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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Down under and way up over

12 April 2004

Dear Mark, In video poker, which is more valuable, a pair of jacks or a pair of aces? Keith B.

It depends, Keith, on the type of video poker machines you are playing. Take for example "Bonus" machines, where four aces pay a lot more than four jacks. The "bonus" on Bonus poker machines is for certain fours-of-a-kind. For 2s, 3s, and 4s, you get 40-to-one, and four aces gives you 80-to-one instead of 25-to-one which is standard on a Jacks or Better machine. On Bonus machines, two aces obviously would be worth more than a pair of jacks. But your typical Jacks or Better machines, just return your money, so neither hand would be more valuable than the other.

Dear Mark, Where I play, on weekends they bump the blackjack table minimums up to as high as $25 a hand. As someone who is new to the game, do you feel playing for $10-25 a hand is too much for someone who is a $2 player? Harry G.

I logged 100 miles on my first Schwinn before I was allowed to ride it further than around the block. Being a newbie at blackjack, you're still two-wheeling with training wheels, so yes, I'd say $25, or even $10 might be a bit rich. How about some gardening on weekends?

Dear Mark, My local casino in Sydney, Australia does not allow doubling down on soft hands. Could you please advise me as to the basic strategy for playing an A, 7 against a 6 or an A, 6 against a 4 in these circumstances? Should I hit or stand? Also, my casino does not offer surrender on blackjack, but does offer insurance. We have only multiple deck games and you can only double down on 9, 10 and 11. If I play perfect basic strategy with these regulations in place, is the casino percentage still below 2%? Cliff B.

Yes, it is, Cliff. Even with Down Under rules like being able to double only on 9, 10 or 11, playing perfect basic strategy still reduces the casino advantage to well under 2%. Now, in the specific hands you mention, on an ace/7 against a six, you would stand, and for an ace/6 (soft 17) against a four, you would always hit.

Here in the States, where you can typically double on any two cards on multiple decks, you would double down on both of the hands you mention. Regarding insurance, Cliff, I recommend that you never take it, and here's why. Most players tend to take insurance when holding face cards. But a moment's calm reflection, if you please — who's holding at least two of the cards the dealer needs to make blackjack? THE PLAYER! Far too many players automatically take insurance if they have a blackjack, or perhaps two face cards. In reality, though I still don't recommend it, it would make more sense to make an insurance bet if your hand contained no 10-valued card, because that 10-valued card you don't hold could possibly be the dealer's hole card. As a matter of fact, insuring a hand composed of two face cards on a single deck game can be one of the worst bets in the casino, giving the casino a 14.3% edge.

Gambling quote of the week: "Batting .500 might make you a hero in baseball; but in the gambling business, it makes you a bum." --Hunter Thompson

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.