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 athttp://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Send your question to Grochowski at email@example.com.
Q.This is more a comment than a question. One of my regular casinos went to 6-5 blackjack. I complained to a manager I know, and he gave me a big song and dance. He told me he always thought it was wrong players got paid more on blackjacks anyway, that we have just as much a chance at getting one as the dealer and the house doesn't charge extra on dealer blackjacks.
I told him I'd agree with him as soon as the dealer started taking the chance on going bust first. He said the house had to make its money, and I told him they could make it off someone else because I wasn't playing that game.
Have you ever heard anything like that?
A.I've not heard of anything quite like a manager telling a customer that the players have had it too good until now, no.
I have at various times spoken with casino managers about changes in blackjack rules. One on my regular rounds evolved from having two- and six-deck games, stand on all 17s and late surrender to elimination of two-deck games to elimination of surrender to a big switch to hit soft 17 on six-deck games.
That evolution took about eight years. I spoke with managers after two of the changes: the elimination of two-deck games and the switch to hit soft 17. Both gave me the same answer, almost word for word: "This is something we had to do for our business."
A different casino in my area has 6-5 payoffs on blackjacks on low-limit tables. I was meeting with an exec about other topics, but she asked me if I'd played blackjack there lately. I told her my bankroll wasn't stretching to $25-and-up blackjack at the moment, and she said, "We always have $10 tables." I said, "Yes, but they're 6-5, and I won't play that game." She told me, "That's something we had to do for our business."
I think the response is wrongheaded. Even players who know little about blackjack notice their money is disappearing faster. Through most of the country, there are fewer blackjack tables than there once were. Some of that is because of an overall business decline since the recession, of course.
But as for the cockeyed response you got, that it was unfair for players to get more for their blackjacks, that's a new one on me.
Q.What do you think of playing $1 at a time in a dollar video poker machine instead of $1.25 on a quarter machine? My casino has 9-6 Double Bonus on dollars, but only 9-5 on quarters.
A.With a full five-coin bet, 9-6 Double Double Bonus brings a 98.98 percent return with expert play. But with fewer coins wagered, the return drops to 97.83 percent. That's because you're getting only 250-for-1 payoff on royal flushes instead of the 4,000-for-5 with a max-coins bet.
With a full five-coin bet, the drop to 9-5 DDB lowers the return to 97.87 percent - a hair higher than 9-6 DDB with short-coin wagers.
Per 1,000 bets, one coin at a time on a dollar 9-6 DDB game would risk $1,000 and lose an average of $21.70, while full coins on a quarter 9-5 DDB game would risk $1,250 and lose $26.62. So yes, your average losses would be slightly less money by betting $1 on the 9-6 game than $1.25 on the 9-5 version.
The tradeoff is that the max jackpot with your $1 bet is $250, while the $1.25 bet on the lower-level machine leaves open the 4,000-coin, $1,000 royal. It's up to you to choose what you want out of the game.
You didn't ask, but to extend this to other games, short-coin play usually brings a drop of a little over 1 percent in the expected return. With short-coin play, 9-6 Jacks or Better drops from 99.54 percent to 98.37, 8-5 Bonus Poker drops from 99.17 to 97.93, and 10-7-5 Double Bonus drops from 100.17 to 99.11.
The short-coin percentages assume you make necessary strategy changes to account for the reduced royal jackpot. We're less aggressive about pursuing royals without the allure of the 4,000-coin bonanza. To go back to 9-6 DDB as an example, if you're playing max coins and are dealt Jack-10 of clubs, King of hearts, 6 of spades and 2 of diamonds, the better play is to hold Jack-10 if you're betting the max, but King-Jack if you're betting short coins. The EV per five coins wagered is 2.23 on King-Jack regardless of how many coins you bet, but on Jack-10 it's 2.30 if you bet the max and only 2.13 if you don't.
Q.Do you remember a video poker game that had five decks and a big jackpot? Does anyone still have it?
A. I think the game you're talking about is Five Deck Frenzy, which was a Shuffle Master innovation on the late 1990s.
The highest-ranking hands were five of a kind, and there was a progressive jackpot on five Aces. The jackpot used IGT's Megajackpots system and started at $200,000 on a quarter machine.
The late Lenny Frome published a booklet with a strategy that would yield a 98.8 percent return with the jackpot at rollover level. However, a portion of that return was tied up in extremely rare hands, and in an average session, players lost money faster than on mainstream video poker games.
I don't know of any casinos today that have Five Deck Frenzy. The game was not a big hit and not long afterward Shuffle Master stopped distributing slot and video poker games in the United States. By coincidence, Shuffle Master is now part of one of the world's largest slot manufacturers, Scientific Games, which also owns Bally and WMS.
Sometimes games of yore show up in out of the way casinos. If any readers know of a casino that has this one, please let me know and I'll share the information.
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