10 Aug

Can Poker Skills help me Win at the Casino?

The delicate relationship that bonds casino games with poker strategies.

The Delicate Relationship that bonds Casino Games with Poker Strategies

It’s been said time and again that every game in the casino has a specific strategy players can incorporate to give themselves the best possible odds of winning. Blackjack requires probability-based decision making. Craps is about placing odds and avoiding long-shot props. Even some slot machines offer better odds by meeting the requirements for striking a jackpot.

It could also be argued that being a good poker player does not make you a good casino player. Just because someone does well at the Texas Hold’em cash games doesn’t mean they’ll acclimate well to blackjack or roulette. But what about games that are are based on poker to begin with?

Casino Games with Poker Strategies

There are a number of games that fall into this category. The most obvious has to be video poker, followed by card-based table games like Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker, Caribbean Stud, Mississippi Stud, Let It Ride, Three Card Roker, etc. These games do integrate elements of traditional poker, and therefore could offer strategic poker players various advantages.

Hierarchy of Poker Hand Rank

Hierarchy of Poker Hand Ranks

A gambler does not need experience to understand that some poker hands are harder to come by than others, and are therefore worth higher payouts should they be dealt. A royal flush is obviously uncommon and worth more than a three of a kind. But only a veteran of the felt knows just how uncommon that royal flush is.

If the average Joe sits at a video poker machine, sees the enormous payout for a royal flush, and starta holding only cards that might earn him this stupendous prize, he’s going to lose a lot of money. Imagine all the lower-paying but more common hands he will have passed up on to try for the big royal.

A serious, well-versed poker pro knows that a royal flush will be dealt, naturally or following a draw, this often:

Cards Held Cards Drawn Probability of Royal Flush
5 (Natural) 0 1 in 649,740
0 5 1 in 383,485
1 4 1 in 178,365
2 3 1 in 16,215
3 2 1 in 1,081
4 1 1 in 47

Understanding poker hand ranks, their frequency, and their relationship to the pay table, will help to develop a good strategy for any casino game that incorporates the same hierarchy system of hand ranking. Traditional poker hand ranks, highest to lowest, are as follows:

  • Royal Flush
  • Straight Flush
  • Four of a Kind
  • Full House
  • Flush
  • Straight
  • Three of a Kind
  • Two Pair
  • Pair
  • High Card

Note that three card poker, although it does revolve around poker dynamics, does not issue the same ranking system. Because only three cards are in use, it’s actually more common to draw a Flush than a Straight, making the straight more valuable on the pay table. Similarly, the Three of a Kind is ranked higher than the Straight, as it’s less probable to receive one in a 3-card hand than a traditional 5-card poker hand.

Certain video poker games will offer an adjusted hand ranking system, as well; particularly those that employ wild cards. Deuces Wild, for example, has an expanded pay table that includes a Five of a Kind.

Prospects and Probabilities

Prospects and Probabilities of Casino Games with Poker Strategies

The best poker players can look at their card and know instantly every card that will improve their hand, and the odds of receiving those cards. It’s not that they’re all so mathematically inclined (although some are, yes). It’s that they are so experienced in calculating odds.

If I have four cards to a Flush, I know there are 9 cards left that will complete the flush, and 38 that won’t. A math wizard knows that 38/9 is 4.2222, but anyone with basic math skills knows 9 goes into 36, which is awful close to 38. And we should all know 36/9 is 4, which makes the odds slightly worse than 1 in 4. See, you don’t have to be a math whiz to play poker.

Getting back to the point though, every experienced poker player knows their odds. And when you transfer that skill to poker-based casino games, it can help to develop a great decision-making strategy.

Video poker is the best example here, and since we’ve already deduced the odds of holding four cards to a flush, we’ll stick with that analogy. Let’s say you’ve got a pair of Aces and four to a flush. What do you do? Hold the Aces, or go for the flush?

This can be a tricky situation for those without a background in poker odds. The flush pays higher, and it’s not too often we are dealt such a beautiful hand to start with. As such, many will toss the off-suit Ace and draw for the flush. Unfortunately, this is the wrong move, and there’s several reasons for it.

First of all, that pair of Aces is already a paying hand. Throwing away a guaranteed pay out is rarely the right decision. Plus, there are many outs that can improve this paying hand. You could draw another Ace, or even two more Aces. You could receive another pair, or better yet, a Full House. Some of those are long shots, yes, but that’s still a high number of possible improvements on top of a hand that is already guaranteed to pay.

Being a great poker player will help you make these decisions, but anyone can pick up a video poker strategy chart and attain the same decision-making knowledge. What about games that don’t come with strategy charts by the dozen? Let It Ride is a perfect example.

Let It Ride is similar to Hold’em poker games in the fact that players can only see some of their cards, with more being revealed as the game progresses. You start with three cards visible, and two face down. In order to receive a payout, a Pair of 10s or better is required. You have three bets on the table, and can pull one down before each extra card is revealed.

In this game, knowing the odds of receiving any outs you may need is imperative to making the right decision. What if you’re dealt Q-9-4? Should you pull a bet down or let it ride? Let’s examine…

There are 49 cards left in the deck. Three of them are Queens that will help you. 46 are not. 46/3 is 15.33, so about a 1 in 15 (6.67%) chance. That’s not very good odds. The only other helpful outcome would be if those two unseen cards are a pair of 4s, 9s, 10s, Js, Ks or Aces. That odds of that are far, far worse – not even necessary to calculate, they are so far worse (1 in 208, or 0.48%, for the record).

