How to Play Four Card Poker
Four Card Poker isn’t really a poker game at all. It’s a casino game like blackjack, but it uses poker-based thinking. (Real poker games force you to play against other poker players, not the casino.)
Roger Snow invented Four Card Poker, which is a trademark of Shuffle Master, a company known for manufacturing automatic shuffling machines.
You get to play an ante bet, an “aces up” bet, or a combination of both. You and the dealer each get 5 cards and get to make your best four-card hand from those cards. There’s also a sixth face-up card.
The casino has an advantage because the player must decide whether to fold before seeing the dealer’s cards. If he folds, he loses his bet, even if he has a better hand. Also, the dealer can use that extra face-up card to complete his four-card hand, giving him a further advantage.
The rest of this post describes in detail how to play four-card poker, what the odds of winning are like, and what the best strategy for winning is.
How to Play
You play against the dealer. There might be other players at the table, but how you compare with the other players doesn’t matter. All that matters is how you do against the dealer.
You start by placing an ante bet, which is required. You might also place an “ante up” bet.
After placing your bets, you get five cards, face-down. The dealer gets five face-down cards, too, but she also gets a single face-up card.
Based on the information you have — the cards in your hand and the face-up card — you must decide to raise or fold. If you fold, the casino gets your bet, and that’s it.
The “aces up” bet, on the other hand, stays in action regardless.
If you decide to stay in the hand, you must raise at least the same amount as your ante bet. You can raise as much as 3x the ante bet.
You then discard a card, leaving you with your best possible four-card poker hand.
The hand rankings for Four Card Poker are, from best hand to worst, as follows:
- Four of a kind
- Straight flush
- Three of a kind
- Two pair
- One pair
- High card
The dealer turns over her cards, too, and chooses her best four-card hand from the six cards she has available.
If you have a better hand, you win even money on both your ante and raise bets. If the dealer has a better hand, you lose your ante and raise bets.
You get a bonus if you have three of a kind or better, regardless of whether you beat the dealer.
The aces up bet pays off according to the pay table, regardless of whether you beat the dealer.
Four Card Poker Pay Tables
Here are the pay tables for the game. The first is the pay table for the three of a kind bonus; the second is for the aces up bet.
Three of a kind bonus:
- Four of a kind pays 25 to 1
- Straight flush pays 20 to 1
- Three of a kind pays 2 to 1
Some casinos pay more for four of a kind and less for a straight flush, 30 to 1 and 15 to 1, respectively.
Aces up pay table:
- Four of a kind pays 50 to 1
- Straight flush pays 40 to 1
- Three of a kind pays 8 to 1
- Flush pays 5 to 1
- Straight pays 4 to 1
- Two pair pays 3 to 1
- A pair of aces pays even money
This is only one example of multiple pay tables that are available to the game, but this is the most common one.
All of the pay tables pay 50 to 1 for four of a kind, but some of them only pay 30 to 1 for a straight flush. The payout for three of a kind can range from 7 to 1 to 9 to 1. Some pay tables pay 6 to 1 for a flush instead of 5 to 1. The straight pays off at 5 to 1 on some pay tables, too. Two pair sometimes only pays off at 2 to 1.
The House Edge and Strategy for Four Card Poker
The house edge is 2.79%, but that’s based on your initial bet. If you’re raising in the appropriate spots, you’ll put more money into action, which means that the actual house edge is 1.3%. That’s for the ante and raise bets combined.
And that assumes you’re playing with mathematically optimal decisions.
The simplest strategy for the game gives up about 0.5%, making the house edge slightly higher than 3.3%.
It’s an easy strategy to remember. If you have a pair of 10s or better, you should raise the max (3x the ante). If you have a pair of 2s through 9s, you should raise the minimum (1x the ante). Otherwise, you should fold.
You can find better strategies for intermediate and advanced players that will reduce the house edge further, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.
If you’re going to memorize some kind of strategy, why not memorize a strategy for a game where you can get a really low house edge?
If the best you can hope for is a house edge of around 3%, wouldn’t you be better off learning the basic strategy for a blackjack game where you can get a house edge of 0.5% or less?
You could even learn some video poker strategies which would result in a house edge of less than 0.2%.
If you’re willing to give up 1% or 2% because you love Four Card Poker so much, then you probably shouldn’t worry so much about the house edge anyway. Just have fun and don’t play with money you can’t afford to lose.
The house edge for the aces up bet, by the way, is 3.89%. It’s a sucker bet, but it’s not the worst sucker bet in the casino. In fact, it’s still a better bet than a bet on an American roulette table, which has a house edge of 5.26%.
What About Crazy 4 Poker?
Crazy 4 poker is also an invention of Roger Snow, and it’s similar to, but different from, Four Card Poker.
Instead of an “aces up” bet, Crazy 4 Poker offers a “super bonus” bet. There’s also a side bet called “queens up.”
The hand rankings are the same for both games.
The dealer only gets five cards in Crazy 4 Poker, instead of the six cards she gets in Four Card Poker.
But in Crazy 4 Poker, the dealer must open with a king or better. The ante bet pushes if the dealer doesn’t open.
Also, instead of being able to raise, you have a “play” bet. It wins if the dealer doesn’t qualify.
Otherwise, these bets are resolved based on who has the better hand.
The super bonus bet pays off according to the following pay table, regardless of who won the hand:
- Four aces pay off at 200 to 1
- Any other four of a kind pays off at 30 to 1
- A straight flush pays off at 15 to 1
- A three of a kind pays off at 2 to 1
- A flush pays off at 3 to 2
- And a straight pays off at even money
Also, here’s the cool thing about the super bonus bet.
If you win or push (tie) the dealer with your hand, the super bonus bet isn’t lost. It’s treated as a push. But if you have a straight or better, you still get your big payoff.
The house edge for the game is similar to that of Four Card Poker, and this game also requires you to play with optimal strategy to achieve that. You can assume that you’re not going to play optimally, and you’ll sacrifice 0.5% to 1% to the house because of that, too.
Here’s the most common pay table for the queens up bet in Crazy 4 Poker:
- Four of a kind pays off at 50 to 1
- A straight flush pays off at 40 to 1
- Three of a kind pays off at 7 to 1
- A flush pays off at 4 to 1
- A straight pays off at 3 to 1
- Two pair pays off at 2 to 1
- A pair of queens or higher pays off even money
Anything else is a loss with the queens up bet. (Can you figure out how this bet gets its name?)
The house edge for the queens up bet is 6.7%. It’s a terrible bet, and you should never make it. You’re better off with the odds at the American roulette table, which has a house edge of 5.26% (and is still one of the worst bets in the casino).
Four Card Poker and its close relative Crazy 4 Poker are good examples of casino games based on real poker. They are NOT poker games, though — I reserve that category for games where you play against the other players and not the dealer.
The house edge for these games is high enough that it’s probably not worth your trouble memorizing an intermediate or advanced strategy. You can stick with a simple strategy and eliminate some of the house edge, though.
It’s fun to play on a lark, but I don’t recommend a steady diet of Four Card Poker. Instead, play one of the better video poker variations or stick with blackjack, where the house edge is REALLY low.