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Protecting the Alternative Games: High Card Flush

Another in his series on protecting alternative gaming, table game expert Bill Zender talks about how High Card Flush offers several opportunities for casino scammers to strike and how to parry those efforts.

Protecting the Alternative Games: High Card Flush

Note: High Card Flush and I Love Suits are virtually the same game offered by two different table game suppliers. For the purpose of this article, I will be referring to the game as High Card Flush.

So far, I have examined the alternative games of Three Card Poker (TCP) and Mississippi Stud Poker (MSP) regarding various ways to attack the game both legally (advantage play) and illegally (cheating). In this article we will examine similar methods of attack with the game of High Card Flush (HCF).

HCF takes the reader into a different type of alternative game all together. HCF is one of the alternative games that is not directly based on the traditional game of poker. Even though the game utilizes a standard 52-card poker deck, the object of the game is based on the number of cards held of the same suit, also knowns as the “maximum flush,” of the player or dealer’s seven-card hand. Poker ranking, such as Ace high, only apply to the dealer’s qualifying hand and breaking the tie when both the dealer and the player hold the same number of suited cards.

The basic rules of the game are simple. The players make an ante wager and then all players and the dealer are dealt seven cards. Each player uses cards in their seven-card hand to decide whether to raise and stay in the game, or fold their hand, drop out and immediately lose the Ante. There are no additional cards such as exposed community cards as used in other alternative games.

A player may raise by placing a second bet equal to at least the ante in the appropriate betting area on the table. Raising can be made in multiples of the ante, but this is limited based on the number of flush cards held in the player’s hand. Example:

  • With a two, three or four-card flush, the maximum raise is equal to 1X the ante wager.
  • With a five-card flush, the maximum raise is 2X the ante wager.
  • With a six or seven-card flush, the maximum raise is 3X the ante wager

The dealer must hold a qualifying hand before there is a showdown. To qualify, the dealer must hold at least a 9-high three-card flush hand. If not, all remaining players in the hand have their antes paid, and the raise bets are pushed. If the dealer qualifies, all player hands are compared individually, with pay/take outcomes handled accordingly. Any hand that is equal to the dealer’s qualifying hand is pushed. Note: The dealer will have a hand that qualifies about 75 percent of the time.

Based on computer perfect Raising at maximum allowable raises and folding lessor flush hands results in a mathematical house advantage of 2.64 percent of the ante wager (Wizard of Odds 2022).

Basic Betting Strategy

As advised in past articles on casino card game play, before a floor supervisor or surveillance operator can identify “bad” play, they must first be able to identify “good” play. This requires the floor supervisor or surveillance operator to have knowledge of the basic playing and/or betting strategy of the specific table game they are protecting.

Noted mathematical and table games expert, Charles Mousseau, revealed a “close to perfect” strategy that is simple to remember, but at the same time effective in making good High Card Flush hand decisions. Mousseau advises that the HCF player raise any time a player holds a three-card flush hand of T-8-6 or higher, and fold anything less. This strategy provides the casino with a house edge of 2.7 percent which is not that much different from computer perfect strategy and is a widely accepted strategy by a majority of High Card Flush customers.

Example: Raise any four-card or higher flush, and any three-card flush of rank T-8-6 or greater. The player will receive a three-card flush of T-8-6 or greater 68 percent of the time with a final amount wagered per hand of 1.7 units (Wizard of Odds 2022).

Any side bet wagering is not a consideration relevant regarding issues surrounding game protection and for this article is not mentioned.

For a more detailed list of the basic betting strategies recommended click here.

Avenues of Attack in High Card Flush

There is only one significant possibility for attacking High Card Flush legally (advantage play) that management needs to be prepared to protect against. In alternative games, the more standard advantage play attack, spying a dealer’s hole-card, is not a threat since it only provides the advantage player with information on one card of the seven-card hand, or only 14 percent of the hand’s value.

  • Players sharing information when taking up all six seated positions

The rule-of-thumb for alterative poker-style games is that a game could be compromised when thirty-five or more cards are known before the player makes their hand decision. Since a HCF table utilizes six wagering positions, six players have the ability to know 42 cards of information before they make their raise or fold decisions.

Perfect computer collusion strategy used by six players at the table will return an optimal advantage over the house of about 7 percent. The problem with using a “concealed” computer at the table is the extensive length of time needed to communicate the value of all the player held cards, and the time it takes to instruct each player how to act on their hand. In addition, this strategy utilizing computerize output, takes into consideration available card rankings as well as the suits and provides the users with an optimal decision for each player hand.

Table Game mathematician Stephan How (discountgambling.net) has developed a strategy that is more practical for use under casino playing conditions. The different colluding players are required to collect and keep track of the number of cards in the different suits mentally. This information is collected by either observation (showing their hands) or signaling the cards in the hand. This information is then used to determine the possible highest suit number that the dealer’s hand could possess. Remember, with a six-player game, the dealer would have a combination of seven of the 10 remaining cards (120 possible combinations).

Stephan How concluded that if the collected information suggests that the largest subset of one suit of cards still outstanding contained four flush cards, a player would raise if they held a three-card flush of Queen high or greater. A player would also raise a King high or greater three-card flush hand if one of the outstanding suits contained five flush cards. On the other side of the decision equation, if the largest outstanding subset of a suit of cards contained three flush cards, the players could stay in and raise with as little as two flush cards in an attempt to win the ante during the highly likely situation that the dealer fails to qualify. Using How’s strategy, the advantage players looks to achieve an approximate 3 percent edge over the house.

