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CASINO 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 WLS-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. We're planning a bachelor party, and some guys want to play blackjack, but nobody wants to bet big money. We're narrowed it down to two places that will let us play $5 a hand. One will cost us $20 an hour per person for the reservation, there the game is six decks, dealer stands on all 17s, double after split, resplit to four hands. The other has no reservation fee, but dealer hits soft 17, AND blackjacks pay 6-5. Double and splitting rules are the same. I know you're going to say to run from both games, but that's not an option.

A. Youíre right, Iíd tell you to run from either game. All this sounds like a good opportunity to take over a craps table.

Without even considering the house edge on the base game, spotting the house $20 an hour per player is exorbitant, so letís look at the other game first. Itís an awful game, as weíd expect, from the 6-5 payoffs on blackjack. The house edge against a basic strategy player is about 1.98 percent.

So letís say you fill a seven-player table with bachelor party revelers, and play about 50 hands an hour at $5 a hand. You each risk $250. In an average session, playing basic strategy, each would lose $4.95. Now, maybe --- or should I say probably --- not all seven players know basic strategy. And given that itís a bachelor party, there might be some impaired judgment going on. So letís say you all play a little worse than the average player for the night, and kick the house edge all the way up to 4 percent. Now the average loss per player soars to $10 an hour.

You see where this is going. Even at a table with bad rules filled with judgment-impaired partiers, your average loss doesnít approach the $20 a hour youíd be paying for the privilege of playing $5 blackjack at the other place.

Aside from the $20 an hour, the other place has a much better game, with a house edge against a basic strategy player of about 0.4 percent. Average losses for a $5 player at a bachelor-party pace of 50 hands an hour come to about a buck an hour. That begs the question of how much youíd have to bet per hand to clear yourselves without paying the reservation fee. Could you get it done for $15 a hand? (Average loss, $3 an hour for a basic strategy player, or $18.75 for a subpar player facing a 2.5 percent edge).


I wouldnít choose either of these games, but Iíve been to a few bachelor parties in my day, and I know the decision isnít going to rest on cold, hard percentages. But, if backed into the corner and forced to make a choice between two options I really dislike, Iíd hold my nose and pick the one that didnít cost everyone $20 an hour upfront.

Q. I was playing Quick Quads, and I had a hand I wasnít quite sure what to do with. It was in Double Double Bonus Poker, and I had Ace-Ace-2-2-8. You have that big payoff for four Aces plus a low kicker, so usually I just hold the Aces whenever Iím playing Double Double Bonus. Thatís what I did here, but I was wondering if the Quick Quads play might be different

A. For those who donít know Quick Quads, itís a video poker game designed to give the player more four-of-a-kind hands. If you have three of a kind, and the other two cards add up to a match those cards, you get the four-of-a-kind payoff. For example, if you have 7-7-7 and the other two cards are a 5 and a 2, then the 5-2 add up to a 7 that rounds out your quads.

Ace-Ace-2-2 is a Quick Quads keeper. If you draw a third deuce, then the Aces add up to a fourth 2, and you get a nice four deuces pay. Even in Double Double Bonus, we hold both pairs when dealt Ace-Ace-2-2. Draw an Ace and you have a full house. Draw a 2, and you have four of a kind. Combined, that gives you a better average return than if you tossed three cards for a long-shot draw at four Aces, and a longer shot at four Aces plus a kicker.

You pay for the extra quads with a sixth-coin bet per hand. Itís not a bad deal. In all games available on the Quick Quads format, the payback percentage is higher if you make the extra bet than if you donít. Given expert play, 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker rises from 98.98 percent return to 99.65, and 9-5 Double Double Bonus increases from 97.02 percent with five coins wagered to 97.95 with a six-coin bet.

The extra bet does add volatility to the game. Youíre still getting only five-coin paybacks on hands other than Quick Quads. All the return on the sixth coin is concentrated on the extra four-of-a-kinds.

Q. I dabble in slots, usually when my wife and I play together. Some machines allow you to stop the reels by hitting the button again, instead of waiting for them to stop. Does stopping the reels yourself also stop the random number generator?

A. Nearly all games remain random when you stop the reels yourself. The random numbers that determine your outcome for that spin have already been set before you stop the reels. Game designers call it "illusion of skill." You feel like you have control of the game. Your timing in stopping the reels doesn't really make any difference.

There are a couple of games that involve actual skill, in IGT's Reel Edge series, including Blood Life and Triple Red White and Blue. In those, you touch each reel to stop it individually, and you can affect the outcome. However, the reels spin very, very fast, and it is very, very, very, very difficult to make a reel stop exactly where you want.

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