The Ultimate Casino Games Cheat Sheet
Published on August 18, 2017
Sometimes you don’t want to read a blog post about casino games with a lot of explanatory text. Sometimes you just need a cheat sheet to help you choose a game to play. Or maybe you need a cheat sheet explaining the appropriate strategy for a game.
This post is meant to provide you with several casino game cheat sheets. I’ve included ranked lists and tables below that should be able to help any casino gambler achieve her goals.
This cheat sheet is just a list of casino games where skill matters. In other words, you make decisions during these games that affect your chances of winning.
This doesn’t imply that you can get an edge over the casino by being skillful. In fact, for most of these games, if you play with perfect strategy, the casino still has an edge.
But if you’re like me, you prefer games where your decisions make a difference.
Keep in mind that when I write about gambling games with a skill element, this doesn’t imply that chance isn’t an important factor. It’s still gambling. It’s just that you can improve your odds with smart play.
You also might be wondering why I didn’t include Texas holdem or sports betting on this list. I’m focusing on casino games in this post. By definition, a casino game means you’re competing with the house, not the other players. I only include house-banked games on these lists in this post.
Some gamblers prefer games where no skill element exists. They just want to relax, take their chances, and try to get lucky. I don’t judge people like this, although it’s not my preferred way to gamble.
Not surprisingly, the list of casino games that are entirely based on chance is longer than the list of casino games with a skill element.
When we compare casino games’ odds, we look at the house edge. That’s a mathematical projection of how much you can expect to lose in the long run as a percentage of your action.
Here’s an example:
The house edge for blackjack is usually around 1%. This means that every time you wager $100, the casino expects you to lose $1.
The house edge, by the way, is not a sure thing. In the example above, on a single hand of blackjack, you’ll never win or lose just $1. You might lose $100, or you might win $100. You might even win $150 if you get a blackjack.
The house edge is a long-term average.
Casino players sometimes walk away from the casino as winners. It’s called short-term variance. It’s the nature of why casino gambling works.
Sometimes players walk away winners. That’s what keeps them coming back. Often they walk away losers, but their friends or nearby strangers walk away winners.
But in the long run, over thousands of bets, the average will eventually almost assuredly start to resemble the house edge.
Also, the lower the house edge, the better your odds of walking away a winner.
Here’s a numbered list of the 10 games in the casino with the lowest house edge:
|10||Single Zero Roulette||As Low as 2.70%|
|9||Pai Gow Poker||As Low as 1.46%|
|8||Craps||As Low as 1.36%|
|7||Baccarat||As Low as 1.06%|
|6||Bonus Poker||As Low as 0.83%|
|5||Jacks or Better||As Low as 0.46%|
|4||Spanish 21||As Low as 0.40%|
|3||Blackjack||As Low as 0.28%|
|2||Deuces Wild||As Low as 0.27%|
|1||Pick’em Poker||As Low as 0.1%|
These are the most common, low-house-edge-casino-games you’ll find. You should be aware of a few things, though:
I’ve also included a list of casino games with lousy odds. These games are all characterized by a high house edge.
|10||Caribbean Stud||Up to 5.22%|
|9||3 Card Poker||Up to 7.29%|
|8||American Roulette (5-number bet)||Up to 7.89%|
|7||Baccarat||Up to 14.36%|
|6||Craps||Up to 16.67%|
|5||Casino War||Up to 18.65%|
|4||Big 6||Up to 24.07%|
|3||Slot machines||Up to 25.00%|
|2||Keno||Up to 29.00%|
|1||Sic Bo||Up to 33.00%|
Here are a few caveats and observations about the above table:
I should also point out that house edge is only one factor to consider when choosing a game to play. I suggest that you treat gambling as entertainment, so compare how much you expect to lose per hour. This is a function of bets per hour and size of bets as well as the house edge.
I look at the mathematically expected loss per hour of various games in the next section.
In the long run, the mathematically expected loss per hour for a casino game is a function of the amount of money you’re putting into action per hour multiplied by the house edge.
To calculate the amount of money you’re putting into action per hour, you multiply the size of your bets by the number of bets you’re placing per hour.
Here’s an example:
An average slots player makes 600 spins per hour. If you’re betting $5 per spin, you’re putting $3000 into action per hour.
You obviously don’t expect to lose an entire $3000 in an hour. You’d have to lose on every spin for that to happen.
Instead, you expect—in the long run, anyway—to lose the house edge.
Assuming an average slot machine game on the Vegas Strip has a house edge of 6%, you’re looking at $180/hour in expected losses.
The lower the expected hourly loss, the cheaper the entertainment.
Here’s a table listing the most economical games based on that metric:
|Game||Bets/Hour||Average Bet||Action/Hour||House Edge||Hourly Loss|
Here are a few observations and caveats about this table, too:
Finally, some games might not be fun for you at all. If that’s the case, skip them, regardless of how economical they are. You wouldn’t buy a book you wouldn’t enjoy reading. You wouldn’t buy a ticket for a movie you’d hate.
