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Ask the Wizard #111

I have been using your simplified strategy for jacks-or-better video poker, and I wondered if you also had a super-simplified strategy for blackjack as well for those of us who don’t play often enough to make memorization of the full chart worthwhile.

"Anonymous" .

Yes! Here it is:

  1. Stand on hard 12-16 against dealer 2-6
  2. Double on 10,11 against dealer 2-9
  3. Always split eights, nines, and aces
  4. Stand on soft 18 or more
  5. Stand on hard 17 or more
  6. If rules 1-5 do not apply then hit
  7. Never take insurance

If played on a game with six decks and the dealer stands on a soft 17 the house edge using this strategy is 0.93%. The correct basic strategy will get you down to 0.41%.

What are the pros and cons of burning a card on a blackjack shoe game, when a new dealer taps onto the table?

"Anonymous" .

Unless you are counting cards it doesn’t make any difference. If you are counting cards then it is like decreasing the penetration by one card.

How does this work:

"Anonymous" .

Let’s express your number as 10t+u. You are asked to subtract each digit, leaving you with 10t+u-t-u = 9t, a number divisible by 9. Note how all the numbers divisible by 9 have the same item, which is the one the genie predicts.

In four-card poker, which is more likely a straight or a flush?

"Anonymous" .

Not counting straight flushes and royal flushes the probability of a straight is 1.02% and of a flush is 1.04%. So a flush is slightly more likely.

Love your site! I enjoy casino gambling but generally can only afford a small bankroll (less than $100 per session). What game would you recommend to maximize the life of my bankroll and chances for a winning session?

"Anonymous" .

Thanks. Considering both odds of winning and bankroll preservation I think the choice comes down to blackjack (which favors winning) and pai gow poker (which favors bankroll preservation). If you can find a $5 table in either game I would go with blackjack. If the minimums are $10 then I would go with pai gow poker.

How does the RNG logic interact with the "hold %"? I believe that most machine are set to hold X% and that over time that number will be reached. It would seem that that "hold" number must have some influence on the odds a machine will pay or not. I realize that a newly installed machine that has never been played can hit the royal on the first play, however, it is my belief that over time, the hold % will met by that machine. I have also heard the term "cycle". I slot tech at a casino told me that a machine was on a 365-day cycle. What does that mean?

"Anonymous" .

First lets clear up what the term "hold" means. For purposes of electronic games it is the theoretical return the game is set to. In both video poker and slots each play is random and independent of all past plays. The laws of mathematics dictate that even with independent trials the as the sample size gets larger the actual return will tend to get closer to the theoretical mean, or the hold. So contrary to popular belief a machine never goes hot or cold to get back in balance. Never mind the term "cycle." It is a poorly named industry term for the number of possible outcomes of the random number generators inside the machine. Unfortunately the term has trickled down only to confuse low level employees and players alike. Contrary to popular myth there are no cycles and again each play is equally random and independent of all other plays.

Do you have any new TV appearances soon? I seem to recall something about a blackjack team, so I’m wondering if it is next week’s show. (As an aside, American Casino on TLC is much much better than The Casino on Fox! Gambling and T&A don’t mix, in my book).

"Anonymous" .

Yes, I’m going to be on an upcoming episode of The Casino. I do not know the air date. In the show I serve as an advisor to some college students on how to parlay $1000 into $5000. About American Casino, I agree, it is a better show.

In general, how much time do you actually spend in casinos? Of that, watching/observing (as in your recently disclosed craps experiment) versus playing?

"Anonymous" .

It varies a lot but not very much to be honest with you. Some weeks I spend a lot and others none at all. However if forced to give an average I’ll say 2 hours a week. About 90% of that is actually playing. Rarely do I just observe. In fact for the dice setting experiment I was betting too, hoping the dice setters would win me some money.

Since you seem to be driven by house advantage, do you actually play for fun anywhere (whether floor games, machines or poker), or do you only do blackjack counting and/or video poker with progressives over a target amount? Or do you not actually play at all? I think a lot of your "readers" would be interested in that, but you may not want your hosts to know!

"Anonymous" .

The only time I might play for fun is if I am entertaining somebody visiting Vegas and am just out gambling with them. Otherwise I always look for an edge. I also play new games sometimes just to ensure that I understand the rules correctly. I don’t want to give away all my secrets but card counting and positive expectation video poker are definitely two games in my bag of tricks.

Any advice to us folks in Connecticut, with the absolute worst video poker machines in the world? Is there an accepted way to pressure a casino to improve their selection when the market doesn’t necessarily require it?

"Anonymous" .

That is what happens in an environment with almost no competition. Asking the casino for better machines won’t help. If players will play games with lousy pay tables why should they change anything? Your only hope is to write to the lawmakers in Connecticut and ask them to end the two-casino monopoly on gaming in that state and allow others to compete.