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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. Once it became common knowledge to only play Jacks or Better video poker machines with a 9-6 pay table, Las Vegas casinos promptly responded by removing Jacks or Better games from their casinos. What is the next best game we should all look out for?

A. Itís an oversimplification to say that casinos promptly removed 9-6 Jacks or Better when they found the game was paying out more than expected Ė some casinos still have it, and some 100-percent games such as full-pay Deuces and 10-7-5 Double Bonus survive Ė but letís tackle the basic question.

The question boils down to this: In video poker, casinos initially didnít have solid grasp of how much the games would pay. There was a period of opportunity before casinos began to change the games. Is there another up-and-coming game that will give players that period of opportunity before casinos adjust?

I donít see such a game on the horizon. Electronic games must pass testing by state commissions or independent testing labs before they are licensed for play.

The labs have gotten much better at testing games accurately and their equipment has become more sophisticated. An example I like to point out is in Illinois, where full-pay 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker was legal when introduced in the state in the mid-1990s and is illegal today.

Under state law, no game in Illinois may have a theoretical payback percentage of more than 100 percent. The theoretical on 10-7-5 DB is 100.17 percent. Illinois licensed the game and two casinos offered it. However, both casinos later moved to new facilities in the 2000s and Illinois would not relicense the game without pay table adjustments. Improved testing software had shown full-pay DB paid more than the state allowed.

On the table-game side, owners of new games must submit a mathematical workup of their games as part of the licensing procedure, and thatís all vetted by state gaming commissions before the games are made available. Itís always possible that table-game developers and testers can miss a nuance that would give players an edge, but I know of none in the field today.

There remain opportunities for advantage players such as blackjack card counters, hole card players, and comps wizards who use multiple-points days and promotions to raise their bottom lines. But quirks in rules and payoffs that give profit opportunity to players are getting rarer.

Q. I heard about a new blackjack game where you play three hands at once. Do you know it? Itís not the old multi-action game, itís something new.

A. The game is called Multi-Bet Blackjack, designed by SugarHouse casino and first available to New Jersey online players at playsugarhouse.com.

Not only can you play three hands at once, you can make up to 12 wagers before the deal. Thatís because the game offers the 21 + 3, Lucky Lucky and Lucky Ladies side bets. If you bet all three hands and bet all three side bets on each, thatís 12 wagers.

You can choose your table limits from four options, with minimum bets of 10 cents, $5, $25, and $100 and maximums of $10, $50, $250, and $1,000.

Thatís the kind of thing that can best be done in an automated environment. The minimum bets can be kept lower online where physical table space isnít needed and the sheer numbers of wagers per hand are best settled automatically. The process with live dealers would eat up too much time and slow the game too much to satisfy casino operators.

The base game is pretty good Ė six decks, dealer stands on all 17s, blackjacks pay 3-2, double down on any first two cards including after splitting pairs. Thatís about a 0.36 percent house edge. At least 20 percent of the cards must be dealt before a shuffle Ė itís not a game card counters will be looking for, but itís not a fresh shuffle for every hand like some virtual games.

Q. When I learned to play Deuces Wild, I used Lenny Fromeís strategy chart and it said that when dealt two pair, you should pick one to hold and discard the other. Iíve been playing that way ever since. But last time I played, some guy next to me said, "You know, you should hold both pairs there." His friend agreed, nodding her head and saying, "Thatís right." They seemed so sure. Am I doing it wrong?

A, No doubt the strategy you learned was for full-pay Deuces Wild, which once was really common in Nevada but which is rare today and non-existent in other states.

Full-pay Deuces pays 5-for-1 on four of a kind and 3-for-1 on full houses. The best games available in most areas today pay 4-for-1 on four of a kind as well as on full houses.

The payoff differences make it a better play to break up two pair and take a chance on improving to four or five of a kind in full-pay Deuces. But with equal full houses and quad payoffs, itís a better play to hold both pairs and hope for a full house in 4-4 games.

Letís use 9-9-5-5-3 as an example and assume a five-coin wager. In full-pay Deuces, the expected value is a 2.81-coin return if you hold one pair and discard three cards, or 2.55 coins if you hold both pairs.

Compare that to the game Frome called "Illinois Deuces" and which some today call "Airport Deuces." It differs from full-pay Deuces on the quad and full house payoffs and also ups the flush pay to 3-for-1 instead of the 2-for-1 in the full-pay game. The enhance full house pay brings the EV of holding both pairs to 3.40 while the decreased quad pay drops the value of a single pair to 2.74.

Frome published strategies for many Deuces Wild variations and was the first to note the two-pair strategy difference between full-pay Deuces and 4-4 games. But some who learned Deuces strategy during the full-pay heyday may still need to make the adjustment.

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