One of the dealers at Viejas told me about a weird Hold’Em carnival game at the Hustler Casino in LA, so I decided to check it out (over the phone). As with all table games in California card rooms, you have to pay a per-hand “collection” to the house in order to pay. You play against a 3rd party bank, which is always available whenever the game is open. (The 3rd party bank is usually a separate “corporation” with an arrangement with the casino, but the house is prohibited from directly banking the game.)
Anyways, here’s how the game works. All bets receive even-money action against the dealer, including the Ante. The dealer plays two hands against the player’s one hand. There’s no qualifier to the dealer hand, and if the dealer hands don’t make a pair (including the board), the player instantly wins all wagers. Specifically, the rules are as follows:
- The player must Ante before the hand begins.
- The player receives two cards, and decides either to (A) wager an amount equal to the Ante (1x) in exchange for the right to make additional post-flop bets, or (B) to just play the hand for only the Ante bet. (There is no folding in this game.)
- On the flop, the player may either bet an amount equal to the Ante (1x), or check. (Provided he wagered the 1x preflop bet.)
- On the turn, the player may either bet an amount equal to 2x the Ante, or check. (Provided he wagered the 1x preflop bet.)
- On the river, the player may either bet an amount equal to 2x the Ante, or check. (Provided he wagered the 1x preflop bet.)
- The dealer turns up the two bank hands (two separate sets of hole cards).
- If both the dealer hands are lower than a pair, the player automatically wins even money on all wagers, including the Ante and preflop 1x bet.
- Otherwise, the player receives even money action on all his wagers (including Ante and 1x preflop bet) vs. the best dealer hand.
The game is pretty weird in that you have to play against two dealer hands. I guess this resembles more of a poker game, in that you have to beat multiple players. However, you’re not getting 2:1 odds on your money, so it’s clearly worse. The only benefit to the game is that there’s no qualifiers on the action, and you automatically win if both dealer hands are lower than a pair. Plus, your Ante never folds.
Banking The Game
As I show below, the bank has about a 6.25% edge against a near-optimal player. Needless to say, most people will probably not even come close to playing this game correctly. Even though they can find this page on the web, they won’t bother to look for it, let alone read it, or god-forbid, follow it. I can only imagine how badly people play this game. I’m guessing they under bet pre-flop, over-bet the flop, and under-bet the river. And every post-flop mistake will cost the player at least 10% of the Ante, and there are up to 3 post-flop decisions per hand. Plus the sucker bonus bet that everybody plays.
According to the house rules, you can bank twice per round. When I talked to the floor over the phone, he says that “99.9% of the time” players don’t bank the game. So you’ll share banking privileges evenly with the corporation bank (and other bankers, if present). It costs $2/hand to bank the game, so even if there are 3 players playing $5 Antes, you’ll break even if each player averages a total of 13% of EV mistakes per hand. People probably bet top pair on the flop, which is around a 20% mistake, and they probably bet 2nd pair on a paired board on the river, which is another 20% mistake.
If you live in LA, you should probably give banking a shot, especially on the weekends. It sounds like you’ll only be competing with the corporation for banking rights, and you won’t need a huge bankroll to bank $5 Antes. You might need a minimum bankroll to cover paying off a possible Royal Flush (200:1?) on the bonus bet. But the bonus bet is pretty easy money, depending on the pay table.
I worked out a relatively simple strategy that’s probably close to optimal, since there weren’t many exceptions to the following rules. The following strategy simulates at a 6.25% bank edge.
- Preflop (1x)
- See below preflop tables.
- Flop (1x)
- If trips on board, bet pocket 3’s or higher, else check.
- If the board is paired, bet trips or better, pocket 10’s or higher, or top pair if King’s or higher.
- If the board is suited, bet trips or better, or top two pair.
- If the board is not suited nor paired, bet two pair or better.
- Check everything else.
- Turn (2x)
- If quads on board, bet nut kicker, else check.
- If trips on board, bet full house except under pair, else check.
- If two pair on board, bet if you beat board by more than just kickers, else check.
- If scare flush board, bet 4th worst flush or better, else check.
- If scare straight board, bet any straight or better, else check.
- If board paired, bet trips or better, top pair or over pair if no possible flush, or top pair with 4th nut flush draw or better, else check.
- Else, bet two pairs or better, and top pair or over pair unless gutshot board or possible flush.
- Check all other hands.
- River (2x)
- If quads on board, bet 2nd nut kicker, else check.
- If trips on board, bet full house unless under pair, else check.
- If two pair on board, bet any hand that beats board by more than kickers, else check.
- If scare flush board, bet 3rd worst flush or better, else check.
- If scare straight board, bet any straight or better.
- If board paired, bet trips or better, or top or over pair (or pocket pair higher than 2nd board singleton) unless gutshot board, else check.
- If board not paired, bet two pair or better, or top pair or over pair or 2nd pair unless gutshot board, else check.
where “top pair” means you pair with the highest singleton on board, and “2nd pair” means you pair with the 2nd highest singleton on board.