Beginners Guide – Card Games







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This is just a very basic introduction to the most common of card games available at many online casinos, aimed primarily at new players who know nothing, or very little about casino games.  

Full rules for any of the games listed here can be found from a menu on most casino’s homepages.

For the best strategy on each game, check out The Wizard of Odds – best on the net!


Before you start, you need to understand the basic meaning of House Edge and Variance;


House Edge: This expression relates to how much profit the casino will make from you in the long term, assuming you play the very best strategy for the game. E.g. Suppose you played 1,000 hands of $10 each on a variation of BlackJack with a house edge of 1%; you would have wagered $10,000, and on average you would lose 1% of that = $100 to the casino.


Variance: This relates to the swings in fortune you are likely to experience as you play the game. To use our 1% BlackJack example again; the odds of you or the dealer winning any hand is nearly even at 49.5 / 50.5. Therefore if you played 100 $1 hands it would need an extreme run of good or bad luck for your bank balance to go up or down by more than about $10.  This is very low variance.  But if you played 100 $1 spins on a slot machine you could easily lose $30 or more, or could hit a big win and gain $100’s!  Because the slot needs to pay out big wins, it also needs to have many spins of no wins to build up its ‘bank’. This is very high variance.


Important: It is vital that you understand the relevance of the above features before you get too deeply into casino play.  Let me use a Lottery as an example; Suppose you bought just 1 of one million $1 tickets in a draw with just one prize of $950,000.  The ‘House Edge’ is not too bad at just 5%, but the variance is enormous!  Your chances of winning would be just 1 in 1-million, so the odds are very much against you.

Notes: When I say your cards are ‘face down’ this means that only you can see them – other players on your table can not see them.  With all casino card games, the dealer does not act in any deliberate attempt to beat your hand – all his actions are predetermined by set rules for the game in question.




The most common & well known of all casino card games.  Very easy to play, very low house edge (0.03% to 1%) and very low variance.   What many people do not realize however, is that there are over 360 different variations of Blackjack involving anything from 1 to 8 decks of cards, and various other rules relating to things like dealers hole card, surrender, insurance, splits, double downs, etc…


The most common ones follow the same basic rules; You are dealt 2 cards face up. The dealer is dealt 1 card face up & one face down (the ‘hole’ card). Ace counts as 1 or 11, Jack, Queen & King count at 10, all other cards as per their spots.   If the dealer is showing and Ace or 10 card he ‘peeks’ at his hole card – if he’s made a BlackJack (Ace and 10) the round is over and all players lose unless they also have Blackjack which pushes.  Otherwise, you then decide whether to draw (request another card), split or double (subject to game rules), or stand with your hand in an attempt to beat the dealers hand with a score of 21 or less.  If you beat the dealer, or he busts – you win your bet at odds of 1:1.  If you have BlackJack you win at 1.5:1 If the dealer wins you lose your bet. If you both have the same total, you push (i.e you keep your money).



Very low house edge (0.17%), low variance, play similar to Blackjack except; 21 with two cards is called a ‘Pontoon’, not a Blackjack and pays out at 2:1. The dealer’s cards are both dealt face down. The player must take another card if their total is 14 or less, except; Player having 5 cards with total of 21 or less wins at 2:1 (unless dealer also has ‘5-card trick’ or Pontoon = player loses). Player may buy 1 card at any time (cost = same as original stake). If player beats dealer, win pays 1:1.  If player ties with dealer, player loses.


Casino War

Extremely simple to play (so a bit boring!). Medium house edge (2.4 - 2.9%), low variance.  You and the dealer are dealt one card, face up. Ace is high. If your card is of higher value than the dealers you win at 1:1. If the dealers is higher – you lose. The only time you have to think is if it is a tie when you can either; Surrender your hand and lose your bet, or Go To War!  - you have to double your bet, then the dealer ‘burns off’ three cards before dealing you and himself a new face up card. If you beat the dealer, or tie again you win at 1:2.  If dealer wins you lose all your bets. (Your original cards play no part in the secondary hands).


Red Dog

Medium house edge (2.75 – 3.15%), low variance.  A very simple concept; You place your ante bet, the dealer deals himself two cards from the shoe, you then have to decide if the next card dealt will fall between the values of the first two.  Eg: The first two cards are 3 and 8, if the next card is 4,5,6 or 7 you win.

The only decision you have to make is whether to double your bet by raising before the 3rd card is drawn.  The payout is governed by the ‘spread’ between the first two cards; 1 = 5:1, 2 = 4:1, 3 = 2:1, 4+ 1:1.  If the first two cards are consecutive (e.g. 5 & 6) the hand is ‘pushed’ and you keep your ante. If they are a pair of the same face value, you can not raise, but if the 3rd card makes three-of-a-kind you win at 11:1 on your ante!  If this does not happen, the hand is pushed.




