Discount Gambling

Lunar Poker @ Pechanga Casino

Posted in +EV, collusion, lunar poker by stephenhow on August 24, 2012

Well, someone is finally bringing the infamous Lunar Poker (aka Russian Poker) to the US, starting at my nearby Pechanga Casino. The game is a very interesting version of the old Caribbean Stud Poker, with a lot more options like drawing cards, buying an extra card, buying insurance, and forcing the dealer to draw (all for a price).

The game has been infamous, because the many player options result in an incalculable number of possible hand combinations (6.27x 10^20 according to the WoOs), and because of the absence of a published strategy. It sounds like people have played this game by the seat of their pants for years in Europe and Asia. But a lot of us won’t play a game without first knowing the basic strategy and house edge. So I grinded out the analysis, just in case you run across this game.

Rules

The rules follow the basic structure of Caribbean Stud Poker. You place an Ante before the hand starts, and the players and dealer each receive five cards. The dealer exposes one of his cards. You eventually decide to either Raise 2x, or fold your Ante. The dealer turns up his hand, and needs Ace-King or better to qualify. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, then the remaining Antes are paid even-money, and the Raise bets push. If the dealer qualifies, then the Antes push, and the Raise bets are paid according to a paytable.

So far, these rules are just like Caribbean Stud, except here, the Ante only pays when the dealer doesn’t qualify.

Now, Lunar Poker offers the following player options before the Player makes his 2x Raise decision:

  • The player may either receive an extra (6th) card, or may replace 2-5 of his cards, for the cost of 1x the Ante.
  • With three-of-a-kind or better, the player may take even-money insurance against the Dealer not qualifying (up to 1/2 the amount of the winning payout).

The players make their 2x Raise or Fold decision, then the dealer turns up his hand. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, the Antes and Insurance pay even money. If the dealer qualifies, then the player must beat the dealer to win his Raise bet and push his Ante. Else, the player loses his Ante and Raise. Insurance loses if the dealer qualifies and the player wins. If the dealer qualifies and the player loses, Insurance pushes. (Note: Pechanga lets you can take Insurance on up to the full amount your potential win.)

Finally, if the dealer doesn’t qualify, the player has an option to:

  • Pay 1x Ante to force the dealer to replace his highest card with a draw from the deck.

If the dealer qualifies after the draw, then the player’s Ante and Raise resolve as before. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, then the Ante and Raise push. Note: if you decide to Force the dealer to draw, then you forfeit the pay on the Ante you would normally receive. (It is expensive to Force the dealer; you forfeit your win on the Ante, AND you have to pay 1x!)

Paytable

For winning hands against a qualified dealer hand, the Raise bet pays according to the following paytable. More importantly, you are paid on a second hand from the paytable, when the second hand uses at least one different card from your first payout hand. (Note: “hands” do not include kickers; e.g., a three-of-a-kind hand contains only 3 cards for purposes of the paytable.) I’m not going to provide examples of the second payout, as this is described elsewhere.

Hand Payout
Royal Flush 100-to-1
Straight Flush 50-to-1
Four-of-a-Kind 20-to-1
Full House 7-to-1
Flush 5-to-1
Straight 4-to-1
Three-of-a-Kind 3-to-1
Two Pairs 2-to-1
One Pair 1-to-1
AK 1-to-1

Basic Strategy

I worked out a simple strategy for the game that simulates at a 1.43% house edge. That’s not bad as far as carnival games go, but it looks like their claim of “House Advantage Under 1%!” is false.

Draw Decision

The first decision on what to hold and draw is presented in the table below.

