge comes from the qualifying hand stipulation that leads to only partial payoffs on many winning player hands.
So how does the house get an edge? By dealing more than four cards. Players each get five cards and the dealer gets six. From those cards, everyone makes their best four-card hand.
That gives the dealer more chances to make a better hand. On the average, the dealer hand will be higher than the player's, giving the house its edge.
Still, the edge is relatively small for poker-based games. According to calculations at wizardofodds.com, the house edge in the ante-play portion is 2.78% of the ante, or 1.30% of total wagers. That compares favorably with the 3.37% of the ante or 2.01% of total wagers in Three Card Poker.
Let's look at gameplay and strategies, first for ante-play, then for Aces Up.
Rankings of hands are slightly different from most poker games. The top hand is four of a kind, outranking straight flushes, including royals.
After four of a kind, hand ranks in order are straight flush, three of a kind, flush, straight, two pair, pair, and unpaired high card. Note that three of a kind outranks flushes and straights, and there are no full houses in four-card hands.
To start a hand, you must place an ante. At the same time, you may make an Ace Up bet, but that is not mandatory.
You're then dealt five cards and the dealer gets one card face up and five face down. Cards are dealt from a single deck, with a fresh shuffle for every hand.
After you look at your cards, you must decide whether to fold or raise. When raising, you must bet at least as much as your ante, but may bet up to three times the ante.
If you fold, you lose and the dealer collects your ante. If you raise, you must discard one hand and make a four-card poker hand.
After your discard is made, the dealer turns his cards up and discards two to make a four-card hand.
Once four-card hands are set, hands are compared. If the dealer hand outranks yours, you lose both ante and raise. If your hand outranks the dealer's, or if you tie, you win even money on ante and raise. So if you ante $5 and make a 3X raise of $15, you win a total of $20.
The player winning on ties instead of pushing is a nice bonus.
In addition to the wins for beating or tying the dealer, there is an ante-bonus on high-ranking hands. Regardless of whether you beat the dealer, you get a bonus on three of a kind or better.
There are two available pay tables: Either you get 25-1 on four of a kind, 20-1 on a straight flush or 2-1 on three of a kind, or 30-1 on quads, 15-1 on straight flushes and 2-1 on three of a kind.
Four Card Poker strategy involves when to fold, when to raise and how much to raise.
There are several available strategies, with the more complex bringing the best returns. Let's look at an advanced strategy and a beginner strategy as detailed at wizardofodds.com. The house edge of 2.8% of the ante with the advanced strategy increases to 3.4 percent with the beginner strategy.
The beginner strategy, originally devised by esteemed games analyst Stanley Ko, is easy. Anyone playing Four Card Poker for a change of pace should be able to master it quickly.
It calls for a 3X raise if you have a pair of 10s or better, or a 1X raise with pairs of 2s through 9s. Fold all hands of less than a pair. Advanced strategy is more detailed with more ifs and here key concepts to remember:
- Raise 3X with a pair of Aces or better. This includes all hands with two pairs, straights, flushes, three of a kind, straight flushes, and four of a kind.
- Raise 3X on a pair of Kings, except bet 1X if the dealer face up card is an Ace and you do not have an Ace or a 4 in your hand.
- Raise 3X on a pair of Jacks or Queens, except 1X if the dealer up card is of a higher rank and you don't match the dealer card with another card in your hand.
- Raise 3X on a pair of 9s or 10s, but 1X if the dealer up card is of a higher rank. At this level, there is no longer a proviso about a card in your hand matching the dealer card.
- Raise 3X on a pair of 8s if the dealer up card is a 2, but 1X against all other up cards.
- Raise 1X on a pair of 4s through 7s.
- Raise 1X on a pair of 3s, except fold if the dealer shows a Jack if your highest rank outside the pair is 10 or lower.
- Raise 1X on a pair of 2s or Ace-King-Queen only if the dealer up card matches a card in your hand. Otherwise, fold.
- Raise 1X on Ace-King-Jack-10 if the dealer shows a Jack. Otherwise, fold.
- Fold Ace-King-Jack-9 or lower.
That's involved enough that few casual players are going to take the time to memorize for play in live casinos. For online play, you can keep a strategy sheet at your side until you get used to the plays.
The other wager in Four Card Poker is easy. You don't have to beat the dealer and there are no strategies to learn.
In Aces Up, you win any time you have a pair of Aces or better. That makes it just like Three Card Poker's Pair Plus, except that pairs lower than Aces don't win.
There are seven pay tables available from the manufacturer, but by the far the most common pays: 50-1 on four of a kind, 40-1 on a straight flush, 8-1 on three of a kind, 5-1 on a flush, 4-1 on a straight, 3-1 on two pairs, and 1-1 on a pair of Aces.
You'll win on only about 19% of hands, but the payoffs are large enough that the house edge is 3.89%. By comparison, the house edge on the most common version of Three Card Poker's Pairs Plus is 7.28%.
The ante-play portion is a better deal, but overall Four Card Poker gives players an intriguing option. It's easy while requiring a little more complex betting strategy than Three Card Poker.