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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: While all liars figure, some figures can lie

9 January 2009

Dear Mark: I need to settle this argument. I play pai gow poker, and to me, other than a copy hand, I see it as an even game, since there have been many times where I did not have a copy hand all night, or very, very, few of them. So from a dealt hand, I would say it is a 50/50 proposition on who will win.

My buddy, Tom, plays three-card poker, with the ante only bet, no pair plus. He says he wins more than loses. Well to me, if he puts down 10 bucks, and has low three cards, he just folds, without knowing what the dealer was holding. That's 10 bucks gone! Who gets to buy the beer next time at the casino? Myron A.

"Who gets to buy the beer next time at the casino?" could be construed one of two ways. Who's making the smarter wager and Who will lose less money on each casino visit? Sound theoretical answers to follow.

Let's start off with Tom's play. By making the ante wager at three-card poker, Tom's simply betting his 3-card hand against the dealer's hand. Let's also assume that Tom uses the correct strategy when playing three-card poker, that being, anytime he has a queen-6-4 or higher, he follows his ante with a bet, and if it's lower, he folds. Played this way, all he's giving up to the casino is 2.1%.

With your pai gow poker game, Myron, you win if you defeat the banker on both your front and back hands, lose if the banker beats you on both hands, but can also lose if you "copy," or push, since a copy always goes to the banker.

You're right, Myron, those "copy" hands materialize once in a blue moon, but they DO occur, and that's where the house gets its 2.5% advantage over your play.

So, you'd think the winner is… ta-da …Tom playing the game with the lower casino advantage of 2.1% -- but don't reach for your wallet, Myron, because I'm not declaring a winner, at least yet.

Pai gow poker can be really slow; sometimes no more than 40 hands in an hour are actually played to completion. Compare that to three-card poker, which, although it's a lower house-edge play, is a much faster game where 150 decisions can be made in an hour.

Here's the math, Myron, on why -- IF your beer bet is based on who loses more money per hour -- you win.

If you were to play pai gow poker at $10 a hand, 40 hands an hour, giving the house 2.5%, you would lose, over the long run, just $10 per hour.

With three-card poker at $10 a hand, and even with a lower house edge of only 2.1%, by Tom seeing 150 decisions per hour, he would have an hourly loss of $31.50.

Here's a suggestion, Myron. Make those drink wagers based on whether Tom actually "wins more than he loses." Against a negative-expectation game, which three-card poker is, no matter how you play it, it's more of a sure bet.

Dear Mark: We have full-pay "Jacks or Better" machines in the casino where I play. Your previous column showed the difference between 9/6 machines and that of 8/5 and 7/5. I'm wondering if I'm giving up anything when I play a coin or two short? Hal S.

With payoffs beginning at a pair of jacks or better, "Jacks or Better" is the most common variation of video poker available. For those who missed the column you mentioned, Hal, full-pay Jacks or Better is also known as 9/6 Jacks or Better; the 9 refers to the payoff for a full house and the 6 refers to the payoff for a flush. When played with perfect strategy and the maximum coin amount, full-pay Jacks or Better has a theoretical return of 99.54%.

Players who do not play with the maximum number of coins, and by the way, Hal, it doesn't matter if you were to play one, two, three or four coins/credits, find that the theoretical return is reduced to 98.05%.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Many gamblers are actors. They consider the seat at the table their stage." --Mike Goodman, How To Win

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.