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# Hitting soft 17 and the Fortune bonus

5 April 2018

QUESTION. I can't bring myself to double down on soft 17. Basic strategy cards tell me to double when the dealer shows 3, 4, 5 or 6. I can't pull the trigger. It just feels right to me to stand on 17.

How much am I costing myself?

ANSWER: Seventeen is not as strong a starting hand as some players think it is. It's a winning hand only if the dealer busts. If the dealer makes a standing hand, your 17 pushes a dealer 17 or loses to a dealer 18 through 21.

As for the specifics of soft doubling, let's look at average results in a six-deck game in which dealer hits soft 17 and you start with A-6.

• Dealer up card is 3: If you double down, your average profit is 5.7 cents per \$1 of your original bet. If you hit, the profit is 2.9 cents. But if you stand, the hand is negative, with an average loss of 11.6 cents per \$1.

• Dealer up card is 4: Double down, 12.3-cent average profit; hit, 6.2-cent profit; stand, 7.6-cent loss.

• Dealer up card is 5: Double down, 19.7-cent average profit; hit, 9.9-cent profit; stand, 3.8-cent loss.

• Dealer up card is 6: Double down, 25.2-cent average profit; hit, 12.6-cent profit; stand, 0.5-cent loss.

As the dealer up card increases in value, your average profit per \$1 in original wager increases if you double or hit, and your average loss decreases if you stand. But in each case, you have the edge if you hit or double and you give an edge to the house if you stand.

You didn't mention non-doubling hands, but you are better off hitting than standing if the dealer has a 2, or 7 or higher. It's never to your advantage to stand on soft 17.

QUESTION: I was playing pai gow poker, and there were two tables. I was the third player at one table, and the other table had four players.

The dealer was friendly and talkative, but one thing he said puzzled me. He said, "You'd all be better off if you combined tables and all played together. The odds are better."

Is that really a thing?

ANSWER. The number of players at the table do not change the odds in pai gow poker. However, if the Fortune side bet is offered, the house edge is reduced if more players make it.

That's because Fortune Pai Gow carries an envy bonus. Only those who bet \$5 or more on the Fortune side bet are eligible to collect. Those players collect a bonus if another player making the bet has four of a kind or better. On one pay table, four of a kind brings a \$5 envy bonus to a \$5 bettor, with envy payoffs rising to \$20 for a straight flush, \$50 for a royal, \$250 for five aces, \$500 for a seven-card straight flush including a joker, \$1,000 on a five-card royal flush accompanied by a suited K-Q and \$3,000 for a seven-card straight flush with no joker.

At that pay table, Michael Shackleford at wizardofodds.com calculates the overall house edge on the Fortune bet decreases by 0.92% for each additional player making the bet.

The house edge on the Fortune bet is high. On the most common pay table, it starts at 8.7% if only one player is making the bet. Even if everyone at a seven-player table makes the bet, the house edge is still too high for my taste.

But yes, the house edge on that side bet decreases if more people are playing, but no, the house edge on the main game does not also decrease.
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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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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.