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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. I am really struggling with a strategy on multi-hand Double Double Bonus and Triple Double Bonus.  It relates to getting dealt three aces with a kicker on Five or Ten Play.  There are people who hold the kicker and I just can't bring myself to do that. 

Yesterday it cost me a large hit when I got the fourth ace but had dumped the kicker. That was on Five Play. 

Which is the right play?

A, This is a problem in strategy, not specifically in Five or Ten Play strategy. Strategies for Triple Play, Five Play, Ten Play, Fifty Play, and Hundred Play are the same as for single-hand games with the same pay tables.

The strategy that will get you the most out of Double Double Bonus is to do what you've been doing: Hold three Aces and discard a kicker. But on Triple Double Bonus, you need to shift gears and hold the kicker, too.

Assuming a five-coin bet per hand:

  • Four Aces returns 800 coins on either Double Double Bonus or Triple Double Bonus if the fifth card is a 5 or higher. However, if the fifth card is a 2, 3 or 4, the jackpot leaps to 2,000 coins on DDB and rockets to 4,000 on TDB.

There's also a jump with four 2s, 3s or 4s with an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 as the kicker:

  • The no-kicker pay is 400 coins, but with the kicker
  • There's a leap to 800 on DDB and 2,000 on TDB.

The reason Triple Double can pay bigger jackpots than Double Double is because:

  • Three of a kind pays only 2-for-1 on TDB, vs. 3-for-1 on DDB.

Let's look at a breakdowns, using 9-6 DDB (a 98.98 percent return with expert play) and 9-6 TDB (98.15 percent) as examples. On both, we'll use starting hands of Aces of clubs, diamonds and hearts along with a 2 of spades and an 8 of hearts (i.e., Ac-Ad-Ah-2s-8h).

On 9-6 TDB, if you hold A-A-A-2, there are 47 possible draws:

  • Forty-three leave you with three of a kind for 10 coins,
  • Three bring one of the other 2s for a full house and 45 coins, and
  • One brings the fourth Ace for that 2,000-coin jackpot.

The average return is 97.13 coins.

If you hold just the Aces and draw two, there are 1,081 possible draws:

  • You'll stop at three of a kind on 969 hands,
  • Draw a full house on 66,
  • Four Aces without a low-card kicker for 800 coins on 35 and
  • Four Aces with the kicker on 11.

The average return is 78.32 coins, so the better play is to hold the kicker along with the Aces.

Similarly, if the hand was 2-2-2-Ace-8, average returns on TDB are 54.57 if you hold 2-2-2-A, and 45.01 on just 2-2-2.

On Double Double Bonus, the probabilities of drawing winners are the same, but the potential payoffs are lower.

Using the same starting hands as in the TDB example, the average return on DDB when holding A-A-A-2 is 59.19 coins, not as good as the 62.45 for holding A-A-A.

In the low-card hand, the average return is 37.28 coins when holding 2-2-2 vs. 33.62 on 2-2-2-A.

The principle holds up at different pay tables and with different low cards in the starting hand.

  • In Double Double Bonus, hold three Aces or three low cards and discard a potential kicker.
  • In Triple Double Bonus, hold the kicker, too.

Q. Can I tell a story? I'd learned to play blackjack at home years before I went to a casino, and that was about 10 years ago. The rules differences were a surprise. The first time I tried to claim a five-card Charlie and the dealer not only said no, he called out to the pit, "We have a Charlie player here." I was embarrassed, but they explained to me that was a home rule that casinos don't really use.

Have you ever seen a casino use that rule? How much difference does it make, really?

A, I have never seen a Charlie rule used in a casino, though you're not the only newcomer to be surprised by its non-existence. There once was a player at my table at Slots A Fun in Las Vegas who refused to believe five cards totaling 21 or less was not an automatic winner. He kicked up enough of a fuss that the pit supervisor had to be called over to settle the dispute.

The player didn't stop there, either. The supervisor had to be called over again to explain dealer and player blackjacks pushed, that the player blackjack wasn't an automatic winner as the player had learned at home.

I'd learned the Charlie rule, too, when I was 11 and a couple of second-cousins taught me to play at my great-grandfather's house one New Year's Day. But I'd learned casinos didn't offer that rule before I made my first Las Vegas trip.

The five-card Charlie rule reduces the house edge by 1.46 percent for players who use a specially adapted basic strategy. No casino would offer anything that favorable to players. In most games with 3-2 payoffs on blackjacks, a five-card Charlie would swing the edge to players. On the other hand, Charlie would nicely offset the extra 1.39 percent in the house's pockets when blackjacks pay 6-5.

I have heard of charity games using six-card and seven-card Charlies. Those have a much smaller effect on the game. Michael Shackelford's chart on the effects of rules variations (on wizardofodds.com) shows the six-card version reducing the house edge by 0.16 percent and the seven-card rule by 0.01 percent.

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