We love a good hand of poker as much as the next guy. It’s a great game that’s dependable, classic, and relatively easy to play (and win), whether you’re at home or on a casino floor. If you want to mix things up, though, give one of these alternatives a spin to give a new edge to your home poker night. And if you’re at the casino tables, you’re in luck: these are the games that give you the best odds in the house.
It might seem complicated and old-school, but baccarat is a surprisingly good choice for how to spend your time on the floor -- it's simple, has good odds, and if you're dressed well enough, you'll look like James Bond while playing.
The basics: The goal is to get closest to 9, with 10s and face cards having a value of zero. You're dealt two cards, and then a third if your hand adds up to 5 or lower. If your hand is closer to 9 than the banker's (who follows a slightly more complicated set of rules for drawing a third card), you win.
The odds: Since it's entirely a game of chance and the house plays with almost the same rules as the player, the odds are remarkably even. In general, the house only has an advantage of about 1%.
Our tip: Relax, bet within your means, and have fun with it. There’s no strategy, so you don’t have to worry about making the right move, but don’t let that persuade you to be too loose with your bets.
Sure, it can get complicated with card-counting whiz kids and pros who play five hands at once, but blackjack is a remarkably simple game that just about everyone knows how to play. And because of that simplicity -- not to mention the damn good odds -- it's one of the most popular casino games around.
The basics: Get a hand closer to 21 (but no higher) than the dealer's. You're initially dealt two cards -- one face up, and one face down -- and can "hit" for additional ones at the risk of going over.
The odds: Want the best odds in the casino? Play blackjack. The house edge varies between casinos, since some pay out differently for a blackjack (a perfect hand of an ace plus a ten or face card, adding up to 21). Generally, though, playing with perfect strategy yields a house edge in the vicinity of 1%, which means that as long as you have a good idea of what you're doing, you stand a chance of winning (or at least keeping some of your money).
Our tip: Learn basic strategy first. Whether you hit or stand can depend on the card the dealer is showing. Once you understand the game well, you can decide if you want to move on to more advanced tactics or even form your own Bringing Down the House type team.
Pai Gow Poker
This one tends to fly below the radar in terms of popularity, but once you learn it, it’ll become a steady favorite. The gameplay is much more relaxed than blackjack which gives you time to think and keeps things relatively stress-free, especially since there are plenty of pushes (hands when no one wins and no chips are exchanged). Because of that, it gives you all the enjoyment of playing a table game without money flying out of your wallet too quickly -- which also makes it an excellent choice if you just want to play a few slow hands and soak up some free casino drinks without emptying your bank account. Plus, everyone at the table plays against the dealer’s hand, so the table often wins and loses together which makes things fun and social.
The basics: Both you and the dealer are dealt seven cards. You split those up into two separate hands -- one with five cards, and another with two, ideally each with some favorable combinations. Both your hands compete with the dealers’, and you or the dealer need to win both the smaller and larger hands to collect. Some strategy is involved, since you can create different combinations of cards depending on how you want to stack your two separate hands.
The odds: Like the other games listed above, Pai Gow is one of the fairest games in the joint with the house edge hovering around 1.5%. This combined with the slower play means you won’t be losing the mortgage too quickly. And it's still possible to hit a hot streak and pocket some substantial cash to head home with.
Our tip: If you’re not sure how to break your cards up, just ask the dealer. Since they have a specific set of rules for playing their own cards, they’re able to help you determine what to do with yours, and are often some of the friendliest dealers on the floor.