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BLACKJACK ANSWER MAN

by John Grochowski

John Grochowski is a blackjack expert and a well-known and respected casino gambling columnist. His syndicated casino gambling column appears in the Chicago Sun Times, Denver Post, Casino City Times, and other newspapers and web sites. Grochowski has written six books on gambling including the "Answer Man" series of books (www.casinoanswerman.com). He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WSM-AM (890) and podcasts are available at http://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

Q. In your view, what does Frank Scoblete's Five Count actually accomplish? Does it just save you a few extra bucks from not playing? It doesn't seem like there should be anything predictive about past results, and that the house edge should hold up.

A. When I first read Frankís "Beat the Craps Out of the Casinos," way back in the 1990s, my thoughts werenít a million miles from yours. What and when you wager canít change the numbers that come up on the dice. Given a random game, the house edge is there, unchanging.

My feeling at the time was that the positives of playing the Five Count lay in reducing exposure to the house edge. By not putting money at risk until the Five Count was reached, the player was extending his session, staying in the action in the hopes of eventually catching a hot roll. The player would still lose 1.41 percent of his money on pass and come bets, but would have less money per hour at risk than a player who didnít Five Count.

I floated that past a fellow gambling writer, whose response was, "Maybe, but then why play at all? You could reduce your exposure to the house edge to zero by steering clear of craps."

But my view has shifted over the years, with a turning point coming when I started to see dice control in action and Frank shifted terminology in his books and articles from "rhythmic rollers" to "controlled shooters." What if, unbeknownst to you, you find yourself at a table with a controlled shooter? Will the Five Count keep us off a disproportionate share of rolls by random rollers, and put us on a disproportionate share of rolls by the controlled roller?

To go a step further, there arenít all that many trained controlled rollers. But what if a player who is a random roller most of the time just has a stretch where heís doing everything right, gets in a rhythm that gives him a controlled roll that depresses the frequency of 7s? Will the Five Count get you onto that controlled roll while keeping you off random rolls?

That, I think gives the Five Count value beyond just reducing exposure to the house edge. Itís not going to pick up a controlled shooter in every session, because thereís not going to be a controlled shooter in every session. But as one who has seen some strong dice controllers in action, I want to be in on their rolls, while limiting wagers on the majority of random shooters.

 

Q. In casino statistics online from various gambling states, I see casino hold percentages and win percentages in blackjack listed at 16, 17, and 18 percent. How can that be? I know there are some bad players, but no one should be giving the house 16 percent.

A. Those hold percentages are not the same thing as the house edge. When gaming board statistics list a hold percentage of 16 percent, it doesnít mean blackjack players have lost 16 percent of wagers. It means theyíve lost 16 percent of buy-ins.

That includes the effect of rebetting winnings as you play. Letís take an average player --- not a basic strategy player or an advantage player, but the kind of player who fills most of the seats and bucks a house edge of about 2 percent. And letís say he buys in for $500, wagers $25 a hand, wins a little, loses a little, and sticks around long enough to play 200 hands. Heís made $5,000 worth of wagers. His expected loss at a 2 percent house edge is $100.

But if he actually loses $100, casino statistics wonít see that as 2 percent of his $5,000 in wagers. Theyíll see it as 20 percent of his $500 buy-in. Thatís the hold percentage.

Electronic games are reported differently. There, actual wagers are tracked, and what you see on gaming board reports as a hold percentage or win percentage is the percentage of money wagered thatís kept by the house. A casino marketing exec once argued the point with me, claiming that slots were a better bet than tables, because his casinos slots were holding 8 percent while the tables were 20 percent. Iím not sure I ever convinced him that they were completely different statistics that couldnít be used as a basis for comparison.

 

Q. I'm no fan of the carnival games, but my brother-in-law likes Three Card Poker. Now he says he's backing away for a while, that he's losing more than he used to, and he thinks maybe they changed the game. Did they, or is he just on a streak?

A. He could just be on a streak, but the game has changed, too. When game inventor Derek Webb sold Three Card Poker to Shuffle Master in 1999, Shuffle Master started developing alternative pay tables for the Pair Plus portion of the game. Thatís normal business for Shuffle Master, which offers casino operators choices in pay tables on games such as Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud Poker.

Pair Plus is a bet that your three-card hand will include a pair or better. In Webbís original game, payoffs were 40-1 on straight flush, 30-1 on three of a kind, 6-1 on a straight, 4-1 on a flush, and even money on any pair. The house edge was 2.32 percent, relatively low for a newer table game.

That pay table remained in play at most casinos for quite a while after the sale, but in recent years itís been replaced by a change to 3-1 payoffs on flushes. With that one change, the house edge soars to 7.28 percent. Other pay tables are available, with none as player-friendly as the original, but the 40-30-6-3-1 schedule is the most common. Your brother-in-lawís troubles could result from that change.

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