Casino Game Guide: Casino War
What’s the first card game you remember learning as a kid?
For some people it’s 5-card draw. For others, it’s ‘go fish’ or blackjack.
And for some of us it was ‘war’.
War is such a kid’s game. So simple. Surely there’s no way you’d find that in a place as sophisticated as a casino?!
But you will. It’s called casino war.
Casino war’s available in both brick and mortar and online casinos. And it’s one of the few casino games where the player can beat the dealer more than 50% of the time.
Below is our casino war guide. We’ll show you how to play it – both the traditional card game and casino version – as well as any variants you may find, game strategy and a brief primer to playing it online.
Let’s get started.
How to Play (Casino) War
Let’s start with the traditional card game. You can also find the rules here.
War the Card Game
Here’s what you do:
You split a regular 52-card deck evenly between two players. Each player keeps their stack of cards in front of them in a pile, face down.
Then – at the same time – each player flips over their top card face up in front of them. Whoever has the highest card – per regular poker hand rankings – in order from best to worst – like so:
…wins that round. The winner collects both cards and places them at the bottom of their pile of cards, face down.
If both players turn up a card of the same rank – for example, K-K – then they go to war. The next step is to deal a second card face down (for each player) and then a third card face up (for each player).
Then both players flip over their second card. Whoever has the highest hand wins.
If both players share the same 3-card hand, they go to war again. You deal another card (the fourth) face down and then a fifth face up. Then they flip over the 4th card and compare hands.
Then rinse and repeat.
They continue the game like this until one of them collects all 52 cards in the deck. That person wins.
That’s how you play the traditional card game. Now let’s look at the casino version.
Here’s how you play casino war.
The first step is to make the mandatory ante bet. This is the only time you can make the optional ‘tie’ side bet. This pays 10:1 if you and the dealer have the same cards.
Once you make your bet, one card is dealt face up to both you and the dealer.
If your card’s value is higher, you win. You’re paid 1:1 on your ante bet. If it’s lower, you lose your ante bet.
If you made the tie bet, but you didn’t tie the dealer, you lose the bet. But if you tie you’ll receive a payout equal to 10x your ante bet.
When you tie, you’ll also have the option to go to war. Similar to the card game.
The key difference here is you have a choice. You can go to war or you can surrender.
But, if you surrender you’ll get only half your ante bet back. But if you decide to go to war you’ll have to make an additional bet equal to your ante bet.
Let’s say you do that. You decide to go to war.
Next, the dealer will give you one more card face down. Then he’ll burn 3 cards, followed by giving himself one more card. Then both your cards are flipped face up and compared.
Whoever has the highest hand wins. If you win you’ll receive even money on the war bet, but you’ll push on the ante bet (which is where the casino’s primary edge comes from). And if you lose, you lose both your bets.
That’s all there is to it.
Casino War Variants + Side Bets
There aren’t many variants or side bets. Which isn’t surprising given how simple a game war is. Here are the few variations and side bets we managed to find.
- Las Vegas Casinos – Some Las Vegas casinos (reportedly) have a bonus if you tie with the dealer twice. The first time’s normal; you go to war; if you win you’ll push the ante bet and receive even money on the war bet. But if you tie a second time, you’ll receive a bonus equal to the size of your original wager.
- Gamesys – Their war game has a rule where the player will be paid 3x the ante bonus if he gets a tie after a tie. This cuts the house edge by more than half, to 1.24%.
- 2 to 1 – Some casinos pay out 2 to 1 on war wagers if the player gets a tie after a tie.
Is There an Optimal Way to Play Casino War?
Sort of. It’s almost too simple to believe.
You see, both you and the dealer have a 46.3% chance of winning on the first card. Because of this you’d think casino war is a fair game.
But that’s not the case. There are two reasons why:
The more decks the casino uses, the more the house edge increases. The house edge also increases if you choose to surrender.
The house edge is 2.8% when you choose war. But it’s 3.7% when you surrender. So the best strategy should be obvious to you…
Beyond that, the best (and easiest) thing you can do is find a casino who uses the smallest number of decks.
The next best thing you can do is to avoid the tie bet. The house edge for this bet is a whopping 18% when 5 decks are used.
That’s it. So to summarize, your strategy should be to:
- Never surrender.
- Never bet on ties.
- Always play games with fewer decks, if possible.
Here’s a table from the Wizard of Odds which shows the house edge for casino war based on the number of decks in play, if they pay bonuses, and if you choose to surrender or play the tie bet.
|DECKS||WITH BONUS||NO BONUS||SURRENDER||TIE|
Your goal should be to get to as close to the 2.06% house edge as possible.
