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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 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 your question to Grochowski at

Q. It has occurred to me that there is really no good reason - mathematically speaking - for a gambler to learn basic strategy. The most common blackjack game today is six decks, dealer hits soft 17, and no surrender - a fairly lousy game. That gives the house an edge of 0.66 percent over a player using perfect basic strategy. 

Craps offers a better gamble with a house edge of 0.60 percent for pass/double odds or 0.37% for 3x-4x-5x odds. A person can learn how to get that lower edge in a couple of minutes rather than spend many hours learning blackjack basic strategy. 

Not only is the edge lower and the game easier, but it is also healthier as the gambler must stand and use his/her arms.  

With the casinos getting greedier and greedier, an eight-deck game paying 6-5 on blackjacks is likely to be the standard in the future. I wonder why the casinos have not changed the rules at craps, too.

When are casinos going to learn that loose slots and good games are good for their bottom line?!

A. Trends in blackjack are disturbing, to be sure. It's not that long ago that having the dealer hit soft 17 was most common on one- and two-deck games, while the large majority of six- and eight-deck games had dealers stand on all 17s. Nowadays, it's very difficult to find any tables with the stand on all 17s rule, the better version for players.

And the spread of games in which blackjacks pay 6-5 instead of 3-2, increasing the house edge by 1.4 percent, is an abomination.

Still, there's reason enough to learn basic strategy for many, not even considering those few who can count cards and turn a profit.

Blackjack may no longer have the lowest house edge in the casino, but it still has the lowest house edge many players can afford. At a $5 table, pass plus double odds means $15, even if you have no other bets working, and how many craps players are going to settle for that? At a $5 blackjack table, a player can risk $5 at a time.

Certainly, the erosion of playing conditions and increasing house edge are worrisome to those who love blackjack. If 6-5 payoffs become common, it'll be just another game with a house edge in line with Three Card Poker and other so-called "carnival games."

Q. Playing Double Double Bonus Poker, I had a couple of big hits early, a progressive royal and the four Aces with kicker. The lady next to me asked why I didn't just leave then, and I told her I came to play for a while and I liked the game. She said, "You should at least change machines then. You've taken what that one has to give." I laughed and kept playing, and she kind of sniffed and said to a guy on the other side, "You just can't tell some people."

I did OK after that, lost a little bit back, but not much. I had a couple of more four of a kinds. But was there anything to what she was saying, about leaving after a couple of big hits?

A. No, there's nothing at all to her suggestion that your early wins had used up the good stuff on that machine.

The odds of video poker are the same on every hand. The random number generator keep generating random numbers, and it doesn't base the cards for the next hand on previous results. It doesn't even get any feedback on previous outcomes. It's as if a physical deck were freshly shuffled for every hand.

There's no need for any makeup time after a big win. After hundreds of thousands, or millions of hands, any big win just fades into statistical insignificance, and the odds of the game lead toward an expected payback percentage.

If the way you wanted to spend your day was with time at Double Double Bonus Poker, early wins are no reason to alter your plans. The game that's there after you've had your big winners is the same game you sat down to play in the first place.

Q. My wife, her brother, his wife, and I were talking about how much casinos have changed. The big thing is how slots dominate now. When we started playing a long time ago, tables were the main games. Do you think the change is because casinos opened all over the country, instead of just Nevada and New Jersey, where they had been for a long time?

A. The nationwide expansion of casino gambling that started with legalization on tribal lands in the late 1980s and on riverboats at the start of the 1990s certainly accelerated the trend to more slots. Suddenly, millions of people were going to casinos for the first time, and the easiest starter games were slot machines. Anyone on a first casino trip could quickly figure out the slots.

But the rise of slots had already started. In Nevada, slot revenue exceeded table revenue for the first time in 1981. Technology that enabled bigger, more frequent jackpots, more payouts between filling machines with coins, the beginnings of video poker, and other factors helped kick-start an increase in play on electronic gaming devices.

Had casino expansion beyond Nevada and New Jersey not brought an influx of new players, we probably would not as quickly reached today's point where millions and millions of dollars are spent on research and development for new games. But slots still would be much more prominent than they had been in earlier in times. The change was already underway.

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