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Poker Life: Optimal casino strategy versus playing poker

Fri, Mar 3, 8:49am by Poker Guru

The optimal strategy for casino games like baccarat, blackjack, roulette, craps and slot machines is the same: Don’t play. If you play your EV (expected value) is negative and if you don’t your EV is 0 which is better. But suppose you walk around a casino and really want to play something, which game is the ‘least bad’ for you?

If you know how to play perfect blackjack strategy that is usually the best game for you. The house edge can then be as low as 0.3% which means that for each $100 you bet your expected loss is only 30 cents. Compare that with roulette where the house edge is 2.7% (single zero) or 5.3% (double zero).

But how about poker? Many casinos have a poker room. What is the house edge there? The rake will typically be around 10% of the pot with some cap at a casino which means that the house edge is quite high but it is not evenly distributed among the players. If you are a better than the players you play against you will actually have a positive EV (expected value)! You do not even have to be good, just better than the other players at your table. If you are bad at poker, playing poker is the worst game you can pick in a casino. Even American roulette (double zero) is better for you.

What percentage of the poker players have a positive EV then? Without any stats I would say about two players per full table. The average house edge is so high that you need to be way above average to beat it. I would also guess that the 3rd and 4th best players at the table have a zero EV which is still better than any casino game.

So if you are one of the top two players at a poker table you are the equivalent of running your own American Roulette wheel. If you are the 3rd best player you are the equivalent of running a Blackjack game. The rest of the players are your customers and that is how you should treat them.

Many poker players, even players who are among the best in the world, do not realise this. There are many private games in the world for rich people where some sharp players will be invited, but only if they are nice and friendly and play an entertaining style. Otherwise they will not be invited. Just like in any free market customers have a choice of where they will take their business. It is just that some winning poker players do not realise that they are running a business.

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