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The Basics of Four Card Poker

Anyone can play this new poker-based table game

by Henry Tamburin


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 covered was Four Card Poker. I liked what I heard and when John told me afterward 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 said. I didn’t bring the casinos to their knees, but I managed to eke out a $50 profit after an hour’s 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 straightforward. You might think you’d get four cards in Four Card Poker, but you’d be 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, and uses them to make his own 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 of each other and you can wager either on one or on 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 one, two or three times 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 six cards—remember, one card was turned over from the get-go) to form his four-card hand. In the part known as the showdown, the player’s four-card hand is then compared to the dealer’s four-card hand to see who wins.

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 that 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 of whether 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, 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; the most common one is summarized here.


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
The basic strategy for the Ante wager is pretty easy to remember:

1.      Raise one time with a pair of threes through a pair of nines
2.      Raise three times with a pair of 10s or greater.
3.      Fold with a pair of twos or less.

Elliot Frome (author of the booklet Expert Strategy for Four Card Poker) and Michael Shackleford ( have computed the house edge at 3.4 percent of the Ante wager (assuming the above bonus payoffs). The average amount bet for the combined Ante plus Play wager is 2.14 units, which equals a house edge of only 1.6 percent 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 percent. However, the house edge can be as low as 2 percent and as high as 6 percent, depending on 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

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 percent), bet one time on about a quarter of your hands (24 percent), and three times on almost a third of your hands (29 percent). When you bet one time you will lose in the long run but less compared to folding (you’ll win only 37 percent of the time). When your expectation of winning a hand is very good you should bet the maximum three times (which you will win a hefty 70 percent of the time). You should never bet two times.

Four Card Poker, invented by Roger Snow (Shuffle Master), is the number four specialty game in the North American market. About 200 casinos in 17 states offer the game, so finding it 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. 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
Two pair
High card

Dr. Henry Tamburin is available for private lessons and speaking engagements; call 888/353-3234. For details on his two-day Golden Touch Blackjack course featuring “Speed Count” call 866/WINBJ-21. To order copies of his discounted books and videos visit To receive a free subscription to his Blackjack Insider Newsletter, visit For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog call 888/353-3234.

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