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# Cost of blackjack rules and the origin of video poker

19 January 2014

QUESTION: A blackjack question for you. I played a game where you were allowed to double on 9, 10 or 11 only. Obviously, that costs you a lot of soft double opportunities. I kept reaching for my chips when I had ace-5 and the dealer had a 6, but I couldn’t double.

My questions are twofold. How much does that rule really cost you? Also, what about the hands ace-8, ace-9 and ace-10? I guess you wouldn’t double on ace-10 since that’s a blackjack, but the two soft hands that seem to be open to doubling are ace-8 and ace-9, which are hard 9/soft 19 and hard 10/soft 20. Would you ever double on those?

ANSWER: Compared with the less restrictive rule that allows players to double down on any first two cards, limiting doubles to hard totals of 9, 10 or 11 costs basic strategy players approximately nine-hundredths of a percent.

That’s not overpowering, but it’s bigger than it sounds in a game where the house edge is measured in tenths of a percent. Given a fairly nondescript game in which there are six decks, the dealer hits soft 17 and you are allowed to double down after splitting pairs and may resplit three times, the house edge against a basic strategy player is 0.62 percent if you can double on any first two cards and 0.72 percent if you double only on 9-11.

As for the specific hands you mention, in regular cash play, there’s no way a smart player would put a blackjack at risk by doubling down, although there are times in tournament play when such a move is necessary. Similarly, soft 10 is a 20, and you’re far better off to stand on your 20s and not worry about doubling.

There is one double-down opportunity among those hands is with ace-8 when the dealer shows a 6. In a multiple-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, basic strategy calls for doubling on ace-8 if the dealer’s face up card is a 6. If the dealer stands on all 17s, then just stand on your 19 instead.

Should you find a playable single-deck game -- and I regard single-deck games in which blackjacks pay 6-5 as unplayable -- then double on ace-8 when the dealer shows a 6 regardless of whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17.

QUESTION: How long have there been video slot machines? My wife and I have been going to casinos since we got married in Reno in 1963, and for the longest time, there was just no such thing.

ANSWER: The first slot game to be played on a video screen rather than with spinning reels was made by Fortune Coin Company in the mid-1970s. Video slots were not terribly popular and got little space on casino floors through the 1970s, ’80s and well into the ’90s.

Several things happened to change that. Video poker was introduced in the late ’70s and became a big hit at the beginning of the ’80s. That helped players get used to the idea of playing casino games on video screens. The Bally GameMaker, the first multigame machine, offered both video poker and slot games upon its introduction in 1994, and the video slots on GameMaker units drew a niche following. Within a few years after that, several manufacturers started offering standalone video slots, adapting bonus game concepts that had proven popular in Asia and on the Pacific Rim. When WMS had the first megahit among video slots with Reel ’Em In in 1997, old player reluctance to try video gaming was broken down.

Today, video slots are the most popular, most played games in the casino, and are where the largest share of investment in new game development continues to take place.
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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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Winning Tips for Casino Games
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.