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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 played at one of those blackjack tables where a dealer dealt the cards, but you bet by touching the screen. All the payoffs were automatic. As soon as the hand was over, the credits were added or deducted from your screen.

I still like handling the chips myself, but I liked this better than I thought I would. It was all pretty easy and didn't intrude on the game. Can you think of any negatives for players?

A. I like handling chips, too, but touch-screen betting has its advantages. Payoff mistakes are all but eliminated. The dealer isn't going to take your chips by mistake, nor are you going to be overpaid or underpaid.

Touch-screen betting also enables the casino to offer side bets that are paid as quickly as the main bet. Side bets almost always have a house edge higher than the main game, so I avoid them. But for players who like to chase bigger jackpots, the side bets can be offered without slowing the deal.

One thing that should leave players wary is that since the dealer doesn't have to make payoffs, games with electronic betting move faster than games with chips. More hands per hour means faster losses for most players.

In blackjack, touch-screen payouts often require use of a card-reading shoe to relay results to the payout program. Card counters are wary of systems that have accurate records of wagers and of cards played, but for most players the main worry is speed of play.

Q. Thanks for your answer last month on holding a kicker with three Aces in Double Double Bonus vs. Triple Double Bonus. Could go a little farther? What if you have two pairs, Aces plus low cards? Do you keep just the Aces, Aces plus one low card, or both pairs? What if you have a pair of Aces, a middling pair like 7s, and a low card? Is the strategy different?

A. Let's go 9-6 Double Double Bonus first. Dealt Ace-Ace-2-2-7, your best return comes from holding just the Aces. The average return per five coins wagered is 9.51 coins when you hold Ace-Ace, compared to 8.40 for holding both pairs and 7.83 for holding one of the 2s along with the Aces.

The numbers are affected a bit by having to discard a 2 if you hold just one 2 while hoping to full in the Aces plus kicker jackpot. That makes it less likely you'll draw another 2 along with an Ace for a full house. Even so, the best play remains holding Ace-Ace if the hand is Ace-Ace-7-7-2, so there are three 2s available for draw. From that point, average returns are 9.58 coins on Ace-Ace, 8.40 on Ace-Ace-7-7, and 7.96 on Ace-Ace-2.

Switching to 9-6 Triple Double Bonus, four Aces plus a low-card kicker brings a 4,000-coin bonanza instead of the 2,000 on DDB. With A-A-2-2-7, the best play remains holding A-A with an average return of 10.17 coins vs 9.28 on A-A-2 and 8.40 on A-A-2.

Starting with A-A-7-7-2, it's 10.37 on A-A, 9.42 on A-A-2 and 8.40 on A-A-7-7.

The bigger jackpot in TDB gives holding a kicker enough of a boost that A-A-2 is a better play than holding both pairs, but the best play remains holding just the Aces and discarding the other cards to maximize your chances at four Aces or, more often, three Aces.

Q. My wife has me playing these penny slots with multiple progressives. No matter how much you bet, the jackpots are the same size. Why would anybody bet more than the minimum?

A. There are two methods that casinos and slot manufacturers use to offer jackpots to all players, regardless of how much they bet.

One is to make the jackpots a separate wager. You might bet 10 cents per payline while I bet only 1 cent per payline on the main game. But if we both make a separate jackpot bet of a fixed amount, then we're both contributing equally to the progressive meters and can be offered the same chance at the jackpots.

The other method is with mystery jackpots. On games with mystery jackpots, you don't have to line up symbols on a payline to win. The jackpot just pops up and gives you nice surprise, even if you have a losing combination on the reels.

Mystery jackpots can be programmed in a few different ways. One common method starts with the casino operator or game manufacturer configuring both a minimum base to start the jackpot building and a maximum payout.

A random number generator then selects a jackpot total between the base and the maximum. The player whose wager pushes the jackpot to the randomly selected total wins it.

For example, let's say the Mini jackpot on a multi-level progressive has a base value of $5 and is configured so that it must hit at $10 or less. The RNG selects a value in between - let's say $8.34. It doesn't display that value. That must remain a mystery to players or no one would play until payoff time was near.

Further, let's say the game is set up so that 1 percent of each bet goes into the Mini jackpot. That's a generous amount when there are several jackpot tiers to fund, but it makes the arithmetic easy.

Then, if you bet $3, you move the progressive meter up by 3 cents. If I bet 30 cents, I move the meter up by three-tenths of a cent. For you to win the jackpot, the meter could be anywhere from $8.31 on up at the time of your bet. For me to win, it must be at $8.337 or more when I spin the reels.

Casinos can offer the same size jackpot to the $3 bettor as the 30-cent bettor because the chances that the bigger bettor's wager will be the one to trigger the payoff are 10 times greater than those of the smaller bettor.

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