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# A Shuffle through the Gaming Mailbag

11 September 2002

Q. Recently, the Casino Queen in East St. Louis has initiated a new blackjack policy by which the dealer does not look at the hole card when showing a 10-value card. Does this add to the house advantage? If so, how? I have not seen this policy at any other casinos I frequent.

Bill, via e-mail

A. Casinos that fear dealers are tipping cards to players sometimes will have the dealer forgo checking under 10-value cards to see if he or she has blackjack.

This adds nothing to the house edge on the game as long as players who double down or split pairs lose only one bet if the dealer has an Ace down for a blackjack. If the house takes both bets in such situations, then the house edge is increased.

I've never seen an American casino that takes both bets on doubles and splits when the dealer has blackjack. However, in some European casinos and shipboard casinos run by overseas companies, the dealer doesn't even take a hole card. The dealer doesn't get a second card until all player decisions are made. There's no way to check for blackjack if the dealer has an Ace or 10 up. And the house takes both bets if the player splits or doubles and the dealer's second card completes a blackjack. That's ugly.

Q. I have come up with a theory on blackjack. I start off with the fact that there are 312 cards in a six-deck shoe. Of these 312 cards, there are 96 10-values and 24 cards of each denomination, Ace through 9. According to my calculations, if the player's hand is 12, there are 96 cards that will bust the hand, or 31 percent. With 13, 120 cards, or 39 percent, are busts, while 14 busts with 140 cards (46 percent); 15 busts with 168 cards (54 percent); 16 busts with 192 cards (61 percent), and 17 busts with 216 cards (70 percent).

A.M., via e-mail

A. First, a couple of minor points on your numbers. The number of cards that will bust a given hand varies slightly depending on the composition of the hand. If your 12 consists of 9-3, 8-4, 7-5 or 6-6, then yes, there are 96 10-value cards in a six-deck shoe that will bust the hand. However, if your 12 consists of 10-2, then there are only 95 10-value cards available since you already have one in hand. And if your 12 consists of Ace-Ace, no cards will bust it.

Now, can you use this information to improve your chances at blackjack? Well, these numbers and much more are already accounted for in basic strategy. If you learn basic strategy at blackjack, you narrow the house edge in a six-deck game to about a half-percent, a little more or less depending on house rules.

I've written many columns on blackjack basic strategy. Any good book on blackjack will include a chapter on basic strategy. My favorite for those just learning blackjack strategy is Frank Scoblete's Best Blackjack. My own Casino Answer Book includes quizzes on basic strategy for hard totals, soft totals and for splitting pairs. For intermediate players looking for ways to take their games beyond basic without taking the full plunge to counting cards, I like Fred Renzey's Blackjack Bluebook. The Scoblete and Renzey books also include card counting systems, but the easiest counting system I've seen is detailed in Knockout Blackjack by Ken Fuchs and Olaf Vancura.

Q. I would like to know why a straight flush, which is listed higher than any four of a kinds, only pays at 250 to 1 in most if not all video poker games that I have seen. Every other video poker player I have asked didn't know why either.

George, via e-mail

A. Video poker games are not designed to reflect the true odds of the game. They are designed to make the games playable and fun, to keep the customers coming back.

If straight flushes paid as much as the odds say they should, the game designers would have to take something away elsewhere on the pay table. Either they'd have to reduce the payoff on a royal flush, meaning the top jackpot wouldn't be as attractive, or they'd have to reduce payoffs lower on the pay table, which means you wouldn't get as much on more common hands, and you'd lose your money faster during any session when the bigger hands weren't coming.

Is it in keeping with the odds of draw poker that in Double Bonus Poker, for instance, every four of a kind pays at least 250 coins--the same as a straight flush--even though four of a kind is a 1-in-420 shot and a straight flush is a 1-in-9,000 shot? No, it's not, but it's more fun for the players to have a chance at the bigger payoff on the more common hand. That keeps the customers coming back.

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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.

#### Books by 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.

#### Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games