For most young children, their first introduction to playing cards isn’t family poker night, Grandma’s hearts game, or even the colorful Uno – it’s the high-card contest known as War.
War is the perfect way to teach youngsters about the 52-card deck and its infinite permutations, while also imparting valuable math skills to boot. In case you don’t remember those long rainy days spent “going to war” with your siblings or neighborhood pals, here’s how the game works.
After shuffling the deck thoroughly, the cards are divided evenly between two and four players who take their allotment face down. For the sake of this example, imagine two players holding 26 cards each.
Rather than sort or manipulate these cards, War players simply stack them face down in the order they were received. To start the game, both players take their top card from the stack and turn it face up on the table. Whomever tables the highest card – using the standard 2-low through Ace-high rankings – gets to capture their opponent’s card. All captured cards get placed aside for now, and this process plays out over and over again until each player’s initial 26-card deck has been exhausted.
Of course, every so often both players will turn over identical card ranks (7 vs. 7; King vs. King; etc.) to produce a tie. Or in this case, a War.
When a War breaks out, each player takes the next card from their respective stacks and places it face down near the tied cards. In many households, this process involves three cards being put at risk, which enhances the stakes of the ensuing showdown.
In any event, with either one or three face down cards now on the frontlines, both players take one more card and turn it face up. Once again, whomever tables the highest ranking card wins the War, capturing all the cards involved as a bounty.
As you might’ve surmised by now, capturing cards is the name of the game here, because the objective of War is simply to wind up with all 52 cards in your own stack.
After the first round of battles, one player will likely hold more cards in their personal pile. At this point, both players will take their cards and shuffle them, before restarting the face down, one card at a time process.
Eventually, through sheer luck alone, one player will capture enough high cards to make their arsenal quite formidable. After starting with 26 cards apiece, a typical War progression might see one player hold 32 to their opponent’s 20, then 40 to their 12, and finally all 52 to 0.
That’s how the kiddos play War with pennies on the line, but adult-aged gamblers can also enjoy this pure game of chance by playing Casino War.
You’ll learn all about the origins of Casino War down in the History section below, but here’s how this unique addition to the table game landscape works.
After taking your seat across from the house dealer, you’ll place an Ante bet to get the game started. Next up, the dealer will deliver one card face up – usually from a six-deck shoe to prevent players from counting – for both you and themselves.
Just like in the original version, high card wins in Casino War, so if you table a 9 and the dealer reveals an 8, you’ll win even money on your Ante bet. And when the dealer shows the 9 to your 8, the house scoops your chips.
When two identical cards are tabled for a tie, Casino War takes on a different dimension. At this juncture, you’ll have two decisions to choose from – fold and forfeit half of your Ante bet, or place a second Raise bet equal to your original Ante wager.
Obviously, players don’t take on the Casino War tables to surrender without a fight, so you’ll rarely see anybody retreat by folding. Instead, you’ll go ahead and double your $5 bet to $10 to force a showdown.
The dealer then distributes three cards face down to both sides, before revealing the deciding fourth card. High card takes the cake (a second tie on the War round is also a winner for the player), and if you manage to win the War, you’ll be paid even money on your Raise bet. Of course, should the dealer prevail, the house claims both your bets as the spoils of War.
Unfortunately, your Ante bet is simply returned in a push after you win a War, which is where the house derives its house edge of 2.88 percent.
You can also put a chip down on the optional Tie side bet, which pays out at 10 to 1 whenever the first two cards tie to prompt a War. But like most table game side bets, the Tie wager is a “sucker” play that incurs an obscene house edge of 18.65 percent.
And finally, in many online casinos, players enjoy a “War Bonus” payout of 3x on their Raise bet whenever the War round produces a second tie.
Playing Online Casino War vs. Live
Most brick and mortar casinos typically spread just a single Casino War table as a novelty game for tourists, and the game occupies a similar niche when you gamble online.
