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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. Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago.

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What is the Proper Number of Cards to Determine a Winner in a Poker Hand?

19 Oct 2004

By John Grochowski

Five? That would be the most common answer. Whether the game is five-card draw, five-card stud, seven-card stud or Texas Hold'em, the winner is determined by the best five cards. The same goes for video poker and poker-based table games such as Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride.

Three? Sometimes. The three-card hand has been readily accepted in the table game Three Card Poker, and the first of three bets in 3-5-7 Poker is on a three-card hand. In video poker, Three Card Draw has found a niche.

How about four cards? That's not so common. You won't find four-card games in casino poker rooms, on the World Poker Tour, or in video poker games. But three up-and-coming games vying for space in table pits decide winners on four-card hands.

Four cards is not the starting point in Play Four Poker, Four Card Poker, or Crazy Fours. In each game, the player starts with five cards, and in Four Card Poker, the dealer starts with six. But in all three games, only the best four cards in each hand are used to determine winners.

Each has its own quirks, and its own strategy. For full analyses of Crazy Fours and Four Card Poker, along with Stanley Ko's strategies, check out Michael Shackelford's outstanding Web site,

Let's take a look at the basics:

Play Four: There are two wagers available. A Jacks or better bet pays even money on two Jacks or better, 2-1 on two pair, 3-1 on three of a kind, 4-1 on either a four-card straight or flush, 25-1 on a straight flush, 75-1 on four of a kind or 200-1 on a four-card royal flush, with Ace through Jack of the same suit.

In play against the dealer, the player starts by making an ante. After looking at the cards, he or she may either fold or make a "play" bet equal to the ante. If the dealer does not have a qualifying hand of King-Queen or better, the player is paid even money on the ante and nothing on play. If the dealer does qualify, then hands are compared. If the dealer wins, the player loses both ante and play. If the player wins, the ante and play are both paid at even money. Regardless of whether the dealer qualifies or whether the player wins the basic bet, a 3-1 bonus is paid for a straight flush, 8-1 for four of a kind or 20-1 for a royal flush. House edge is 5 percent on Jacks or better and 3.2 percent of the ante or 1.9 percent of total action on play against the dealer.

There are no strategy choices in Jacks or better. Against the dealer, stay with Ace-10-6-3 or better. You can simplify that without losing much by staying with Ace-10 or better.

Four Card Poker: There are two betting options - play against the dealer, and Aces Up. In Aces Up, the dealer's hand doesn't matter. In the best of several available pay tables, payoffs start at even money on a pair of Aces, 2-1 on two pair, 4-1 on a straight, 6-1 on a flush, 9-1 on three of a kind, 40-1 on a straight flush and 50-1 on four of a kind.

In play against the dealer, players first ante, then after looking at their cards, must decide whether to raise or fold. Raises must be at least equal to the ante and at most three times the ante. Players whose four-card hands beat the dealer are paid even money on both antes and raises, and collect a bonus on hands of three of a kind or better. The three-of-a-kind bonus is 2-1, with 20-1 payoffs on straight flushes and 25-1 on four of a kind.

House edge on Aces Up ranges from 2 percent on the best pay table, up to 6.1 percent on the worst - beware if you see cuts on the flush and three of a kind payoffs. House edge against the dealer is about 3.4 percent. Make a raise equal to your ante if you have a pair of 3s or better, and make the raise triple your ante with 10s or better. With weaker hands, fold.

Crazy Fours: Here, there are three bets, with play against the dealer, Super Bonus and Queens Up. Antes and Super Bonus bets must be made together in equal amounts, but the Queens Up bet may be any amount.

The best Queens Up pay table returns even money on two queens or better 2-1 two -pair, 3-1 on straights, 4-1 on flushes, 9-1 on three of a kind, 30-1 on straight flushes and 50-1 on four of a kind. House edge ranges from 3.1 percent to 6.8 percent - watch out if the three of a kind payoff is less than 9-1.

Against the dealer, the player may raise up to triple the Ante with a pair of Aces or better, but with less than a pair of Aces, may raise only an amount equal to the ante. If the dealer doesn't have a qualifying hand of a King or better, player raises are paid even money, and the ante pushes. If the dealer qualifies, winning hands are paid even money on both ante and raises.

Ko's strategy calls for the player to raise an amount equal to the ante with King-Queen-8-4-3 or better or raise triple the ante with a pair of Aces or better.

The Super Bonus bet pays off whenever the player has a straight or better. Payoffs are even money on straights, 1.5-1 on flushes, 2-1 on three of a kind, 15-1 on straight flushes, 30-1 on four of a kinds of Kings or lower, and 200-1 on four Aces. House edge on the ante-Super Bonus combination is 1.7 percent.

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at

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