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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. Have we reached a point where non-advantage players should think about making craps or video poker their first game? I've seen so much 6-5 blackjack it frustrates the hell out of me.

Even when it's not 6-5, the rules are just so bad. Last week, I was in a casino where the basic game was eight decks, hit soft 17, double only on hard 9 or 10, split pairs once, no double after split, late surrender. That's just so bad. Craps plus odds gets you a better deal.

A. Blackjack has been getting tougher, no doubt about it. Basic strategy players often will find themselves in a casino where they can get a lower house edge on craps plus double odds or more than on blackjack. In the case of the game you found, even craps with single odds would get you there.

However, players don't choose games solely on the house edge. They choose games they like to play, and blackjack and craps are very different experiences,

I do my best to steer people away from 6-5 blackjack, but the game you describe, 0.91 percent against a basic strategy player, creates a conundrum. Ten years ago I'd have suggested you find a different casino and a different game. Nowadays, the most common six-deck tables have hit soft 17 games and house edges near 0.7 percent.

I'd like to say that if we all avoided such games, casinos would respond with better rules. But I don't really believe that. I think they'd respond with fewer blackjack tables.

Q. My dad is just starting to learn video poker strategy. I got him the software, but it'll take time. If you could sum up three general rules for video poker that maybe aren't obvious at a glance, what would they be?

A. Much of my advice to new video poker players would center on learning how to tell a good pay table from a poor one, looking around a casino to find the best games before playing, and deciding what you want from the video poker experience. Do you want a game that offers extended time on device like Jacks or Better, or a more volatile game with more big wins like Double Double Bonus?

I take it you're looking for strategy advice that applies to all games -- or at least all non-wild card games.

That's a tough go, but here are a few general principles:

  • Don't undervalue low pairs. In just about any game, you'll win more hands if you keep a single high card than a low pair, but you'll win more money if you keep the low pair. A greater percentage of your winners will do more than just get your money back if you start with low pairs rather than a high card.
  • Learn the difference between open-ended straights and inside straights. In any non-winning hand, you'll want to draw to a four-card open-ended straight, but strategies vary from game to game when the draw is on the inside.
  • Keep your eye on the big prize. If you're dealt four cards to a royal flush, the only time you wouldn't discard the fifth card is if it completes a straight flush. Lesser flushes, straights and high pairs all should be discarded in pursuit of the royal. Even with three to a royal, depending on composition, you'll discard some high pairs in some games.

Beyond that, you and your father should find what games he likes to play, what pay tables are available in the casinos you visit, and set his software so he can practice strategy on the games he'll really play.

Q. Mississippi Stud strategy says that with four cards, you should raise 3x if an open-ended straight draw is at least 8 high, but only 1x with 7 high or less. I don't understand the distinction. Regardless of whether you have 4-5-6-7 or 5-6-7-8, you have eight possible cards that would finish the straight.

A. While completing a straight is a major hope, you also have a chance to get your money back if you pair up any cards from 6 through 10.

With 4-5-6-7, you have only two cards that could pair up for a push -- the 6 or the 7. With 5-6-7-8, you add the 8 as a third card that could pair up and avoid a loss.

The situation gets better if your four-card, open ended straight includes a Jack, Queen or King, Any of those could pair up for an even-money payoff, giving you extra potential winners instead of potential pushes.

Four-card open-ended straights are a close enough call that having at least three cards that could pair up to get your money back is just on the 3x side of the border, while two or fewer of those mid-level cards are on the 1x side.

You didn't ask, but four-card inside straights are in the 1x-raise area. With inside draws, there are only four draws to complete the straight, and that's not enough to bet the max.

 

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