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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 at http://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

Q. My friend used to insist that he got a better deal on video blackjack than on tables. I showed him where the games he was playing paid even money on blackjacks and was a terrible game. He still insists some of the machines are better than tables. Have you ever seen a machine game that was better than the tables at the same casino?

A, I have seen machines that offered better rules than blackjack tables in the same casino, but it has been some time.

Back in the early 2000s, WMS Gaming offered a single-player blackjack game that was dealt from a single electronic deck, paid 3-2 on blackjacks, and offered early surrender. It was a positive expectation game for basic strategy players - about as good a deal as you'll ever find. I played it for months in the Chicago area as well as Las Vegas, and showed it to Henry Tamburin and Frank Scoblete when we all were speaking at the same event near Chicago.

That game was withdrawn years ago. Since then, there have occasionally been multi-player electronic blackjack consoles with good rules, including some beatable games.

If you're going to play video blackjack, you should keep in mind that it moves much faster than table blackjack. The dealer doesn't have to take time to settle bets, collect cards or, at hand-shuffled games, shuffle the cards. There is no stoppage of play for disputes or mistaken payoffs.

If you bet $5 a hand on an electronic game, you risk more money per hour than you do if you bet $5 a hand on a table game. That should be factored into your decision on which game to play.

Also, all single-player games that I've seen and most multi-player video games give a fresh shuffle with a complete deck for every hand. That leaves no advantage for counting cards.

Q. While playing the video poker machine called Five Play Multi-Strike Poker, should I change my strategy depending on which level I am currently playing?   I'm guessing that on the bottom levels my goal is to just advance and I should choose the cards to keep that will get me to the higher paying levels.  In addition if I get a free ride to the next level should I go for the biggest payout or should I stick to the usual expert play choices?

A. Expert strategy for Five Play Multi-Strike is the same as for regular Multi-Strike and includes a focus on advancing to higher-paying levels, unless you have a free ride. With free rides, your best play is to use standard strategy for the game you've chosen - that is, if you're playing Jacks or Better, use standard Jacks or Better strategy when you have free rides.

When you don't have free rides, getting the most out of Multi-Strike or Five Play Multi-Strike requires adjustments. At the lowest levels, low pairs and four-card straights are less important than in single-hand games.

Let's use 9-6 Jacks or Better as an example. In the standard game, low pairs and four cards to an open-ended straight all rank higher than holding one or more unsuited high cards.

However, on the first level of Multi-Strike, two or more unsuited high cards are a better play than low pairs and 10-Jack-Queen-King is the only open-ended straight draw that outranks two or more high cards.

Open-ended straight draws lower than 8-9-10-Jack don't even appear on the first-level strategy table you can find at Michael Shackelford's Wizard of Odds site, http://wizardofodds.com/games/video-poker/tables/multi-strike/appendix/2/.

Adjustments from there to level 2 are minor, but at level 3 strategy moves closer to standard. At that level, two pairs become a better play than two or more unsuited high cards, and four cards to an open-ended straight, even with no high cards, moves ahead of unsuited high-card hands.

On the final level with 8x pays and no more move-ups, the best play is to revert to standard Jacks or Better strategy.

Different games will require different adjustments. Multi-Strike strategy is not the same for Double Double Bonus Poker as for Jacks or Better or for Deuces Wild. You can practice Multi-Strike strategy on Bob Dancer's WinPoker software, and there is a Multi-Strike strategy calculator at http://www.beatingbonuses.com/vp.php

Q. Have you heard about the new Sands Roulette game at the Venetian? Above the 0 and 00, there is another green space that has a capital "S" and a Sands logo. Is that a game they had at the old Sands that they're bringing back? Besides having an extra bet, does it change the game?

A. The Venetian stands on the site of the old Sands Las Vegas resort, but Sands Roulette is not a revival of an old Sands staple. This is a triple-zero roulette game, with the logo functioning as a third zero. That increases the house edge.

Most roulette wheels in the United States have 38 numbers, with 1 through 36 plus 0 and 00. Payoffs would be at true odds if there were only 36 numbers, but the house has an edge because of the extra possibilities. Single-number bets pay 35-1, but true odds are 37-1. That gives the house a 5.26 percent edge.

At Sands Roulette, single-number bets still pay 35-1, but because there are 39 spaces on the wheel, the true odds are 38-1. That increases the house edge to 7.69 percent.

That applies to other bets, too. Two-number splits, three-number streets, four-number corners, six-number double streets, columns, dozens, red or black, odd or even - the house edge is 7.69 percent.

In the past, I've seen triple-zero roulette games only at charity casino nights, where all the games gave the house an extra edge. In a commercial casino, I wouldn't even consider playing with an extra 0.

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