The odds are not in your favor, thus pulling a bet back is the right decision. For the average casino gambler, these concepts take time to understand and calculate, but for a poker strategist it just makes sense.

Remainders – What’s Your Shoe Size?

Poker players have a knack for always knowing exactly how many cards are left in the deck. I’ve touched on this subject in some of the calculations above, so if you had a hard time following then, I’ll try to expound on its usefulness here.

It’s worth noting that this particular poker strategy can be applied to blackjack, despite the lack of other similarities between these games.

A poker player uses the number of cards remaining to determine how likely he or she is to receive a card that will improve their hand. A blackjack player uses the exact same knowledge to take advantage of counting cards. Knowing there are 13 Aces left in a 4-deck shoe of cards is only helpful if you know, or can accurately estimate, the number of cards left in the shoe.

Four decks will start with 208 cards. Fortunately, you won’t have to keep track of exactly how many cards have been played. You just need to be able to look at the shoe and estimate what’s left. Think of it like looking at a loaf of sliced bread. You can observe the size of the remaining loaf and easily determine whether it’s time to buy more, or if it will last you another day.

If the shoe looks to be at 40% depth (40% used, 60% remaining), then we know that, out of 208 cards, there are approximately 120 left. If 13 of those are Aces, then we can calculate 120/13 = 9.23, which means 1 in 9.23 cards are Aces. That gives you a 10.83% chance of being dealt an Ace.

How is this knowledge useful? To a card counter, it means that the odds of being dealt a blackjack are higher now than they were at the start of the shoe. At that time, there were 16 Aces out of 208 cards. 208/16 = 13, or a 1 in 13 chance of being dealt an Ace, meaning at this point, there was only a 7.69% chance before.

Keeping track of high cards, low cards and Aces isn’t the only useful means of keeping track of the cards left in the deck. Even in a single deck game – even when the deck is reshuffled after every hand, eliminating the benefits of traditional card counting – players can take advantage of this knowledge.

Let’s say you’re sitting at a blackjack table with 5 other players, and the dealer. That’s 7 hands in all. The dealer is showing an Ace, and is offering insurance. You know that, normally, insurance is a bad bet! You’re never supposed to take it, right? However, you glance at all of the hands on the table and notice that no one has been dealt a 10 or face card. Not a single one is showing. Should you take the insurance? Let’s do a little math…

There are 6 player hands plus the dealer’s Ace visible. That’s 13 of the original 52 cards in the deck. Let’s not forget the dealer also burned a low card before the game started, so you’ve seen 14 cards in all, and none were 10-value cards. That means that of the 38 cards remaining, 16 of them are 10s or face cards.

38/16 = 2.375

There’s a 1 in 2.375 (42.1%) chance that the dealer has Blackjack. This should tell you that, despite all those 10-value cards still being in the deck, there is still a less than 50% chance that an insurance bet will pay off. Don’t do it.

Experience: Poker Skills Get Better with Age

The average gambler thinks all good strategies have everything to do with math, and quite frankly, it scares most of them away from blackjack and other card-based / poker-based games. What so many fail to realize is that the math behind poker is far easier than it sounds. All it really takes is a little knowledge, and a great deal of practice.

Experience truly is the key to mastering most poker skills. Over time, calculating things like card ratios and odds becomes second nature; nothing more than a muscle-memory motor skill. Whether it’s counting cards or weighing a made Pair versus a one-off Flush, before long the answers come without a moment’s thought.

Improving your card gaming strategies takes nothing more than a deck of cards and a lot of time. You can peel off 5-card hands to study video poker, start with a 3-card progression for Let it Ride, or flip every card until you can count down a blackjack deck as easy as basic addition flash cards. Anyone with enough dedication can do it.

Learning the math behind it isn’t paramount, but it will help to make sense of it all. If you really detest numbers, just look up a good strategy guide and memorize the requisites of the decision making process. If you find that the math is coming easier and easier as you go, then I highly suggest delving deeper into an advanced poker strategy known as “expected value”, or EV for short.

The literal definition of expected value is this:

a predicted value of a variable, calculated as the sum of all possible values each multiplied by the probability of its occurrence.

In layman’s terms, the expected value is a comparison of risk versus reward. Most casinos games have a negative expectation by default. In poker-based games, however, every situation comes with its own EV.

When you figure out the EV, it will be displayed as a positive or negative integer. A negative integer means that, based on probabilities, you can expect to lose money (i.e. it’s a bad bet). A positive integer means the odds are in your favor to profit from the proposed risk.

Poker players use expected value to determine the size of their bets, taking calculated risks with the highest probability of return. The very best players use this tactic in reverse to put their opponents on a hand, based on the size of the opponent’s bet. If you’ve ever seen Daniel Negreanu stare someone down and call out exactly what they’re holding, he’s not psychic. He’s just extremely good at calculating EV. And if you you pit him against another EV strategist, he can pick them apart, piece by piece, with wizard-like accuracy.

While the reverse EV psychology is only effective in PvP situations, all other tactics can be a boon for gamblers. Playing casino games with poker strategies, ranging from basic to the most advanced levels, will give you greater insight to decision making and maximize your chances of walking away a winner.

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