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Best of John Grochowski

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By Any Other Name

23 May 2002

Caution: The name of the game may be the same, but it's not always the same game.

Blackjack players tend to be more aware of the differences than other table games players. Whether the difference is single-deck vs. six-deck blackjack, or the dealer standing on all 17s vs. hitting soft 17, players can shop for the best blackjack rules.

That's also true in other table games, something we'll explore from time to time in the next several weeks. The Three Card Poker game you get at one casino isn't necessarily the Three Card Poker game you'll find elsewhere, and it seems there are as many different versions of Bonus Let It Ride as there are casinos that carry the game.

From the time Three Card Poker started to make its way into the casinos in the mid-1990s until last year, there was only one version available of the game invented by Derek Webb of Prime Table games. Webb has since sold the game to Shufflemaster, and last year games started to pop up with changes on the pay tables.

Three Card Poker involves two betting options. There is Pair Plus, in which payoffs come whenever the player has a pair or better, and play against the dealer, in which the basic payoff is even money on an ante and a bet if the player's hand outranks a dealer's qualifying hand, or even money on just the ante if the dealer does not qualify with a Queen or better. There also are bonus payoffs on straight flushes, three of a kinds or straights.

In Pair Plus, Webb called for 40-1 payoffs on straight flushes, 30-1 on three of a kinds, 6-1 on straights, 4-1 on flushes and 1-1 on pairs. That gave the house a 2.3 percent edge.

Today, several variations are offered. In one, the only payoff that changes drops three of a kinds to 25-1. That increases the house edge to 3.5 percent. Another drops straight flushes to 35-1 and three of a kinds to 25-1, for a 4.6 percent house edge. Another pays the full amount on straight flushes and three of a kinds, but drops flushes to 3-1. That's the worst of the bunch because flushes are so much more common than the higher-paying hands. This version raises the house edge to a whopping 7.3 percent.

Look at that range. If you're playing Pair Plus on the original version of Three Card Poker, in the long run losses will average $2.30 per $100 wagered, not bad for a no-skill game. But on the worst version, average losses come to $7.30 per $100. Yuck!

Players shopping for the best versions also should watch the bonus payoffs in play against the dealer. If you follow the basic strategy on betting with Queen-6-4 or better and folding anything less, the house edge is 2.0 percent if the bonus returns are 5-1 on straight flushes, 4-1 on three of a kinds and 1-1 on straights; it rises to 2.3 percent with payoffs of 4-1, 3-1 and 1-1, and 2.6 percent if the payoffs are 3-1, 2-1 and 1-1.

Let It Ride has a different kind of rules challenge for unwary players. Some casinos place an aggregate limit on payoffs for one hand. That comes into play on those extraordinarily rare occasions when someone has a royal flush.

Let's say you've wagered $10 on each of the three betting spots, and your three cards are a King, Queen and Jack of spades. With that start, you leave the first bet on the table. The dealer then turns up a 10 of spades, so you let the second bet ride. Finally, up comes the Ace of spades. You have a royal flush, and you're expecting 1,000-1 payoffs on each of your three bets for a total of $30,000.

Not so fast, the pit supervisor tells you. There's an aggregate limit of $15,000. In effect, you're being paid only 500-1, a nasty little surprise on a game that has a fairly high house edge of 3.5 percent to begin with. Your only defense is to ask before you play if there's an aggregate limit. If there is, keep your bets small enough so that any potential jackpot does not exceed the limit. In this case, no wager larger than $5 per spot would be eligible for the full return.

Royals are a rare case. More players are affected by the wide range of pay tables on the $1 side bet in Bonus Let It Ride. At its best, this is a wager for jackpot chasers who don't much care about house edges. At its worst, it's a way to donate money to the casino.

The "best" version--and I use the term loosely--pays $20,000 for a royal flush, $2,000 for a straight flush, $100 for four of a kind, $75 for a full house, $50 for a flush, $25 for a straight, $9 for three of a kind and $6 for two pair. The house edge is a whopping 13.8 percent.

Others are far worse. One entices players because it adds a $1 return for a pair of 10s or better, but drops three of a kind to $4 and two pair to $3. The house edge soars to 23.7 percent. Another increases four of a kind to $300 and full houses to $150, but drops three of a kind to $5 and pays nothing on two pair. House edge: 36.5 percent. Ouch! And double ouch!

I don't recommend making the bonus bet at Let It Ride on any pay table, but if you see any version but the best, watch out. Someone's hands might be in your pocket.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski