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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. New blackjack games are all well and good, but let's face it, they're not there to give us a better shot to win. Meanwhile, I see fewer tables for the real thing every year. Why can't casinos focus on giving us the game we want instead of this tinkering?

A. To go off on a slight tangent, your question arrived not too long after I'd been talking with a colleague about the coming of skill-based slot machines. Gaming boards are being very deliberate in setting standards for skill-based slots, taking their time to make sure we won't have a generation of beatable games on casino floors.

"Casinos don't want another video poker," my colleague said. "They don't want another blackjack."

In other words, operators want skill to be an important part of the games in the quest to attract play by Millennials, but they don't want games that can be consistently beaten. They want a reliable house edge, even against the most skilled players.

That's what new blackjack-based games and blackjack side bets bring to the pits. Side bets are meant to draw increased action on no-skill wagers, and most blackjack-based games eliminate or narrow skill factors.

Good old mainstream blackjack comes with a problem. It's been the most popular table game for more than half a century, but it's also a game that can be beaten. Even the overwhelming majority who can't beat it can use basic strategy to get the house edge under one percent if blackjacks have the traditional 3-2 payoffs.

The result has been toward devoting more space to other games as well as toughening blackjack rules. Blackjack-based games are a small part of that. The much larger trend has been the spread of poker-based table games such as Three Card Poker, Mississippi Stud and Ultimate Texas Hold'Em. Absent unusual conditions such as exposed common cards or dealer hole cards, those games have reliable house edges even against knowledgeable players.

Q. Do you know anything about a video poker game where if you're one card from a winner, the card changes to the one you need? How can they do that?

A. I know of one, a new IGT game called Flip and Play Poker, available in single-hand as well as multi-hand formats.

I spoke about the game with Trevor Lynch, video poker product manager for IGT.

"It's basically like a nudge feature in a slot machine," Lynch explained. "If I'm one card away from a winning hand on the deal, it will nudge my card up or down one rank to make that winning hand."

I tried the game out in late September at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. With a Jack and two Queens in the starting hand, the Jack flipped with a split-flip display, as if the card was hinged in the middle and each half flipped to reveal a third queen. Players have the option of rejecting the flip if it gets in the way of a desired draw.

"It's my favorite game of the show," Lynch said, "because you get so many great starting hands."

However, you do have the option to reject the flip if it gets in the way of a desired draw. If you have Ace-King-Queen-Jack of diamonds and a 9 of spades, and the 9 flips to pair with one of the high cards, or to give you a diamond other than the 10 for a flush, or to give you a non-diamond 10 for a straight, you can reject the flip so all those potential winners remain in the deck while you take your shot at a royal-flush draw.

Q. Playing Double Double Bonus Poker, I held 2-2, discarded a king, and the draw brought A-A-A. Boom! Boom! Boom!

I was happy with the full house, of course, but it got me wondering what would have happened if I had held the king instead. The
way those aces popped up so fast, was the game ready to deal me a fourth ace if I only left it enough room to deal four cards?

A. No, the game was not necessarily ready to deal you a fourth Ace. All we know is that the three cards at the top of the deck when you hit the draw button were Aces. We know nothing about card order after that.

If you've played video poker extensively, think about all the times your first three cards on the initial deal were three of a kind. How often did the matching fourth card come up next?

Let's say you'd held only one card, leaving a four-card draw and room enough to go Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! instead of only three booms. Subtracting the cards from your initial deal, there would have been 47 cards available for your draw. After the three Aces popped up, there would have been 44 cards remaining in the deck. The chances of your next card being he fourth Ace would have been 1 in 44.

If you'd discarded all five cards and the first three cards of your draw were Aces, the chances of drawing the fourth would have been 2 in 44, or 1 in 22. That would be broken down into 1 in 44 on the fourth card of the draw, and if it didn't come up there, 1 in 43 in the fifth card.

That all assumes Aces on the first three cards. Before the start of the draw, you chances of drawing four Aces are 1 in 178,365 with a four-card draw and 1 in 35,673 with a five-card draw,

So it's possible a fourth card after your three Aces would have completed your big quads, but you were still an underdog.

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