How to Play Four Card Poker

It’s funny how I learn about new table games. I was speaking on blackjack at the Gambler’s Jamboree at Casino Windsor when I decided between talks to attend fellow gaming writer John Grochowski’s seminar. One of the games that John went over was Four Card Poker. I liked what I heard and when John told me afterwards that Casino Windsor had a Four Card Poker table, I said, “Let’s go play.”


Now understand, I normally wouldn’t run off to play a new game before really studying it but I had a Four Card Poker expert with me to give support (translation: John would stop me from making stupid playing mistakes). Heck with John there, I felt confident I’d give the casino a run for their money.


It turns out the game was fun to play and easy to follow just as John had stated. I didn’t bring the casinos to their knees, but I managed to eek out a $50 profit after an hours worth of play. More importantly I got my feet wet playing this new game (since that first session I’ve played Four Card Poker in Mississippi and Las Vegas).


The playing rules for Four Card Poker are pretty straight forward. First off you would think that you would get four cards in Four Card Poker. Wrong. You actually get five cards which you use to make the best four-card poker hand. The dealer, on the other hand, gets six cards which he uses to make his four-card poker hand.


Before the cards are dealt, you have the option to bet on either the Ante or the Aces Up. These two betting options are independent and you can wager on either one or both. If you wager on the Ante you will be competing against the dealer’s hand with the highest hand winning. If you wager on the Aces Up you are paid on the strength of your four-card hand. The higher the four-card poker hand, the more you win (the pay table starts with a pair of aces).


The mechanics of the game go like this. Players make their wager on the Ante and/or Aces Up. The dealer gives each player five cards and deals himself six cards, one of which is dealt face up. Each player looks at his five-card hand and then decides, based on his cards and the single dealer card that he sees, whether to fold or play. If the player folds his hand, he forfeits his Ante wager. If the player decides to play, he must make an additional raise wager equal to either 1x, 2x, or 3x the amount of his Ante wager. So if his initial Ante bet was $10, he could make a raise wager equal to $10, $20, or a maximum of $30.


When a player raises, he discards one card and keeps the best four cards. The dealer then turns over his five cards and selects the best four cards (from 6 cards – remember one card was turned over from the get go) to form his four-card hand. The player’s four-card hand is then compared to the dealer’s four-card hand to see who wins (known as the showdown).


  1. If the player’s four-card poker hand is higher in rank or ties the dealer’s four-card hand, the player wins even money on both the Ante and the Play wagers.

  2. If the dealer’s hand beat’s the player’s hand, the player loses his Ante and Play wagers.


Notice with Four Card Poker the player wins if his hand ties the dealer’s hand, which is unusual for table games (normally you push). Also unlike Three Card Poker and Caribbean Stud, there is no dealer qualifying rule in order to have a showdown.


Besides winning money on your Ante and Play wagers, if you are dealt one of the top three hands – either four of a kind, straight flush, or three of a kind - you get a guaranteed additional bonus payout (paid on the Ante wager) regardless if your hand beats the dealer’s hand. The most common pay table for the bonus payout is:


Four of a Kind pays 25-1

Straight Flush pays 20-1

Three of a Kind pays 2-1


Here are the rules on the Aces Up wager. First off you don’t have to beat the dealer’s hand to win this wager. You win if your four-card hand is at least a pair of aces or higher. The higher the poker rank of your hand, the greater the payout. There are several different pay tables but the most common one is summarized below.


ACES UP PAY TABLE

Hand

Payout

Four of a Kind

50-1

Straight Flush

30-1

Three of a Kind

7-1

Flush

6-1

Straight

5-1

Two Pairs

2-1

Pair of Aces

1-1


Basic Strategy Ante/Play

There is a basic strategy for the Ante wager and it’s pretty easy to remember.


  1. Raise 1x with a pair of 3’s thru a pair of 9’s

  2. Raise 3x with a pair of 10’s or greater.

  3. Fold with a pair of 2’s or less.


Elliot Frome (author of the booklet Expert Strategy for Four Card Poker) and Michael Shackleford (www.wizardofodds.com) have computed the house edge at 3.4% of the Ante wager (assuming the above Bonus Payoffs). The average amount bet for the combined Ante + Play wager is 2.14 units which equals a house edge of only 1.6% of the total action (not bad for a table game).


The house edge on the most popular pay table for Aces Up is 3.4%. However the house edge can be as low as 2% and as high as 6% depending upon what the casino pays for winning hands. For example, the best pay table increases the payout for the straight flush to 40-1 and three of a kind to 9-1 but drops the straight payout to 4-1 (for more details see www.wizardofodds.com).


According to Frome, Four Card Poker can be a “rough ride.” That’s because you will on average fold almost half of your hands (47%), bet 1x on about a quarter of your hands (24%), and 3x on almost a third of your hands (29%). When you bet 1x you will lose in the long run but less compared to folding (you’ll win only 37% of the time). When your expectation of winning a hand is very good you should bet the maximum 3x (which you will win a hefty 70% of the time). You should never bet 2x.


Four Card Poker was invented by Roger Snow (Shuffle Master) and it is the number 4 specialty game in the North American market. About 200 casinos in 17 states offer Four Card Poker so finding the game should not be difficult. Shuffle Master also offers a variation called Crazy Four Card Poker which is similar but not quite the same as Four Card Poker. In a future column I’ll review the basics of that game but until then, may all your Four Card Hands result in raises and big payouts.




Four Card Hand Rank

Highest to Lowest


Four of a Kind

Straight Flush

Three of a Kind

Flush

Straight

Two Pair

Pair

High Card