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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. I know we're told to avoid 6-5 blackjack. Indeed, not only do I refuse to play it, but I also refuse to play anything at a casino that offers it. But, it seems to sadly be the only game in town for us low rollers anymore. What's a $5 bettor to do?

A. This question came via email from a Chicago area reader. Itís a tough market for blackjack players on a budget. A couple of casinos have low-minimum tables with 6-5 pays on blackjacks. Several have no $5 tables at all, and at busy times of the day will have nothing under $25.

Conditions are such that Iím not sure there is a good answer for a $5 bettor. Craps? Even if a $5 table is open, sticking to a $5 wager means pass or donít pass with no odds and no extra bets, and Iím not sure Iíve met the craps player who doesnít want at least a few bets working. Video poker? To offset the speed of the game, a $5 blackjack player would have to drop to quarter video poker to stay within budget, and would have to be playing in a market with full-pay games at quarter levels.

One option is just to play less often, but increase your bankroll per visit. If by playing less often you can withstand the risk at $15 a hand, average losses per hour are lower on a $15 game with 3-2 payoffs on blackjacks than at a $5 game with 6-5 blackjack pays.

Nevertheless, I strongly urge that you do not play 6-5 games, and do fill out a comment card, or let a casino manager know youíre choosing not to return because of the 6-5 pays. As long as the seats are filled, thereís no incentive for operators to improve their games.

Q. I think I am correct in saying the house edge on a place 6-place 8 combination is 1.042 percent. If there is a flaw in my calculations, can you please point it out.

A. The house edge on all craps combinations is a weighted average of the component bets. When you place the 6 and the 8, you have two wagers with house edges of 1.52 percent. The overall house edge has to be 1.52 percent.

Others have sent me calculations that show a 1.04 percent edge on that combo. Hereís how it goes: In evaluating craps bets, we throw out rolls that push as irrelevant. Rolls such as 2, 5, or 11 do not yield a decision on the 6 or 8, so we disregard them in calculating a house edge. That leaves only 16 rolls that matter: the 6 ways to make 7, the 5 ways to make 6 and the 5 ways to make 8.

If you wager $6 each on 6 and 8, you risk $192 on the 16 rolls. We get $7 in winnings on each of the five 6s and five 8s, for a total of $70. We lose $12 on each of the six 7s for a total of $72. Thatís a net $2 loss. Divide that by the $192 risked, then multiply by 100 to convert to percent, and you get a house edge of only 1.04 percent.

Do you see the flaw?

That calculation treats pushes on 6 and 8 as money at risk, unlike any other pushes. When we calculate the house edge on the combination, we have to disregard money bet on 6 when the roll is an 8, or bets on 8 when the roll is 6.

Now the risk becomes $72 for the 12 7s, $30 for the five 6s, and $30 for the five 8s, for a total of $132. Itís still a net loss of $2, but $2 is 1.52 percent of $132 at risk. Thatís the correct house edge on the combination.

Q. We have an acquaintance who we see at several casinos. When he plays Double Double Bonus or Triple Double Bonus Poker, he will automatically go for the kicker payoff if he gets a 3-of-a-kind deal with a kicker OR a pair of Aces, 2's, 3's, or 4's.  We have discussed this with him on a few occasions saying that we believe that is the wrong play but he gets testy and tells us that the payout is worth it and that he has hit the combinations needed "a bunch of times."  Your thoughts, please.

A. With three Aces and a kicker, it is the correct play to hold the kicker in Triple Double Bonus Poker, where there's a 4,000-coin Jackpot, but not in Double Double Bonus Poker, where the jackpot is 2,000 coins for four Aces and kicker. Dealt Ace-Ace-Ace-2-6, for instance, the average return in 9-6 Double Double Bonus is 62.4 coins per five wagered when you hold just the Aces, and that drops to 59.1 when you hold the kicker, too. In 9-7 Triple Double Bonus, the bigger jackpot more than makes up for that difference.

With low cards, it's similar. Dealt 3-3-3-2-6, in Double Double Bonus the average return is 37.2 coins for holding 3-3-3, but only 33.6 for holding 3-3-3-2. Just hold the three of a kind. In Triple Double Bonus, where we can get 2,000 for four 3s and a 2, average returns are 57.6 for 3-3-3-2, and only 45.0 for 3-3-3. Therefore, in Triple Double, we hold the kicker.

Two pair and a kicker is another matter. Not even in Triple Double Bonus is it worth your while to hold a kicker with a single pair. Dealt Ace-Ace-5-5-2, in 9-6 Double Double Bonus, the average return for a five-credit wager is 9.6 coins when you hold Ace-Ace, and only 7.6 when you hold Ace-Ace-2. Even in 9-7 Triple Double, the higher return comes from holding just the pair, with an average of 10.4 per five credits wagered when you hold Ace-Ace vs. 9.4 for holding Ace-Ace-2.

By holding the extra card, youíre limiting your opportunities to draw four of a kind, or even three of a kind. The occasional big quads-plus-kicker payoff canít make that up.

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