How To Play Casino Games
If you're interested in learning how to play casino games, slots are the most prevalent casino games because they are easy to master and they bring in the most money. A large part of that popularity is that no skill or mastery of rules and customs is involved; all you do is push the button and hope for the best. Of course, slots can be fun, but if you never venture past them you're missing out. Especially since the odds are much better for the player at games other than slots!
Still, many people never move beyond slots because they're intimidated or confused by other games. They get frustrated by the low payback percentages of video poker and blackjack when they aren't played the “right” way, or they get confused by the etiquette and betting process of table games.
Some casino games can seem unapproachable at first, but they can be learned quite quickly. After all, the casino wants as many people wagering as possible! Online casinos offer the best possible opportunity to learn any game. In addition to playing with no social pressure, most casinos offer a “free play” mode in which you can experiment with games without making any real money wagers.
Player's Guide to Playing Casino Games
This guide will explain the basics of the following games:
Getting into the advanced strategy for each of these games is too much for the scope of this guide, but you'll get enough information to understand the basic rules and to feel comfortable sitting down at the virtual table and experimenting (ideally in a free mode first).
How to Play Blackjack
21 is the best possible hand in blackjack, but the goal isn't to get it; it's simply to beat the dealer, either by getting a higher hand or by making them “bust” by going over 21.
The house always has an advantage at blackjack because the dealer can see the player's cards, whereas the player can only see one dealer card. However, the player has an advantage in that dealers are required by house rules to either hit or stand based on what they're currently holding; and that allows for strategic play. Depending on the game rules, there's always a mathematically superior play (in terms of probability) for each set of visible cards that are currently on the table.
After being dealt their two initial cards, blackjack players can opt to:
- “Hit” – add another card, in an attempt to get closer to 21 without going over
- “Stand” – keep the current cards and force the dealer to play out their hand in an attempt to beat it
- “Split” – separate the two cards and create two separate hands to play (which also requires doubling the current bet). This can only be done when the player is dealt a pair or two face cards, however. Both hands can be played normally from that point unless the player has split Aces, in which case they can only draw one new card per hand.
- “Double” – double the current bet after receiving the first two cards, but the player must take one additional card and can take no others beyond it
- “Surrender” – basically the equivalent of folding in poker, but the player loses only half of their wager. The player must do this before taking any additional cards, however.
- “Insurance” – this may be offered to the player if the dealer's visible card is an Ace. This is a side bet that pays two to one if the dealer ends up having blackjack. Most players turn it down, as it is extremely rare to be mathematically the best play.
A “blackjack” occurs when the player draws an Ace (which can be treated as having a value of 11 or 1 depending on what is best in the current situation) and a face card or a 10 immediately. This is an automatic win unless the dealer also has a blackjack on her first two cards, in which case it is a “push” and the player's wager is returned.
The optimal strategy in blackjack varies depending on the table rules. For example, some tables will forbid splitting Aces, doubling or surrendering. The bonus paid for a player's blackjack is also a factor. The best tables pay 3 to 2 when a player draws a blackjack; these are known as “full pay” tables. However, many tables offer 6:5 or even 7:5, which influences the optimal strategy and significantly decreases the player's expected return.
Online blackjack players have one more potent advantage: the use of “strategy cards.” These cards give a visual reference for the best bet and game strategy in each set of circumstances based on table rules. The cards are sometimes banned at live casinos, but the online player may use them. Because of this, it's difficult to find online casinos that offer 3:2 blackjack games. 6:5 and 7:5 games still generally offer an expected return of over 97% when played with perfect strategy and puts them among the most favorable games in the house.
Video poker can be confusing at first because there's a dizzying array of games and rule varieties, and like blackjack, each has their own optimal strategy.
The best way to learn video poker is to start with the most basic and universal game: Jacks or Better. A few odd exceptions aside, this variant actually offers the best overall player return, though it does not have the enticing jackpots other games advertise.
The player is dealt five cards in each hand. You can opt to hold or change out as many cards as you like. The hand is over after the selected cards are replaced once. The most basic winning hand is a pair of face cards (thus the name of the game), which usually returns the player's wager. Two pair of any type of card is the next best hand, which doubles the player's wager. It proceeds like this through the standard poker hands; three of a kind, straight, flush, full house, four of a kind to the royal flush, the ultimate winning hand. This hand will return thousands on the player's wager if hit.
All video poker games work off this basic five-card framework, but there are a lot of different rule variants. Many change the win amounts, most often sacrificing the wins for face card pairs and two pairs in return for larger wins on better hands. A few variants change the rules about card value, such as Deuces Wild, where cards with a value of 2 can take on any value. A few multi-hand variants aside, however, almost none of these offer a better expected return than Jacks or Better.