In fact, many operators include Casino War on their Specialty Games menu instead of the Table Games section. Wherever you find the game, however, Casino War doesn’t really change all that much between the live and online arenas.
Both games remain purely predicated on random chance, as players have no ability to influence the outcome. And with its even money payout scheme, online casinos don’t have any pay tables to tinker with in hopes of improving their house edge.
Shoe construction does offer a slight distinction, as online casinos can set their software to use any number of decks between one and eight. In fact, a few iGaming providers out there even claim to use “infinite” decks, but this term is just a marketing hook used to describe a standard random number generator (RNG).
The only real difference between live Casino War and the online game is pace of play. With no dealers to wait for – unless you’re playing the Live Dealer version, which you’ll learn more about down below – or other players to act, the online version plays much more quickly than the live tables.
Pros & Cons of Playing Casino War Online
That sped up pace can be either a pro or con when it comes to online Casino War.
Obviously, flipping coins – you’ll have a 50.27 percent chance of winning any given hand – in a situation where the house has a slight edge isn’t really something you want to do 20 times per minute. Part of the fun while playing Casino War in a brick and mortar casino is the novelty of it all, gambling it up on nothing more than a high-card showdown.
And with all of the trappings of a live casino in place – shuffling the shoe, counting out chip stacks, and multiple players per table – the pace is slowed down to an acceptable degree. You’ll only be playing one hand every minute at a packed table, which tends to balance out the inherent variance of high-carding.
One of the major pros in favor of playing Casino War online is that 3x “War Bonus” payment. When you can win four units on a tied War showdown, this added equity reduces the house edge on Casino War from 2.88 percent all the way to 1.23 percent. That’s a rebate of more than half in terms of the house’s advantage, which makes online Casino War with a 3x bonus payment the optimal way to play this classic game.
Characteristics of the Best Online Casino War
Online versions of Casino War don’t differ all that much between the major iGaming software providers.
For the most part, these differences will simply come down to how the game looks and feels. Everything from the chip icons you’ll use to place wagers, the card animations for dealing and showdowns, and the display screen for bet sizes and bankroll balance can change drastically from site to site.
With this in mind, Casino War fans should shop around with a few of the major online casinos to see which one provides the best fit.
Of course, online casino software is also highly configurable, so you’ll find various house rules in place. The main house rules to look for are how many decks are used in the shoe, whether or not the 3x bonus for a second tie after a War is in effect, and the 10 to 1 payout on Tie bets.
And as you can see in the table below, house rules provide the only real strategic element to Casino War:
Casino War House Edge Rate Comparison
DECKS TIE BONUS NO TIE BONUS SURRENDER TIE BET
1 2.06 percent 2.42 percent 2.94 percent 35.29 percent
2 2.24 percent 2.70 percent 3.40 percent 25.24 percent
3 2.29 percent 2.79 percent 3.55 percent 21.94 percent
4 2.31 percent 2.84 percent 3.62 percent 20.29 percent
5 2.32 percent 2.86 percent 3.67 percent 19.31 percent
6 2.33 percent 2.88 percent 3.70 percent 18.65 percent
7 2.34 percent 2.89 percent 3.72 percent 18.18 percent
8 2.34 percent 2.90 percent 3.73 percent 17.83 percent
If you can find a single-deck game which uses the 3x bonus, your house edge will drop from 2.88 percent to 2.06 percent – good for a significant savings.
More decks in the shoe always increases the house edge on the main game, but with so many matching cards to work with, the 10 to 1 Tie bet becomes much more palatable in an eight-deck game.
Using this table, you should be able to compare house rules across the best online casinos to locate an optimal setup.
Live Dealer Online Casino War
The next big thing in online casino gaming is Live Dealer, a term used to describe a particularly innovative way of presenting table games to players.
In a Live Dealer game, the pixelated graphics and animations you’re used to are replaced by crystal clear images live streamed from a dedicated studio. High-resolution cameras broadcast footage of trained human dealers operating genuine casino equipment, including multiple-deck shoes and oversized playing cards.
