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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Ah, those knife-edge distinctions

12 November 2002

Dear Mark,
I like five-card draw poker, but have not found a game here in Reno. Is Texas Hold'em the same game? Catherine B.

Though five-card poker, and several variations of it, is well established on any video poker machine, you will not find your favorite kitchen table game of 5-card draw spread in most casinos or poker rooms. A kissin' southern cousin, is Texas Hold'em, probably the most popular poker game played in casino poker rooms. It's the game that is used to determine the world champion at the World Series of Poker.

The contrast is that Texas Hold'em is a "community card" game, meaning that some cards are dealt face-up in the middle of the table and shared by all the players. Each player has two down cards that are the player's alone; and those are combined with the five community cards to make the best possible five-card hand. The best five-card poker hand-a canny combination of the player's two private cards and the five communal cards-is the winner.

If you want to give Hold'em a try, Catherine, I had better mention the "skill" factor. Though Texas Hold'em is deceptively simple to learn, playing the game at a proficient level does take some expertise. If you are innocent of such wayward skills, you can start your training head-to-head against a cyber video opponent who does not blow smoke in your face or tell off-color jokes. Then when you are good enough, go beat up on the smoke-'n-joke set.

Dear Mark
In sports wagering, when is the best time to buy a half point? Jerome B.

Depends; read on, friend. Many sportsbooks allow the speculator the option of moving the point spread 1/2 point to his advantage on all straight bets. The extra outlay for this half-point move is a buck; you play $12 to win $10, instead of the typical $11.

As to the most favorable time to buy a half point, those who dabble in purchasing "the hook" do so when one team is favored by 7, 6.5, 3, or 2.5 points. Their reasoning is that many games end in a 3 or 7 point difference, so the extra half-point could turn a loss into a push or a push into a win.

Best tactic though, Jerome, is to shop for value. If you like Green Bay -7, you will like it even better if you can find it for -6.5 or even -6. A one-half-to-one point variance in the line is not uncommon from casino-to-casino.

Dear Mark,
Isn't the Come bet on a crap table the exact same wager as the pass line bet, both in its rules and its house edge? Eugene M.

The Come bet, Eugene, has the same rules and casino house edge as the Pass Line bet. The contrariety consists in that you can make this wager only after the point on the pass line has been established.

As to its mechanics, it's analogous to a Pass Line wager: once your point has been established, re-rolling the point wins, seven loses, and any other roll does not affect your pass-line wager.

Correspondingly, after you place your Come wager, the next sequence of dice rolls will establish the Come point. You lose if it is craps (2, 3, 12), win if it is a natural (7, 11), and set the point if any of the remaining numbers are rolled (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10). Like a Pass Line bet, the point needs to be repeated before a 7 is rolled to be a winner; if a 7 is rolled first, you lose.

Without taking any odds, both the Pass Line and Come wagers hold a paltry 1.4% casino advantage.

Gambling thought of the week: "If craps didn't already exist, it's doubtful whether anything this complex would be introduced today." Alan Krigman

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.