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Beware the dragon's tooth

23 January 2007

Dear Mark: In some casinos that offer pai gow poker, the dealer deals a second hand that is offered to the player. Exactly what is it, and is it worth playing? Billy F.

That second hand you observed, Billy, is called "the Dragon," and it's an additional hand that each player in turn has the option of playing. Essentially, it gives the player the ability to play two positions rather than one. It could also be a community hand for all to play, should someone want to make an additional bet. It is not a required wager, rather a bonus bet.

I have noticed that those who play the Dragon do so depending on the circumstances and their style of play. Some only play the Dragon when they are holding a stalwart hand; others only play the Dragon when they think their main hand is a loser. Go figure.

In most casinos, if you want to play the Dragon, your wager must be the same size as or larger than your original bet. Also, the rules generally specify that the hand must be set according to the house's own way of setting hands.

With a deck of cards at the kitchen table you can become quite proficient at the game, and with perfect basic strategy you can grind the casino edge down to 2.5%. Even so, Billy, I wouldn't recommend playing the Dragon hand myself, because "copies" (where the player and banker have identical two-card or five-card hands) still go to the dealer, biting the player, naturally.

Dear Mark: I have seen double-deck blackjack dealt both face up, and face down. Is there any advantage one way or another for the player or the house? Kyle F.

For card-counting players, face-down (not being able to see all the cards on the layout until the end of the hand) gives them less information. Consequently, Kyle, cards dealt face down benefit the house, face-up the skilled player.

Dear Mark: Could you please explain how a satellite tournament works in poker, and how one goes from one of these types of tournaments to a larger, more profitable one? Martin C.

A satellite tournament, Martin, is a special tournament whose prize isn't necessarily cold hard cash, but a buy-in to a larger tournament.

A one-table satellite tournament usually has just one winner, although second place is occasionally awarded a free entry to another tournament or cash. In larger satellite tournaments with multiple tables, the winner may get not only an entry to a larger tournament, but also such perks as round-trip airfare and accommodations, especially if the tournament takes place in a city other than that of the larger satellite. The winner may also get a percentage of the excess cash accumulated in buy-ins and re-buys. Second, third, and even additional places can also win a percentage of this cash or buy-ins to this or to other tournaments.

The larger the tournament, Martin, the more places that are paid, from as few as one in a one-table satellite, three in a small tourney, eight to ten in a medium-sized contest, to as many as 36 in a $10,000 buy-in televised World Poker Tour tournament.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "The people who run the casino are tough and smart in so many ways, but they belong in the Dark Ages. They explain the phenomena of their world the way the ancient astrologers did. They really believe that dice get hot." --Edward O. Thorp, quoted in The Green Felt Jungle

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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.