What alternative poker games can you play?

Regular casino poker players usually know how to find the poker room. You look for the furthest, darkest, most secluded corner of the premises and it’s a safe bet that’s where it is.

The kind of poker we enjoy is not a huge money-spinner for a bricks and mortar casino, so bosses tend to use the more prominent floorspace for gaming tables where there’s a higher yield. That’s why you have to walk past row upon row of slot machines, as well as blackjack tables and roulette wheels, before you can sign up for the daily Texas Hold’em tournament or Omaha cash game. (Alternatively, you can always also play poker online.)

You may have noticed, however, that the word “poker” does appear alongside some of these other tables nearer the entrance. That’s because there are a handful of casino table games that use the basic mechanics of poker.

They’re not poker games as we like it best. And almost always, you’re playing against the house instead of others, and the house retains a significant edge, no matter how skilful you are. But if you ever feel like taking a small punt on some poker-based casino games, here’s an overview of a few you might like to try.

VIDEO POKER

For many casino players, “poker” means feeding dollar bills into a machine and staring at a screen. Video poker is one of the most popular ways to play the game, particularly in the United States and especially in Nevada, where there are video poker machines in gas stations, convenience stores and airports — as well as those sunk into bars across the state.

The versatility of video poker, and the very low overheads associated with machine gaming as opposed to games needing a human dealer, allows players to play hundreds of variants and for all kinds of stakes. There are games costing as little as one cent to play, while there are also video poker games in the high-stakes rooms in most casinos.

The best element of video poker is the chance to play hundreds of different games simultaneously, and play with all kinds of wild cards and crazy draws. There are also progressive jackpots on offer, which can mean huge paydays for a lucky hit.

These aren’t necessarily games where the shuffle is entirely random, however. You’re playing against a machine with a set payout level, and no one makes any claims that they’re not rigged. Just beware and enjoy within your limits.

LET IT RIDE

The game known as Let It Ride bears some cosmetic similarities to Texas Hold’em, but the gameplay is quite different. The idea of the game is to make the highest-ranking poker hand from five available cards, with the highest hand rewarded in accordance with a pre-arranged payout chart.

Usually, only a hand of equal or higher value to a high-ranking pair — probably a pair of tens or better — will receive a payout. The amount paid is always a multiple of the player’s original bet, and is usually published prominently on the table felt or a display card.

At the start of each round, the player places three bets on three betting circles on the felt in front of them. These bets need to be the same size as one another, and conform with the table’s minimum and maximum bets.

Remember, this is a casino game and each player is playing individually, against the house. There may be other players at the same table, but they’re not competing against one another. They’re playing individual games.

The player then receives three cards, face down, which are theirs only, while two additional cards are placed face down in front of the dealer. These latter two cards are community cards.

The player then looks at their cards and decides whether they might form the basis of a winning hand. If the player is not happy with their hand, they can scratch the cards on the felt and be given one of their three bets back. Alternatively, if the player likes the cards, they can opt to “Let It Ride” and leave all three bets out there.

The dealer then turns over one of the community cards. The player can now see four of the five cards they will use to make a hand.

The player now has the same option. They can scratch the table and receive one of their bets back, or they can “Let It Ride”, and leave out whatever bets are still placed.

The dealer then turns over the final community card and the player can see all five cards in their hand. If they have a hand that qualifies for a payout, they will get paid on all bets still remaining on the table. This will be at least one bet, and possibly as many as three.

A typical payout table might look like this:

10s or better — 1 to 1
Two pair — 2 to 1
Three of a kind — 3 to 1
Straight — 5 to 1
Flush — 8 to 1
Full house — 11 to 1
Four of a kind — 50 to 1
Straight flush — 200 to 1
Royal flush — 1,000 to 1

Anyone who knows the true odds of poker hands will quickly see that these payouts are pretty stingy. But that’s how it goes in casino games!

CARIBBEAN STUD

There’s not a whole lot of complexity to Caribbean Stud poker, which is probably why it’s a popular game with players and casino alike. The latter also likes it because it’s very difficult for a player to make much money. There’s a built-in safety mechanism insuring casinos against many major losses.

In this game, the player places an ante on the felt in front of them. (Again it needs to be between the table minimum and maximum.) The dealer then deals five cards face down to the player and five cards to themselves, all but one of which are face down. As always, the dealer is playing on behalf of the house, but the player gets a peek at one of the dealer’s cards.

The player decides whether they like their hand, particularly in comparison with what they think the dealer might have. They have only two options: they can either double their bet or fold their cards, surrendering whatever they have already bet.

The dealer then looks at their hand and compares it with the player’s. If the player’s hand is best, then the player wins and gets a payout. If the dealer’s is best, then the dealer wins and the house takes the bet. (If the hand is folded, the house wins a smaller amount automatically.)

The payouts are awarded on a sliding scale, similar to the payout table listed above (but often with even more stingy odds). So if the player has a flush, they’ll get perhaps five times their bet, with other winning hands ranked accordingly.

But here’s a catch: just winning the hand is only enough to get a payout on the first part of their bet, i.e., the ante. In order to get a payout on the second half of their bet (i.e., the money that went in at the raise/fold round), the dealer’s hand has to “qualify”. A “qualifying” hand needs to be A-K or better — i.e., it needs to contain the two highest cards in the deck, or be a pair or better.

So in order to get paid out on both parts of a bet, the dealer needs to have a good hand, but the player needs to have a better one.

HOLD’EM POKER

Some casinos offer what they call Hold’em Poker as a table game. This should not be confused with “real” Texas hold’em poker, which you’ll find in a poker room, but it does bear some similarities. It’s actually more like Caribbean stud poker, however, described above.

In the table-game version of Hold’em Poker, the player places an ante in front of them on the table and received two cards, face down. The dealer also gets two cards, face down.

The dealer also spreads a three-card flop on the table — i.e., three community cards, face up on the felt. The player can now see five cards — their two hole cards, plus the community cards, and a five-card poker hand begins to take shape.

At this stage, the dealer places a bet of double the player’s ante on the table. The player can either call the bet or fold their hand. If they fold, they surrender their ante and cannot win anything from this hand. If they call, they are now in for double their original ante.

The dealer then deals two more community cards, giving seven cards from which the player and the dealer can make a hand. Cards are turned face up and the best hand wins.

If the dealer wins, all player bets are scooped up and added to the house’s coffers. If the player wins, they get paid out according to a pre-published payout schedule, and with the same caveats as above about a dealer’s “qualifying” hand.

As with Caribbean Stud, a dealer’s hand needs to “qualify” in order for a player to get paid out on a bonus bet. A qualifying hand will probably be something like a pair of fours or above.

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