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Ask the Wizard #142

I’m happy to see that you’re once again taking questions on your site. Being a math teacher, I especially love how me must pass the gauntlet of solving a basic, two-step algebra problem. My question pertains to the bonus rounds that are extremely prevalent in many of today’s slot machines. Are the bonus round winnings already pre-determined, even before I enter the new screen, or do my choices really affect my amount of winnings? On a game like Price is Right, for example, I seem to always win the lower of the two prizes in the bonus round. When it comes down to picking one of the two remaining tags, I always seem to pick the one giving me the less favorable outcome. Am I just continuously unlucky or does the machine already know that I will get the lower result before I even pick? Thanks so much. Keep up the great work!

Ara from Fresno

Thanks for the kind words. I always enjoy hearing from high school math teachers out there because I almost became one myself. Based on seeing par sheets and speaking to industry insiders I can confidently say that if the alternative choices are shown at the conclusion of a bonus round then the game is honest about them. In other words the prizes were randomly determined and what you see at the end is truly how they were hidden. However in games where the alternative choices are not shown the odds are likely similar to a prize wheel, with lower probabilities for the higher wins. I played Price is Right enough to see the Showcase Showdown twice. As you said, the values behind the price tags are revealed at the end. So I maintain that the game is indeed truthful and speculate that you have just been unlucky.

Hi - long time reader here. Anyway, a couple of us were talking about heading over to Vegas for New Years. Any tips, insights and whatevers about being there as a gambler/partier (I know, never be both simultaneously) would be appreciated.

Harry from Houston

In my opinion New Years in Vegas is overrated. If you want to welcome the new-year standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people on the Strip then you will succeed. However inside the casinos about the only difference is people wear silly hats. We locals tend to go nowhere near the Strip on December 31. I’m not an expert on the party scene but I suspect you can find that any time.

I saw someone offer 2-1 against a player picking 57% over 100 games against the spread. While I think 57% is a tough number, given the small sample size I think this might be a good bet. My question is this - if a better was a 50% lifetime picker, ignoring vig and ties, (i.e. coin toss situation) would this be a good bet? If not what overall percentage would one have to make this a good deal for the picker?

Aaron from Tulsa

For the 2 to 1 bets, the largest sample size in which this is a good bet is 14 games. Picking randomly you would have a 39.5264% chance of picking 57% or better, or 8 or more right. You need to have better than a 33.3333% probability for it to be a good bet. 21 is close to fair, but the probability is slightly too small at 33.1812%. The larger the number of picks required the lower the required percentage should be. For example, if 1000 picks were required the greatest number required to have more than a 1/3 chance of winning would be 507. The probability of getting 507 or more right in 1000 picks is 34.05%.

Sometimes the dealer exposes his hole card in blackjack. What is the correct basic strategy when that happens?

"Anonymous" .

Stanford Wong gives such a basic strategy in his book Basic Blackjack, see table 46. He also said that in 1995 the Bourbon Street casino in Vegas had a promotion in which every 50 minutes the dealer would expose both his cards for five hands. The player advantage during those was about 10%, according to Wong.

I am a long time football fan and gambler. I am very interested in your numerical model for football and am trying to make my own model since I already know I can't win betting football on my knowledge alone (I have tried). So I figured to give a statistical approach a try. I am using the statistical program SPSS. My question to you is what variables are you using in your model?

Brett from Matawan, New Jersey

The only things that go into the model are scores and home field advantage. Sometimes I seek outside opinions on major injuries, such as Ben Roethlisberger in week 6, or New Orleans playing home games in San Antonio.

I was looking at your video poker section and reviewed the "Full Pay" Deuces Wild game with a return of 100.76% using optimum strategy. However, listed below is the "Sevens Wild" game from RTG which I have played at Inet-Bet and Bodog. This pay table is identical to the "Full Pay" Deuces Wild except for the Straight Flush which actually pays 10 for 1 instead of 9 for 1. Shouldn’t this give an expected return greater than 100.76%, and not the 99.11% listed below? Do you know if I am missing something here?

Ken from Tallahassee, Florida

The reason the deuces wild game pays more is because a deuce is not normally as valuable as a seven. This is because there are more ways of making straights and straight flushes around a seven. So making deuces wild is a bigger change than making sevens wild. As I show in my section on Anything’s Wild under the same pay table making deuces wild has a return of 96.76%, while sevens wild is only 94.13%.

In a Three Card Poker tournament with $1,000 in chips and only 30 hands being dealt, what would be the optimal bet sizes for the Ante and Pair-Plus?

WM from Ventura

Tournament strategy is not my strongest area. However if a flush pays 3, which is usually the case, I would avoid the PairPlus unless you need a miracle in the last few hands. Otherwise the higher house edge and variance will probably grind you down. Stick to the ante bet when you need to make a move.

In craps, after a point is established for a come bet, where should you place the chips on the table to signify you want to bet the odds?


There is no particular place. You have to give the chips to the dealer and tell him to put them on the odds. For example assume you make a come bet and the next roll is a nine. The way I do it is I wait until I get the dealer’s attention, put the bet anywhere he can easily reach it, and say "odds on the nine."

Welcome back Wizard. You are no longer just the Wizard of Odds but from your performance, you are also the Wizard of NFL Picks. I’m only at 51.7% at the casino pool. I have a simple request. Is it possible to list your picks for ALL GAMES each week if it doesn’t take too much of your time?

Jason from Vancouver, Canada

Thanks. You probably sent this before week four, which was a bad week for me. Now, after five weeks my record is 17 and 13, for a 56.7% average, which is good but not great. I think that as a bonus to my newsletter readers I’ll give my thoughts on all the games.

I’ve been dating this girl for about 6 months now. She is beautiful, runs one of the hottest bars in town, is a huge football fan and a great cook. Her family is from Philly and like many from that town, have summer places on the Jersey Shore. Over Labor Day weekend she "dragged" me down there. On several occasions that weekend she would say to me "honey, tomorrow I’m going to spend some time on the beach. Why don’t you go to Atlantic City and play some blackjack or poker". My question to you - what is the probability of this getting any better?

Steve from Boston

It is hard to improve upon that. I’d give it a 10% probability. However I would concentrate on reeling that fish in as opposed to wondering if it will get bigger.