Casino War Online

In the 1997 movie Vegas Vacation, Clark Griswold visits a low-rent casino where he plays several “joke” casino games which aren’t offered in normal casinos. Some of them are as ludicrous as “What Number Am I Thinking Of?”, but one of them is an actual casino game: War. It might be the easiest casino card game in history, and if you grew up in the United States, you probably played War with your parents or your buddies at the kitchen table.

This page explains how Casino War is played for real money online or at land-based casinos. I also explain the house edge and discuss whether or not you can use any kind of strategy to improve your odds.

Playing Casino War Is Ridiculously Easy

Most casino card games are “comparing games”. You compare your hand with the dealer’s in order to determine a winner. Casino War is the most basic example of this—you get a card, the dealer gets a card, and the party with the higher card wins the bet. Here’s how it plays in action.

You find a table and place a bet. You get a card, and so does the dealer. If your card is higher than the dealer’s card, you get paid even money. If the dealer’s card is higher than yours, you lose your bet. The game gets interesting when you have a tie. At your kitchen table, this is called “going to war”. In a casino, you get to decide whether or not you want to go to war.

In a casino, if you decide to go to war, you have to place another bet the same size as your original bet. Then the dealer burns three cards before giving himself and you a new card.

The results are based on these two new cards, but there’s a wrinkle:

If the player wins, he only gets paid off even money on his original wager. He gets the increased bet back, but it doesn’t pay off. If the dealer wins, the player loses both bets. The player only gets paid off on his original bet AND the second bet if there’s another tie. And this is how the house gets an edge over the player.

Side Bets and Strategy

You also have the option of surrendering instead of going to war. If you do that, you give up half your bet. This is the correct strategic decision every time, by the way, because the expected value is slightly better. If you surrender every time you have a chance of going to war, the house edge for Casino War is around 2%.

Casino War also offers a side bet. If you’ve read any of my other pages about casino card games, you already know my opinion of side bets in casino card games. But I’ll reiterate in case you missed those other pages:

Don’t make side bets. The house edge is too high.

In Casino War, your side bet is on whether or not you’re going to get a tie. It pays off at 10 to 1. The house on this bet varies based on the number of decks of cards being used, but it’s usually around 18%, which makes it easily one of the worst bets in the casino.

The rules for Casino War can vary from casino to casino. The number of decks in use is one factor. Some casinos don’t offer the extra payoff on the tie after going to war. You can even find some online casinos which offer even bigger bonus payoffs on the tie after going to war.

It might be tempting to try to use a system like the Martingale to get an edge at this game. After all, it seems like a 50/50 game, so in the long run, you could guarantee yourself profits by doubling up every time you lose. You can find extensive details on why the Martingale system doesn’t work anywhere on the Internet, but it boils down to two things:

  • You’ll eventually need to place a bet that’s larger than your bankroll.
  • You’ll eventually need to place a bet that’s larger than the table limits.

No, this doesn’t happen often. But it happens often enough to make sure that the Martingale won’t win for you in the long run. In fact, I don’t recommend playing Casino War at all. Almost any other game in the casino offers more mental stimulation. Also, the rapid rate of play means that even with a 2% house edge, your average hourly losses are going to add up faster than you can imagine.

My best advice to Casino War players?

Switch to blackjack.

Updated: 11.26.2016
Author: Steve Mitchell