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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. How good does a dice controller have to be to make money?

A. Letís preface this by saying dice controllers donít have to roll specific numbers in order to make money. A few can increase the frequency of specific numbers, and even increase the frequency of hardways, and turn bad bets into big profit situations. Frank Scoblete targets the dice-controlling hardcore in explaining the method in his 2010 book "Cutting Edge Craps." He describes the dice controller known as the Dominator, betting hard 6 on the hop --- a bet that the next roll must be 3-3, a 13.89 percent house edge wager that Scoblete surely would include among the Crazy Crapper bets he always warns normal players to avoid.

Iíve seen the Dominator in action, and I donít doubt that he can swing the odds on high house-edge bets. For most who attempt dice control, however, the game is about making the good bets, and depressing the frequency of loser 7s.

Dr. Don Catlin took on that problem a few years ago, focusing on the place bets on 6 and 8. When rolls are random, the chances of rolling a 7 are 1 in 6, and the house edge is 1.52 percent on either 6 or 8. Catlin calculated that a shooter reaches the turning point when he can depress the frequency of 7s to 1 in 6.1428. Depress the frequency to 1 in 7, and the players betting 6 and/or 8 get a whopping 8.333 percent edge.

Even though the gap from 1 in 6 rolls to 1 in 6.1428 is narrow, it doesnít make it easy. There are a lot more random rollers than Dominators at the dice tables, and even many who practice regularly never get to the break-even point.

Q. I was playing a two-deck pitch game where one dealer was accidentally exposing her hole card hand after hand. It was so obvious I couldnít help seeing, and of course, I took advantage. I guess I got a little loose in my play, because after a little while they backed me off the game. Thinking back, on my last hand I hit a hard 17 when the dealer had faces both up and down. I guess I should have been more discreet, but just how sparing should I have been in using the information?

A. You already know you should have been more sparing than you were, and I imagine most people reading the Blackjack Insider will cringe a little when they read that you hit hard 17 when the dealer showed a 10-value. In any sort of advantage play, you need to use a little discretion.

You need to make the kinds of plays an average-to-weak player would make. If you have hard 16 and the dealer has a 10 face up and you spot a 6 down, is it plausible that a guy off the street would stand on that hand? Sure. I see others make that play every time in a casino. If you have hard 16, the dealer has a 6 up and you spot a 5 down, would it set off any alarms if you hit instead of stand? Probably not. There are a lot of bad players, and dealers and pit supervisors see that play every day. If you have hard 11, the dealer has a 10 up and you spot a 10 down, are you going to be shown the door for hitting instead of doubling? No, thereís a strong tendency for players who donít know basic strategy, and those who donít quite believe it, to skip doubles when the dealer shows a 10.

However, you cross a line in taking cards when even the bad players know to stop. Dealers see players hem and haw over what to do with 16 all the time. They donít see any hesitation on hard 17 or better. Virtually nobody hits those hands, and if you do, youíre going to get some unwanted attention.

Q. The casinos in my area donít have much in the way of full-pay video poker. I still like to play some, but what Iím seeing are 9-5 Double Double Bonus Poker, 8-5, and even 7-5, Jacks or Better, 9-6-5 and occasionally 9-7-5 Double Bonus Poker. Is there a rule of thumb for how much each drop in the pay table costs the player?

A. As a rule in Jacks or Better-based games, you lose about 1.1 percent of your return for each unit decrease in the payoffs on full houses and flushes. That includes Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker, and other games in which the pay table starts at a pair of Jacks.

Take Jacks or Better as an example. With expert play, the game returns 99.5 percent with a 9-6 pay table, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1. Drop to a common 8-5 pay table, and the expected return falls to 97.3 percent --- a 2.2 percent drop that represents the loss of one unit in payback on full houses and one unit in flushes. Drop again to a 7-5 pay table --- one that I see quite a lot on quarter machines in the Chicago area, and have been disturbed to see it in Las Vegas --- and you lose another 1.1 percent, bringing down the return to 96.2 percent with expert play.

Similarly, in Double Double Bonus Poker, the return with expert play is 98.98 percent at a 9-6 pay table. Drop the flush return one unit for a 9-5 pay table, and the overall return drops 1.1 percent, to 97.87 percent. Drop the full house return a unit to an 8-5 game, and the overall return drops another 1.1 percent, to 96.78 percent.

Players in Nevada need never settle for such shortfalls. You can always take your business elsewhere. In jurisdictions where short-pay games are your only options, be aware of that 1.1 percent rule when choosing a game.

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