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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: What do driving and video poker have in common?

27 June 2008

Dear Mark: Maybe it's me, but a roll of quarters doesn't seem to last very long anymore when playing video poker. Is there a way I can slow down my money going to them? Ruth T.

A true conundrum! Could be "them," that is, if "them" tightened the paytables, or it could be you, because of your skill level or the speed of your play, or all of the above.

Remember, Ruth, a column or two back when I mentioned that the casino uses what's called a win formula. Although my example was for blackjack, the same holds true for video poker.

Take your average bet, the number of hours you are possibly going to play, how fast you are going to play video poker, and the casino's advantage over your play. With this little bit of information, you can easily figure out how fast your roll of quarters goes to, guess who -- them.

So along comes Ruth, bopping on down, betting $1.25 a hand for two hours, playing 240 hands. Pair that with the 5% advantage the casino holds over the typical video poker player who's just winging it and doesn't use perfect basic strategy, and you should already be halfway through your your donation to them of your second roll of quarters ($1.25 x 2 hrs. x 240 hands x .05 = $30).

Quick story. I didn't get my driver's license until I was almost 18 years old because I got tossed from the class for making a flippant remark to the drivers'-ed instructor, Mr. Miller, that "speed doesn't kill, impact does." OK, I also replicated his little nasal beep before I said it, but he was right: speed does kill, Ruth, and especially in a casino environment. The faster you play, Ruth, the more decisions there are per hour. And since the casino has the edge over your play, the faster your rolls of quarters become theirs.

So what you need to do, Ruth, besides finding the best pay tables possible and improving you play by learning perfect basic strategy, is to slow down your play. You can, if you are not on a coinless machine, play coins instead of credits, press the Bet One button instead of pressing the Bet Max button, and take a little extra time to study your video poker hand by checking your video poker strategy card more often.

Dear Mark: In blackjack, how do you play an ace/seven against a nine? The dealer told me to hit it, but all the players (four of them) on the game said stay. I'll go with your advice, so do I stay or hit? Gary P.

Never expect herd behavior, a group of players acting together without knowledge of basic strategy, to dictate sound play. The dealer was right, Gary. You always hit a soft 18 against a nine.

No blackjack hands are misplayed more than the "soft" ones (those containing an ace). What the mob didn't realize is that a soft 18 (A/7, or for that matter A/3/A/A/2) is a losing hand against the dealer's nine.

Here's the arithmetic: With a soft 18 against a 9, you'll win eight times out of 20 if you stand, but nine times out of 20 if you hit. And the winner is?

Fortunately, Gary, a soft 18 is an open-ended hand, so you always want to improve your chances by hitting one against a nine.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Numbers make the games work, the same way they make the universe function." --Basil Nestor

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.