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Four Card Poker – Part Two

14 April 2004

By Elliot Frome

First of all, I have to say mea culpa. In last week's article describing Four Card Poker, I made a silly error in describing the game. Last week, I stated that the Player gets four cards, and the Dealer gets five cards. In reality, the Player gets Five Cards and the Dealer gets Six Cards! I assure you that all math calculated was calculated using the proper rules of play and it was merely my description that was in error.

Last week I analyzed the Basic Strategy provided by Shuffle Master. This week, I will introduce the first half of a more precise Expert Strategy. However, it should be noted that this 'Expert Strategy' will not be 'perfect' strategy. Perfect strategy for Four Card Poker would require a strategy table, several pages long, that would require close scrutiny of ALL 5 cards dealt to the player. As each player card can act as a penalty card to the Dealer's hand, even the exact SUIT makeup of the player's hand can become relevant to the strategy. While I won't go so far as to say that I can't imagine anyone wanting to be this precise, I will say that if someone wishes to go for the final .01%, they're on their own! The likelihood of misplaying a hand with such complex strategy will offset any additional advantage the player will get.

Expert Strategy for Four Card Poker is a strategy that will account for the Dealer's Upcard and occasionally a single kicker in the Player's Hand. It will NOT look at the other cards in the player's hand (i.e. 'second' kickers) or at the suit makeup of the Player's Hand. What will Expert Strategy buy us vs. using Basic Strategy? Basic strategy will achieve a payback of about 98.41%. Just the first half of Expert Strategy that I will be presenting here will push that up to about 98.50%. This may not sound like a lot, but it will cut the House Edge ('vig') by about 6%.

Today's look at Expert Strategy will focus on when to bet 3x after looking at your hand, as opposed to betting 1x or Folding. According to Basic Strategy, you should bet 3x anytime you have a Pair of 10's or Better. This ignores the Dealer's Upcard completely and is not taking advantage of this benefit. We should be betting 3x ANYTIME the EV of the hand goes positive, meaning we expect to win the hand more often than we will lose the hand. Through computer analysis, the following Expert Strategy has been devised:

  • Bet 3x on all Pair of Aces or Better
  • Bet 3x on all Pair of Kings, except bet 1x if facing an Ace and you don't have an Ace in your hand
  • Bet 3x on a Pair of Queens looking into a 2-Q. Bet 1x if Dealer has a K or Ace (EVEN if you have a K or A)
  • Bet 3x on a Pair of Jacks looking into a 2-10. Bet 1x if Dealer has a Q, K or Ace up. IF the dealer has a Jack up, Bet 3x if you have at least a Q, K or Ace in your hand.
  • Bet 3x on a Pair of 10's looking into a 2-9, Bet 1x if Dealer has a 10-Ace.

One reader informed me as well, and it was confirmed by Shuffle Master, that at Thunder Valley Casino, the game is played with all Dealer cards down. In such a case, there is not much more you can do beyond Shuffle Master's basic strategy. For those that play at Thunder Valley, the only change I would recommend is that you bet 3x on a Pair of 10's ONLY if you have at least a Jack or better as a kicker. The overall payback will be the same, but you'll put a little less money on the table. For any game with less than 100% payback, this will slow the long term loss rate.

Apparently, Thunder Valley is also using a lower paytable for Aces Up. Casinos have a lot of flexibility in deciding how to set up the paytable for Aces Up. You can calculate the payback of any Aces Up paytable by multiplying the pay (don't forget to include the return of your original bet!) of the particular hand by the frequency, and sum up the values for each hand. I've done the math for the paytable in Las Vegas below, and you can plug in any other paytable values to find the payback of that paytable:


(freq. times pay)

Four of a Kind
Straight Flush
Three of a Kind
Two Pair
Pair A's
* This INCLUDES return of the original bet

Aces Up paybacks are considerably less than the payback of the Ante/Play portion of the game. Remember that you are not REQUIRED to play both. If you feel the casinos are setting that payback just a bit TOO low on Aces Up, you can let the casino know, either directly or by simply choosing not to play that half of the game.

Next week I'll cover the final part of Expert Strategy which will cover the changes to Basic Strategy on when to Bet 1x as opposed to Folding your hand.

Elliot Frome
Elliot Frome is a 2nd generation gaming author and analyst. His father, Lenny Frome was considered one of the premier authors of Video Poker books. Titles include, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas and Winning Strategies for Video Poker, which includes the strategy tables for 61 of the country’s most popular versions of Video Poker. Check out Compu-Flyers website at, or drop Elliot an e-mail at

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