My first introduction to playing cards came at the kitchen table enjoying a simple game called “War.” You remember it, the classic high card wins contest where the goal is to capture all of your opponent’s cards after a series of battles. Ace beats king, king beats queen, and so on down the line to the lowly, useless deuce (two).
This pure game of chance is named for when both players show identical cards to tie, this triggering a second draw war to settle the tiebreaker. And believe it or not, you can now play War in your favorite casino.
Brief History and Introduction to Casino War
In 1994, the casino industry was experiencing somewhat of a table game “boom,” as companies like Shuffle Master and Scientific Games pioneered the new wave of hybrid offerings.
I’m talking about new additions turned classics like Three-Card Poker, Let It Ride, and Caribbean Stud—games we all know and love today.
But that year saw a smaller casino game developer known as Bet Technology out of Reno, Nevada, take a gamble of its own. Looking to capitalize on the hybrid table game craze, the folks at Bet Technology looked to their past for inspiration.
By taking the basic War game played by kids and bored parents everywhere, and adapting the rules and gameplay for a casino setting, Bet Technology hit it big. Beginning with a handful of casinos in Northern Nevada, the company’s Casino War game soon spread to Sin City and beyond. One decade later, the industry’s big boys took notice when Shuffle Master scooped up Bet Technology and all of its intellectual property assets in a well-deserved acquisition.
How to Play Casino War
Now that you know where Casino War came from, here’s how the game works.
To play Casino War, you’ll place a single ante bet in the main game, and most casinos opt for a $5 minimum. You can also place an optional side bet on the “tie” option (more on this to come down below) and this long shot wager pays 10 to 1 on your money if you and the dealer show identical card ranks.
As for the base gameplay, Casino War is essentially a glorified high card contest between the player and the dealer. Using a standard 52-card deck of cards—or in most cases, a six-deck shoe a la blackjack—the dealer will do nothing more than deliver one card face up to you and one for themselves.
When your card outranks the dealer’s card, you’ll win even money on your ante bet. And when the dealer’s high card outranks yours, you’ll forfeit those chips to the house.
The fun begins when you and the dealer both show the same card rank. At this point, you’ll be given the option to “surrender,” or pull back half your bet and lose the other half automatically.
Nobody comes to the casino to give up without a fight though, so you’ll likely decide to exercise the other option—declaring war against the dealer.
When you declare war, the dealer will ask you to place a second wager equal to your ante bet. With this additional ammunition in place, the dealer will burn three cards before dealing out their final card, before repeating the same process for your last card.
Whomever winds up with the highest second card wins the war, but here’s where things get tricky. Instead of winning $10 at even money on your total bet ($5 ante + $5 war bet), you’ll only win half. In other words, your ante bet is returned as a push while the added war bet is paid out at even money.
This may seem a bit unfair. What about, “to the victor go the spoils?” But this payout structure is how the house derives its precious edge over the player. Without the one-half payout on war wins in place, you’d be playing a purely fair even money proposition against the casino and Las Vegas wasn’t built by playing fair.
On a final note, look for casinos which offer a bonus payout of 3 to 1 whenever you score a second tie after initially declaring war. This premium return shaves a few valuable percentage points off the house edge, so it’s always worth asking around before sitting down.
The Long Shot “Tie” Bet Offers a Bonus Payout of 10 to 1
One way to level the battlefield in Casino War is by backing the “tie” side bet whenever you’re feeling lucky.
But if you hail from a blackjack background, subtly “counting” exposed cards to see if bunches of the same rank have already been buried in the muck can give you a leg up. Once you see a cluster of fours, fives, and sixes go by the wayside, betting on a tie and hoping to see a king-king deal becomes a little more likely.
You’ll Win More Often Than the Dealer
Check out the table below to see one of the rarest sights in all of casino gambling:
Casino War Probabilities
|Lose Ante Bet||(-1)||46.30%|
|Lose After War||(-2)||3.34%|
As you can see, the likelihood of beating the dealer on any given hand stands at 50.27%. That makes Casino War one of the only casino games ever devised in which players will beat the dealer more than the dealer will beat them.
Of course, when the dealer wins after you’ve declared war, that two-bet loss brings your overall bottom line back down to Earth. Nonetheless, leaving aside that rare 3.42% chance, you’ll be sitting pretty on all non-war hands.
To get an idea of why Casino War is so cool, just compare those numbers above to the same probabilities for a basic blackjack game:
Doesn’t look like such a dumb game now, does it?
Casino War Has an Extremely Low House Edge Rate
As a final “pro” in its favor, Casino War offers a very reasonable house edge of only 2.88%.
You can scan the table below to put that house edge rate in perspective:
House Edge of Popular Table Games
Casino War has a much lower house edge than most gamblers think, coming in at 2.88%. A few table games are better, including blackjack at less than .5% with good strategy, a couple craps bets at 1.36% and 1.41%, and European Roulette at 2.7%.
But plenty of table games have a worse house edge including Three-Card Poker at 3.37%, Let It Ride at 3.51%, and the Big Six Wheel at a whopping 11.11%.
Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud Poker, and American-style “double zero” roulette are all, by far, more popular among casual and sharp gamblers alike.
Even so, Casino War has them all beat by offering a significantly reduced house edge. If bankroll management is your main concern, consider ditching double-zero roulette for Casino War. After all, they’re both games of chance, but Casino War has a house edge nearly twice as advantageous for the player.
Why Most Gamblers Ignore Casino War Anyway
Let’s face facts… Adults dressed to the nines and armed with a wallet full of $100 bills aren’t exactly lining up to play a children’s game.
The number one knock against Casino War is how it evokes memories of its foundational game. If you came up playing card games like war as a kid, heading out to the casino to partake in essentially the same concept isn’t all that appealing.
Another reason “sharp” gamblers tend to pass by the Casino War tables is its complete lack of strategic elements. No player decisions to make, no setting hands, just a rapid-fire draw of two cards with the highest ranked soldier emerging victorious in the end.
If you’re accustomed to a thinking player’s game like blackjack, Pai Gow Poker, or Let It Ride, it can be quite difficult to accept the random swings of fortune found in Casino War.
Casino War might seem like a brainless game of chance, one fit for a child’s bedroom rather than a bustling land based casino, but only if you haven’t played before. Once you throw caution to the wind and give this game a shot, I’m willing to bet most gamblers out there will enjoy the brisk pace, back-and-forth nature, and a chance to scoop 10 to 1 winnings on a war.
Sometimes, mathematical calculations and complex strategies aren’t what players are looking for. And when that’s the case, Casino War becomes the perfect place to fire away and have a little fun.