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Prime Table Games' Table Games Are Ready for Prime Time

28 February 2002

Most of the excitement on the display floors at the gaming industry's fall trade shows centers on the major slot machine manufacturers. Players have shown a voracious appetite for new games, and at the Global Gaming Expo the first week in October and the World Gaming Congress two weeks later, each slotmaker was out to convince casino operators that its new products were the must-have games.

The experience is more low-key with new table games. The booths are smaller, quieter and less flashy than the huge displays the slot manufacturers put on. Many table games inventors are there not so much to sell their games to casinos, but to sell them to larger distributors. New table games on display often are in an early stage of development. Games inventors tend to set the house edge so high that no one will play the game for very long. Table layouts often are too cluttered, which is intimidating to the player. Unnecessary elements are sometimes designed into the games, making them slow to play and difficult to deal.

That's why it's always a pleasure to visit the Prime Table Games booth, where Derek Webb shows his latest creations. Webb, the Englishman who invented Three Card Poker, understands what goes into making a good, playable table game. His games are easy to play and understand, and house edges hover around 2 to 3 percent. That's a higher edge than the house gets on blackjack against a basic strategy player, or against a craps player who sticks to the best bet, but casinos aren't buying new games with house edges as low as blackjack and craps. Webb's house edges are lower than those on recent games such as Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride, and much lower than the edges on most new games on the display floor.

When I visited Webb's booth in early October, I stopped by to play a little 221, his new three-hand, no-commission version of pai-gow poker.

Regular pai-gow poker is a variation on seven-card stud. The player sets the cards into a five-card "High" hand and a two-card "Second High" hand. In order to win the bet, the player must win both hands. If the player wins one hand and the dealer the other, the bet is a push. The player must pay the house a 5 percent commission on winning bets, accounting for most of the house edge.

Webb's 221 game eliminates that commission. It's a five-card game instead of seven, and the player must arrange the cards into three hands--a two-card high hand, a two-card middle hand and a one-card low hand. The high hand must outrank the middle hand, and the middle hand must outrank the low hand.

Each hand is backed by a separate bet, and there are no pushes. If the player wins all three hands, terrific. That's a profit of three winning bets. If the player wins two of the three, the player shows a net gain of one bet.

Of course, the player also can show net losses of one or three bets if the dealer wins two or three hands.

With no commission, the entire house edge comes from "copy" hands in which player and dealer show cards of equal rank. If my high hand is Ace-5 and the dealer's high hand also is Ace-5, that's a copy hand and I lose the high hand portion of my wager. The house also wins copy hands in regular pai-gow poker, but they are rare in the five-card hand. Even if there is a copy on the two-card hand, the regular pai-gow player loses the bet only if he also loses the five-card hand.

Copies occur more frequently in Webb's game, especially on the one-card low hand. That difference enables 221 to take the pai-gow commission out of commission.

ANOTHER PRIME GAME: Webb's biggest success has been Three Card Poker, although he's sold the U.S. rights to the game to Shufflemaster.

He's still using the three-card concept, though. And his Prime Table Games looks like it has another winner in 21+3.

The game is regular blackjack, with an optional side bet on a three-card poker hand.

The poker hand is made up of the player's first two blackjack cards, plus the dealer's face-up card. That way, the player doesn't have to worry about being aced out of a three-card payoff if he stands on two cards, nor does he have to ruin a blackjack hand for the sake of the three-card wager.

The player wins the three-card hand for a 9-1 payoff on any flush, straight, three of a kind or straight flush.

Webb's 21+3 already is a hit in Mississippi, where 21 casinos are playing the six-deck game and one is playing with two decks. Six casinos are dealing the game in South Dakota. Caesars Indiana in Elizabeth, on the Ohio, has three tables.

Don't be surprised if 21+3 comes to blackjack tables across the nation before long.

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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:

> 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:

> More Books By John Grochowski