Card Game Odds: The Casino Games With the Best Chance to Beat the House

by
Joe A.
23rd September, 2020

Many gamblers flock immediately to the card game section when visiting a casino as they think they have the best odds and highest chance of beating the house while playing games such as blackjack and baccarat. Is this true, or just an urban legend? Let’s find out!

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Card games

Card games have always been the favourite of many casino players. These games are not only immense fun to play, but also give the casino player the idea that they can influence the outcome of the game by employing different tactics and being forced to make choices during the game. Whether this is correct or incorrect is an entirely different discussion, but it is a fact that it does help creating a special, almost magical vibe over each game of cards being played in a casino. Of course, Hollywood films, poker matches being streamed live on TV and famous tales of highroller success stories out of Las Vegas only helped to reinforce this image of card games.

But what are actually your odds when you play a game of cards at a land-based or online casino? Let’s have a look below!

venetian hotel casino las vegas card odds

The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. ©Highrollerscasino

Blackjack

The game of blackjack has always been a firm casino favourite. In fact, it is perhaps the most popular card game in the entire world if you solely look at casinos. Just like every other casino game, there is a house edge (built-in advantage of the casino) when playing blackjack. This is because the player can go bust when he goes over the score of 21 points before it is the dealer’s turn to play. By having to decide first before the player even knows the score of the dealer, he is in a disadvantage.

It is calculated in simulations that both players and the dealer go bust in about 8 percent of their hands. If there would be no special rules and limitations, this would be the house edge of the dealer. But in fact the house edge is much lower for several reasons. First of all, if the player does hit a ‘natural’ (a blackjack – score of 21 with his first 2 cards) he gets a 3 to 2 pay-out. Second, the dealer has to follow a strict set of rules. It’s not that the dealer can play on his own strength and intuition and stand at any random number. He must take a card as long as he did not reach the score of 17. If the dealer has hit a score of 17 and above, he must stand irrespective of the final score of the players opposite. So even if the two players opposite the dealer have a score of 20, the dealer must stand if he gets dealt a 10, 2 and 5.

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Blackjack strategy

Because of these set rules, it is possible to draw up a basic blackjack strategy, something we have discussed numerous of times on these pages. These set rules determine what you should do with every card combination you might receive – all being based on the sole open card of the dealer. This strategy (called the basic strategy) determine whether you should hit, split, double, fold or stand. If applying this basic strategy, the house advantage of blackjack can be as low as 1%. The exact edge is dependent on the exact game rules of your casino blackjack game, such as the pay-outs, amount of decks used and whether the dealer must hit or stay when he has a soft 17.

That said, it is certainly possible to earn a long-term blackjack profit despite the house edge, although this is not something which everyone can easily do as you do need mathematical talents and a good memory. Called card counting, this tactic basically involves keeping track of all the cards which are dealt from the shoe of the dealer. This way you know whether there are more high or low cards remaining in the deck – and you can use this information to adapt your decisions and size of your bet. The less amount of decks being used, the easier it is to count cards. Note that this trick only works in land-based casinos and not in online casinos, as in online casinos all cards are automatically shuffled after each play – something which would be too time-consuming to do for a dealer in a land-based casino!

blackjack odds card game

Baccarat

In the classic casino game of baccarat (also known under the name of Punto Banco, which is in fact a popular version of the game of baccarat) you basically place a bet on one out of three possibilities. You can bet money on the hand of the banker, on the hand of the player, or bet on the possibility that the player-bank match-up will end in a draw. All decisions in the actual game such as whether to draw a third card after the two cards have been dealt are all predetermined. You don’t make choices to take a card or to stand. Unlike blackjack, have no influence at all on the outcome of the game.

The rules are set in such a way that on average, the bank wins more hands than the player, although the difference is minor. The bank wins 45.9% of all hands, while the player wins 44.6 percent on average. Draws are least common in baccarat, as these happen only 9.5% of the time. Of course, this means that betting on a draw will also have the highest pay-out.

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Commission

Because the bank wins more rounds in baccarat, the casino has a 5% commission on this bet. This gives the house a 1.06% advantage. There is no commission on the player’s bet, where the house edge is 1.24%. Both options thus have a very low house edge compared to other games in the casino. One bet you want to avoid is the “tie”. This has a house edge of no less than 14.4%. You will not easily come across a baccarat enthusiast who bets on a draw!


