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The New Breed of Games
 
By John Grochowski

These are revolutionary times in the casino industry, both in where we play and what we play.

Where we play is everywhere; casinos from coast to coast. What we play is changing rapidly, especially among electronic games where bonus slots and video slots have been making the loudest noise in gaming.

The revolution in table games has been quieter, but there's been big change nonetheless as new games have carved out shares in what has been a fairly stable casino environment for most of three decades.

Caribbean Stud Poker rose to popularity in the 1990s and has become a casino standard, along with Let It Ride and Three-Card Poker. All three are based on stud poker, giving them an easy familiarity to anyone who has ever played poker around the kitchen table. Players who find Craps or Blackjack strategy intimidating can pick up these games in a flash.

Caribbean Stud in particular has challenged the title that Blackjack, Craps, Roulette and Baccarat have held on table games for most of the last four decades.

Blackjack has been the most popular table game since the early 1960s, when the publication of "Beat the Dealer" convinced players that the game could be beaten. Craps, which had been No.1 until then, has been No.2 ever since. Roulette has long been No.3 in numbers of players and No.4 in revenue produced, flip-flopping with Baccarat, which attracts more big players.

Caribbean Stud, which hit the floors in the early 1990s, has gone on to outstrip Baccarat everywhere but the high-roller havens of Nevada and New Jersey. It outperforms Roulette in many new gaming jurisdictions.

Let's take a look at the four most widely played of the new breed of table games that arose in the last decade.

CARIBBEAN STUD POKER
Caribbean Stud rode a couple of advantages to the point that in many markets it's the No.3 game, more popular than either Roulette or Baccarat. First, as a derivation of Five-Card Stud poker, it is an easy game to play. Second, it was the first game to bring slot machine-size jackpots to table games. Mikohn Gaming, which owns the copyright on Caribbean Stud, doesn't keep official records, but it's believed that the U.S. record for a table games jackpot was the $712,070 won by Al-Hakam Habbasi of Chicago in 1990 at Harrah's in Joliet, Illinois. Habbasi was dealt a royal flush after making a $1 side bet on Harrah's Caribbean Stud progressive jackpot.

Betting is in two parts -- an ante and a bet -- in addition to the optional bet on the progressive jackpot. Players start by placing a chip, or chips, equal to or greater than the table minimum bet in an area marked ANTE.

At this time, they may also place a $1 chip in a slot, to bet on the progressive jackpot.

Players and dealer then each receive five cards. All players' cards are dealt face down, while one of the dealer's cards is turned face up. When all cards are dealt, players pick up their cards.

If a player doesn't like his cards, he may fold and forfeit his ante (and progressive bet, if he has made one). If the player has a hand that he thinks can win, he places a bet of double his ante in a box marked BET.

After all players have either bet or folded, and the dealer has cleared away the cards and antes of all the folds, the dealer's hand then is turned face up. If the dealer does not have Ace-King or better, it's not a qualifying hand.

Antes are paid off then at even money, and bets are returned to players.

Let's say you place a $5 chip in the ante box, then back it up with a $10 bet. The dealer turns up Ace-Queen-9-6-4 of mixed suits. He doesn't qualify so he doesn't need to see your cards. He gives you another $5 to pay your ante at even money. You just keep your bet, and wind up with a $5 profit on the hand.

If the dealer has Ace-King or better, then his hand qualifies. That's when the players' bets come into play. If the dealer's hand outranks a player's hand, the player loses both ante and bet. If the player's hand outranks the dealer's, the player wins on both ante and bet. The ante is paid at even money, but the bet is paid according to a pay table. With a pair or less, the player is paid even money. With two pair, the payoff is 2-1, and moves to 3-1 on three of a kind, 4-1 on a straight, 5-1 on a flush, 7-1 on a full house, 20-1 on four of a kind, 50-1 on a straight flush and 100-1 on a royal flush.