Draw Decision for Lunar Poker
5-Card Hand Decision
Royal Flush
Straight Flush
Flush
Straight
Always buy 6th card.
Four-of-a-Kind Stand.
Full House Buy 6th card unless dealer upcard copies you.
Three-of-a-Kind Stand if 4-of-a-kind not possible,
else hold trips and exchange 2 cards.
Two Pairs Stand.
One Pair w/ AK Discard 2’s or 3’s (hold AK and exchange 3) against higher upcard, Queen or lower,
else stand.
One Pair Buy 6th card for open-ended, flush draw, or gutshot.
Hold pair and exchange 3 if pair below upcard,
else stand.
AK Buy 6th card for open-ended, flush draw, else
Buy 6th card for perfect gutshot to 6-card straight, else
Buy 6th card for gutshot straight draw against A or K upcard, else
Hold AKs and royal cards higher than dealer upcard, else
Hold AK and exchange 3
Nothing Buy 6th card for open-ended or flush draw, else
Buy 6th card for perfect gutshot to 6-card straight, else
Hold AKs and any Royal cards, else
Hold two or more Royal cards higher than the dealer upcard, else
Hold three straight flush cards higher than the dealer upcard, else
Hold A against K upcard or lower, else
Hold K against J upcard or lower, else
Hold Q against copied J upcard or lower, else
Hold Q against 5 upcard or lower,
Else fold.

where open-ended straight draws include double-gutshot straight draws.

Insurance

It’s only correct to take insurance in a few cases. Never insure your hand against an Ace or King upcard. Otherwise, take insurance when you copy the dealer upcard 2 or more times. If you only copy the dealer upcard once, then take insurance when you also hold 2 or more Aces or Kings in your hand.

2x Raise / Fold

You should 2x Raise any pair or better. Fold any non-qualifying hand. Otherwise, play AK according to the table below.

2x Raise Decision
Hand Decision
Pair or better Raise 2x.
AK Call with any copies of the dealer upcard, Q or lower, else
Call with AKJ83 or better with any copies of the dealer upcard (including A, K), else
Fold all others.
non-qualifying Fold.

Force Dealer Bet

Your potential Raise payout and the possible dealer outs determine when you should try to force the dealer to draw. The table below tells you when to pay 1x to replace the highest dealer card with one from the deck. Remember, you’re forfeiting your instant Ante win by Forcing the dealer to draw. Plus, you’re paying 1x for the Force, so you need at least a 4:1 payout to make it profitable (i.e., don’t Force trips-only hands).

Force Draw Strategy
Potential Payout Conditions
3-to-1
or lower
Never force.
4-to-1 Don’t force dealer flush or open-ended draws that beat you unless all dealer pair outs are available, else
Don’t force if you hold 2 or more of the dealer’s pair outs,
else force.
5-to-1 Force unless you hold 4 or more of the dealer’s pair outs.
6-to-1
or higher
Always force.

Simple Two Player Collusion

If you’re friendly with your table-neighbor, you can slightly modify basic strategy to get a +EV return of +0.43% on the Ante. The drawing decision is modified accordingly:

Buy/Exchange Decision for Two Player Collusion
5-Card Hand Decision
Three-of-a-Kind Stand pat if your neighbor holds your quad out, else
hold trips and exchange 2 cards.
One Pair
w/o AK
Buy 6th card for open-ended or flush draw, else
Buy 6th card with over-pair (above dealer upcard) and gutshot if all straight outs remain, else
Buy 6th card with under-pair (below dealer upcard) and gutshot if any straight outs remain, else
Stand pat against dead upcard (3 copies) Q or lower, else
Hold under-pair (below dealer upcard) and draw 3 if all outs remain, else
Stand pat for all others.
AK Buy 6th card for open-ended or flush draw, else
Buy 6th card with 2+ outs to perfect gutshot (6-card straight), else
Buy 6th card with 3+ outs to gutshot against A/K upcard, else
Stand pat against dead upcard (3 copies), Q or lower, else
Hold two or more royal cards, exchange rest, else
Buy 6th card with at least 2 gutshot draws to AKQJT, else
Hold AK and exchange 3 cards.
Nothing Buy 6th card for open-ended or flush draw, else
Buy 6th card with 2+ outs to perfect gutshot (6-card straight), else
Stand pat against dead upcard (3 copies), Q or lower, else
Hold two or more royal cards, exchange rest, else
Hold your highest card, 9 or better, higher than the upcard and not copied by your neighbor, else
Hold 3 straight flush cards higher than the upcard, else
Fold all others.

