Let It Ride is one of my favorite “house-banked” casino games based on poker. When I say it’s “house-banked,” I mean that you’re playing against the casino, who pays off your bets if you win. In normal poker games, the other players pay you off when you win. In a house-banked game, it’s you versus the dealer.
Like many poker games, Let It Ride uses a 5-card hand. You form this hand with 3 cards of your own and 2 community cards. It’s similar to Texas holdem in the use of community cards, although the number of cards and the game-play couldn’t be much more different.
Like pai gow poker, Let It Ride is a slower table game, which limits the amount of money you’ll lose on average per hour. When I started gambling a couple of decades, Let It Ride was all the rage, but other, newer poker variants have now surpassed Let It Ride in popularity.
I was, at one time, an investor in Shuffle Master, the company which invented the game. Let It Ride was an obvious attempt to sell more card shuffling machines. I admired this kind of clever marketing. I didn’t regret my investment, either.
The purpose of this post is to provide a quick introduction to the game and how it’s played. More importantly, I offer some insights into the strategy and odds for the game. Let It Ride’s house edge is relatively high, but it’s still a cool game.
And there’s no reason you shouldn’t learn to keep the house edge as low as possible by using the correct Let It Ride strategy.
How to Play Let It Ride
You start a game of Let It Ride by placing a 3-unit wager. You get 2 chances to pull one of those units off the table. If you leave those wagers in play, you’re “letting them ride.” (That’s where the game gets its name.)
After you’ve bet, you get a card. Then the dealer deals the 1st community card (face-down). Then you get another card, then another community card, then you get a 3rd card. That’s a total of 3 cards for you and 2 community cards for the table.
You don’t get to look at the cards until the dealing’s done.
The game is divided into rounds. The first round is when you look at your hole cards. Based on whether you like them or not, you can withdraw one of your 3 bets.
After that action is resolved, the 1st community card gets flipped over. This is your 2nd chance to withdraw one of your 3 bets.
When the final community card is flipped over, you show your hand. You get paid off based on a pay table, just like you would if you were playing video poker. This pay table can vary, but it typically looks like this:
|4 of a kind||50|
|3 of a kind||3|
|Pair of 10s +||1|
If you don’t have a hand of at least a pair of 10s or better, you lose whatever wager you have on the table.
The Optimal Strategy for Playing Let It Ride
The only decisions you have to make are whether to pull back your bets or not. You’ll decide this based on what kind of hand you have.
On the 1st round, where you only know what your 3 hole cards are, you should draw back one bet UNLESS:
- You have any hand that’s a winner.
- You have a draw to a royal flush.
- You have a draw to a straight flush. (Unless those cards are 4 or lower.)
On the 2nd round, where you know what your 3 hole cards are AND what one of the hole cards is, you should draw back one bet UNLESS:
- You have any hand that’s a winner.
- A draw to a flush.
- An outside draw to a straight that includes a 10+.
- An inside draw to a straight where all 4 cards are 10+.
An outside straight draw is one where you can make the straight by getting one of 8 cards. For example, if you have a 5678, any 4 or any 9 will give you a straight, and there are 4 of each of them. The rank of the cards that fill the straight fall outside the rankings of the straight draw.
An inside straight draw is one where you can make the straight by getting one of 4 cards. For example, if you have a 5689, the only card that will make your straight is a 7, and there are only 4 of them. The rank of the card that fills the straight falls inside the rankings of the straight draw.
The Odds for Let It Ride
The house edge for a standard Let It Ride pay table is 3.5%. Compared to other card games, this isn’t the best deal in the casino—far from it, in fact. You’d be better off playing blackjack with perfect basic strategy, although that’s more memorization than you’d have with memorizing the proper Let It Ride strategy.
Also, Let It Ride is a slower-paced game. Even though the house edge is higher, your hourly expected loss isn’t necessarily going to increase that much, because you’re not putting as much money into action per hour.
And of course, if you can find a casino with a more generous pay table than the one I listed above, the house edge would go down, too.
Side Bets in Let It Ride
Most Let It Ride games offer optional side bets. One common side bet is just a bet on the final hand. It has its own pay table, but the house edge for this bet is usually higher than the house edge for the regular game by a multiple of 4 or more. In other words, the house edge on this bet is in the double digits. Avoid it.
A lot of casinos also have a side bet on the ranking of your 3-card hand, disregarding the community cards. This bet also has a pay table, and it’s a better deal than the side bet on your 5-card final hand. Still, the house edge on this bet is twice as high as the other bets—at least 7%. It’s another bet you should skip.
Let It Ride is a lot of fun, but sadly, the game looks like it’s on its way. This is happening for 2 reasons:
- Let It Ride odds aren’t that great.
- Other games are becoming more popular.
Still, I like casino card games with a skill element, even if your level of skill only reduces the house edge to 3.5%.
You should definitely avoid the side bets at Let It Ride. The odds on those are almost always lousy.
Finally, make the effort to learn the correct strategy. Playing without the correct strategy can add another 3% or so to the house edge, making this one of the worst bets in the casino.