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# A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

26 May 2009

Q. My brother-in-law says you and Henry Tamburin and Frank Scoblete all say not to take even money at blackjack. Can you tell me why? It makes sense to me to take a sure \$10 when I bet \$10 than to hold out for an extra \$5 and risk not getting anything.

A. Guarantees are nice, but taking even-money in blackjack costs you money in the long run. Let's assume you wager \$10 and have blackjack, while the dealer has a 10 face up. The possible scenarios are these:

• You take even money. It doesn't matter what the dealer's face down card is; you win \$10.
• You don't take even money. The dealer's face down card is 2 through 9 or an ace. You win \$15.
• You don't take even money. The dealer's face down card is a 10 or a face card to complete a blackjack. You win nothing.

By taking even money, you're settling for two-thirds of your potential payoff. If the dealer completed a blackjack one-third of the time, that would be a break-even proposition, and you'd make as much money by taking even money as by playing out the hand. But the dealer completes a blackjack only 30.8% of the time.

Let's say we ran 1,000 trials in which we each wagered \$10 and both had blackjacks against a dealer blackjack. You'd take even money on blackjacks, and I wouldn't. For your 1,000 blackjacks, you'd win a flat \$10 on each for a total of \$10,000. On my 1,000 blackjacks, I'd get nothing on the 308 where the dealer also had a blackjack, but on the other 692 I'd be paid 3-2, or \$15 each on a \$10 bet. That comes to \$10,380.

Per 1,000 hands, I win \$380 more than you do by playing out the hand instead of taking even money.

Q, Recently I played a video poker machine where if you got four aces AND a 2, 3 or 4, the payout was very good. My question is: If I'm dealt two aces and a 7, a 9 and a 2, should I discard the 7 and 9 and keep the two aces and the 2? Or should I just keep the two aces and hope I get two more aces and a 2 or 3 or a 4?

If on my first deal I get three aces and 6 and a 4, should I keep only the three aces and discard the 6 and the 4? If I discard the 6 and the 4, I would then have two chances to pick up the fourth ace. What would you suggest?

A. The game sounds like Double Double Bonus Poker, which for a five-coin bet pays 800 coins on four aces, but 2,000 if the four Aces are accompanied by a 2, 3 or 4. Your best play there is just to hold the aces. You have a much better chance of getting to four aces with a three-card draw instead of needing both cards to turn up aces. In common versions of Double Double Bonus where flushes pay 9-for-1, the average return per five coins wagered is 9.57 for holding just the aces, dropping to 7.96 if you hold ace-ace-2.

Even when you're holding three aces, as your example of ace-ace-ace-6-4, the better play is to maximize the chance of drawing the fourth ace. The average return in 9/6 or 9/5 is 62.4 coins for holding ace-ace-ace, but only 59.1 for also holding the 4.

Q. I read an article that states there are Class II slot machines used by Native American casinos and Class III used in Las Vegas, Tunica and Atlantic City. What is the difference between Class II and Class III slot machines? From the outside the Class II and III machines look identical. Can the casino change payback percentages on Class II, but can't on Class III?

A. Not all Native American casinos have Class II slots. In fact, it's more common for them to have Class III games. In the Midwest, Oklahoma has a large number of Class II games, but Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa are almost entirely Class III.

Class II gaming is player-banked, rather than house-banked. You are competing with other players, bingo-style, for a common jackpot that is governed by the central server. Individual machines do not have their own random number generator chips. The game really being played is electronic bingo. Each Class II game in a Native American casino has a bingo logo, and you can watch a small display with bingo numbers being drawn to build patterns. Those are translated into the spinning reels or playing cards you see on the larger screen.

It is possible for casinos to change payback percentages on either type of game, but the process is different. On Class III games, operators must open a game and replace a microchip. On Class II games, it can be done at the click of a mouse through a central server.

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Best of John Grochowski
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.

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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.