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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 ( He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WLS-AM (890) and podcasts are available at Send your question to Grochowski at



Q. I saw a table advertising $3 blackjack. It turned out that it was a $3 combination, with a $2 minimum at blackjack provided you also bet at least $1 on Lucky Ladies. Without the Ladies, it was a $5 table, and It was a tough blackjack game, too, with six decks, hit soft 17, no double after split, double 10 and 11 only, split pairs only once for two hands. How bad is that?

A. It strikes me as a bait-and-switch to call that $3 blackjack. With a third of your bet, youíre playing Lucky Ladies, not blackjack.

The game you describe is tough enough without the forced side bet. Provided thereís nothing else odd about the game, it comes to a house edge of 0.97 percent against a basic strategy player. Thatíd have me checking out the video poker games or the craps table real fast.

You didnít mention which Lucky Ladies pay table the casino was using. There are several, but I think the most common pays 4-1 if your first two cards total 20, 9-1 if itís a suited 20, 19-1 on a matched 20 where both cards are the same suit and rank, 125-1 on two Queens of hearts, and 1,000-1 if your Queen of hearts pair is beaten by a dealer blackjack.

In a six-deck game, the house edge is 24.71 percent. Would you want a third of your wager to be on a side bet that spots the house 24.71 percent? Me neither.

Letís do a little arithmetic. Say you skip the $3 offer and just play the blackjack game at the table minimum of $5 a hand. Moreover, letís assume a full table playing about 50 hands an hour, since $5 tables always seem to be full where I play. In an average hour, you risk $250. With a 0.97 percent house edge, an average loss per hour comes to $2.43.

Now letís say I sit down next to you, and bet $2 a hand on blackjack and $1 a hand on Lucky Ladies. I risk $100 an hour on blackjack, dropping my average blackjack loss to 97 cents. On Lucky Ladies, I risk $50, and that 24.71 percent house edge carves $12.36 out of my bankroll.

Playing the $3 blackjack-Lucky Ladies option costs me $13.33 an hour. You put more money on the table sticking to $5 blackjack, but even those bad rules cost you only $2.43 an hour.

Deal me out either way, but itís clear this "$3 blackjack" offer is no bargain.


Q. What do you think of the idea that in video poker, the full house and flush paybacks don't really matter, that you'll have a winning session whenever you get sufficient quads or better, and lose when you don't?

A. Of course, it matters. It matters a lot, even if youíre determined to play until either quads give you a profit or you lose your stake. If all full houses or flushes do is give you extra room to work until you either hit a big one or go broke, then higher paybacks give you more hands to work with.

In 9-6 Jacks or Better, we draw a full house about once per 87 hands, and a flush about once per 91 hands. If we play a moderate pace of 500 hands per hour, weíll average between 5 and 6 full houses, and 5 and 6 flushes.

Drop the full house payback from 9-for-1 to 8 for 1, and five or six times during an average hour, it costs us enough to pay for another hand. Same deal if the full house return drops from 6-for-1 to 5-for-1. In an average hour at an 8-5 Jacks or Better game, your return will pay for 10-to-12 fewer hands than at 9-6 Jacks or Better.

In plain dollars and cents, the return at 8-5 Jacks is $50 to $60 an hour less than the 9-6 game on a dollar machine, or $11.25 to $15 less on a quarter machine. For the big-pay-or-bust-player, the lower pay table means bust time comes that much faster, with fewer chances to draw quads or better.

The effect is larger, naturally enough, with bigger pay table reductions. The drop to 7-5 Jacks costs you another five or six hands an hour. The effect also is larger with increased speed. I play 700 hands-plus an hour, and I know many who exceed 800. With more wagers per hour, you donít want to settle for short pays, even on hands that you regard as just there to help you toward a larger goal.


Q. Can baccarat be counted?

A. Baccarat certainly has elements of a game that can be counted. The odds change as cards are dealt and removed from play. However, it turns out that while baccarat can be counted, it canít be done for profit in any practical way.

The late Peter Griffin tacked the problem and reported the results of his study in "The Theory of Blackjack." Griffin wrote that a player who doesn't bet unless he has an advantage could squeeze an edge of about 0.7 percent of his maximum bets on banker and player. However, that player might play only about three hands per eight hours.

For bets on ties, it's theoretically possible to count down to a 24 percent edge with six cards remaining in an eight-deck shoe, provided all the cards are dealt out.

In the real world, nobody deals out all the cards, and with one-half deck cut out of play, the bettor's potential edge on the last hand shrinks to just .08 percent. Thatís seven-and-a-half decks of watching, waiting for the right time for an edge of eight-hundredths of a percent on a single bet.

Thatís too much watching for too little profit to make baccarat a realistic counter play.

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