The game most people think of when they hear poker is Texas hold’em, but many other casino games involve poker. Video poker games and table games like three card poker, Let It Ride, and Mississippi Stud all are based on poker.
Some poker skills you need for casino games are easily recognized, but did you know that you can use some skills to improve your play?
Here are some basic and advanced poker skills you can use playing casino games to improve your results.
The basics of poker are easy to learn. Hands are ranked based on how difficult they are to complete using a deck of playing cards. The reason that a royal flush is ranked highest is because it’s the hardest to form and includes the highest ranking card, an ace, in the deck.
You should know the ranking of all poker hands before you play any casino game that uses poker.
Here’s a list of traditional poker hand rankings.
Four of a kind
Three of a kind
When two or more hands have the same rank, the hand with the highest cards wins. Cards are ranked from ace down to two.
It’s important to know the rules for each casino game you play. Most casino games that use poker follow the traditional hand rankings, but some don’t. The best example is three card poker. The traditional ranking of hands has a flush listed above a straight, but in three card poker, a straight is more valuable than a flush.
The reason this is not the same order in three card poker is because with a three-card hand, it’s actually more difficult to form a straight than a flush. Three of a kind is ranked above a straight for the same reason.
Some video poker games have different hand rankings than the traditional ones as well. Games that use wild cards, like Deuces Wild, have additional hands that can be completed, like five of a kind, that are slotted into the pay table based on how hard they are to complete.
In the last section, I explained that games like three card poker use different hand rankings than traditional poker and the reason why is based on how hard it is to complete the hands. The difficulty is based on the odds of receiving and drawing certain cards.
You can use odds when making decisions in poker-based games. One of the best examples of this is when you decide which cards to hold when you’re playing video poker.
Here’s an example using Jacks or Better.
You receive a pair of queens and have four cards to a flush. Is it better to hold the pair of queens or the four to a flush? You can figure out the answer based on the odds of improving your hand both ways.
When you keep the pair of queens, you know that you have a paying hand every time. You also have the chance to draw one or two more queens for a better hand, draw two pair, or draw a full house.
When you keep the four to a flush, you know that there are nine remaining cards that complete your flush and 38 that don’t. Of course, a flush pays higher than a pair of queens, but when you run the profit numbers for each hand, it shows that keeping the pair of queens is more profitable on average.
The good news is you don’t have to run the odds yourself because a Jacks or Better strategy card shows that keeping a high pair is better than keeping four to a flush.
But some games don’t have strategy cards, and you can use the same concept to help you make decisions. Let’s look at a Let It Ride example to see how this works.
In Let it Ride, you receive three cards, and there are two face-down cards. A pair of tens or better is the lowest-paying hand. You know the value of three cards out of the possible 52 when you receive your hand, so you also know all of the possible cards the two down cards can be from the remaining 49 cards.
If you have a king and two cards lower than a 10, should you pull one of your three bets back or let it ride? You can use odds to determine the correct play. You know the deck has three remaining kings, so the odds of the first card the dealer reveals being a king are 46 to 3, which reduces to 15.33 to 1. A high pair only pays 1 to 1, so you should pull back your bet.
The odds of the second card being a king after the first card wasn’t a king are 45 to 3, which is 15 to 1. You should pull back your second bet in this case.
It turns out that the strategy for Let It Ride is fairly simple. The only hands you should let it ride with two cards remaining are paying hands and straight and royal flush draws. With only one card remaining, you should only let it ride with paying hands, four to a flush, and four to a straight draw.
Closely related to odds are the remaining cards in the deck or shoe. The most common place you use remaining cards is when counting cards at the blackjack table.
By tracking the ratio of low and high cards that have been played, you know the ratio of high to low cards remaining. When the blackjack shoe has more high cards than low cards left to be dealt, the house edge shifts toward your favor. When the ratio is particularly high, you have the edge over the casino.
This same concept can be used in other casino table games, like Spanish 21. The remaining cards can help you even if you aren’t counting cards. Paying attention to what cards you’ve seen and comparing them to what cards you need can help you make better playing decisions.
Let’s look at an example in blackjack.
You’re playing in a single-deck blackjack game and have two face cards. The dealer is showing an ace and offers insurance. You see that the other players at the table have four more face cards, so you know that six of the possible sixteen 10-point value cards aren’t in the deck. In other words, the deck has only six remaining cards that give the dealer a blackjack.
This is clearly a time to decline the insurance.
How to Improve Your Skills
The best way to improve your poker skills is to practice. Get a deck of cards and start dealing out hands. If you’re a Jacks or Better player, deal out five cards and run the numbers to see which cards to keep and which cards to exchange.
Use the setup and rules for your favorite games and keep dealing out hands to practice your poker skills. You can also read books about your favorite games and about poker in general.
Poker skills are mostly based on math, and this scares many players. The good news is that most poker math is simple once you know what you’re doing. You only need to deal with 52 cards divided into four suits and 13 ranks, so once you calculate things the first time, you see many of the same situations come up over and over.
I strongly suggest learning how odds and pot odds work in a game like Texas hold’em because you can use the same concepts in most poker games.
Another important concept in poker and gambling is expected value. Once you master odds and expected value, you can use these skills for the rest of your life.
As an introduction to how expected value works and what it tells you, here’s a simple explanation. The expected value is the average profit or loss from being in a specific situation and/or making a certain playing decision.
When you run the expected value numbers and they’re positive, it means that in the long run, the situation of decision is profitable. When the numbers are negative, it means that in the long run, you’re going to lose money.
Most casino games are designed with negative expected value, but you don’t have to give the casino more than necessary. By using poker skills, you can change the expected value many times by making good decisions.
Many different casino games are based on poker. Learning basic and advanced poker skills will help you make better decisions, leading to a lower house edge.
If you don’t have strong poker skills, it’s not hard to improve. Simply start practicing on a regular basis and read good articles about poker, and you’re going to start seeing improved results quickly.
Many of the top online casinos allow you to play casino games for free, so that’s a good option for practicing.