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29 August 1999

Dear AP:
Soft hands at blackjack always confuse me. Sometimes I hit, sometimes I double down, but always I wonder if I'd made the right move. This is especially true of the following hands: A2 vs. a dealer's five; A3 vs. the dealer 's three; and A7 vs. the dealer's six and seven. What are the right moves and why are they the right moves.

PK

Dear PK:
The key to winning money at blackjack is to play according to the basic strategies as set forth by the computer. Some of the hands are difficult to decide because the correct move is not always the logically obvious one. But our logic is often limited. When you have an A2 against the dealer 's up card of five, it is best to double down. Although simply hitting wins 58 percent of the time, while doubling only wins 55.25 percent of the time - you have twice as much money up. Thus, you win more money doubling than hitting. For A3 against the dealer's up card of 3, the reverse is the case. If you double you will lose more money, so the best strategy is to simply hit your hand. A7 vs. the dealer 's up card of six is an easy call. If you hit you will win more hands but if you double you will win more money. So double. A7 vs. the dealer's up card of seven is also an easy call. Stand pat. Doubling down would lose you much, much more.

Dear AP:
I've noticed a new game called Double-Down Stud at my local casino and I was wondering how it is played and whether it's worth playing.

CC

Dear CC:
There is no way to beat it. Double-down stud is played at a regulation blackjack table with two betting squares labeled "bet" and "double down." The dealer deals each round from a newly-shuffled deck. Each player receives one card face up. Then the dealer deals one card face down and three cards face up in the center of the table. These cards will be community cards for all players. Now, all the players are given an option of doubling their bet based on their first card and the three community cards that are visible. Finally, the dealer turns over the fifth card and the players are paid off based on the following schedule:

 Hand Payoff pair of sixes or better push pair of jacks or better even money two pair two to one three of a kind three to one straight five to one flush eight to one full house 11 to one four of a kind 50 to one straight flush 200 to one royal flush 2,000 to one

From what I understand this is not one of the better new games.

Dear AP:
I like to play Jacks-or-Better Video Poker. Last night a hand came up that confused me. I got a pair of fives but also a 10, queen and king of hearts. I had no idea of what to do. I decided to keep the three cards to the royal flush and discard the pair. Was I right?

BD

Dear BD:
You were right on the money when you decided to chuck the two fives and go for the royal flush. According to Victory at Video Poker by Frank Scoblete (Bonus Books), a book that contains the computer-generated strategies for most video poker games played in America and Canada, the proper strategy when you have a low pair with three cards (in any order) to the royal flush is to discard the low pair and go for the big one. That's because the long-term expectations of winning that royal flush more than outweigh the short-term probabilities of hitting for two pair, a full house or three or four of a kind. If you are playing the best machines of the Jacks-or-Better variety, you have either a slight edge or an even game with the casino. Once again, according to Victory at Video Poker, look for the following machines to get the best game in the Jacks-orBetter category: machines that pay 5,000; 4,700; or 4,000 on the royal flush line when five coins are played and 9 coins for the full house and 6 coins for the flush on the one coin line. These machines are called 9/6 machines and they are the best Jacks-or-Better machines. If you can find these machines and play the proper strategies, you will be playing one of the best games against the casinos!

Dear AP:
Have you heard of the game "Head and Tails"? I understand it's a new game about to be introduced into the casino and I'd like to know how it's played. I heard it's just flipping a coin. Is that true?

PH

Dear PH:
From Australia, this is the dice equivalent of a double coin toss and the game made its debut at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 1992, but I haven't noticed it recently in any casino in America. Still, I wasn't exactly looking for it either. It is played at a blackjack table with a shaker containing two dice and two betting areas, one called the "fast lane" and one called the "slow lane." Each die contains three faces labeled H and three faces labeled T. The object of the game is to predict which faces will appear: two H's, two T's, or an H and a T. In the slow lane, you can only bet on two H's or two T's and they pay even money. If an H-T rears its ugly face, it's a push. In the fast lane, you can bet on all outcomes. If an H-H or a T-T appears, you receive three to one (the true odds), if an H-T appears, you win even money. The casino charges a five percent commission on winning bets in the fast lane.

Dear AP:
I read an article in Chance and Circumstance concerning comps and how the casinos rate the players. But I just can't bring myself to ask for them. If a pit boss comes over and offers I'll take one, but otherwise I pay my own way.

JDR

Dear JDR: