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# Selective memory

22 June 2014

QUESTION: THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS! I go to the casino, and play the penny slots. Within the first 10 minutes, I hit something good, maybe two or three bonus rounds real fast, and I find myself ahead \$20 or \$30.

Then I start losing, so I change machines. I lose some more there, and then go to another machine and keep losing. Before I know it, I’m back to even, then below, and before I know it I’ve lost \$60 or \$80.

Why does this happen? Do they try to sucker me in by letting me win right away? If they are, I guess it’s working.

ANSWER: If you go to casinos very often, I suspect there’s some selective memory at work. We humans are good at that, trying to see patterns and having incidents that seem to fit those patterns stick in our minds.

Try writing down your result on each machine each time you play. If you have a record of multiple casino visits, I expect you’ll find that what you think always happens only happens sometimes.

The random number generator that determines what you see on the reels or screen doesn’t know who is playing. It doesn’t know if you’re in your first 10 minutes of play, if you’ve been there for an hour or if you’ve been there for a week.

You are as likely to win in the first 10 minutes as at any other point in your casino visit, and you are as likely to lose in the first 10 minutes as at any other point. The losses are more frequent than the wins, of course.

If you feel like you’re being suckered into spending more money than you’d like, then set limits for yourself. If as a penny slot player you came prepared to lose up to \$60 for your day’s entertainment and find yourself ahead \$30, them move your limits up. You could set your maximum loss at \$60 from that point, or \$30 overall. You could even decide you’re going to leave with a profit, and not sink back below break-even, no matter what.

No matter how large or small your win, you can make a decision to set limits on the amount you’re willing to risk from that point on.

QUESTION: My brother-in-law told me that with all the changes to blackjack, you’re actually better off playing baccarat now. Is that true?

ANSWER: On a house-edge basis, that depends on both the specific rules of the blackjack game and the skill of the blackjack player.

Baccarat is a no-skill game of chance. The house edge is 1.06 percent if you bet on banker and 1.24 percent if you bet on player. Both are among the best bets in the house, but don’t be tempted to bet on ties. The house edge is a whopping 14.4 percent.

Banker and player bets both offer a lower house edge than blackjack games that pay only 6-5 on blackjacks instead of the traditional 3-2. That rule alone adds 1.4 percent to the house edge, and moves blackjack to my personal “unplayable” file. I will not play a game that pays 6-5 on blackjacks, and I strongly urge that you skip such games, too.

But if blackjacks pay 3-2, then you’re almost always getting a better deal on blackjack than baccarat if you know basic strategy. The most common negative rules change in modern blackjack is that most tables now have the dealer hit soft 17 instead of standing on all 17s. That costs the player about 0.2 percent.

In a six-deck game in which you’re permitted to double down on any first two cards, may double down after splitting pairs, may split Aces only once but may resplit other pairs up to three times to make a total of four hands, the house edge against a basic strategy player is 0.40 percent if the dealer stands on all 17s, and 0.62 percent if the dealer hits soft 17.

Both figures are below the house edges on baccarat. Even in the weaker, hit soft 17 version, you’re getting a better deal on blackjack.

However, average players who are fuzzy on basic strategy face house edges closer to 2 percent. They’d get a lower house edge on baccarat. That doesn’t mean they should change games. It’s up to them to decide if the lower house edge is worth giving up the fun and intrigue of a game where their strategy decisions matter.
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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.