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Deal Me In: The only game in town

30 November 2010

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I know that with strict adherence to basic strategy and a 3/2 payout for blackjack, you can cut the house edge to .5%. Assuming that I continue to use "perfect" basic strategy, what does the house edge shift to when the blackjack payout is only 6/5? We're going on a cruise, and I've read that this is "the only game in town." Walt I. One of the most legendary gamblers of all time was a Three-Card Monte dealer named Canada Bill. His gambling immortality rests not on his gambling prowess, nor his notable wins. He is remembered by but a single line he once voiced on the Mississippi, a phrase recited by gamblers ever since. Canada Bill lost his entire bankroll at Faro when a friend approached him and said, "Bill, don't you know this game is crooked?" "Yes," answered Canada Bill, "but it's the only game in town." And so goes it for you, Walt, sailing the high seas playing the only game in town, 6 to 5 Blackjack, where the payoff is only $6 for every $5 wagered when dealt one. Yes, Walt, when you are on your game using perfect basic strategy, the casino edge, depending upon the number of decks, can normally be well under a half of one percent when you are getting the maximum value for a blackjack, one that pays 3 to 2. The 6 to 5 game, however, has a house advantage of 1.45%, more than eight times the advantage the casino has on a normal single deck game, and whammo!, it's almost triple the house edge the casino carries on an eight deck shoe. You didn't mention your typical bet, but if you are a $50 a hand hitter, you get paid $75 when blackjacks pay 3/2. Getting paid 6 to 5 on a $50 bet gets you only $60 for a snapper. As I told the naked lady on the green horse, for me the reduced payout of $15 per blackjack is not worth the cost of playing the only game in town, and it gets worse, Walt, in that you could see as many as five blackjacks an hour, shorting you $75 hourly just to be a card-carrying member of the Canada Bill Club. Dear Mark: I play video poker from time to time mostly because I know the bartenders and get the "free" drinks when I play. I'm not an expert, and I usually play deuces wild or jacks or better quarter machines. In your articles sometimes you refer to 9/6 machines or games. What does that mean? Glenn W. If you notice, Glenn, there is always a pay table located under the glass of all video poker machines. This is, or should be, first-order-of-business-important to you as a player. The pay table reveals what the casino pays for a pair of jacks-or-better, two pairs, three-of-a-kind, flushes, a full house, etc. A 9/6 machine tells you that you are getting paid 9 for a full house and 6 for a flush, with one coin inserted. The pay table should looks like this, Glenn: Royal flush 250-for-1; Straight Flush 50-for-1; Four of a kind 25-for-1; Full House 9-for-1; Flush 6-for-1; Straight 4-for-1; Three-of-a-Kind 3-for-1; Two Pair 2-for-1; pair of Jacks or Better 1-for-1. If you stumble on a full-pay Jacks or Better machine that pays 9 coins for a full house, 6 for a flush, and 2 for two pair, you can expect a return rate -- free drinks excluded allowing you to play each hand correctly -- of approximately 99.5%, making it a pretty sweet machine to be playing on. As for identifying a good Deuce's Wild machine, you want to find a machine that pays five coins for four-of-a-kind instead of four. With maximum coin play and perfect strategy, a five-coin return for four-of-a-kind gives you a slight edge against the house—a 100.76% return versus 94.34% if the machine returns just four coins. Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "We've attempted to refute the endless stream of casino myths that turn people from competent players to superstitious gambling fools." --Adam Fine, Strictly Slots
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.