Ask The Wizard #163

Wizard, what do you think about the new "server based" slot machines currently being tested at Barona Valley Ranch? Apparently this technology allows the casino to instantly change the machines from their back offices - including the games offered, denominations, and.....the payouts! I think this is going a bit far. I mean what’s to stop the house from targeting certain players (like the drunk high roller) and making it tougher for that player to win? We all know the casinos can pretty much keep an eye on any player they want any time. Between the surveillance and now this technology it seems to give the house too much of an edge. Suppose a table player has a heated disagreement with a dealer or pit boss over a hand (which occasionally happens); now this same player goes to the slots and the house can extract revenge by making his machine pay out less??!! Of course they could "favor" certain players too...which could be just as dangerous. I’m all for allowing the games and denominations to be changed, but shouldn’t the regulators be involved when it comes to payout percentages???

Gary from Charlotte, NC

From what I hear anything you can configure at the machine you can configure remotely through the server. This would include the theoretical return percentage. However most casinos report that changing the theoretical return of a slot machine necessitates a lot of paperwork.

Even if it were effortless to move the slot machine return up and down, it strikes me as a conspiracy theory to think the casinos would do that on a player by player basis. Living here in Vegas, I hear all kinds of theories about the lengths the casinos go to in order to win, like pumping in oxygen and playing a subsonic mantra that says "lose lose lose." These are just urban legends. Most casinos correctly believe that if you give the player a good experience and a fair gamble then he will keep coming back. As they say, you can only slaughter a sheep only once, but you can shear it many times. (My webmaster, Michael Bluejay, who is a vegetarian, tried to get me to use this analogy instead: "You can seize all of a sheep’s money only once, but you can force it to take you bowling many times.")

At the Meskwaki in central Iowa they pay 3 to 2 on an ace and 10 after splitting aces in Spanish 21. What is the effect of this rule?

Dave from Cedar Falls, Iowa

That lowers the house edge by 0.16%.

You are in a boat with a rock, on a fresh water lake. You throw the rock into the lake. With respect to the land (shore), does the water level increase, decrease, or stay the same? My co-workers think that the water level will stay the same.


The water level relative to the shore will decrease. Inside the boat the rock is pressing down on the canoe and thus pushing up the water around it. The amount of water displaced is equal in weight to that of the rock. For example, a 10 pound rock will displace 10 pounds of water upward. When the rock is thrown overboard the weight will not matter but rather the volume of the rock. So the rock will push upward an amount of water equal in volume to the rock. The mass of a rock is greater than that of water so the rock displaces more water pushing down on it than in it. So the level of the lake will be higher with the rock in the canoe than at the bottom of the lake.

I have searched high and low to find a governing body of Internet gambling. Is there one?

John G. from Barrie, ON

Short answer, no.

Hi, first of all I woulld like to congratulate you for your great site. Very interesting indeed. I have a question regarding your "optimal" strategy in Deuces Wild. In your appendixes about this game you say that you should keep two suited cards or discard everything depending on what you have to discard. In the example you give in appendix 1 the hand is K, Q, 3♣, 4, 7. In this case everything should be discarded. Now if you get the same hand with an 8d as last card (instead of the 7d),then you should keep the suited Kh and Qh. My question is what difference does it make? Whatever you discard (3c,4d,7 or 3c,4,8) the odds for getting a royal flush (or straight flush or even anything else) seem the same for me. Since you already have two cards for the Royal Flush why not keep them whatever you have to discard?

Alain P. from Paris

Thanks. I’ve answered penalty card questions before but because it is an important concept I’ll do it again. You are right that the expected value keeping the king and queen is the same in both hands. However, the value of tossing everything is a little bit more with the 7d than the 8d. To be exact, if you toss everything with the 7 there are 1,606 ways to make a straight, and with the 8d there are only 1,591. The more spread apart your discards are, the harder it will be to make a straight on the draw. This particular case is very borderline. Those 15 extra ways to make a straight by tossing the 7 pushes the value of tossing everything over that of keeping two to a royal. For the same reason, in a six-deck game of blackjack you double A2 against a 5 but not a 4. The value of doubling is the same in both cases, but the value of hitting is more against the 4, pushing it above the value of doubling.