Don’t play a casino game you won’t enjoy, even if it seems cheap.
The only correct way to play blackjack is to follow basic strategy religiously. If you’re counting cards, you’ll deviate from the basic strategy chart in some situations. But that’s not really a deviation from basic strategy it’s an adjustment of the correct decision based on the composition of the deck.
Players who use basic strategy can reduce the house edge to between 0.5% and 1% depending on the game conditions at the casino. Players who ignore basic strategy are usually playing hunches and often have an effective house edge of 4% or more.
The difference to your bankroll and expected losses per hour is dramatic.
You calculate your expected hourly loss by multiplying the average size of your bet by the number of bets per hour. You multiply that by the house edge to get your expected hourly loss.
For example, if you’re playing blackjack for $20 per hand and getting in 60 hands per hour, you’re putting $1200 per hour into action. If the house edge is 1%, you expect to lose $12 per hour. If it’s 4%, you expect to lose $48 per hour.
Over the course of a week-long trip to Vegas, that kind of money adds up fast.
You can find dozens of card counting systems to use, but most card counters use one of the more basic systems. I’m including a Hi-Lo card counting cheat sheet below. It’s a table that describes the values of each card in the deck. After the table, I’ve included an explanation of how to put this cheat sheet into use.
|2, 3, 4, 5, or 6||+1|
|7, 8, 9||0|
|10, J, Q, K, or A||-1|
The goal of a card counting system is to estimate the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck. Memorizing which cards have been played isn’t realistic for most people. Hence a system like the Hi Lo allows you to create a reasonably accurate estimate of that ratio.
What can you do with this information?
The first and most obvious thing is to raise your bets when the deck has a higher-than-usual ratio of high cards to low cards.
But how do you know how much to bet?
You decide beforehand on your betting spread. That’s the range of bets you’re willing to make.
The low end of your betting spread is the table minimum. Whenever you’re facing a house edge of 0% or greater, you want to put as little money into action as possible.
The high end of your betting spread is 1% of your bankroll.
Here’s an example:
You have a $10,000 blackjack bankroll. You’re playing at a table with a $5 minimum bet and a $500 maximum bet.
Your betting spread should be $5 to $100.
You might decide on the following units:
The house edge when using the Hi Lo system reaches 0% when you hit a count of +1. You start to gain an edge when the count is +2 or higher.
The minimum count where you would raise your bets is +2. At that point, you’d bet $10.
Most counters would probably continue to raise their bets at +4, +6, and +8.
With a count of +8, your edge over the house is about 3.5%, which means the expected value of a $100 bet is $103.50.
Keep in mind, too, that just because you have an edge of 3.5% over the house, you’re not guaranteed a win. You can still lose, and you often will. Therefore your max bet is a function of your total bankroll.
Your goal is to avoid going broke before the long-term positive expected value starts to kick in.
Remember that in gambling, short-term results vary wildly. Long-term results eventually start to resemble the mathematical expectation.
One final thing to remember:
The Hi Lo count estimates the house edge for a single deck game. If you’re playing in a game with multiple decks, you must convert this running count into a true count. This accounts for the additional cards in play.
To do this, you divide the running count by the number of decks in use.
Here’s an example:
You have a running count of +8. The dealer has 4 decks left in the shoe. You should bet according to the true count, which is +8/4, or +2.
I’m including 2 cheat sheets here. The first is a table showing the payback percentage for the various pay tables available. In Jacks or Better video poker, the 2 hands where the payouts change are almost always the full house and the flush.
In a full pay game of Job, the payouts for those 2 hands are 9 for 1 and 6 for 1, respectively. Such a game is called a 9/6 Jacks or Better game.
An 8/5 Jacks or Better game only pays off 8 for 1 if you get a full house, and it only pays off at 5 for 1 if you get a flush.
The table below shows the payback percentage for the most common Jacks or Better video poker pay tables:
|Pay Table||Payback Percentage|
|9/6 Jacks or Better||99.54%|
|9/5 Jacks or Better||98.45%|
|8/6 Jacks or Better||98.39%|
|8/5 Jacks or Better||97.30%|
|7/5 Jacks or Better||96.15%|
|6/5 Jacks or Better||95.00%|
Next, I’ve included a simple strategy to use when playing Jacks or Better video poker. Following this strategy will get you within 0.1% of the payback percentage listed, which is pretty good for all but the most dedicated players.
Using this Jacks or Better strategy cheat sheet is easy. Compare your hand with the hands on this list. Hold the highest hand that qualifies, discarding the rests.
If your hand doesn’t qualify as one of these, discard all your cards and start over.
This post turned out to be a potpourri of casino game cheat sheets. It’s fun to look at the various implications of the rules for these gambling games.
But they also understand how to get the most entertainment for their money. The casino game cheat sheets on this page should help you accomplish this.