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How To Win EVEN MORE Blackjack Tournaments - Volume II
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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. Why don't they have side bets at every table? Then the house could make extra money from the players who don't know any better or who want to chase the bigger payoffs. Meanwhile, the rest of us can just play blackjack a no extra cost. Maybe if the casinos were making extra money from side bets they could go back to offering decent rules on the main game.

A. Side bets don't come without cost to the casinos. They are proprietary games and casinos must pay licensing fees to have the bets on their tables.

In order to earn their keep, side bets must generate enough action to pay the licensing fee as well as to make a profit for the house. Usually, the side bets generate plenty of action early in their life cycle, but the action erodes as players notice their money disappearing faster than on the base game.

Another potential cost relates to the time it takes to make payoffs. They can slow the game down so that the house makes less money on the main game. The side bets need to generate enough revenue to make up that difference as well as paying the licensing fee.

If and when electronic payoffs become more widely accepted, you can expect to see more side bets. Systems already exist to offer multiple side bets at the same table. Even at dealer-assisted, semi-automated tables where a human deals the cards but wagering is on an electronic betting pad, the side bets don't slow down the game. They're made instantly by the computerize system, and the game moves on.

Q. A question about the new Ultimate X Spin Poker game. It's like Spin Poker, right, where the cards are on slot reels instead of being dealt out in a line, right? How does that change the odds? Am I more or less likely to win that way?

Also, is buying the Ultimate X feature worth it? It's an extra five credits per hand to get the multipliers.

A. Ultimate X Spin Poker is a new game from IGT that's just what it says: It puts the same multipliers on hands following winners that you get on Ultimate X.

The odds on Spin Poker games are the same as on games dealt in the traditional manner as long as the pay tables are the same. The nine paylines on Spin Poker are just nine video poker hands displayed as if they're on slot reels. If you took the cards from each payline and spread them out as nine traditional-looking hands, the results would be the same.

As for the Ultimate X wager, game manufacturer International Game Technology generally sets up its extra-bet bonuses so that the added wager will bring a payback percentage as high, or higher, than the base game.

Using 8-5 Jacks or Better as an example again, your overall payback percentage with Ultimate X is 97.9 percent on Triple Play versions and marginally higher at just under 98 percent on Five Play and Ten Play games.

Betting enough to get the Ultimate X multipliers raises the overall return so that it's higher than the 97.3 percent without Ultimate X.

However, you're doubling your wagers to get the multipliers. In 1,000 credits worth of wagers on the base game, your expected average loss would be 27 credits. If you double that to 2,000 credits in wagers to get the multiplier feature, your payback percentage increases but your average loss also increases to 42 credits.

Whether it's worth the extra bet to get the Ultimate X feature depends on your goals, preferences, and bankroll. Ultimate X increases the payback percentage and gives you a better shot at bigger wins, but there's a tradeoff in a bigger risk and higher average losses.

Q. I like to take an occasional break and play Keno.  It is a game where I can play a quarter at a time and take a little time off.  You can bet anywhere from one to 10 numbers at a time.  I know the best pay tables for the number groups I play, but I do not know the intricate math to know which number group has the best payoff percentage. It seems to be 9.

A. Most video keno machines are set up so the differences in payback percentages are fairly narrow, except that you get the lowest return for picking only one number. Typically, a one-coin bet will bring a three-coin return if your number comes up. The overall return is 75 percent. The percentage rises when more numbers are picked.

Let's use a real world example, a machine where:

  • a pick 2 brings 15 when both numbers hit
  • pick 3 brings 2 for two numbers and 46 for three
  • pick 4 brings 2 for two, 5 for three and 91 for four
  • pick 5 brings 3 for three, 12 for four and 810 for five
  • pick 6 brings 3 for three, 4 for four, 70 for five and 1,600 for six
  • pick 7 brings 1 for three, 2 for four, 21 for five, 400 for six and 7,000 for seven
  • pick 8 brings 2 for four; 12 for five, 98 for six, 1,652 for seven and 10,000 for eight
  • pick 9 brings 1 for 4, 6 for 5, 44 for six, 335 for seven, 4,700 for eight and 10,000 for nine; and pick 10 brings 5 for five, 24 for six, 142 for seven, 1,000 for eight, 4,500 for nine and 10,000 for 10.

With those pay tables, payback percentages are 90.2 percent on the two spot, 91.6 on the three spot, 92.0 on the four spot, 91.9 on the five spot, 92.7 on the six spot, 92.4 on the seven spot, 92.3 on the eight spot, 92.0 on the nine spot and 92.6 on the 10 spot.

There are both higher and lower payers among video keno machines, but within any given machine, the payback percentages tend to be similar once you pick more than one number.

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