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Columnist
House-banked games offer taste of poker
By Fred Renzey | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 3/21/2008 12:11 AM

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Many casino customers would enjoy a little friendly bit of poker now and then. The majority, however, feel uncomfortable walking into a live poker room and playing against a table full of deadpan looking strangers. Most casual gamblers just aren't serious enough about poker to duel that sunglasses-and-toothpick guy across the table.

That's where house-banked forms of poker-styled casino games come in. They sit on the main floor, interspersed among the blackjack tables. They're played something like regular poker, except it's always just your hand against the dealer's. Your tablemates are in the same boat. If their hand beats the dealer's, they win -- if not, they lose. This takes the intimidation factor out of poker, particularly if you don't have a lot of confidence in your skills. Commonly offered house-banked poker-type games are Caribbean Stud, 3-Card Poker and now, Texas Hold'em Bonus Poker. So let's do a cursory overview of these three games.

Caribbean Stud: You ante one unit and are dealt five cards down. The dealer gets four down and one up. If you like your hand, you bet two more units -- if not, you fold, losing your ante. The dealer then turns up the rest of her hand. If she has less than an Ace/King high, she folds and pays you an ante. If she does have an Ace/King or better, the best hand wins all the bets. If you win with two pair or better, you get paid odds on your second bet starting at 2-to-1, all the way up to 100-to-1 for a royal flush. A good, simple strategy is to play any A/K/J minimum, and fold the rest. Your disadvantage to the house will be about 2.6 percent.

Side-Bet: You can bet $1 on the progressive jackpot that your hand will be a flush or better. A flush generally pays $50, but a royal flush wins the whole jackpot -- often over $100,000. Stay away from it unless it's over a quarter mil.

3-Card Poker: You ante one unit. You and the dealer are each dealt three cards face-down. You must either bet another unit, or fold. The dealer then turns up her cards and needs a Queen or better to play. If she doesn't have it, she folds and pays you an ante. If she's got the Queen or better, the best hand wins both bets. If you have a straight, trips or a straight-flush, you get paid a bonus for it -- even if you lose the hand. A good strategy is to play any Queen/6/4 or better. Otherwise fold. Playing this way, the overall house advantage will be about 2.2 percent.

Side-Bet: You can also make a "pairs/plus" wager that you'll be dealt a pair or better. Payoff odds range from even money for a pair up to 40-to-1 for a straight-flush. Payoffs for a flush, straight and trips, however, vary by locale, rendering a house edge anywhere between 2.3 and 7.3 percent. It's safest to just abstain from pairs/plus.

Texas Hold-em Bonus Poker: This is the casino-banked answer to regular Texas Hold'em. Ante one unit, then you and the dealer are dealt two hole cards. You can bet two more units, or fold. The three-card flop comes and you bet another unit, or check. The "turn" card comes and you again bet one unit, or check. The river is dealt and the best hand wins the money -- but -- your ante is a push, unless you've got a straight or better. You should play any hand except a 2/3 through 2/7, but the proper betting strategy beyond that becomes complicated. If you do things well, your house disadvantage will be less than 1 percent.

Side Bet: There's a bonus bet that you'll be dealt a premium hand in the hole, starting with 3-to-1 for pocket deuces, up to 30-to-1 for two Aces. The house edge is over 8 percent, so stay away from it.