Let's go back to placing a $5 chip in the ante box, backing it up with a $10 bet. The dealer qualifies by turning up Ace-King-9-6-4 of mixed suits. You beat it with a pair of 9s, a pair of 5s and a Jack. Two pair is good for a 2-1 payoff, so you win $20 on the $10 bet as well as a $5 win on the ante, which still is paid at even money.

The house edge on the game is 5.22 percent if you know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Strategy is nowhere near as complicated as basic strategy in Blackjack. Make the bet of twice your ante with any of the following hands:

**Any pair or higher-ranking poker hand.

**Non-pair hands with an Ace and King as the two highest-ranking cards provided one of the other three cards in the hand matches the dealer's face-up card.

**Ace-King-Queen or Ace-King-Jack if any card in your hand matches the dealer's up card.

** Ace-King-Queen if your fourth highest card outranks the dealer's up card.

The dealer does not have to qualify for the player to win on the $1 progressive side bet. In fact, the player doesn't even have to win the hand. The player collects on any flush or better, regardless of the outcome of the hand.

Using the basic pay table, flushes pay $50, full houses $75, four of a kind $100, and straight flushes 10 percent of the progressive jackpot. Royal flushes pay the full jackpot.

Some casinos pay a flat $5,000 on straight flushes instead of paying 10 percent of the jackpot. Others augment the flush, full house, or four of kind payoffs.

The house edge on the progressive bet varies wildly with the jackpot size, but given the basic pay table, the break-even point at which the player faces no house edge is about $263,000. Most of the payoff is tied up in the rare royals, so this is not a wager for anyone expecting to play on an even keep. This one is for jackpot chasers.

LET IT RIDE
Let It Ride is dealt from a single 52-card deck. Shuffling machines are usually used at Let It Ride tables, (the game was developed by Shuffle Master, the leading manufacturer of automatic shufflers).

Each player has three betting spots, and each hand starts with players making equal bets on all three spots. If your betting unit is $5, you start with $15 in play. That's not as potentially expensive as it sounds. In the course of play, you may take back up to two bets, leaving one bet as your real risk.

After bets are placed, each player is dealt three cards face down. Two more cards are dealt face down in front of the dealer. Those cards belong to all players in common and are used along with each player's three cards to make a five-card poker hand.

After all cards are dealt, players may pick up their cards. If they don't like what they see, they may scratch the table with their cards to signal the dealer that they want to take back their first bet. The dealer then returns the bet to the player. A player who wants to leave the first bet in action slides the cards under the chips in the first betting spot.

The first community card is then turned face up, and players have a chance to signal the dealer that they want the second bet taken down. The third bet must remain in play.

After the second community card is turned face up, the dealer settles remaining bets, turning up each player's cards in turn and paying according to a video poker-like pay table.

Players don't have to beat the dealer -- there is no dealer's hand. At most Let It Ride tables, the payoff is even money if the player's final five-card poker hand is a pair of 10s or better, 2-1 on two pair, 3-1 on three of a kind, 5-1 on straights, 8-1 on flushes, 11-1 on full houses, 50-1 on four of a kind, 200-1 on straight flushes, and 1,000-1 on royal flushes.

There is some variation in pay tables. Some casinos drop the payoff on royal flushes at 500-1. Others place an aggregate limit on the size of the payout on one hand. I've seen casinos with a $15,000 maximum payout.

That's fine if you're betting just $5 on all three spots. A 1,000-1 payoff on three $5 bets would leave you with $15,000. But what if you're a bigger bettor, wagering $10 per spot? A royal flush with bets on all three spots should give you $30,000, but if there's a $15,000 maximum, you won't get that full payout.

Two recommendations: Do not play Let It Ride if the pay table is reduced, and be sure to ask the dealer, floor supervisor, or pit boss, if there is an aggregate maximum payout. If there is such a maximum, bet accordingly. If there's a $15,000 maximum, do not bet more than $5 per spot. With a $30,000 maximum, never bet more than $10 a spot.

