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 athttp://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069 . Send your question to Grochowski at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Q.I play in a casino that had a 2-for-Tuesday special. There were drink and dinner specials and double points on the rewards card. The big thing was double pays on IRS jackpots of $1,200 or more.
I asked the marketing guy why there were no table specials, and he said they'd think about it for the future. I said they could pay 2-1 on blackjacks, and he laughed and said EVERYONE knows not to do THAT.
So I guess my question has two parts: First, How much more costly is it for them to pay 2-1 blackjacks than to pay double IRS jackpots?
Second, the best video poker game that would bring double jackpots on the royal is $1 9-6 Jacks or Better. What kind of strategy adjustments do I need to make to account for the 8,000-coin royal?
A.Iím not sure that everyone knows not to offer 2-1 pays on blackjacks, but no doubt there are many table games managers who have heard tales of woe from casinos that have made the offer. In my Midwestern neck of the woods, the 1990s story of the Alton Belle, near St. Louis on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, remains well known. When a 2-1 blackjack pay promotion started, casino execs were shocked to find their tables filled with out-of-towners making maximum bets.
Blackjack 2-1 promotions can work at limited bet sizes, such as 2-1 payoffs on wagers only up to $10, or $25. Then it becomes more of a bonus for loyal locals and less of an opportunity for profit by big-bankrolled travelers.
Paying 2-1 on blackjacks is about a 2.3 percent swing in the edge toward the players. An ordinary six-deck game, in which the dealer stands on all 17s while players are allowed to double on any first two cards, including after splits, may split pairs up to three times for a total of four hands, and has no other exotic rules, has a house edge of 0.4 percent against a basic strategy player when blackjacks pay 3-2. With 2-1 blackjack pays, that becomes a 1.9 percent PLAYER edge.
The 9-6 Jacks or Better game you say is the best video poker play in the casino in question returns 99.54 percent with expert play. Thatís the same as a 0.46 percent house edge, similar to the ordinary six-deck blackjack game.
With an 8,000-coin royal, 9-6 JB becomes a 101.86 percent game with expert play, a 1.86-percent player edge that again is similar to the game with 2-1 blackjacks.
On a percentage basis, thereís not that much difference between the enhanced video poker and blackjack games. However, the experience of the Alton Belle and others who have tried 2-1 blackjack payoffs tell us they there is a steep rise in bet size as more players make max bets. The house loses a lot more money offering that 1.9 percent edge to players betting $500 or $1,000 than to those betting $5 or $10.
Video poker doesnít offer the opportunity for such a steep hike in bet size, and the volatility of the game means that most sessions are still losers. Thereís a potential profit potential, but itís not anywhere near as certain as the 2-1 pays make blackjack, nor is it as large a percentage for players to come in from hundreds of miles around to fill the seats.
As you note, some strategy adjustments are needed to account for the 8,000-coin royal. Three suited high cards become more valuable than high pairs. Dealt 10-Jack-Queen of clubs along with Aces of hearts and diamonds, the expected value of 7.68 coins leads us to hold the Aces with a 4,000-coin royal, but not with an 8,000-coin royal when the EV jumps from 7.47 to 11.17. Itís the same with other three-card royals. A 10-Jack-Ace suited, with another Ace and an unsuited 5, for example, the EV on the three suited cards remains high at 10.14.
Among other highlights with the 8,000-coin royal, we also prefer two suited high cards to Ace-King-Queen-Jack. And suited 10-Jack and 10-Queen jump ahead of unsuited Queen-Jack or Queen-King, so that with 10-Queen of diamonds, Jack of clubs, 6 of spades, 5 of hearts, the optimal play is to hold 10-Queen.
Q.I have a question about card games with multiple-part bets. I've seen the house edge for Let It Ride listed at 3.5 percent, and at 2.8 percent. I see different numbers for Caribbean Stud, too. Is the higher or lower number correct, and why is there a difference?
A. Both numbers are correct. They just express different things. In Let It Ride, the house edge is 3.5 percent of one bet, taking into account that players are permitted to pull back their first two bets if they donít like their cards. The 2.8 percent figure is the portion of total action the house expects to keep, given that players sometimes will leave both bets on the table.
Similarly, in Caribbean Stud, youíll sometimes see the house edge listed at 5.2 percent of the ante, but 2.6 percent of total action, taking into account the times a player will make the bet of double the ante to stay in the game after seeing his or her cards.
The higher figures are handy in giving players an idea of average losses per hour. At a Let It Ride table in which you start with three $5 wagers, and which moves at 60 hands per hour, your minimum risk per hour is $300. On the average, the house expects to keep 3.5 percent of that, or $10.50.
Your total action will be higher. In the above situation, Let It Ride basic strategy will lead you to leave enough wagers in play to total $375 in action. However, your losses still would average $10.50 an hour, or 2.8 percent of that $375.
When I write about those games, I usually use both figures, specifying 3.5 percent of one bet or 2.8 percent of total action.
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