Only take insurance when you and your neighbor hold 3 total copies of the upcard, Queen or lower. Never insure against an Ace or King upcard.

Finally, modify the 2x Raise decision:

  • Call any 2:1 pay or better, else
  • Fold pair deuces against uncopied upcard 3 thru Q, else
  • Call any other pair, else
  • Call any hand when you and your neighbor hold all 3 copies of the dealer upcard Queen or lower, else
  • Call AKJ83 or better when you and your neighbor hold any copies of the upcard, else
  • Call AK when you and your neighbor hold 2 copies of the dealer upcard Queen or lower, else
  • Fold all others.

30 Responses

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  1. mike said, on August 24, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Awesome! I avoided this game because I don’t have a clue what I am doing in it, but now I may give it another shot! I still don’t like the fact that the dealer has to qualify. Thanks for crunching “some” numbers and for the basic strategy!
    Mike

  2. Hunterhill said, on August 25, 2012 at 5:03 am

    Stephen,what happens when a player forces the dealer to draw a card,does the draw card only play against that players hand,and not against the players who did not want the dealer to draw?

    • stephenhow said, on August 25, 2012 at 6:44 am

      If you don’t want to force the dealer to draw, then you win the Ante, and you push your Raise. If other players elect to Force the dealer draw, it won’t affect you.

  3. Tom Mc said, on August 25, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Sounds like a job. I am not into all thatwork. :’)

  4. vgMega said, on September 29, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    The more I read the more this game intrigues me…I need to visit soon

  5. Ilya said, on October 10, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Hello. The game was introduced in Russia almost ten years ago (and is known there as Russian Poker). It was analysed (in the many years process of using) for different outlets with different (though not much different) house edge results.
    Don’t want argue with your house edge estimation. Just want to say some interesting facts about basic strategy for the one box.
    There are 122,151,120 starting combinations (for the one box).
    And there are 2472 decisions to draw all 5 cards (!) and almost 18% of all decisions is a decision to draw 4 cards.
    So the basic strategy for the one box is quite complicated.
    Not to mention the basic strategy for the two boxes is much much more complicated (when the player knows the first box cards when makes decision for the second box).
    The game itself is a really interesting to play and became most popular casino game in former USSR countries. Good luck! :)

    • stephenhow said, on October 11, 2012 at 8:04 am

      Thanks for the info on the game. I have little idea where it’s available, or how popular it is. BTW, I’m not making any estimates of what the house edge is — I’m just providing a simple one-player strategy that yields a -1.4% return. My posted two-player collusion strategy yields a +0.4% return, and is pretty simple. I keep the strategies simple enough for most people to remember. Of course, the beauty of this game is not in the simple one-player or two-player strategies …

      • Ilya said, on October 11, 2012 at 11:10 am

        Completely agree with you. It was known from the start when game was introduced that on two boxes (with an equal ante sum) the player has an advantage. But optimal strategy is so difficult that in reality statistical return from the average bet was more then for example for Black Jack or Oasis poker. The reason is simple. It is to easy for player to make mistakes, to deviate from the optimal strategy.
        So the players are really need to use some basic strategy (but not to much complicated) that can help dramatically increase the player’s return and to get much more fun from the game.

  6. Dan Lubin said, on November 30, 2012 at 12:34 am

    Lunar poker is seen at the River City Casino is St. Louis Missouri, at least through Sept 2012. According to the Missouri Gaming commission, it Dropped $60K, and held $22K, or 36%. At 60K drop, it wasn’t getting much action as a side game; in the same month, UTH dropped $279K.

  7. Stephan said, on January 11, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Stephen, do you calculate the house edge on the ante bet or in regard to the complete amount wagered (element of risk)? I allways look at the eor when comparing casino games. Thanks and keep up the good work!

