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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Skill and a decent bankroll can go a long way in making you a winner

30 May 2008

Dear Mark: For the average player, is there any mathematical advantage to playing two hands of blackjack versus one? Jason F.

Playing two hands and what advantages or disadvantages it brings your way depends on your skill level.

A skilled player using perfect basic strategy gives up the same approximately one-half percent edge to the casino on both hands. A card counter might actually gain a small advantage over the house by playing an additional hand. But if you are the average Joe, you will reap exactly the same results on both hands, minus approximately 5% to the house, creating no edge whatsoever.

An added drawback when playing more than one spot is that you will be dealt more hands per hour. Because the casino already has a commanding edge over the average Joe's play, is reason enough, Jason, on why you wouldn't want to be playing two spots. You are just as likely to keep on losing, but at a faster clip playing two hands.

The key advantage for playing two hands occurs only for card counters. If the deck is positive, counters, knowing they have an edge on the next hand, typically play more than one spot. Because they are playing two spots instead of one, they have twice as much chance of getting the high value cards as the dealer has.

Dear Mark: As a video poker player, what should my beginning bankroll be? I typically play $1 machines. Norm N.

In the gaming business it's called "risk of ruin." The risk of ruin is the chance that standard deviation will wipe out your bankroll before you have a chance to win what your pre-determined win goals were. What you need in order to weather risk of ruin is a decent-sized bankroll. If your bankroll is too small to handle the swings caused by standard deviation, you can get your clock cleaned.

Video poker players should have an adequate bankroll of at least 40 times their typical bet, if not more. With an adequate bankroll, you can last through a cold streak and still be in action when a hot streak comes along.

So, Norm, on a dollar machine, you should have a bankroll of at least $200 (five coins in per hand times 40).

Dear Mark: What are your thoughts on players who like to believe that one video poker machine that they regularly play is luckier than another? Every time my sister and I go to the casino she runs to one particular machine that she claims pays out more. June D.

It doesn't make one iota of difference whether she always plays her "favorite" video poker machine or bounces around. As long as the pay tables are the same, she can expect the same long-term payback.

What I can't rule out is that your sister accidentally happened on a video poker machine that has a much better pay table than the other machines surrounding it, so yes, June, it would pay out more.

I once had a favorite video poker machine at the Club Cal Neva in Reno that I would play after pitching cardboard for eight hours. It was a bar-top, so along with my after-shifter, I figured it was worthy of a couple of bucks before I headed up to the lake (Tahoe). I hit a royal and a dozen four-of-a-kinds over the year that I worked there, and I'm sure I cashed out more than I put in. But deep down I knew, or would like to think that I should have known, that the probabilities of royals or four-of-a-kinds appearing remain the same on all the machines, on every hand.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "All losers praise their own systems." VP Pappy, Midwest Casino Guide

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.