Pro-active solutions: Limit the number of wagering positions. If there are only five players at the table exchanging hand information instead of six, even using computer perfect strategy, the casino would still maintain an advantage over the player of about 0.6 percent (Jacobson AP Heat). I recommend only doing so if management has a reason to believe a team of players is presently occupying all seat positions and exchanging information. In this situation, inform the customers at the table that you will be blocking off one of the betting positions (first or last position). I strongly suggest using this game protection method only when you are sure this form of collusion attack is happening.

For more information on Advantage Play in High Card Flush, please check out Eliot Jacobson’s article.

Regarding cheating at High Card Flush, the two potential methods are.

  • Switching cards between two players
  • Marking cards for hand play information.

Switching cards between to players allows the cheaters to increase the strength of a higher wagering hand at the expense of a minimum wagering hand. Cheaters will not attempt to introduce a foreign card into the game because most shuffling machines will identify that card immediately during the next card shuffling process. This card switching action is known as the “elbow-to-elbow” switch since the cheating players need to be sitting on the table next to each other with their opposite elbows basically touching.

Once receiving their playing cards, the cheaters will look at each other’s hand and determine which suit card of the lower wagering cheater’s cards that the higher wagering cheater can use to increase the number of flush cards in his hand. In this manner, the higher wagering player is almost guaranteed to increase his highest flush card total by an additional flush card on every hand. Each cheater will palm the required card from his hand and place the remaining six cards face down on the table. The palmed cards are then switched under the cover of their forearms and the rim of the table and then once exchanged, palmed back onto the cards remaining on the table. A third cheater will stand behind and between the two switchers, blocking any possible view of the card switching from that angle. Note: The switch team always sits in the last two seats at the table.

A fourth cheater will be positioned in the first or second seat at the table with the assigned task to distract the dealer’s attention away from the two cheaters switching. The distractor needs to slow the play on the table, so the two switchers have time to complete their task before the dealer gets to the switch team’s positions on the table. Usually, 6 to 10 seconds is required to complete the exchange. The distractor is also assigned the task of lookout and will be watching the area inside the pit for any indication the floor has noticed the card switching scam being used. Done effectively, the actual playing cards being switch will not be seen even through video review, only the technique is seen, and is the only identifying factor of this cheating move.

Detection Tips: Since prevention is not a real possibility, detection is where management needs to focus their attention. Following are some indicators that there may be a card switching team working your High Card Flush table.

  • Two players sitting elbow-to-elbow, one wagering a significant amount of money, with a third person standing behind them.
  • The two elbow-to-elbow players are also peeking at their individual hand more than one time: also known as double peeking their hands.
  • Another player sitting in either first or second betting position who is a distraction; constantly talking with the dealer and slowing down the game.

Card marking is the next possible method of cheating. The marking strategy is standard but the actual card marking technique varies. In most cases, the actual markings on the cards are not detected until the cards can be closely examined. The telltale signs of marked card play are either (1) the cheater’s strategy for raising or folding, or (2) the act of marking the cards by the cheater.

Marking cards in High Card Flush is done so the cheaters can identify the number of cards of each suit the dealer has in their hand. For information purposes, all the cards in three of the four suits will be marked. The markings will be applied in a manner so the different suits can be identified while laying or stacked in front of the dealer. Note: The fourth suit does not have to be marked. It can be assumed that any unmarked card would be identified as a card from that suit.

If the dealer’s cards are spread seven cards wide, the most likely method for marking the cards will be the application of “daub.” Daub is a colored substance that is applied during play by one of the cheaters who specializes in applying and reading the substance.

If the dealer’s hand is placed stacked on the table, the cheaters will bend and/or crimp the cards. Again, only three of the four suits will be marked with the bends/crimps applied in different corners or edges of the card. Using a marking method that physically distorts the appearance of the cards will allow the cheaters to see cards values while in a single seven-card stack.

Chances of spotting marked card play is more likely when the cheater is in the process of marking the cards. If the cheater is using a “daub”, the substance is applied with the fingertip while gently rubbing it across the back of the target playing card with the index finger. If the cheater decides to bend or corner crimp the cards, the bend/crimp can be done several ways while holding the target card between the fingers and applying slight pressure. This action is usually NOT spotted by the untrained individual.

It takes about an hour to mark 90 percent of the target cards, however due to the two-deck feature of the shuffling machine, it may take several hours. Note: For this card marking scam to be effective in High Card Flush, as many cards as possible will need to be marked, and the card marking process will take longer.

Detection Tips: Cheaters using daub will apply the substance with their fingertip of their index finger. The cheater daubing will also be the cheater who will read the markings and signal the marked community card values to any other cheaters at the table. Before the cheating play begins, the dauber will leave the table and head to the restroom to clean off his finger and get rid of the daub cup (holder).

Additional Note: Some daubs are all but impossible the see with the untrained eye. Because most daub paints are sensitive to infrared light, the markings could stand out when viewing the cards through a night vision camera/monitor. Infrared cameras are found in night clubs and areas outside the casino facility that require nighttime surveillance and could be used as a source for viewing daubed playing cards.

Articles by Author: Bill Zender

As former Nevada Gaming Control Agent, casino operator, professional card counter and casino consultant, Bill Zender has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976. In the past, Zender has instructed courses on game protection, card counting, advantage play and gaming operations at various colleges and institutions throughout the country. As a member of JMJ, Inc., Zender was an owner and operator of the Aladdin Hotel and Casino and has additional operational experience in card room casinos in California and is considered an expert in Asian gaming. Besides his practical gaming experience, Zender holds a bachelors in hotel administration and a masters in business. As a gaming author Zender has penned seven non-fiction books on gaming including Card Counting for the Casino Executive, and the Casino-ology series. Owner/consultant of Bill Zender and Associates, Zender spent was general manager at a major California cardroom casino from 2018-2019. For more information, visit billzender.com.