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# A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

3 June 2008

Q. My wife and I are ardent players. Are there any games where one should keep only a pair of aces when dealt two pair? Since quad aces pays much higher, should one maximize the opportunities for quads?

A. Hold just two aces instead of two pair in Double Double Bonus Poker, or Super Aces, where there's a chance at a 2,000-coin jackpot on four aces.

Also, if full houses pay 9-for-1 or less and four aces pay 800 for a five-coin bet, hold just a pair of aces instead of two-pair. That comes into play in Double Bonus Poker. If you're playing the full-pay 10/7 version where full houses pay 10-for-1, then you hold both pairs. If you're playing the 9/7 or 9/6 versions that are more common around here, you break up two pair and just hold the aces.

Why the difference? It's a lot more likely that you'll draw a full house when starting with two pairs than four of a kind when starting with two aces. Holding both pairs give you a 1 in 47 shot at a full house, but only about 1 chance per 358 draws of making four of a kind when starting with a pair.

It's a close call. When full houses pay 10-for-1, your average return will be 8.83 coins per five wagered for holding both pairs vs. an 8.82-coin average when you hold just a pair of aces. If full houses pay only 9-for-1, the 8.77-coin average return for holding just the aces beats the 8.40-coin average for holding both pairs.

One final caution: The games with the big bonuses on four aces pay only 1-for-1 on two pairs. On games such as Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker in which two pairs pay 2-for-1, always hold both pairs.

Q. At a charity casino night, the blackjack games paid only even money on two-card 21s. You've advised not to play if blackjacks pay only 6-5 instead of the usual 3-2, so I'm sure you wouldn't like a game where they pay even money. My question, though, is what that does to the house edge, and what strategy you would use in such a game?

A. When blackjacks pay only even money, it adds about 2.3% to the house edge. That's a huge disadvantage for players, given that the entire house edge against basic strategy players is usually only about half a percent, a few tenths more or less depending on house rules.

There are no strategy adjustments to be made since you don't draw to two-card 21s. Not even counting cards and adjusting your bets with the count can bring you back to even in such a game.

That being said, you were playing in a charity game, where the purpose is to raise money for a worthy cause. If I saw a game that paid only even money on blackjacks in a casino, I wouldn't play. In a charity game, my approach probably would be to set a loss limit equal to the amount I'd be willing to give the charity if I were just writing a check, and to walk away when I hit that limit.

Q. I have a question about how fast you play slot machines. Pretend you're betting the same amount on pennies, nickels and quarters — say three quarters for 75 cents, 15 nickels or 75 pennies. The quarter game has reels, and the nickel and penny are video. Obviously you're playing a different number of paylines on each machine.

Is there anything in the games themselves that makes one play faster than another? Are you betting the same amount per hour on one as on another?

A. Most likely, you're betting the most money per hour on the quarter reel-spinner. That's because most such games don't have bonus rounds, and even if they do have bonus events in the top box, such as the Wheel of Fortune spin, they take less time than many video bonus rounds.

When you're playing a bonus round, you're not making extra wagers. The playing time that does not cost you extra money is one of the great strengths of video slots. Whether you're picking gift boxes, finding aliens or shooting down bonus amounts from your jet fighter, or watching the credits mount up on free spins, you're getting a break from the wager-after-wager routine of most reel-spinning slots.

As for the difference between nickels and pennies, that depends on the individual game and the frequency and duration of bonus events. If you're getting as much bonus time on one as on the other, then speed is about equal. You might spend extra time looking over your winning combinations on a game with more paylines, which might lead to somewhat slower play on pennies.

Understand, though, that there's a tradeoff involved. The penny or nickel player wagering the same amount per spin as a quarter player risks less money per hour, but also gets lower payback percentages.

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John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.