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# A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

7 December 2010

Q. Suppose a casino offered a game with no edge at all, such as a coin flipping game. Would the casino make money over time on it? The obvious answer of course is no, as they have no edge. My thought was that since there are a certain number of compulsive gamblers that will insist on betting until all their money is gone, the casino could make money on such a game.

A. There's a concept called gambler's ruin that comes into play, even in a dead-even game. The casino makes money mostly because of its mathematical edge on the games, but also because it has more money than you do. It can afford to hold out for the long run, and most players can't.

If you bring \$100 to a coin-flipping game, and bet \$1 per flip, you're going to be able to hold out a very long time, and the strong likelihood is that you'll break even, or something very close to even depending on random chance. But if you bet \$50 a flip, then the chances are overwhelming that the casino will wind up with all your money. It takes only two losses in a row to bust you, while nobody's going to bust the casino.

If you have 1 million players each doing 100 flips, then over that 100 million flips, something very close to 50 million will be heads, something very close to 50 millions will be tails. Some players will win, some players will lose, and the casino will come very close to breaking even.

However, let's say that 100 of those players bet so large a share of their bankroll at once that they face gambler's ruin within a few flips. Then on the other 999,900 players, the casino will break even. On those 100 players, the casino will make a profit.

The profit wouldn't be large enough to pay for dealers to run the game, let alone pay for other operation costs, but yes, the casino would make a profit on coin-flip-type game because some players would bet too large a share of their bankrolls per play.

Q. I know you guys say it's right to hit 12 when the dealer shows a 2 or 3, so I try not to grumble too much, but I hate it when someone takes the dealer's bust card. But this one guy was even worse. He hit 12 when the dealer had a 4. Not every time, just sometimes. Can't players do anything to keep a guy from making hunch plays like that that wreck the game for others?

A. I can tell from the start that you're not going to like this answer on a couple of levels. The player is betting his own money and has the right to make his own decisions. Treat his play as if it makes no difference to you. After all, in the long run it really doesn't — another player's bad play will help you as often as it hurts.

A 12 versus 4 is a close call hand, one where Fred Renzey's Blackjack Bluebook II tells us that even a non-counter gains a little by hitting if there are more 10-value cards on the table than there are 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s.

It could well be that the other player was making good, advanced plays. Even if he was just playing hunches, it's nothing for you to sweat. If another player's decisions bother you to the point it's affecting your concentration or enjoyment, change tables. The other guy's doing nothing wrong.

Q. I've seen blackjack players double down for less. That is, they bet \$10, but when they double down, they only bet another \$5. Is that a good play?

A. In my humble opinion, the only time to double for less is when you're down to your last chips before leaving, and you can't afford a full double down.

Most players I've seen double for less don't handle it that way. They go for true double downs on the strongest hands — player's two-card 11 against a dealer's 5 or 6, for example. But they double for less when they're feeling a little less comfortable, such as when a dealer's face card is staring straight at that two-card 11.

That's understandable, but it's not the optimal play. If you're doubling in accordance with basic strategy, you're doing it when you'll win more often than you lose. You have an edge, and that's the time to maximize your bet. If you're going to double down, go the full double.

You'll lose more often when the dealer has a 10-value up than when he or she has a 6, but when you're doubling with 11, you'll still win more often than you lose. Accept the losses when they come, but you maximize wins overall by going for the full amount when basic strategy calls for a double down.

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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.