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Deal Me In: Give those machines a more thorough physical

3 October 2008

Dear Mark: As a video poker player, if finding a 9/6 machine is not too tough, finding one that pays 2 coins (for each coin bet) on two pair is even tougher. Most machines look like 9/6 but 1 coin returned for two pairs. When the "best" machine in the casino is a 9/6/1, is there a better advantage to playing the 8/5/2 version? Dan R.

First, Dan, do you mind if I ask you question? Are you sure the machines you speak of didn't pay a bonus on some of the four-of-a-kinds? I have to ask because your question omits vital information, notably the rest of the pay table.

A standard Jacks or Better full-pay machine typically returns 9-for-1 on a full house, and 6-for-1 for a flush. The full-versus-partial equation changes when the machine only pays 1-for-1 for two pairs. Most likely, you were playing on some hybrid Bonus Poker machine, where the payoff bonus for four-of-a-kind is reduced to 1-for-1.

But even if the pay table states four aces pay 80-for-1; four 2s, 3s or 4s 40-for-1; four 5s through kings 25-for-1, you could be giving the house an extra 5-plus percent on your play. Reducing the return on two-pair hands penalizes the player too far, even with the increased payoffs on four-of-a kinds.

Now it's time to scare the bejesus out of you. Let's say there is no bonus for four-of-a-kinds. Assuming that the other paybacks on this machine are the same as 9/6 Jacks, these machines dribble back only a bankroll-busting 86.7%.

My recommendation is to keep looking for that full-pay 9/6 machine where you are paid 2-for-1 for two pair. If you can find it, you're getting a return of approximately 99.5%. Otherwise, your next best choice is to play the 8/5 machines that do pay 2 for two pair. They pay back about 97%.

Dear Mark: An interesting situation happened on a blackjack game that I hope you can help me out with. I'm playing two hands of blackjack at \$20 a hand and I receive a 13 on one (6 and a 7) and a jack and queen for a 20 on the other. I toss \$10 in front of both of my bets for insurance. Because it wasn't directly in front of either, the dealer asks me which bet I wanted to insure. Am I wrong in believing that obviously it was the 20 and the dealer should have known that, or did he know something I don't know? Ron L.

He may or may not have known, that it really doesn't make any difference whether you insure the 13 or the 20. Insuring a 13 is every bit as poor a wager as is insuring a 20. Both, Ron, are sucker bets.

But if you want to get really technical, insuring the 20 is actually the worse play, since you are holding at least two of the cards the dealer needs to make blackjack. Insuring a hand composed of two 10 cards, even on the most liberal single-deck game, gives the house a 14.3% edge, making this one of the worst bets in the casino.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "One thing that a loser has that a winner doesn't have: lots of room for improvement." --VP Pappy

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Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.