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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Bonehead play: help or hindrance?

31 August 2007

Dear Mark: I don't play at the $25 blackjack tables in Atlantic City where players are apt to know basic blackjack because I use a progression and $25 is too high a starting point. At the $10 or $15 tables I find players use hunches and don't even play identical hands in the same manner. I know they are not card counters. Do you feel the caliber of the players at my table will affect my winning or losing? I have seen players do stupid things on third base and save the table. I still run to the dice table because I don't feel comfortable with players who bring hundreds to the table and won't buy a $14 book on blackjack. David S.

Blackjack is a unique casino game because it allows players to make playing decisions that will affect the outcome of their bet, but it's limited, David, to only their own wager.

It is a mistaken belief that incorrect play by someone at third base, or any position for that matter, always "takes the dealer's bust card" or "gives the dealer a card that always seems to beat the table." As long as the shuffle is randomized, improper play by others will just as likely help as hurt. That bonehead splitting 10s has no idea what the next card is, so bonehead's poor play will have no consequence on the game in general, just on the outcome of bonehead's hand.

For the average player, or even someone who benefits from the use of perfect basic strategy, seat position or another player's play has little significance for the player's expected return. But for the card counter who uses strategy variations, it is probably best to sit at the last taken seat to the dealer's right (third base) in order to see as many cards as possible before playing the hand.

Dear Mark: I heard that a roll of five in craps is nicknamed "Little Phoebe." I have not heard this before. Do you have any idea of its origin? Nelson S.

When I was pushing dice, the FIVE calls in my repertoire were, "after five, the field's alive," "thirty-two juice roll" (OJ's jersey number, but I doubt they use that one anymore), "fiver, fiver, racetrack driver," "we got the fever," and yes, "Little Phoebe" and even "Phoebe the Preacher's Daughter."

As for "Little Phoebe's" origin, I did try to rattle the brains of couple old-timers that have been around since they were rolling dice for garments, but they too were stumped.

I have seen in gambling dictionaries "Little Phoebe" as a noun, described as "the cardinal number that is the sum of four and one," but it could also be as simple as Phoebe and five both begin with the same evocable fricative; or, maybe its inspiration came from some golden-haired damsel named Phoebe who tossed the hand of her life in some sawdust joint ages ago.

Intriguing query – Prize to the most intriguing response – Whence Phoebe for "five?"

Dear Mark: You recently answered a letter and in effect said " …that each hand and game outcome is completely random, and not an exercise in synchronicity." My question is since the casino can change the odds on the machine, how does this effect the random winning/losing? Bernard M.

What you need to do, Bernard, is separate the randomness of the cards being dealt and the payout that you receive.

To alter the percentage return in their favor on any video game, the casino must, by law, make a hardware change. They do this by swapping out an internal component, the ROM (read only memory) portion of the microprocessor chip. This shouldn't be confused with the random number generator (RNG), which deals you your actual cards.

The ROM chip tells the video poker machine to pay 9 coins for a full house, 6 coins for a flush. By changing ROM chip and faceplate to an 8/5 machine, the house automatically changes the odds in their favor by an additional 3%; yet the chances of getting a full house or flush still remain random.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "I know you probably won't agree with me, but playing your very best game, not winning the most money, is what gives the most satisfaction in poker." --VP Pappy

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.