    • stephenhow said, on January 11, 2013 at 7:57 am

      I always state the house edge as a number relative to the ante. If I quote the element of risk for a game, I’ll make it clear in the statement.

  8. Amphibia said, on February 3, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Stephen, thanks for posting this basic strategy. I live in Eastern Europe, and have been playing this game for many years now. Its great to see the game was analysed for the first time!

    May I ask one question on your basic strategy – your say to 2x raise any pair. This sounds slightly counter intuitive. If the dealer doesn’t qualify (approx. 23% chance) – you win ante bet only (1 unit). However, if the dealer qualifies – you loose both ante and the bet amount (so you loose 3 units). So if you have 2,2; or 3,3 it doesn’t seem to make much sense to play in my intuitive logic. If dealer has a game – chances are he will beat you. So it seems like there is very high risk for a low return if you call with small pairs. Personally, i never call with a small pair – unless I have at least one card same as dealer’s upcard, or if my pair is higher than dealers upcard. But if dealer is showing 7, and I have 5,5 – I don’t call. Do you think its wrong play?

    • stephenhow said, on February 3, 2013 at 11:54 am

      Amphibia,

      Nice point about the pair of deuces! I just ran the sims, and see that for a pair of deuces, with no second payout, against an uncopied dealer Q or lower, it’s slightly better to fold (-1) than to call (-1.001). But, it’s a very small difference (0.1%), and it’s just easier to state basic strategy as “2x all pairs or better”. However, you should definitely call with a pair of treys, even under the same circumstances (3 < uncopied dealer upcard <= Q), as EV(2x) is about -0.89, which is much better than EV(fold) = -1. Of course, if you’re using other player information, then you’ll play small pairs much differently.

      It's really cool that you have Lunar Poker there. It's not catching on here in the US very well. Also, do players in Eastern Europe discuss their hands during play? Or is that strictly forbidden?

      Steve

  9. Amphibia said, on February 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Many thanks for this! I didn’t know the odds until now, so its great to get to really understand the game finally. May I ask a couple more questions from your sim, when you have time. Sometimes, when I have a low pair (77 and lower) against a higher uncopied dealer upcard, I either take a 6th card, or exchange 3 cards, drawing for 3 of a kind. This is probably not the smartest move, but I am very curious what’s the EV in each case.

    1) 2x small pair
    2) draw the 6th card -> 2x if improves, otherwise fold
    3) exchange 3 cards ->2x if improves, otherwise fold

    What if you do the same, but you play with 2 other people (3 players in total), and neither of them copies dealers upcard, also neither of them copies your pair. Does it get to the point where its +EV to exchange 3 cards on any pair (<=Q)? E.g. if you knew 4 players card and none copied your pair.

    Which I guess leads to your question about discussing hands. Generally, its discouraged, but its not enforced very strictly. Some players routinely tell when they copy dealers card, some don't. But generally you can ask, and people typically ask if anyone had some card if they are drawing for a 3 of a kind. Peeking at cards is more strongly policed, but unless you do this on a regular basis, you can still get a look when drawing close hand. I am not sure it would be that lax if you played high stakes though.

  10. vincent Cardito said, on July 23, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    Game now at Hollywood Tunica

  11. CharlesL said, on September 8, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Game also at Resorts Casino, Atlantic City

  12. Fronto said, on September 13, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Excellent article! The only real question I have is: If 4 players collude and play relatively basic strategy (“don’t try to improve on underpair if 1 one of your outs is with neighbour” type), what is the expected edge on the players vs the house?

    Also, any specific things to add to basic strategy if basically all 4 players can freely collude?

    • vadogre said, on December 22, 2013 at 9:30 am

      HI Fronto,
      can you name the locations in which they allow to players freely collude?

  13. Bob said, on October 22, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Can you please clarify about your drawing decision when original five cards are AK with one pair?

  14. Emily Barton said, on November 10, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Downstream outside of Joplin now has this game. Played this weekend and it was great fun. Not hard to learn after about 5 hands had it down.