Low house edge (1.06%), low variance.   I have to admit to knowing almost nothing about this game! (I don’t play it because it is never allowed in bonus WR).  All I do know is that the dealer deals two 2-card hands called ‘Player’ and ‘Banker’ and you can bet on either of them to win.  The hands only count up to 9, with any 10’s being truncated (eg; 10+7 = 7, 9+4 = 3). There may or may not be a third card dealt onto either hand according to certain rules – please see a casino website for details! J



Stud Poker (Often called Caribbean Stud)

High house edge (5%+), Medium variance (except at Microgaming* = High variance).  According to The Wizard of Odds (and me!), this game is not as bad as the house edge makes it sound.  

It’s medium variance because it is a ‘Jackpot Style’ game with possible wins of over 200x your bet, which means proportionally more losing hands than winners.  However, a short run of good hands can send your balance shooting up enabling you to quit ahead. 


Everyone is dealt 5 cards from a single deck face down, except the dealer who deals his fifth card face up. The player looks at his cards and decides whether to play or pass, based on making standard poker hands with his cards.


The strategy is always play any pair or better.  If you pass, you lose your ante bet. If you play, you must raise exactly double your ante bet. Based on standard poker hand ranking; if the dealer beats your hand you lose all your bets.  If the dealer does not have an Ace & King or better he ‘does not play’ – you are paid 1:1 on your ante bet, and push (keep) your raise bet. If you beat the dealer your ante wins at 1:1, but your raise wins according to the ranking of your hand: Pair = 1:1, 2-pair 2:1, Trips 3:1, etc… (Different casinos have different pay tables). 

* Microgaming pay out very high odds for the top hands, but only 1:1 for 2-pair – I hate this because it greatly increases the house advantage for the majority of your play.

Many casino’s also offer a ‘bonus side bet’ with this game, where an extra $1 wagered pays out on your hand regardless of what the dealer has, from $50 for a flush up to $100,000+ for a Royal Flush!


PaiGow Poker

Medium house edge (2.7%), low variance.  With this single deck poker variant everyone is dealt 7 cards, face down.  You then look at your cards and split them into 2 poker hands; 5-cards & 2-cards, called High and Low hands. The low hand must not be higher that the high hand (eg. If you had 2 Aces & 2 Kings, you can not put the 2 Aces in the low hand). 

What makes it more interesting is there is one Joker in the deck! This can be used as a substitute Ace, or as a ‘wild card’ to make a 5-card straight or flush only. After all players have made their hands, the dealer makes his, according to defined rules. 

To win your bet you must beat both the dealers high & low hands.  If the dealer beats both your hands, or beats one & ties the other, you lose. If you win one hand & lose or tie the other, you push.  Because the chance of winning is 50/50, the house makes its edge by charging a 5% ‘commission’ on your winnings (payout = 19:20). The ‘perfect strategy’ for this game is rather complicated due to the multiple ways to split most of your hands – I have never bothered to try & learn it, but still really enjoy playing this game just doing my own thing!



3-Card Poker (or Tri-Card poker)

This is actually 2 games in one! You only play with one 3-card hand – as does the dealer.  But you can chose to just bet on beating the dealer, getting a pair or better in your hand (regardless of what the dealer has), or both at the same time.  

Normal hand; Medium house edge (3.4-4.3%), low variance. After getting your 3 cards you decide if the hand is good enough to take on the dealer (Advice is play Q,6,4 or better). If you play you must raise your ante bet by exactly 100%. If you beat the dealer, you win ante & raise at 1:1, unless you have flush or better, which pays higher odds on your raise bet, up to 5:1 for a straight flush. (Note that in 3-card a straight ranks higher than a flush!). 

Pair Plus bet; Medium/high house edge (2.3-7.3% depending on the pay-table used by the casino) this is totally separate, and is paid out only on what you have in your hand. A pair is the lowest hand & pays 1:1 – straight flush is highest & pays from 35:1 to 50:1.



Let it Ride Poker

Medium house edge (3.0-3.7%), medium/high variance. 

You place 3 ante bets of the same value* and are dealt 3 cards face down.  You consider your chances of making a standard poker hand of a pair of 10’s or better. If you like your hand you ‘let your bets ride’, if not, you withdraw one of your antes. The dealer deals a card face up in front of him, you then look at your 3 & his one card in terms of a poker hand, as above, and withdraw or let ride your second ante bet.  The dealer pulls out another card to complete the hand, the round is over and you are paid according to the ranking of your hand (your 3 cards + the dealers 2). 

Each ante bet is paid at 1:1 for pair of 10’s or better, up to 250:1 to 1000:1 for SF depending on the casino’s pay table.  Some casinos offer a ‘bonus side bet’ which pay out typically 5:1 for 3-of-a-kind, up to $100,000’s from a ‘jackpot pool’ for a straight flush. (*Note: At some online casino’s you start by placing just one ante bet and then add another (called raising) at the same stages as above, if you like your hand).



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Page created: March-2006  Last full review: 26/03/07. Last update: 10/04/18