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29 May 2007

Stop me if you've heard this one...

On second thought, don't stop me, because apparently many of you haven't heard.

Between e-mails from readers, callers to my WCKG-FM (105.9) radio show, and those I meet at seminars, I receive hundreds of questions a year. Some are asked over and over and over again. These stand out as the most frequent topics on your minds:

How can I tell when a slot machine is ready to pay off?

You can't. Slots don't give any signal before the winning combinations line up.

Over the years, I've heard that machines click or jerk before the wins start to come, or that winning combinations show up in the slot window but off the payline, or that cherry on the middle reel signal bigger things to come. None of that is true.

Slot results are determined by a random number generator. It's not perfectly random, but it's as close as humans can program a computer to be. You can't tell what's coming next, and the machine gives no signal that it's going to pay off.

What is a "9-6" video poker machine?

When video poker games are named by numbers, the numbers usually refer to the payoffs for full houses and flushes. A 9-6 machine pays 9-for-1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes.

Whether 9-6 is a good thing depends on the specific video poker game. In Jacks or Better, 9-6 is a top-of-the-line pay table. Given expert play, a 9-6 Jacks or Better game returns 99.5 percent of everything it takes in to players. Drop those full house and flush payoffs to 8-5 --- a common pay table --- and the return drops to 97.3 percent.

On other games, 9-6 isn't always a top pay table. A casino executive once proudly showed me his 9-6 machines, hoping I'd recommend them to video poker players. Unfortunately, these were Double Bonus Poker machines, and on Double Bonus, the top pay table isn't 9-6, it's 10-7. He was showing me a 97.8-percent game, a cut below the level I like to play.

Do bad plays by blackjack players hurt the rest of the table?

Actually, that's the cleaned up version of that question. I really hear it two different ways. One is from players who are angry about the mistake someone else has made, and they ask, "Why do people who don't know strategy mess the rest of us up with their stupid plays?" The other side: "Why is there always someone who wants to jump on my case every time I make a play they don't like?"

In the long run, bad plays by others make no difference. That's not to say someone else's mistake can't hurt you on one hand. It can. But a bad play can also help the rest of the table, and there's no telling which will happen until the play is made.

There's a lot of selective memory going on here. Blackjack players remember the times bad plays have wounded their bankrolls, but it barely even registers when a bad play has led to a dealer bust.

Bad plays by others help you as often as they hurt you. If you can accept that and stay calm in the face of short-term adversity, you'll be the better for it. But if the mistakes bother you to the point you're losing concentration and composure, it's time to change tables. Don't snap at bad players. It's their right to play their own cards, and the times their mistakes help or hurt you balance out.

What are the best games to play?

That depends on what you want out of the game. If you're looking for the entertainment value of a video slot, then that's the best game for you. If you crave the excitement and camaraderie of winning and losing together, then craps is your game.

But if you're looking for the lowest house edge, the games that give you the best chance to win, you can narrow it to a few games: Blackjack, provided you take time to learn basic strategy. Craps, if you stick to pass/don't pass, come/don't come, free odds and place bets on 6 or 8, while ignoring the propositions with higher house edges. Video poker, if you study pay tables and strategies and stick to the best games. Baccarat, provided you skip the tie bet and just wager on banker or player.

How do I win?

By being in the right place at the right time, mostly.

There are a few games in which players can get a mathematical edge: Blackjack, if you learn to count cards and are properly disciplined and bankrolled. Video poker, on a very small minority of games with high enough pay tables. Craps, if you're skilled at dice control. Poker, if you're better than the opposition.

But against most of us, the house has a mathematical edge. That edge is narrow enough that you can have winning sessions at every game, but the majority of the time, the house is going to win and you're going to pay for your day's entertainment.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at http://1059freefm.com.

Recent Articles
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:

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.