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Deal Me In: Munchin' on casino freebies

5 December 2008

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: Is there any way of lowering the casino's 1.5 percent edge on a pass line bet by hedging it somewhere else on the table? Brad D.

If you're thinking of those snake oil proposition bets pitched by barking dealers (hardways, field bets, one number rolls, etc.), absolutely not. Some of those flummadiddle wagers can carry a casino edge as high as 16 percent. But there is a way, Brad, of considerably lowering the house advantage on your pass line bet, and that's by taking free odds. "FREE ODDS?" Whaddat? Listen up.

Distinct from all other craps wagers, free odds carry NO house edge. That's right, zip, zilch, nada. All bets are paid off at true odds.

For instance, let's say that you bet $5 on the pass line and the point is 10. On a double-odds table, where you are allowed to make an odds bet twice the size of your original pass bet, you are allowed to back your pass line bet with $10 in free odds.

The odds against your winning are 2-1, because with two six-sided dice, there are six ways of making a 7 (loser) and three ways of making a winner 10. If you win, your pass line bet is paid at even money, bringing you $5 in winnings, but your odds bet is paid at the 2-1 true odds, bringing you an additional $20.

The house edge is actually 1.41 percent on your pass line wager (not quite 1.5 percent as in your question), but backing it with free odds brings the overall edge on the combination down to well under one percent.

With single odds, the house edge on the pass with odds grouped together drops to 0.8 percent. Per my example above, double odds, the house edge drops to 0.6 percent, 10x odds, 0.2 percent and 0.02 percent with 100x odds.

Dear Mark: I got my dream hand, or so I thought at Pai Gow Poker. Four Aces, the Joker, plus a King and a Queen. I played it this way. The King and Queen up front, five aces in the back. I won the hand, but another player on the game said I should have played it differently. What's your take? Kenny L.

Congratulations, Kenny, on getting the highest hand possible In Pai Gow poker, a hand composed of four Aces, and the joker, which can be used either as an Ace or to complete flushes or straights.

A quick refresher for those not familiar with Pai Gow Poker: each player is dealt seven cards with which he must make two hands based on poker rankings -- a front hand of two cards and a back hand of five cards. The five-card hand must outrank the two-card hand. In the play you described, you put the King/Queen up front, but was it the right move?

Granted, you won, but the King/Queen two-card hand might not have been powerful enough, because, although there was no way possible for the dealer to beat your five-card hand, the rules of Pai Gow Poker are that you win only if you defeat the banker on both your front and back hands.

A "copy," or push, always goes to the banker, and a King/Queen would only have given you bragging rights to catching five Aces against a banker's kind King/Queen, and it would definitely lose in the front against a small pair. Keeping those five Aces together puts your weak two-card hand at risk.

The correct way to play five aces is to separate them, using two Aces in the two-card "second-high" hand, and three Aces in the five-card "high" hand.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "The boring thing about video poker is that once you learn the correct strategy, unlike real poker, there's nothing left to learn." --VP Pappy

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.