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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. Do you need a special strategy for Hot Roll video poker? How does it affect the house edge?

A. Hot Roll does not require any alterations in strategy. The house edge on the Hot Roll portion of the bet is the same as on the base game. If you should happen to find 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker on Hot Roll, the house edge is the same 98.98 percent as on 9-6 DDB on a game with no multipliers. If you find 8-5 Jacks or Better, the house edge is the familiar 97.3 percent.

Here's how it works. Hot Roll is available in Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play versions. It takes a wager of 10 coins per hand to activate the Hot Roll feature. Instead of the 15-coin max bet on basic Triple Play, you'd bet 30 coins for Triple Play with Hot Roll.

What you get for your extra wager is a randomly occurring roll of two onscreen dice for a multiplier. After the roll, you complete your hand and any winners are multiplied by the total on the dice.

You get a roll an average of once every six hands. The odds on the roll are the same as if you were rolling two physical dice. Each die face has an equal chance of occurring on every roll. The average roll is 7, just as they are in any game using two six-sided dice.

Let's say you bet 30 coins per play for six plays, and get a single pair of Jacks each time. Five times, your payoff would be five coins. One, with the average roll of 7, your payoff would be 35 coins. The total of all your payoffs is 60 coins, instead of the 30 coins you'd get if your pay was five coins every time.

Your average payoff is double the base on the pay table. So your bet is double the wager on a standard multihand game, and your payoffs are double those on those on standard versions. Your strategy remains unchanged.

Q. A casino I go to added Free Bet blackjack. I assume it needs a special strategy. What changes do I have to make?

A. Free Bet blackjack usually is a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, blackjacks pay 3-2, you may double down on any first two cards, you may double down after splitting pairs and you may resplit pairs, including aces, up to three times for a total of four hands.

You get free double downs on hard totals of 9, 10 or 11. If you win on a free double, you get paid on the original bet and an equal amount for the double down, but if you lose, the dealer takes only your original bet.

You also get free splits on any pairs except 10-values. After splits, as you play out each hand, you may free double or free split again. So if you split 8-8, and one hand is dealt a 3 to give you an 11, you may double for free. If one hand is dealt another 8 so you again are paired up, you may split for free.

What's in it for the house is that dealer hands of 22 are pushes.

With an adapted basic strategy, that adds up to a game with a 1.04 percent house edge. Strategy changes are driven both by the free bet opportunity and the push on 22 rule, and on some hands, the strategy differs depending on whether you're playing your original paid hand or a post-split free hand.

When dealt pairs, always take the free split unless the pairs are 5s or 10s. Stand on pairs of 10 values, as usual, and take the free double on pairs of 5s regardless of dealer up card.

Changes aren't difficult, but too lengthy to list in one Q-A item. Do take the free double on any two-card total of 9, 10 or 11, no matter what the dealer shows.

For a fully detailed strategy, go to the Free Bet blackjack page at Note the differences between strategy on a paid hand and a post-split free hand. For example, on a paid hand, stand on hard 17 if the dealer shows anything from 2 through 10, but surrender, if available, against an Ace. If your hard 17 is on the free hand, no surrender is available, but there's a departure from the norm in that we hit against 7, 8, 9 or Ace, while standing vs. 10 as well as 6 and under.

Q. My dad and I took a trip to a casino that had both 8/5 Bonus Poker and 8/5 ACES Bonus Poker, so naturally I played the ACES version. I noticed that there were as many people playing BP as ACES. Why? Is there a reason to avoid the ACES?

A. No, there is nothing in ACES Bonus Poker that would make it a bet to avoid. What you were observing were people who either didn't know there was a potential extra payoff on ACES, didn't care, or just felt luckier on the Bonus Poker machines.

For those unfamiliar with ACES, each ace is marked with a letter - A, C, E or S. If you get four aces in order so they spell ACES with no gaps, they pay 800-for-1. With a five-coin wager, that's a 4,000-coin bonanza, the same as you'd get for a royal flush, instead of the usual 400 coins you get for four aces on Bonus Poker.

Starting from the left, the aces have to be in positions 1-2-3-4 or 2-3-4-5. The non-ace card in your final hand can't be in the middle. I once had a hand of A-C-9 of diamonds-E-S. The aces were in the proper order, but with that 9 in the middle breaking up the spelling, my return was 400 coins, not 4,000.

It doesn't happen often enough to add much more to the payback percentage. With an 8/5 pay table, Bonus Poker returns 99.2% with expert play, while the ACES version returns 99.4%.

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