The Russian Mafia most certainly vacations in Las Vegas. No self-respecting gangster, Russian or otherwise, could pass up the time-honored tradition of gambling away his ill-gotten gains and still call himself a wiseguy. As such, it's not unreasonable to think the two Russian men sitting next to you at the table dropping hundred-dollar bets in a ten-dollar minimum game and gulping down Black Label might not be strictly legit. After all, one of them has had his left ear torn/bitten/sliced/burned off.

However, it is then you remember that the game you're playing is Casino War, and the general lack of machismo involved reduces your supposed mafiosi to probable used-carpet salesmen.

Casino War, for all it's simplicity and lack of glamour, can be both fun and profitable. Chances are you already know how to play. Remember the card game War you played as a kid? This is it, but now there's money involved.

After you place your wager, the dealer deals you one card from a six-deck shoe and then deals him/herself a card. High card wins. Winning pays even money; that is, if you bet fifteen dollars, you win fifteen dollars. In the case of a tie between yourself and the dealer, you have two options:

  • 1. Surrender
  • 2. Go to War

Surrendering gives up half of your initial wager to the dealer, and your turn ends.

Choosing the War option requires you to add at least the same amount of money to your initial bet, which the dealer then matches; i.e. you have three times the money at stake than when your turn began. The dealer then "burns" three cards (removes three cards from the shoe and places them in the discard pile) and turns over one more card for you. The dealer burns three more cards and turns up his/her War card. Again, high card wins. In the case of a tie, the player wins.

The problem with the War situation is that, assuming you don't surrender, you're betting twice the money to win only even money on your initial wager. The risk does not match the reward. This, of course, is how the casino gains its advantage. Casino War would otherwise be the only game (poker not included, since you're not playing against the house in most cases) in which the casino has no advantage over the player.

And that's that.

Casino War is a game of streaks, and you've got good odds of doing well assuming you don't lose War too often. I personally recommend betting the minimum until you have a comfortable cushion of profit, then increasing your bet by 50% and holding at that amount. Using this strategy I was up 180% on my initial buy-in after about two hours of play. Of course, I fell prey to the usual "not knowing when to walk away" problem, and wound up only 10% "up" by the time I left. But with a bit of luck and a fair amount of discipline you can do quite well at Casino War.

For another low-pressure casino table game, see Let It Ride.

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