The Case For War

            No, not the War in Iraq or Afghanistan or even Libya.  To be honest, I can’t believe I’m writing about this game.  I can’t believe people now gamble on a game I used to play with my grandmother when I was 4.  What next, Casino Candyland?

            But, if people are going to play it, I have a responsibility to write about it and inform the players about what they are playing, what to expect and what strategy to use.  Much to my surprise, when I was done with the analysis, I found that the payback for Casino War really wasn’t that bad given the type of game it is.  So, if you’re looking for a simple game, requiring very little strategy and no knowledge of Poker, maybe this game is for you.

            For those who are not familiar with the game, it doesn’t get any easier than this.  The Player makes a wager.  The Player gets one card.  The Dealer gets one card.  High Card wins.  If the Player wins, he gets even money on his wager.  In case of a tie, the Player can either surrender half of his original wager or make an additional wager equal to the first one.  If he makes this wager, the Player and the Dealer each get an additional card.  Again, High Card wins.  If the Player wins at this point, he will win even money on his 2nd wager and push on the original wager.  If the Dealer wins, the Player loses all wagers.  If they Tie again, the Player WINS even money on both wagers.  There is also a sidebet that pays 10 units if the Player and Dealer Tie.

            Casino War is usually played with a shoe of 6 or 8 decks.  From the Player’s perspective, there really isn’t much difference between the two.  The overall payback of the game is little higher with 6 decks, but not enough to get worked up over.  The sidebet pays about 1% more with the 8 deck shoe because ties are more common, but as we’ll soon see, this is immaterial.

            The entire house advantage comes from Ties.  Without them, Casino War would be a 100% game with no advantage to the Player or the House.  As such, we can calculate the house advantage by calculating the frequency of Ties.  Once a Tie occurs, the Player and the Dealer will still each win with the same frequency, but when the Player wins, he will win even money on one bet and push on the other.  In essence, he will be wagering 2 units to win one.  The casino gives a small advantage back to the Player by paying even money on both wagers if they Tie again after the initial tie.

            When all the math is done, we find that the overall payback of Casino War is a rather respectable 97.8%.  Obviously, this is not what we can expect to achieve from Blackjack, Spanish 21 or even Four Card Poker, but it is in the same range as Three Card Poker.  Given that there is almost no strategy involved, this is not too bad.  The only strategy question that does exist for Casino War is whether the Player should ever surrender half of his original wager after the first tie.  Although the player has a significant negative expectation once the first tie has occurred, he is still better off wagering instead of Folding.  This is essentially because of the possibility of the Double Tie which will allow the Player to win even money on both wagers.

            Personally, I prefer games with tougher strategy that provide more of a challenge, but I believe that no matter what game you’re going to play, you should go in with your eyes open, play with the best strategy and know what to expect.