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# A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

29 September 2009

Q. This may be a dumb question, but I understand the hitting soft hands in blackjack to try to beat the dealer's up card, but what if I get a worse hand? Do I go back to hitting a 14, 15, 16 as I normally would? Even after I may have doubled down?

A. First of all, I don't believe in "dumb" questions. If you don't know, you have to ask or else you'll never find the answer. Never be afraid to ask the questions here.

Now then, if you hit a soft hand and make your hand worse, you just pick up on the basic strategy chart from there. For example, if your first two cards are ace-6 — a soft 17 — and the dealer's face up card is an 8, basic strategy calls for you to hit. If you then draw an 9, leaving you with a hard 16, you certainly don't want to stand on that against an 8. Go back to the basic strategy chart for hard 16 against an 8, and you'll see it calls for you to hit.

So it goes for any hands that go beyond your first two cards. Whether you have three, four or more cards, your next play needs to be whatever basic strategy calls for from that point. If you start with 7-6 — a hard 13 — against a dealer's 10 and draw an ace for 14, you're now playing with 14 against a 10. You hit again. Draw a 2 for a 16, and you're playing 16 against a 10, and you hit again.

You asked about double-down hands. They're an exception. When we double down, we get only one more card no matter what it is. So if you started with that ace-6 against a 6, doubled down and drew a 9, you'd be stuck with 16. Then you have to hope the dealer busts.

Q. I've seen you mention put bets in craps before, and I think you've said that a put bet on 6 or 8 with 5x odds is as good as a place bet. What about the other numbers?

A. Put bets are most commonly used to bet on the pass line number after a point is established. It gives you the ability to bet on specific numbers, like place bets, but also allows you to bet free odds, which place bets don't. On either puts or places, you win if the shooter rolls your number before rolling a 7, and lose if he or she rolls a 7 first.

Without taking free odds, put bets are a waste of your time and money. When you put the 6 or 8, it pays even money, while place bets on those numbers pay 7-6 odds. For those numbers, that gives the house 9.09% edge on the put bet, but only a 1.52% edge on the place bets. However, a \$5 put bet on 6 or 8 backed with \$25 in free odds is the equivalent of a \$30 place bet on 6 or 8. With more free odds, the put-odds combination drops below a 1.52% edge.

As for the other numbers, the equivalency line is drawn at 4x odds. A put bet plus 4x odds yields the same 6.67% house edge as placing the 4 or 10, or the same 4 percent edge as placing the 5 or 9. On 4 or 10, "buying" the numbers instead of placing — paying a commission in exchange for having winners pay true odds of 2-1 — lowers the house edge to 4.67%. The equivalency line there is 6x odds, so that a put plus 6x odds on 4 or 10 yields a 4.67% house edge.

The house edges on 4 or 10, and on 5 or 9, are too high for my taste. I wouldn't bet on those numbers as place bets or buy, and I wouldn't take them as put plus odds. Buying 4 or 10 does become a viable play if the house collects a commission only on WINNING bets. Then the house edge drops to 1.67%.

Q. In video poker, is it better to play a single line machine or the multi-line machines? If they have they same pay table (10/7/5) would it really matter?

A. On a payback percentage basis, it makes no difference whether you're playing single-hand, Triple Play, Five Play, Ten Play, Fifty Play or Hundred Play Poker. A 10/7/5 Double Bonus game pays the same 100.17% with expert play, no matter how many hands are played.

The "with expert play" caveat is important. Even those who have practiced expert strategy are tempted to change with more hands on the line. If you're not willing to break up 10 full houses that include three aces for 10 1-in-47 shots at a fourth ace, you're not playing expert level at Double Bonus and won't get that full return.

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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.