From the player’s perspective, you can still use mouse clicks to place wagers, but from there the dealer takes over a la live casinos.
Unfortunately, the major Live Dealer providers like Evolution Gaming don’t offer Casino War. The game just isn’t popular enough to warrant the overhead costs, so most Live Dealer studios focus on staples like blackjack, baccarat, and roulette.
Fortunately for fans of high-card gambling, you can enjoy a Live Dealer offshoot known as War of Bets using the BetGames software platform.
War of Bets begins with the dealer placing one card face up on the felt. Once this card is exposed, odds on whether the second card will be higher or lower are calculated on the fly and presented to the player. From there, you’ll simply wager on whether that final card will be higher, lower, or a tied with the first card.
Types of Online Casino War Bonuses
Whether you claim a Welcome Bonus as a new player depositing for the first time, or a Reload Bonus on subsequent deposits, both work the same way.
You’ll generally receive a percentage match on the deposit, with Welcome Bonuses running in the 100-500 percent range, and Reload Bonuses pegged at 25-100 percent. Thus, a first deposit of $100 with a 200 percent match would add $200 in Welcome Bonus funds to your account.
You might also score a No Deposit Bonus for becoming a regular player, and these free funds will hit your account after crossing various volume milestones (1,000 hands, $5,000 in wagers, etc.)
All of these online casino bonus must be “cleared,” however, using a process known as playthrough (or rollover on many platforms). Using that $100 deposit + $200 Welcome Bonus example, a playthrough / rollover requirement of 30x means you’ll need to place $9,000 in total wagers before the bonus funds – and any associated winnings – become available for withdrawal.
No matter which type of online casino bonus you claim though, Casino War fans are in luck. Whereas many table games with a low house edge only contribute a fraction of each bet toward the playthrough / rollover chase, Specialty Games often use a full 100 percent wagering contribution rate.
Only the slots can match that, making Casino War one of the preferred vehicles for clearing those pesky playthrough / rollover benchmarks.
History of Casino War
Back in 1993, an up and coming casino game development company called BET Technology was looking for its breakthrough product.
The Carson City-based BET Technology filed a patent on “Casino War” that year, and by 1994 the company had secured table installations at five Nevada casinos. The odd table game gained a cult following over the next decade, as recreational gamblers took to the tables to relive their youth.
Ten years later, the gambling industry titan Shuffle Master came calling with a multimillion-dollar acquisition offer, absorbing BET Technology and its intellectual property. Casino War was included in that package, and Shuffle Master was eventually acquired by Bally Technologies in 2013, before the combined company was taken over by Scientific Games.
Today, any live version of Casino War you play is a product of Scientific Games.
Real Money Casino War FAQ
“I’ve heard that Casino War is the only table game that gives players more than a 50 percent chance to win on each hand, so is that true? And if it is, what’s the catch there?”
First off, that is definitely true, as players enjoy a slight advantage with a 50.27 percent win probability on any given hand. On the flip side, you’ll lose the high-card showdown on 46.30 percent of deals.
The “catch” in this equation is the 3.42 percent of deals that will produce a War. Winning a War only brings back an even money payout on your Raise bet, while the Ante bet is returned as a push. Thus, you’re putting up two units to win one unit on a War, and when you lose it, the house collects both units.
“Why is the Tie bet such a steep longshot, I thought Casino War was all about tied hands?”
In a single-deck game like you played as a kid, you’ll have a 5.88 percent shot to trigger a War on any random deal. That’s because once you play a card, say the Ace of diamonds, you’ll only have three chances to tie (the Aces of clubs, hearts, and spades) left from the 51 remaining cards (3/51 = 0.588). If you bet on the Tie in a single-deck game of Casino War, the house edge would be a staggering 35.29 percent.
But when the casino opts for a six-deck shoe, landing a Tie bet correctly actually increases to a 7.39 percent likelihood, “good” for a house edge of 18.65 percent.