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11 April 2002

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag, with a little shift in focus from our usual games of chance:

Q. On your recommendation, I read Michael Konik's Telling Lies and Getting Paid (\$22.05, Huntington Press). I wasn't disappointed. It's a marvelous, witty book with some terrific stories.

I have one question, though. He wrote a chapter on the odds of playing "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," and he says the proper strategy is for a player who has \$125,000 to go for the \$250,000 answer. As I recall, when you appeared on the show, you did just the opposite, taking the \$125,000 and walking away.

You're always one who's quick with the odds, so I have to ask, is Konik mistaken about the odds, or did you just feel the pressure a bit?

Blackjack Andy, via e-mail

A. It's been a year and a half since I was in the "Millionaire" hot seat, and I'd thought all the curiosity had died months ago. Now, I've had a little flurry of interest, with half a dozen e-mails in the last couple of weeks. Hence, this "Millionaire"-themed mailbag.

Now then, Konik's look at "Millionaire" odds is correct as far as it goes, but there are factors he didn't weigh.

The basic calculation goes like this. If you feel you have a 50-50 chance of answering correctly and elect to go for it, half the time you'll drop to \$32,000, but half the time you'll win \$250,000 and still have the chance to look at the \$500,000 and perhaps the \$1 million questions. That makes your average win at least \$141,000, which beats \$125,000 for just walking away.

If you were in that situation over and over, from here to infinity, then without question the correct play would be to go on. But "Millionaire" doesn't work that way. It's a one-shot deal. Each player must decide if the risk of dropping to \$32,000 outweighs the potential gains. Are there home improvements to be made, college funds to set up, dreams to be fulfilled that can be done with \$125,000 but not with \$32,000? Will the jump from \$32,000 to \$125,000 make a larger lifestyle difference than the jump from \$125,000 to \$250,000 would?

Without being more certain of the answer, I think it would have made it foolish for me to risk \$93,000.

Q. A fellow contestant on your "Millionaire" show, Rick Rosner, apparently has made a career out of complaining about his treatment on the show. Recently, I saw a documentary by filmmaker Errol Morris about Rosner. He told his life story, with considerable detail about his "Millionaire" appearances.

I recall that in your article you described how torturous it was for you to watch Rosner trying to answer the question about the highest world capital, which he eventually missed. As you may recall, his choices were Mexico City, Bogota, Quito, and Kathmandu. He tried Kathmandu, but their answer was Quito.

The main premise of his complaint, according to the documentary, is that the "right" answer, La Paz, was not one of the choices. My question is: Did he make it apparent, during his deliberations, that he KNEW the "right" answer wasn't there? Did he say anything about La Paz while you were there? I am curious whether he knew about La Paz at the time or found out about it later.

Bart, via e-mail

A. Rosner agonized for a full 20 minutes in the studio-—that was considerably cut down for airing—-but at no time did he mention La Paz or suggest that the correct answer wasn't there.

I don't think he has a leg to stand on in his continuing quest for compensation. The question asked was, "Which of these world capitals is the highest," not "Which is the world's highest capital?"

It's the same principle as if I were to ask you, "Which number is the highest, 1, 2, 3 or 4?" We all know there are higher numbers, but the correct answer to that question is "4."

Q. I was reading an old discussion on the Las Vegas Advisor forum, and I had to ask: When you were on "Millionaire," why didn't you mention your gambling column and books?

Betty, via e-mail

A. Given the opportunity, I would have LOVED to plug my books before a big national audience. We were instructed that we could not bring up our own ventures, but could talk about them if Regis Philbin brought them up. He didn't, so I couldn't. I suspect ABC-TV owner Disney is squeamish about mentioning gambling.

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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.