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Royal Match Side Bet

Dear Mark,
The casino I play in offers Royal Match as a blackjack side bet. All the blackjack games offered use a shoe. I am curious as to if this is a good bet, especially on a shoe game.
- David H.

The Royal Match is a side bet in blackjack that is based on the first two cards dealt to the player. The rules of this side bet are quite simple, David. If the player's first two cards are suited, such as a queen and five of hearts, the player is paid 5 to 2. If the player has a royal match, (a suited king and queen) the bet pays 25 to 1. The final outcome of your hand has no influence, since the player with a matched hand is paid immediately, before the hand is played out.

The casino's advantage on a Royal Match bet depends on the number of decks used. The more decks in play, surprisingly, the better the odds for the player. If playing on a six-deck shoe game, the casino advantage is 6.67%. On an eight-deck game, the house edge is slightly lower at 6.46%. For the player, things get progressively worse the fewer decks there in the game. For four decks, the house advantage is 7.08%, for two decks it climbs to 8.33%, and to a whopping 10.86% on a single deck game. One exception is a paytable I occasionally see on some single deck blackjack games, where a non-royal match pays 4 to 1, and a royal match pays 10 to 1. The house edge with these rules is 3.77%.

Here's the real skinny, David. I have never seen a side bet offered by the casino that was a better wager than the basic game it was on.

Gimmicky side bets typically carry a house edge of at least 3%, and run as high as 76%. And although, David, the Royal Match wager is a healthier side bet than most of the side bets offered by the casino, it's still a bad deal, being over this columnist's mandated two percent tops casino advantage. By ignoring the Royal Match offering, you keep more of your hard-earned money in your wallet for a longer time.

Dear Mark,
I saw a reference in your column regarding Three-card poker where you advise players to fold below a Queen-6-4. Is that the correct strategy? In Vegas, I have always been told to fold below Queen-9-X.
- Michael M.

I suggested one of two strategies. The uncomplicated one was to shadow the dealer. If your hand contains a queen or higher, play it, if not, fold. The other strategy comes from Stanley Ko, the highest authority I know on this game. His guide, Mastering the Game of Three Card Poker, recommends making the Play wager if your hand consists of a Queen-6-4, or better. Using his optimal playing strategy, the house edge drops down to 2%.

I have not, Michael, seen an improvement on the arithmetic anywhere by folding below a Queen-9-X instead of Queen-6-4. If some reader has set eyes on some crunched numbers that I haven't, please pass it along and I'll do a follow-up.

Dear Mark,
I have always been an avid blackjack player but lately have taken a shine to Three-card poker. Are the odds better on Three-card poker than blackjack?
- Christine K.

The house edge on Three-card poker is between 2.0 and 3.4%, depending on your wager and playing decisions, Christine. Using basic strategy in blackjack, the casino advantage drops to less than one percent. I'll let you decide which game is better.

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