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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'm used to NSU Deuces, and but sometimes the best available is a step down to 25-15-9-4-4-3 Deuces. There have never been any full-pay Deuces near me.

In Las Vegas this summer for a nephew's wedding, my brother insisted on taking me to a joint that had full-pay Deuces. He told me, "You just have to play this game," but neither of us hit a big hand and we both lost $150 or so.

That full-pay Deuces is supposedly the higher-paying game is the most counter-intuitive thing I've ever seen. Compared to NSU, it pays less on flushes, full houses, straight flushes and five-of-a-kind, and pays more only on four-of-a-kind.

What gives? I'll take NSU every time.

A. Four-of-a-kind is an extremely important hand in Deuces Wild. A pair of 2s with another pair is four-of-a-kind. If you have three cards of one denomination, one of another and a 2, the 2 doesn't pair with the singleton for a full house; it completes the four of a kind.

The effect is that you get four-of-a-kind more often than you get all four hands you mentioned combined.

Full-pay Deuces is marked by a 5-for-1 payoff on quads vs. 4-for-1 on NSU. On the other hands you mention, the NSU edge per coin wagered is 16 vs. 15 on five of a kind, 10 vs. 9 on straight flushes, 4 vs. 3 on full houses and 3 vs. 2 on flushes.

Given expert strategy at full-pay Deuces, you'll get four-of-a-kind once per 15.4 hands, while flushes happen once per 60.3, full houses once per 47.1, straight flushes once per 242.7 and five of a kind once per 312.3.

There are some strategy adjustments to be made when playing NSU, but even there quads occur far more often that the other hands mentioned. There, you'll get four-of-a- kind once per 16.4 hands vs. once per 48.2 on flushes, 38.3 on full houses, 194.7 on straight flushes and 321.7 on five of a kind.

The bottom line is that full-pay Deuces is a 100.8 percent game with expert play, while NSU Deuces is a 99.7 percent game.

As in any video poker game, there will be sessions that drain your bankroll. And there are adjustments to be made. An NSU player used to holding two pairs might not know to hold just one pair to maximize quad chances in full-pay 2s. Another difference: An NSU player will hold four parts of a flush instead of a pair; a full-pay player will hold the pair.

Q. The casino near me has a couple of those one-player video blackjack games where blackjacks pay only even money. That's not good, but I figure the payback has to be higher than on the penny slots my wife plays.

It's one deck, the dealer stands on all 17s, you can double only on hard 10 or 11 with no soft doubling and no doubling after splits, and you can split any pair only once with no resplits.

How bad is it?

A. Given basic strategy for a single-deck game, the house edge is about 2.5 percent. If you got the full 3-2 payoff on blackjacks, it would be a 0.24 percent game, but even-money pays on two-card 21s add 2.27 percent to the house edge.

That's equivalent to a slot payback percentage of 97.5 percent, so yes it's a higher payback than on penny slots. Returns vary from game to game, casino to casino and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but penny slot paybacks almost always are less than 90 percent.

A word of caution: Video blackjack plays a lot faster than table blackjack. The video game doesn't need time for dealing cards to other players, settling bets, stacking chips in trays, buy-ins and cash outs of multiple players, shuffles or cuts.

As a video player, you can play just as fast as you can make decisions and hit the buttons.

At a full table, you might play only 50 to 60 hands per hour. If you're betting $10 a hand, you're risking $500 to $600. At your video blackjack game, it's easy to get in 500 hands per hour, and nearly 1,000 for q quick, focused player. Even at the slower speed, with $1 bets, you're betting $500 per hour.

Your hourly wager total is right up there with the $10 table players, and you're playing against a house edge that probably is much higher than the table edge.

Q. I've been playing a lot of Mississippi Stud lately. My games had been blackjack and Three Card Poker lately, but I've been doing better at Mississippi.

My question is on raising after seeing four cards. You once wrote you should raise three times your ante if you have a paying hand - of course - or if you have four parts of a flush or four parts on an outside straight, 8 high or better.

I assume the four parts of a flush includes four parts of a royal or straight flush. My question is on the straight. Why the 8 or high provision? Why should I raise with 5-6-7-8 but not 4-5-6-7?

A. You are correct on the flush issue. Raise 3xs on any four cards of the same suit. Royal or straight flush possibilities make the hand even more valuable.

As for the straight issue, the choice is with the amount of the raise, not a decision between raising and folding. You raise 3x your ante with 5-6-7-8, but you stay in the game and raise an amount equal to your ante with 4-5-6-7 or other low straight draws.

The reason is that the 8-high open-ended straight includes three cards that are 6 or higher, with the 7-high hand includes only two such cards. Mississippi Stud paybacks start at a pair of 6s, so higher straight draws have more possibilities of generating winners than do lower ones.

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