Casino Hold’em Poker

As is the case with most poker games you encounter in a casino, you start a game of Casino Hold’em with an ante bet and place an extra bet later on if you like your cards. But if the dealer doesn’t qualify with a pair of fours or higher, the bet stands. Players who discard their cards too often, or those on the other extreme go along with the ante they have placed too often, will probably face a house edge somewhere in between 3 and 4 percent. This is however a number which can be improved if you apply some poker strategies!

There are basic strategies you can use which tell you which hands you should play and which should be discarded in the game of Casino Hold’em Poker. Basically, it is important that you play most of your hands, except for around 18 percent which are classified as the worst possible hands.

This article is not meant as a guide to Casino Hold’em Poker, but to summarise the basic strategy this means that your discard your hand if your first two cards are low and you have not formed a pair. However, some low cards might have a shot at a straight or flush at the flop. With the optimal strategy in hand, it is possible to lower the average house edge of 3 to 4 percent to somewhere around 2%.

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Three Card Poker

As with casino hold’em, the dealer must qualify first in order to face off in a game of Three Card Poker. In 3 card poker this means the dealer must have a queen high or better. When the dealer has a worse hand, you only get paid the ante and not the bet. If you were to play every hand after placing the ante, you would be playing with a house edge of about 5%. Both your ante and bet are at risk against the dealer’s best hands, but if the dealer has a bad hand and doesn’t qualify, you will only be paid the ante.

There is another betting option in 3 card poker called the “Pair Plus”. With this bet you get paid money without having to beat the dealer. In most pay-out tables at a casino, this basically means a house edge of 7.28% with the Pair Plus bet. You can’t improve the odds of the Pair Plus, but there is a strategy that will help you make choices after you’ve placed the ante.

If you only place a bet when having a Q, 6 and 4 or better, you reduce the ante house edge to 3.37%. Every decision you make afterwards affects the odds in this poker variant.

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Video Poker

Video poker machines have always been a popular pastime both within a casino and in pubs or gambling dens where you can also find these machines at times. The game of video poker is actually a variant of 5-card draw poker and you don’t actually have to beat the dealer to win. Your hand must contain the right cards to earn a pay-out, such as having a pair of jacks or better. The best pay-out you can of course earn if you have a Royal Flush – which can earn you a small fortune.

The house edge of playing at a video poker machine depends on the strategy of exchanging cards during the game, and the paytable of the game you are playing. Even on a game with a good pay-out rate like 9/6 Jacks or Better, the average player still faces a house edge of about 3% if they don’t use a proper video poker strategy.

The key when playing video poker is to first look for the best possible machine you can find in a land-based or online casino by comparing the paytables. This means that you look at the pay-outs these video poker machines are giving for hands like a full house and flush and compare them with other video poker machines. You will often see that there can be some differences! Of course, you want to select the device with the best possible pay-outs as you will lower the house edge this way.

There are many video poker games, each of which has its own pay-out table and strategies you can use. Let’s take Jacks or Better as an example. If you play 9/6 Jacks or Better, you will be paid 9 to 1 for a full house and 6 to 1 for a flush. This will earn you more than playing video poker with an 8/5 or 7/5 pay-out table. With the optimal strategy, you play 9/6 Jacks or Better with a house edge of 0.5%, compared to the 2.7% for the 7/5 version and 3.8% for the 6/5 version.

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Conclusion

Card games are generally quite good games to play at a casino. If you have decent enough card skills and know your basic strategies, it is not uncommon to find a house advantage of around 1 percent only – which is lower than you’ll find at a game like roulette or video slots.

As we already explained, it is key to do some preparation by selecting the tables or machines with the best pay-out rates and most advantageous rules. It is also a necessity to play according to basic strategies, as just following your intuition and making more random decision can easily add two to five percent to the house advantage – and to your disadvantage that is!

Baccarat and especially video poker are sound choices for games with a very low house advantage. Blackjack, when following the basic strategy, is a good choice too. However, beating the house will not be possible. You will still face insurmountable odds when playing a card game in a casino! The only exception to this rule are talented card counters who can beat the house on a long term in the game of blackjack – although we have to stress that only a few talented players are able to do so and most likely you will not be one of them. It means that you should never forget the basic rule: in the end, the casino always wins!

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