  15. IRAKLI said, on November 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Russian poker is by far the most popular game in Georgia, w/o any restrictions for players to discuss/check their hands before acting. This makes everything a bit more complicated, as in the first move, you already see 21 cards (considering that playing 4 boxes) of the deck, and try to calculate all possibilities of dealer’s upcard qualifying, AK’s qualifying, pair/pairs/high cards in your hand to stay or exchange cards for a better payout. After the exchanges, it becomes even more interesting, assuming that approx. 10-12 more cards have been delivered, only 20 cards would be left unseen. i.e. my calculation shows that when all copies of upcard seen, there’s a possibility of 40% for the dealer to qualify, if only 20 cards are left unseen. On the contrary, if none of the copies of upcard has been spotted at the same position, probability of dealer to qualify increases to nearly 75%. Another interesting point to calculate, you may add money in somebody elses insurance, or even meet the insurance request, if you think the odds are with you. The strategy you mentioned above is very basic, but here we are forced to calculate every minute according to the varying conditions. :)

    • vadogre said, on December 22, 2013 at 8:36 am

      hi, IRAKLI
      i have some questions for you about the restrictions of this game in georgia casinos. do you have any e-mail for contact?

      thanks.
      vadim

    • vadogre said, on December 22, 2013 at 8:38 am

      hi IRAKLI,
      I was very enthusiastic to hear about the restrictions in russian poker at geogia casinos, i have some further questions for you. can you write your e-mail please?

      thanks,
      vadim

  16. thoriumblvd said, on November 22, 2013 at 12:23 am

    Steven, et al
    The raise2x/Fold strategy can be improved a bit using this…

    Raise any hand ranked One Pair or Better
    Fold any hand that does not qualify

    For Ace-King hands…
    1.) Raise ANY AKQxy
    2.) Raise AKJxy IF you match the Dealer Up-Card
    3.) Raise ALL OTHER AK hands IF a non-AK card matches the Up-Card
    4.) Otherwise FOLD

    This works better than the AKJ83 strategy for CSP (mine=5.24%, AKJ83= 5.31%) and is unpublished.

    Thorium

    • James said, on November 25, 2013 at 12:36 am

      thoriumblvd,

      I think I can beat CSP under certain conditions but I need someone to confirm it with simulation.

      Can you help me to run the simulation ? contact me : bjman2010@gmail.com

      James

  17. kutsu said, on June 16, 2014 at 1:50 am

    i wonder if i know info ONLY about the blockers(4 players collusion), what would be house edge?

  18. Larry said, on August 5, 2014 at 8:01 am

    St. Louis’ Hollywood Casino now has a new version of this game that requires that the player place a ‘super bet’ on their first 5 cards. The player can also bet on the other players & the dealers first 5 cards. When these super hands are falling frequently on the table the house can put out a lot of money.
    The pays on the Supers are as follows

    Four of a kind 250/1
    Five Face Cards 120/1 (King, Queen & Jack)
    Full House 100/1
    Flush 60/1
    Straight 30/1
    3 of a kind 8/1
    Ace, King, Queen 5/1
    All same Color 2/1

    There is a $5 min, & $50 Max bet, Ante can not exceed the super. You can bet any amount on other players or the dealer as these are side bets. One player’s 4 of a Kind paid the Players $11,250.

    This new setup give the house a higher percentage rake, which off sets the nights when the table is hot and the ‘Super hands’ are happening regularly. If a player is just betting $5 on their ‘super’ & ante, if a player does not have a ‘super’ & buys cards, if the dealer doesn’t qualify you lose $5 each hand.

    • J_W_B said, on August 28, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      HI Larry, Are you sure the ‘Super’ bet is mandatory? Where I am it;s being touted as optional, but encouraged by the dealer

  19. WRX said, on August 25, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Lunar Poker can be found at the Treasure Chest, near New Orleans. Sorry, I didn’t catch the table limits.

    • cons said, on October 9, 2014 at 7:44 pm

      do they let you share info about your hand?


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