When it comes to traditional casino table games, how much do you really know? Just to whet your appetite, here’s a sideways look at how five standard casino games work, and some interesting facts associated with them:
Originally devised as a sedate recreational card game, poker quite quickly became a big-money game which attracted professional players. A game with strong American roots, poker was spread widely thanks to frontier gamblers who often worked the Mississippi riverboats and new mining towns. Essentially a simple table game, poker usually involves dealing cards to individual players who keep them hidden and use a number of shared cards revealed on the table to create a winning hand.
Betting is the essence of poker and the process includes making a ‘blind’ or forced bet to get the game rolling. Poker players have a reputation for making much of ‘bluffing’ – leading other players to believe you have a stronger (or weaker) hand than is actually the case. Done successfully by a skilful poker player, this behaviour can exert psychological pressure and wrong-foot opponents. As a result, they will tend to follow the wrong strategy, which of course allows a wily gambler to claim all the money in the gambling pot.
Poker has its own vocabulary e.g. to ‘fold’ your cards is to drop out of the game. And because of its associations with the Old West, there are many colourful expressions used. Just be careful you don’t play a two-pair of black aces and black eights. This is the ‘dead man’s hand’, so called because it was said to be the hand of cards Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot dead in a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota in 1876.
This game has a French name (roulette = little wheel) but its actual origins are still something of a mystery – it may even be Italian! Played by European royalty and those in high society from the early 1800s, it soon became the game of choice in upmarket gambling casinos. Roulette involves placing bets on which numbered pocket on the roulette wheel will be the final resting place of the roulette ball. To start the play, the croupier spins the roulette wheel in one direction before spinning the ball in the other.
Roulette wheel pockets are alternately coloured red or black, with green as the colour of the zero pocket. Different kinds of bets are accepted: bets on single numbers, on number groups, bets on red or black numbers, odd and even numbers or high (19-36) and low (1-18) combinations.
Maths experts say that, if it wasn’t for the green zero, the chances of the ball landing on a red or black number would always be 50/50. So much so that you have no more than a 1 in 1024 chance of landing on the same colour on 10 consecutive spins. Perhaps this is one reason why gamblers generally consider roulette a very fair and transparent game.
Blackjack is the US version of Twenty-One the popular card banking game. But why is it called blackjack? Simply because in the early days some versions of the table game offered a prize based on the appearance of the Black Jack card – so either a jack of clubs or a jack of spades. The prize element soon vanished, but the name itself became famous.
Unlike poker card games, where players compete against each other, in blackjack each player in turn sets out to compete against the dealer. You can beat the blackjack dealer in a number of ways:
– by scoring 21 points with your first two cards (which, incidentally, is known as a blackjack), and hoping the dealer can’t do the same;
– by achieving a total card score of 21 maximum (but any lower score which beats the dealer’s total still wins);
– by forcing the dealer to draw extra cards and go bust (dealer exceeds 21) while you stay in and win the game!
Scoring is done by the straightforward addition of card numeric values (+ Jack, Queen, King each valued at 10). However, the ace is a card players can value in two ways to get the score they need. In a ‘soft’ hand the ace counts as 11, whereas a ‘hard’ ace is valued at one point. So ace + 7 is either a soft 18, or a hard 8.
Baccarat is a casino card game which features the comparing of two hands: the “player” and the “banker”. For every baccarat coup (round) there will always be one of three possible winning outcomes: “player” wins, “banker” wins, or a “tie”. The baccarat game also has three popular variants which occur around the world: Punto banco (“North American baccarat”) which is by far the most popular version of this table game, baccarat chemin de fer – a faster version than the original game, and baccarat banque. In the punto banco variant of the game, the cards the player is dealt determine the moves that player is forced to make. However, in the other two versions, the player is allowed to make gameplay decisions. One unusual aspect of baccarat is, unlike many table casino games, the banker may not be associated with the house, and a gambler may have no particular association with the player.
Craps is an American dice game which is descended from ‘hazard’, a game originating in Europe. Betting takes place on the outcome of a roll of a pair of dice, or perhaps a series of rolls. When playing ‘street craps’, players will wager bets against each other. However, in the version known as ‘bank craps’ or ‘casino craps’, players will compete against the bank. Street craps is a game which requires minimal equipment, and so will regularly be played in many informal settings. While shooting a game of craps, it is common for players to use slang terms, especially when they are placing bets and other game actions.
During games of bank craps or casino craps, one or more players in the game bet against the casino, and not directly against each other. It’s also a game convention that casino craps is played with both the dealer and the players standing around the crap table. Sitting is not normally allowed.