As with blackjack, there is always a mathematical “best play” for each combination of cards, and strategy cards exist to provide a convenient “cheat sheet.”
Roulette is the simplest of the table games to understand; just pick a number or color and hope the ball lands on it! There are more exotic side bets that can be quite confusing to players, however.
In addition to wagering on a color, odd/even or a specific number-color combination, players can opt for the following:
* Groups of 12 sequential numbers (1-12, 13-24, 25-36)
* Groups of 18 sequential numbers (1-18, 19-36)
* “A la carte” combinations of anywhere from two to six numbers
Most roulette games stick to this simple set of bet options, but online casinos have recently added some special games with side bets. For example, some have added a progressive jackpot that hits when a number comes up twice in a row. To be eligible for the progressive, the player adds an extra dollar to whatever the standard bet might be for that game.
Initially, it seems that picking a color or even/odd offers the best odds, but what keeps this from being a 50/50 chance is the presence of the green “0” number on most roulette wheels (and sometimes an additional “00” number). The house edge is about 2.6% with one zero on the wheel and doubles to about 5.2% with two zeros.
Fortunately, the “double zeros” convention originated with Nevada casinos and is mostly limited to those based in the United States. Unless the casino is in New Jersey, most online players will enjoy the much more favorable odds of having only one zero on the wheel at reputable casinos.
Craps is the most popular casino dice game. Some people are intimidated by the crowds around the table in live casinos, but obviously, that is not a factor at online casinos. All you really need to understand are the rules, the different bet types and the basic flow of the game.
If there are multiple players, each takes a turn as the “shooter” or the person who rolls the dice. If you're playing by yourself, this is manufactured by the casino software. If the shooter is a human player, he starts each round by placing a bet on either the Pass or Don't Pass line.
“Pass” means “win” for all intents and purposes; betting “pass” means you're hoping the shooter rolls a 7 or 11 on his first roll.
If the shooter rolls a 4-10 on the first roll, that number is set as the “point.” The shooter will win the Pass Line bets on the next roll by hitting that same number. If the player rolls a seven, however, the Don't Pass line wins and the shooter is replaced by another player. Likewise, if the shooter rolls a 2-3 or a 12 at any point, that's also a win for the Don't Pass line and a quick exit for the shooter.
The basic flow of the game is easy to understand. What makes it intriguing are the various side bets that players are allowed to place. In addition to betting Pass and Don't Pass, you can opt to bet the following:
* Come Line: This is the same as the Pass Line, except it's only available after the initial roll. You're taking the rules from the initial roll (win on 7 or 11) and applying them to the subsequent point rolls by betting this line.
* Place Line: This bet allows the player to set a personal point number at any time. Pick a number between 4 and 10 (other than 7), and if the shooter hits it before the next 7 is rolled, it usually nets the player 9:5 or 7:5. The Place To Lose variant allows you to bet that a 7 will be rolled first.
* Hard Way: This bet requires a 4, 6, 8 or 10 to be rolled in a pair.
* Field Bet: This bet can be played on any roll and the player only loses money if a 5-8 is rolled. A 2 returns twice the wager, a 12 returns three times the wager, and any other number is even money.
* Prop Bet: This is just a bet that one particular number will be rolled on the next try. These bets have the worst house edge but return the largest wins.
* The Odds: This is the most interesting bet in craps because, under the right circumstances, the house has zero edge when you take it! This bet is only available after a point has been established. The point number determines how much you are allowed to wager. To win this bet, the shooter must simply roll the point again before they hit a 7. However, because it is one of the only truly fair bets in the house, casinos usually put tight limits on wager sizes and these bets usually don't count toward comps or player tier status.
Of course, with most online craps games, you won't need to worry about the shooter being changed out. The only exception is live-streaming games, which may have participants who take turns virtually rolling the dice.
Keno is more or less a lottery. The player picks from a field of 80 numbers in total, choosing somewhere between 1 and 15 of these numbers. 20 numbers are then drawn from a virtual hopper. The more matches the player has, the more money he wins.
Like slot machines, keno is simple and has no real strategy. Some players find that pleasant, but it's important to know that keno odds are some of the longest among all casino games.
Gambling 101: Odds, Payouts, Tips and Strategies
In summary, the simpler a game is (or the less effort the player puts into learning it) the more the odds favor the house. Keno and slots usually have the longest odds of all casino games, while a skilled blackjack or video poker player can whittle the house edge down to less than a percent under the right circumstances. By taking advantage of online casino bonuses, it's possible to get that edge down further and even flip it in your favor in some circumstances.