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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 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=38069Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

Q. Why are straight flushes so undervalued in video poker games? They're much rarer in four-of-a-kinds, but in most games you get the same payback or more on the four-of-a-kinds.

A. The goal of video poker game designers isnít to reflect the true odds of the game. Itís to create a game thatís fun to play, one that will keep players in their seats and coming back for more.

It is true that payoffs on straight flushes are low given their rarity. Take 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, which seems to have become the most commonly available, full-pay game through much of the United States. Given expert strategy, straight flushes turn up an average of once per 9,123 hands, and a five-coin bet brings a 250-coin payoff. Meanwhile, four-of-a-kind occurs much, much more often at once per 488 hands. At a minimum, those quads match the 250-coin pay on a straight flush, and the payoffs rise to 400 coins on four 2s, 3s or 4s, 800 on four Aces, 800 if the 2s, 3s or 4s are accompanied by an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth card, or a 2,000-coin bonanza if four Aces have a 2, 3, or 4 as the kicker.

Those payoffs donít come anywhere close to reflecting the relative scarcity of the hands. But quads keep players entertained and engaged in a way straight flushes canít. Itís much easier to build player interest with hands that at 800 hands per hour occur more than 1.5 times per hour, than with hands that come up less than once per 10 hours.

Q. I had something odd happen at a blackjack table, in the etiquette department. One player took it upon himself to be the arbiter of strategy. Whenever someone else was hesitating over a play, he'd weigh in with, "I'd hit that if I were you," or "By the book, you double down there."

To his credit, he knew his basic strategy, but he was driving people nuts. One guy finally said, "Look, will you let me play my own cards?" The pit supervisor backed him up, and asked the advice-giver to keep it to himself. Mr. Adviser responded to the whole table with, "Hah! They don't want you guys to win," but he quieted down after that.

I guess he crossed a line by kibbitzing every hand, but is it OK to give advice more sparingly?

A. Iíve encountered chronic advice-givers many a time. The less common part of your story is that the pit supervisor told him to back off.

Iím unclear on what level youíre asking if giving advice is unclear. Is it OK with the casino and its supervisors? Usually. Take a look at what happened in your tale. The supervisor didnít take action until another player complained.

Is it OK with other players? Most would prefer to be left to play their own cards most of the time. Iíve been in a similar situation to yours, where a player pointed out every basic strategy error at the table with, "You should hit that, by the book," or "By the book, you should stand." When he left, another player said, "Iíd like to take that book and hit him with it."

I donít give advice unless Iím asked. As far as Iím concerned, players have a right to play their own cards, and if they play hunches and make mistakes, thatís their business. I also prefer not to call attention to myself and my play. I understand the temptation to correct a poor or inexperienced player, but since you asked my opinion, I think the game works best when you refrain from giving advice unless itís clearly welcome.

Q. I was at a craps table where the shooter rolled five sevens in a row. They were all comeouts, so I won my pass bets, but didnít get any odds. 

Iíve read you and others say the dice have no memory, and that the odds stay the same after a streak like that. But Iíve also read that 7s will show up once per six rolls. How do you reconcile that? It would seem to me there has to be a makeup time to get the odds to come out right. Whatís the hidden factor that balances those five 7s in a row?


A. Time, repetition, and the odds of the game are all that are needed. Given large numbers of rolls, streaks like that fade into statistical insignificance.

Letís say that in the next 24 hours after that streak, there are 200 rolls per hour, or 4,800 rolls. There are 36 possible two-dice combinations, and six of them are 7s, so we expect an average of one 7 per 6 rolls, so that 16.67 percent of rolls are 7s. Of the 4,800 in our thought experiment, weíd expect 800 to be 7s.

Now add the five 7s in a row immediately prior to the 48, so we have 805 7s in 4,805 rolls. Thatís 16.75 percent, just eight-hundredths of a percent above average Ė and thatís with just one dayís worth of average results.

Every game has streaks with results that happen more often or less often than their average expectation Ė periods of good luck and bad luck, if you will. It doesnít matter if youíve had a good run at blackjack, your number has hit several times in a row at roulette, youíve had a big slot machine jackpot, or if youíve drawn a royal flush or two at video poker. Those are all within the realm of normal probability, and given enough time they will fade into statistical insignificance as the odds of the game inexorably drag the long-term results toward expected averages.

Casinos count on that. They need the fluctuations that will give some players winning sessions. But casinos also need the odds of the game to drag the overall results toward a predictable percentage for the house.

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