Playing Casino War Online
At first glance it may look like no online casino offers casino war.
They do. But because of trademark rights (Shuffle Master owns casino war), casinos who want to offer casino war without permission need to call it something else.
Rival calls their version casino battle. BetSoft calls their version top card trumps. Other names include war and beat me.
The point is, you don’t want to discard an online casino too quickly because you don’t see ‘casino war’. You’ll want to look for one of the other potential names first.
Another thing you want to be on the lookout for are the casinos’ terms about playing casino war for earning any of their perks or offers. Many casinos outright prohibit war from being played to earn any kind of benefits.
Our guess is because war has such a low house edge, thus higher variance, that the casino doesn’t want to risk you running good on top of collecting bonus money or cash back.
We’ve seen two Real Time Casinos do this – they don’t allow you to play war to clear the rollover requirements.
In other cases – like at Drake Casino – they simply reduce the value of your wager (relative to clearing your bonus) by 10-90 percent. At Drake Casino it’s reduced to 35%. This means you’ll need to wager almost 3x the normal rollover to earn the same bonus slots or kenos players get.
Because many casinos don’t allow you to cash out your winnings until you fulfill their rollover requirements. So don’t take the bonus unless you’re prepared to do that.
One more thing – you won’t find many mobile casino war games unless the casino has an HTML5 casino and all their games are a part of it. Otherwise, it’ll be hit or miss.
The best way to know for sure, of course, is to read our casino reviews.
The bottom line is casino war is one of the simplest casino table games you’ll ever play.
It’s also one of the fastest. Especially online.
And it’s because of that that you’ll want to keep an eye on your bankroll. It’s common to go long stretches of wins and losses due to variance.
Meaning, if you’re playing $1 per hand, you shouldn’t be surprised to win or lose $10 or $15 or even $20 in a row.
Now just multiply that by however much you plan to bet per hand. $100 turns into $1,000, $1,500 and even $2,000 swings.
Your money will come and go so fast that …it’ll sort of feel like you’re at war.
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions we receive about casino war.
What Las Vegas casinos offer casino war?
You’ll find casino war at:
- Planet Hollywood
- New York New York
This is all secondhand information from Trip Advisor commenters who have played or seen the game at the aforementioned casinos.
Are there any casino war apps?
You won’t find any casino war-exclusive apps from real money online casinos. Most online casinos have a mobile-friendly casino that may have casino war.
But, you might find some play money apps for your phone or tablet. Here are some examples:
- Casino War Wizard of Odds – This looks like a casino holdem-themed slots game. This is for iOS-powered devices.
- Casino War – This app is for Android-powered devices.
- Casino War Review – This is a review of the casino war app developed by Free Apps Pty.
You can find many casino war apps/options with a few minutes of research.
Can you play casino war for free?
Yes. Most online casinos let you play their games for free. Some casinos don’t even force you to create an account or login first before they allow you to play.
Can you cheat at casino war?
It’d be hard. Because casino war is purely a game of chance. You’d need to find a way to have the highest cards the majority of the time.
The only way to do that is to collude with the dealer. The dealer would have to shuffle the cards in such a way that you get most of the higher value cards. Or, one of you would have to sneak cards in.
The problems here are:
- Will the dealer actually go through with it?
- Will the dealer fess up if you’re caught, or will you be left to go down with the ship by your lonesome?
Never mind the actual consequences, which often include (in Las Vegas anyway) felony charges and prison time…
…over you cheating at a kid’s game.
But casino war’s one of those games where cheating is not only immoral, but pointless and incredibly difficult to do.
You’re better off playing – or, if you prefer, cheating at – an entirely different game altogether.
What about casino war betting systems? Do those work?
Betting systems do not work.
The simplest explanation why is because betting systems don’t alter or exploit the game itself. Using a betting strategy like the martingale doesn’t affect the game; it doesn’t improve your odds or change the house edge.
For that reason, betting systems do not work.
You can see a more in-depth explanation about betting systems at the Wizard of Odds.
What is War Blackjack?
This game’s a combination of War and Blackjack. You can find it in some Nevada casinos.
The general idea behind the game is this – if you win the war bet, you can parlay that into your blackjack wager. The benefit here is you already know what your first up card is, as well as the dealer’s.
The Wizard of Odds says this has a 1.16% house edge, though it depends on what wagers you make. But you can see his analysis and the rules on his website.
Have a question about casino war? Send us an email and let us know!