How to Win at Popular Card Games: Advice from Professionals
Playing cards have been around for over 1,000 years. They were invented by the Chinese and then eventually made their way to Europe, where they were adapted by the French and turned into cards similar to the ones in use today.
Those four suits and 52 cards form the basis of hundreds of games, many of which can be found in online and offline casinos the world over. These include some of the most popular games in the world, and that’s what we’re going to look at here.
How to Win at Card Games
Some card games can be beaten with skill and knowledge, others can not. You will always need a little luck, no matter what game you play, but the trick is to minimise the luck-factor as much as possible, and that’s where strategies come into play.
We spoke with some professional gamblers, ran some numbers, checked some facts, and created some top tips, tricks and strategies for winning at popular cards games.
And remember, if you need to learn more about these games, check with our article on real money blackjack (click here) and be sure to follow the hyperlinks you see below.
There are several forms of poker. Some of these are easy to beat, which is why so many players are able to consistently make a profit from this game. But others are poker in name only, and they bear little resemblance to the game you see being played for millions of dollars at the WSOP.
Understanding the difference between these varieties of poker and knowing which ones you can beat is essential if you want to make money playing this game.
Player vs Player Poker
This is the game that you want to focus on if your goal is to make a lot of money. PvP poker is played through online networks between players from all over the world. There is no house, so there is no house edge or RTP—it’s all down to the skill of one player versus the skill of another.
The network you play on simply takes a small cut of each pot or stake, leaving the actual gambling, risk-taking and outcomes to the individual players.
Popular PvP games include:
- Texas Hold’em
- Five Card Draw
- 7 Card Stud
The way these games play out are very different, but the poker hand values are the same, and the betting is also similar. Keep the following in mind when playing these games:
—Poker tournaments are long and you need a lot of patience, something that 90% of players don’t have. They will play aggressively to begin with and then tighten up around the bubble. You need to do the opposite, doing all you can to remain in the game and then bluffing like crazy on the bubble.
—Players act differently at every stake level. During free-rolls 9 out of 10 will shove every hand; during $1 to $20 games players can be very tough and tight; during $20 to $50 games they ease up a little and take more risks; anything above this is a split between the elite players, and the big-money gamblers.
—Always focus on the final table prize pool and consider everything else a bonus. Players are so desperate to win something that they end up sacrificing potential success for a small prize. But what’s the point of playing for hours just to get your money back?
—Keep cool. Bad beats are common in this game. If you suffer from one, take a step back. Sit out some hands if you can. Let your timer run low. You can bounce back even with the smallest of stacks, so keep your cool and don’t tilt.
Cash Game Strategies
—If you hit a losing streak you may be tempted to increase your stake, but you should do the opposite. Reduce your bet until you start feeling good and playing well.
—Always start small when playing cash games for the first time. Take your time and don’t bet what you can’t afford to lose 100 times over.
—If you’re playing Rush/Turbo games, you can guarantee that 95% of the players who bet will have a premium hand, typically ranging from a medium pair to an Ace/King. Players know this and expect it, so if you bet with less and get lucky, you can take them to the cleaners.
—The more people at the table, the less variance you will see in hand quality. 10 player tables are full of high-doubles and Ace/Kings, but anything goes on 3 or 4 player tables.
There are many different variations of video poker but they all revolve around the same idea and they are often based on Stud or Draw variations, with the latter being the most common.
You pay your money and you are given 5 cards. You then choose how many you want to change, hit “Deal”, and watch as the change is made. If you match your hand to the ones in the prize list, then you win money based on how strong it is.
It really is that simple. But there are some important things to remember:
- Video poker can be beaten if you understand the game of poker and play well.
- Each game has a different house edge, typically between 0.5% and 5%. Look for games with the lowest possible edge.
- Don’t be tempted by games that let you play 100 hands at a time, they often have high house edges.
- Always aim for the big payouts if you are one card away, or two cards away if it’s a jackpot (typically paid for a Royal Flush).
- Focus on expected value, which is a basic calculation of risk vs reward.
