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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. Blackjack tables at a casino where I play have five spots instead of the usual seven. Can you tell me what the casino gets out of that, and how it affects players?

A. The biggest thing having fewer spots at a table accomplish is to speed up the game. It takes more time to deal a hand if youíre waiting for seven people to play their hands and have their bets settled than if youíre waiting for five people.

With any number of players, speed is variable, dependent on both the speed of the dealer and the speed of the players. Back in the mid-1990s, I attended a seminar given by casino consultant Jim Kilby, and his book, "Casino Operations Management," estimates 52 hands per hour with seven players, 60 with six, 70 with five, 84 with four, 105 with three, 139 with two and 209 with one.

Letís say youíre operating a casino with enough demand to keep 35 blackjack seats full. If you divide that among five traditional seven spot tables, each customer is playing 52 hands an hour, and the 35 players combine for 1,820 hands. With seven five-spot tables, each player averages 70 hands an hour, and the 35-player total is 2,450 hands.

By switching from five seven-spots to seven five-spots, the casino gets an extra 630 hands an hour. That makes it well worth paying an extra couple of dealers.

Thereís a danger point for an operator if the customer base is too low. Most players like to play with others, and clustering three or four players at five five-spot tables with none at the other two is no faster than having three or four players at each of five seven-spots. However, as long as the casino is reasonably busy, it gets more hands per hour with fewer spots at each table.

Most players are better off with a slower game. A speedier game favors whoever has the edge, and in most cases, thatís the house. More hands per hour mean more exposure to the house edge. Advantage players, on the other hand, benefit more from a faster game, and they would get extra speed with fewer players per table at the five-spot tables.

Speed of the game is not something most average players consider. In the late 1990s, Harrahís Las Vegas switched from seven-spots to five-spots, and received favorable comments from players who said the smaller tables were more comfortable. Their table game director at the time said, "Something we did to speed up the game was perceived as a customer service touch."

From an operatorís perspective, thatís win-win. However, players need to approach with caution.

Q. I play dollar Double Double Bonus Poker at a casino that has it two pretty interesting ways. It has 9-6 DDB with three progressives, on the royal, Aces with kicker, and Aces without kicker. It also has 9-5 DDB with just one progressive on the royal, but it has a $50,000 jackpot for a sequential royal. Is it worth giving up a unit on the flush and the Ace progressives to get the sequential royal?

A. With royals at the base value of 4,000 coins for a five-coin wager, 9-5 Double Double Bonus returns 97.9 percent with expert play, and the sequential royal takes that up to 98.1. Each 1,000 coins added to the progressive royal jackpot adds about half a percent in value. Should you see the royal pot at about 8,000 coins --- $2,000 for a quarter player --- itís a breakeven game to experts.

Note that that sequential royal adds only a bit more than two-tenths of a percent to the return. Therefore, without considering the progressives, 9-5 Double Double Bonus is not as strong a game as 9-6 DDB, which returns 99.0 percent. Calculating a break-even point with a three-way progressive is trickier than with a single progressive. If the only progressive were on royal flushes, 9-6 Double Double Bonus would become a 100-percent game with the royal payoff at 5,846 credits. If the only progressive was on four Aces with a 2, 3, or 4, the break-even point is a 2,760-credit return. If a progressive only on four 2s-4s with an Ace, 2, 3, or 4, the magic number is 1,152.

However, with three progressive levels, all contribute to raising the payback percentage. One way to get to 100 percent is 5,500 coins on the royal, 2,100 on the Aces plus kicker and 827 on the quad low cards plus kicker. Another way is jackpot levels of 4,800, 2,249, and 900 credits.

Most of the time, the 9-6 game is going to be the higher-paying version. Nevertheless, there can be opportunities to work in the 9-5 game when jackpot levels are high there and low on the triple progressive.

Q. All the Three Card Poker tables near me now pay 3-1 on flushes in Pair Plus, instead of the 4-1 they used to pay. How bad is that? They ruined a playable alternative when I take break from blackjack.

A. Thatís a national trend, one thatís unfortunate for players. In its original version, it's one of the better bets among newer table games, with a house edge of 2.3 percent. Itís not as good as blackjack for a basic strategy player, or better, craps if you stick to the best bets, or baccarat. Nevertheless, as a change of pace game at low limits, itís not bad.

Payoffs on the original version are 40-1 on straight flushes, 30-1 on three of a kind, 6-1 on straights, 4-1 on flushes and even money on pairs.

When flushes drop to a 3-1 payoff, the house edge leaps to 7.3 percent. To me, thatís too high a price, even for a change of pace when youíre taking a break from games with lower house edges. I would not play Pair Plus with this pay table.

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