Casino war typically uses six standard decks of 52 cards, ranked in traditional poker fashion (Deuces low, Aces high). The player and the dealer each receive a single card, and whomever has the card of highest value wins. For example: if we receive a Seven and the dealer draws a Nine, the dealer wins; but if we have a King and the dealer has a Jack, we win. The payout for a straight-up victory is 1 to 1 – so if we bet $10 and win on the first card, we take back $20.
In the event of a tie (i.e. dealer and player draw the same value card), the player has two options: to ‘surrender’, and so end the hand while forfeiting half his/her original bet; or ‘go to war’, where the round continues and the player must put up an additional bet (usually equal to the initial wager).
When war is called, the player and dealer each take another card. Here, the player wins the war bet and reclaims the original wager if his/her card is higher than, or equal to, the dealer’s. For example: if we bet $10, add another $10 by going to war, and then match or beat the house on the second card, we take back $30. As we only receive a 1 to 2 payout if we win war (i.e. we risk two units for a one-unit payout), this is where the odds favour the house (see bonus payout below – under rule variations – where we can be paid out 2 to 1 if matching cards are again drawn after war is declared).
In most manifestations of casino war, we also have the choice to bet on a tie between us and the banker on the first card. This wager must be made before the initial deal and comes with a whopping 10 to 1 payout – the biggest return this game offers.
For options, convenience, and fast game-play, online casinos such as Casino-Mate and Royal Vegas are the way to go. Casino war is already a brisk game by nature, but playing one-on-one against the dealer via the Web takes the pace of play into over-drive. We also have a far greater spread of choice when hitting trumps tables on the Internet, and thus a wider scope for better player odds, whereas most real-world establishments offer just the one style. And, in addition to real money games, each of our favoured websites allow you to play for fun with no cash required – so if you don’t want to risk your hard-earned Aussie dollar just yet, you don’t have to.
As with many popular games of chance, casino war comes with a variety of optional rules, payouts, and betting options that may be included or discarded by the house. Some of these are enticing and present genuine incentives for players, while others are designed to keep the odds in the operators’ favour.
In the vast majority of casino war games, three cards are burned (discarded) before the second deal whenever the player goes to war – even in online variants. However, some casinos (mainly land-based establishments) have their own interpretations where fewer or more cards are burned. Melbourne’s Crown Casino offers a prime example: when the hand goes to war, no cards are burned and the second cards are dealt immediately. Burning cards has no significant effect on the house edge.
Casino war is normally played with six decks, but in some cases (such as in many online versions) a different number of cards are used in the shoe. This can have a significant effect on odds and probabilities for particular scenarios, especially when less than three decks are in play. For example: when playing with six standard decks (312 cards in total), the house edge on a tie bet is 18.65 per cent; but using just a single deck of 52 cards, the edge on the same wager almost doubles to 35.29 per cent.
In a stock-standard game of casino war, the payout for victory after going to war is the same whether you tie or trump the dealer. However, many venues and gaming sites offer a bonus payout when the player’s second card matches the value of the banker’s. When this rule is in play, the original bet is usually paid out at 2 to 1 odds in addition to the even money return on the war wager. For example: if we bet $10 first up, then go to war with another $10 and tie on the second card, we win $50 all up. With this rule in place, the odds do improve for the player: the house edge decreases by approximately 0.36 per cent with one deck in play, and 0.55 per cent with six decks.
Casino war is about as straightforward as it gets, and thus it does not require anywhere near the same level of tactical ingenuity as games like Texas hold’em or blackjack. Nevertheless, there are a few pearls of wisdom we can offer that will hopefully prevent you from exhausting your bankroll on what is supposed to be a bit of fun.
Whenever you tie the house on the initial deal, always go to war. Taking the surrender option is a sure way to haemorrhage chips, and there is no mathematical reasoning that validates doing so. This may sound strange at first, given the standard return on winning after going to war is 1 to 2, however the house edge actually diminishes when declaring war (2.9 per cent) compared to waving the white flag (3.7 per cent). And in games that give out bonus payouts for second-card ties, going to war should be a no-brainer.
Yes, 10 to 1 odds are incredibly attractive, but that is exactly how a sucker bet works. The edge here is through the roof (between 18 per cent and 35 per cent, depending on the number of decks used), while there is a very real danger of nullifying any winning hands. For example: if we bet $10 on the tie along with our $10 ante, we only break even for a straight-up win; we claim on the initial bet, but lose the $10 for the tie bet.
Assuming you follow the strategic tips above, any real money game offering less than the standard six decks will improve your chances of success in the long run – in theory, at least. A single-deck game with no bonuses for post-war ties carries a house edge of 2.42 per cent, while a six-deck game with the same rules will favour the casino to the tune of 2.89 per cent.
Note that casinos – both on land and the Web – rarely offer short-deck casino war with a bonus payout, which has a far more critical impact on probability than the number of decks used. To demonstrate: as shown above, a game with one deck and no bonuses gives the house an advantage of 2.42 per cent; meanwhile, a game with eight decks that does include a 2 to 1 bonus payout only holds an edge of 2.34 per cent.