Other Poker Games
Three-Card Poker is a popular game at offline casinos, but it rarely makes the switch to the virtual world and that’s because online players just don’t like it.
Three-Card Poker is heavily weighted in the house’s favour, and when faced with the option of this game or a PvP game, players will nearly always opt for the latter.
There is no easy way to win this game, no easy way to consistently beat the house. The best thing you can do is avoid it altogether.
Blackjack is a basic game that is very easy to learn, but not so easy to master. There are some ways you can get the better of casinos though.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
The first thing you need to do if you want to beat the casino at blackjack is learn Basic Blackjack Strategy. This is a detailed strategy based on statistical probability. It basically tells you what moves you should make and when, and it bases this information on what cards you have and what cards the dealer has.
It is effective, but only if used properly and it goes into quite a lot of detail.
Basic Blackjack Strategy can help you to bridge the gap between you and the casino where odds are concerned, but if the blackjack variant has a low payout then it won’t be effective.
You need to find games that have a low house edge. Online, two of the best games are Switch Blackjack (see this list for places to play this game) and Double Exposure Blackjack (click here for available casinos), but whether you’re playing online or offline, the following rules will help you spot a game with a low house edge:
- Focus on games with fewer decks, preferably 1.
- Ignore games with a lot of bonuses.
- Ignore games titled “Pontoon” or “Spanish 21”.
- Opt for “Classic Blackjack” over “European Blackjack”.
The only difference between offline and online blackjack in terms of strategy is that you can count cards in the former but not the latter.
Offline, cards are drawn from a shoe and only shuffled at the end. Online, they are technically shuffled after every hand, which means that no amount of counting cards will help you.
Strategies for Other Card Games
There are a number of other card games offered by online casinos. Some of these are fun, but unlike blackjack and poker, they can’t be beaten consistently.
The best way to improve your odds playing these games is to learn the rules, focus on the games that have the lowest house edges, and join casinos that have loyalty schemes. That way, you can increase your odds of winning and use the loyalty scheme to offset losses.
This was a popular card game in offline casinos during the 1980s and 1990s, but it quickly faded in the new millennium and these days it’s rare offline.
Online, however, it is a different story and developers like Microgaming have helped to bring it into the modern era. This game is quick and easy to learn, but it’s also a game of chance and no amount of strategy can help you gain an edge over the casino.
This is a game of chance, but a good one. It is one of the few card games out there where the player can beat the dealer more than 50% of the time.
Casino War is rare these days, but some online and offline casinos still have it. If you can find it, we recommend learning the rules and trying your luck. There is no effective strategy for beating this game consistently, but learning the rules certainly helps.
It’s also important to make sure the casino has not tweaked the game to push the odds in their favour. They do this by adding bonus games and making other changes that appear to help the player on the surface, but in reality do not.
Poker plays like Phil Ivey are known to be big fans of the game of baccarat, which has drawn amateur poker players to the game. But unlike poker, baccarat is based entirely on chance, and no amount of knowledge or skill is going to give you the upper hand over the casino.
Phil Ivey’s most notable wins game when he spotted a flaw in the casino’s cards or setup and exploited it. This is rare, it led to a lot of legal troubles for him, and it can not be emulated online.
In other words, you’re better off playing a game of blackjack or poker instead.
How to Become a Professional Gambler
Becoming a pro poker or blackjack player isn’t as easy as winning a few games. The best poker players in the world began their careers either because they had already made their money elsewhere and were able to fund expensive buy-ins, or they won big on a few tournaments and used that money to fund their career.
You can’t fund a career as a poker pro with a small win of a few hundred dollars. To really make it in this business you need to be winning big money on a regular basis, you need to have a sizeable bankroll behind you, and you also need to have enough money in the bank to pay the bills while you are without standard employment.
It’s not easy, but it’s certainly doable.
We asked a poker professional what advice they would give to aspiring players and they said this:
If you think you’re good enough, prove it. Take your winnings, buy into a dozen major tournaments and see what happens. If you win big, you will have the money and the vindication you need to continue. If not, maybe it’s time to reduce your stake and continue to learn the trade.