When should you pull back a bet and when should you let it ride? After you've seen the first three cards, leave your first bet in action if you have three of a kind, a pair of 10s or better, or three cards to a straight flush or royal flush. Otherwise, pull back the bet.

After you've seen the first community card, leave the second bet in action if you have three of a kind, two pair, a pair of 10s or better, four cards to a flush, straight flush or royal flush, or four cards to a straight that's open on both ends, such as 6-7-8-9 of mixed suits.

The house edge is about 3.5 percent of the wager on one betting spot. That's moderate as casino games go, not as low as the house edge at Baccarat, the best Craps bets, or against Blackjack basic strategy players, but lower than the house edge at roulette or slots.

THREE CARD POKER
Devised by English game inventor Derek Webb, Three Card Poker was devised as an easy, Stud poker based game that answers concerns some players have about Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride.

Three Card Poker, which now is owned by Shufflemaster, has two betting options: play against the dealer, which has similarities to Caribbean Stud, and Pair Plus, which is more similar to Let It Ride.

Let's make a comparison. In Three Card Poker play vs. the dealer, a basic strategy player forfeits his ante about 30.4 percent of the time, much less than the 46 percent of antes the player forfeits in Caribbean Stud. In Caribbean Stud, the house edge is 5.22 percent of the ante, or about 2.6 percent of total action given optimal strategy. In Three Card Poker play against the dealer, it's about 3.6 percent of the ante, or 2.14 percent of total action.

Or take Pair Plus. In Let It Ride, fewer than 24 percent of all hands are winners, and the house edge is about 3.5 percent. In Pair Plus, the player wins nearly 26 percent of hands, and the house edge is 2.3 percent, according to figures in the report by the late Lenny Frome that Webb used during licensing proceedings in Nevada.

Played on a blackjack-sized table, Three Card Poker gives the player a couple of betting options. There's Pair Plus, which pays off on a pair or better regardless of the dealer's hand. There's play against the dealer, which starts with an ante and is followed by a bet if the player likes his cards, just as in Caribbean Stud.

The player also may bet on both options. Most players do.

After Pair Plus bets, and/or antes are placed, players and the dealer each are dealt three cards face down. After looking at his cards, a player who has chosen to play against the dealer may either fold, forfeiting his ante, or play by placing a bet equal to the ante.

Cards then are flipped face up, and Pair Plus winners are paid off. Any pair pays even money, flushes pay 4-1, straights pay 6-1, three of a kinds pay 30-1, and straight flushes pay 40-1. Keep in mind that these are three-card hands, 6-7-8 of diamonds is a straight flush. Also note that in Three Card Poker, straights outrank flushes.

Anyone who plays Three Card Poker occasionally will be dealt the biggest-paying hand, a three-card straight flush. This occurs about once per 455 hands.

In play vs. the dealer, a qualifying hand is a Queen or better. If the dealer does not qualify, antes are paid off at even money and bets are disregarded. If the dealer does qualify, both antes and bets are paid at even money.

Note that there is no video poker-like pay table on play against the dealer as there is in Caribbean Stud. If you have three of a kind and the dealer qualifies, your ante and bet still are going to be paid only at even money.

However, Three Card Poker does pay bonuses on hands of a straight or better, and the players get those bonuses even if the dealer fails to qualify. Not only that; the players collect the bonuses even if they lose the hand. Now that's a bonus.

In play against the dealer, a straight brings a bonus equal to the player's ante. Three of a kind brings an additional four times the ante and a straight flush brings an additional five times the ante.

Proper basic strategy for play against the dealer is about the easiest around--make the additional bet any time you have a Queen or better, and fold if you don't.

That's as easy as it gets anywhere on the tables. But then, all three of these games were designed to be easy. In this casino revolution, offering games that are player friendly is half the battle.

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