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Last Updated: December 7, 2018
Video Review of Bluff
Mike interviews Joe Shipman about his game Bluff. Bluff is a one-card poker game where the dealer sometimes bluffs.
Joe, what game do you have for us this time?
[00:00:37] Joseph Shipman: This game is called Bluff. It's the first player versus dealer table game that incorporates bluffing.
[00:00:43] Mike: All right. This looks like another one card game much like the game that I interviewed you about last year.
[00:00:52] Joe: Well, yes. It's simple in that way but it's a much better game, much more exciting.
[00:00:57] Mike: All right.
Can you lead me through the basics of the game, please?
It's completely fair and symmetrical between the player and the dealer. If your card matches the dealer, it's a push. You don't lose half your bet like in casino war. There's no qualifying hand, there's no commission. It's all totally heads up.
[00:01:27] Mike: All right, so it's basically a version of poker player against dealer based on a one card hand.
Is that correct?
[00:01:33] Joe: That's right, but the math was tricky to get right.
[00:01:37] Mike: I'm sure it was but you would be the man to do it.
[00:01:39] Joe: Well, thank you. The way this works is that the player starts by getting a card. Well, he starts by making an ante bet and then there are optional side bets. After he gets his card if he likes his card, aces high, deuces low, he can raise his bet or he can check.
If he raises…
the dealer can call or fold. If he checks, then the dealer can raise and if the dealer raises the player can call or fold. There's basically one round of betting and the dealer has to follow a fixed strategy. Based on the dealer's card, he has to do what his card tells him to do.
Whether the player's card is face up or face down doesn't matter because the dealer isn't using the information of the player's card, so the player doesn't have to keep a poker face.
[00:02:22] Mike: Very clever. I assume that because the dealer has a positional advantage of acting last that's where the house advantage comes in?
[00:02:29] Joe: Well, yes, but it's quite subtle because in some varieties of poker, going first is an advantage because of initiative. In some varieties going last is an advantage because of information.
If you change this game slightly, if you raise the ante ratio from one to two or to a half, then the player has an advantage. It's very precisely calibrated so that the dealer has an advantage of about 4%.
[00:02:54] Mike: Well, this sounds like a very beautifully designed game.
Can you tell me what the correct strategy is for the player?
[00:03:01] Joe: Well, it's pretty balanced. The player should bluff if he has a low card, two, three, or four. That's a little bit better than checking. If he has a middle card, five through eight, he should check, and then if the dealer raises him, it's balanced equally between calling and folding.
If he has a high card…
…nine through ace, he can bet but he can also check and then call if he's raised. Those are also balanced strategies. What this means is that if there's any information at all about the cards then the player can improve his play.
[00:03:32] Mike: All right.
What would be the house advantage assuming correct player strategy?
[00:03:38] Joe: Well, it's 4.2% with basic strategy, but that's 4.2% of the ante. The average bet is close to two units so it's more like 2.5% of the total amount bet. However, the player can improve his chances if he card counts.
By using a simple card count, he can get the house edge down to 3% or less, but he can't beat the game. That's actually a very striking feature of the game is that it's easy to improve your odds but you can't use it to actually beat the game.
[00:04:11] Joe: Yes. We are not exactly welcoming counters so much as people who would like to be counters and want something easier that works right away. If you count cards in blackjack, it takes a while for the deck to become favorable.
…if you even see one card, if you see a king come out, that means that the dealer is slightly more likely to be bluffing than usual so you should call if he bets. If you see a deuce come out, that means the dealer is slightly less like to be bluffing than usual. That means that you should probably fold if you have a middle-sized card and he bets.
[00:04:43] Mike: Okay. Well, can we play a few hands as an example?
[00:04:46] Joe: Sure. Have a seat. Place your bets. Okay. $5 minimum on the main bet. Now, you can either check or raise. You're checking that hand. You're checking both hands, okay.
Now, I am going to raise you. You have to call or fold. You got to call or fold. You've got to put it in the fold space. You're folding both. Well, that was easy.
Now, we have to check and see if you won the side bets. I had a deuce. I was bluffing you. We don't match and we don't match there, so I win everything. You got bluffed. Place your bets. Do you want to check or raise?
[00:05:58] Mike: I want to raise.
[00:06:00] Joe: Okay. All right. Well, you're raising, so I am going to fold if I have six or less, and I'm going to call if I have seven and up. I have a jack so I'm calling you.
Let's see what happens here:
I beat you there. However, lucky you, you get paid even money on your side bet because you matched my suit. Now, over here you beat me so you get even money, but you don't match either suit or number so I take your side bets.
All right, here we go again:
You can raise or check. I have an eight. This time I'm calling. You beat me, so I pay you even money but I take your side bets. You beat me again and I take your progressive but you win even money on your suit and tie side bet because you matched the suit. All right.
There's still a lot of different things that can happen that we haven't seen yet. You're going to raise or you're going to check. Checking there. Checking in both places. Now, I am going to raise you and you have to decide to call or fold.
[00:07:49] Mike: I fold both.
[00:07:50] Joe: You fold. Okay. I was bluffing. Oh my goodness. I win your main bets because you folded. I pay you off at three to one on your suit and tie because you matched the number, and I pay you off at 15 to one on the suit and tie here because you matched the suit and the number, but you don't get the progressive.
…let's pretend you made the progressive bet. Then I would give you a marker and you win 20 to one, but you're also in it for the big jackpot. There's a progressive sign here that says a jack costs $1,509.40.
If you match me on the next hand, you'll win that. We leave this here. This is inactive for this spot. I'll give you two cards.
Are you going to raise or check? Checking and checking. I'm going to bet again. Now, you have to call or fold.
[00:09:11] Mike: I'll fold this one and I will call that one.
[00:09:15] Joe: All right. We have a showdown. You lose everything here. You lose these here. Because you didn't win again matching my suit and number, you only keep the $20 you took already and I take my marker back. Now, you're reset and you can bet again for the next progressive.
[00:09:42] Mike: All right.
Have we seen every situation?
[00:09:44] Joe: No. Not close. Let's play a little longer.
[00:10:04] Mike: What do you reckon with a nine?
[00:10:07] Joe: Either one is fine. With a high card either one is good.
[00:10:10] Mike: Okay. I'll check.
[00:10:11] Joe: All right. First of all, I'm going to raise you now and ask you to call or fold.
[00:10:20] Mike: Okay. I'll call on that one.
[00:10:22] Joe: Okay. Now, I turn my card over and I have a jack. That means that where you raised I'm calling you, and I'm calling your bluff and taking everything. Where you checked and I raised you and you called, I also win everything.
Place your bets…
All right. You're raising me in both and I have a nine. I'm going to be calling you with a nine. That means that I lose here. You get paid even money but you lose your side bets. You were bluffing so you lose your main bets and you lose your progressive, but you get paid even money on your suit and tie because you matched my suit.
[00:11:37] Mike: Thank you, Joe, for that demonstration of Bluff.
[00:11:41] Joe: Thank you, Mike, for giving me the publicity.
[00:11:43] Mike: You're welcome. My pleasure and good luck with it. Goodbye everybody.
[00:11:50] Joe: I hope I'll see you again next year.
[00:11:52] Mike: I'm sure you will. Bye.