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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. Video poker strategy question: I like Super Double Bonus Poker, where four-of-a- kind with faces pay 600. Should I treat face pairs like Aces in Double Bonus Poker, Double Double and so on, where you hold three of a kind while breaking up a full house? Should I break two pairs? What if I have two different faces, like unsuited Jack-Queen with three no-help cards? Should I hold both or pick one?

A. Super Double Bonus is more like Double Bonus than Double Double Bonus in that there is no jackpot increase for kickers. Given a five-coin bet, four Aces pay 800, but there is no jump to 2,000 if the fifth card is a 2, 3, or 4, as in DDB. Four 2s, 3s or 4s pay 400, but there is no kicker boost.

The attraction is that four Kings, Queens or Jacks, which pay 250 on Double Bonus, Double Double Bonus, and many other games, pay 600 on Super Double Bonus. That's a nice extra. We hold single high cards so often than every now and then we'll luck into a draw worth 600 credits.

The full pay version pays 9-for-1 on full houses and 5-for-1 on flushes, and returns 99.7 percent with expert play. More common are 8-5 (98.7 percent) and 7-5 (97.8 percent) pay tables.

How big an impact the 600-coin pay on face quads makes on decisions depends on the pay table. In the 9-5 game, if you're dealt K-K-K-7-7, you're better off holding the full house for a 45-coin return than break it up and go for the fourth King, with a 41.7-coin EV. But when the value of the full house is reduced, the situation reverses. In 8-5 SDP, the EV of 41.44 for holding just the Kings tops the 40-coin return on the full house.

As for your other specifics, let's start with two pairs. Dealt K-K-7-7-9 in the 9-5 game, the 8.40 EV for holding both pairs beats the 8.21 on the Kings with a three-card discard. Again, the situation reverses at lower pay tables, and the 8-5 EVs are 8.16 on K-K and 7.98 on K-K-7-7.

Your other specific was Queen-Jack of different suits, and here there is no strategy change. You're better off starting with two high cards than one. Dealt Queen of spades, Jack of hearts along with 9-7-5 of mixed suits, EVs in 9-5 SDP are 2.35 for holding Q-J, 2.21 for holding the Jack alone or 2.17 for the Queen alone. On 8-5 SDP, EVs are 2.34 on Q-J, 2.20 on J and 2.16 on Q.

If you're lucky enough to find a 9-5 game, hold your full houses that include three of a kind with faces, and hold your two pairs. If the full house payoffs are reduced, break up those hands and hope the draw matches your faces.

Q. I have a blackjack story for you. Full table, low-limit game, one guy was hitting everything but 20s and 21s every time the dealer had a 10 up. The first time he signaled to hit King-9, and the whole table went "NO!" along with "You can't hit that" and "Is that a serious play?"

He insisted, and the dealer called out, "Hitting hard 19," like they have to do when anyone makes a really weird play. He busted, of course, and he busted a couple of hard 18s, a 17 or two. Two or three players left, but it had kind of a morbid fascination. He said he didn't know what the fuss was about. He was just hitting when the dealer had 10 and was trending to 20. I asked if he noticed he wasn't winning any of those hands and he said he wouldn't have won anyway. That probably wasn't true. The dealer had some low cards down sometimes, which we pointed out. But it's hard to convince someone who's sure he's right.

A. I've seen a lot of strange plays at blackjack tables, including one man who insisted on hitting hard 17 vs. 10. Just as with the player you encountered, no one could convince him it was a bad play. But the only time I recall anyone signaling to hit hard 19 it was a long hand with a lot of low cards and the dealer said, "Sir, you're hitting hard 19," and the player said, "Oooops! Thanks. I misread the hand." Deliberately hitting hard 19 is a new one on me.

Q. Why are free odds in craps called "free"? You still have to pay to make the bet.

A. The "free" is meant to designate that the bet pays at true odds and that there is no tax, commission, or other method of giving the house an edge. Regardless of whether you're a pass or come bettor taking the odds, or for a don't pass or don't come bettor laying the odds, there is no house edge.

Of course, the house is still making money, because you have to make a wager with a house edge to get the opportunity to make the no-edge odds bet.

The term "free odds" has been used for many decades, long before I started playing in casinos. When I'm talking with craps players, I'll usually just say "the odds" and skip the "free." But the large majority of casino players are not craps players. By far the largest segment is made up of slot players, followed by blackjack and video poker, then craps, Three Card Poker, roulette and other table games. When discussing craps with non-craps players, I think it helps to say "free odds" to avoid confusion over whether you're just talking about the odds of the game.


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