In Effect of Card Removal in Blackjack you have the effect of removing a 6 less than a 5 or this correct? (i thought 6’s were the best or very close to 5’s for the best for being removed). Thanks

David from Atlantic City, NJ

I think you are confusing card removal with the dealer’s up card. The following table shows the player’s expected value according only to the dealer’s up card, before the dealer checks for blackjack, assuming the dealer stands on soft 17 and infinite decks.

Expected Value by Dealer Up Card

Up Card Expected
2 9.10%
3 12.38%
4 15.85%
5 19.65%
6 23.40%
7 14.40%
8 5.82%
9 -4.06%
10 -17.36%
A -33.78%

So it is indeed true that if you could choose an up card for the dealer it should be a six. While sixes are bad for the dealer they are bad for the player as well. All things considered, if you could remove one card from the shoe you should choose a five.

I have a friend that put $100 into a casino web site. He got a $300 bonus for a total of $400. He had to wager $8,000 to clear the bonus. I have done the math and I know that the casino advantage is not in excess of the bonus and that the player has an advantage up until he clears. He kept going for a week. He is up to over $5,500 in winnings. I have never heard of this. What are the chances? I don’t get it. It seems almost impossible, like winning the lottery. What do you think?

Jeffrey L. from Auburn, Maine

If you’re not afraid of losing, a good way to get out of the wagering requirement is to bet aggressively early, either going for a big win or go bust trying. If you make the big win then grind out required play more conservatively. However, that isn’t what you were asking. The probability of turning $400 into $5,900 ($5,500 in winnings), assuming no house edge, is 400/5,900 = 6.78%. Of course there usually is a house edge but if you’re smart you can keep it very low. So 6.78% would be an upper bound on the probability.

As a craps player I enjoy playing the more player friendly version of crapless found in Tunica. With their version of buy bets the vig is paid only on a winning bet. With that I am wondering on the ev of a $10 3 or 11 paying $29 after vig, or a $10 2 or 12 paying $59 after the vig.

Alex from Englewood, FL

A $10 buy bet on the 3 or 11 would pay $29.50, and on the 2 or 12 it would pay $59.50. The house edge on the 3 or 11 is 1.25%, and on the 2 or 12 it is 0.71%.

I were to play 1000 hands of 10-play poker or 10,000 hands of single-play poker, assuming the same pay tables and denomination, I know the strategy and expected value are the same, but is there any difference in variability?

John L. from Bouldter

Yes. Let’s assume you are playing 9/6 Jacks or Better. The variance per final hand is n*1.966391 + 17.548285, where n is the number of plays. So the variance per hand in 10 play is 10*1.966391 + 17.548285 = 37.2122, and in 1-play is 1*1.966391 + 17.548285 = 19.51468. The variance of 1,000 initial or 10,000 total hands of 10-play is 10,000*37.2122 = 372,122. The variance of 10,000 hands of 1-play is 10,000*19.51468 = 195,149. However, standard deviation is what I think we should be talking about, which is the square root of the variance. The standard deviation of 10,000 hands of 10-play is 372,1220.5 = 610.02. The standard deviation of 10,000 hands of 1-play is 195.1490.5 = 441.75. As long as the total final hands are the same, 10-play will always be 38.1% more volatile, in 9/6 Jacks or Better. For more information visit my section on the standard deviation in n-play video poker.

Be true to yourself and you can't go wrong


I find myself giving the same advice over and over on cheating boyfriend questions. In an effort to quit repeating myself I am going to give some general advice below. After this point I will not answer future questions if I feel the advice below applies.

The foundation of all gambling advice on this site is that when faced with a decision, go with the option that results in the highest expected value. The same advice applies in looking for a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife. Seek out somebody with the highest expected value you can reasonably hope for. How should you measure the expected value of a human being? To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., I think you should look first at the content of his/her character.

I’m often asked about forgiving somebody who was caught cheating. In general I recommend not to. This is an obvious sign that you are dealing with somebody of low moral character. Maybe, if you have otherwise years of happiness and it seems a one-time incident, then forgiveness is optional. But don’t do it twice.

When in doubt about cheating don’t make any accusations without evidence. Questioning about every possible window of opportunity is not likely to result in a confession, and you will only make you look like a distrustful nag if you’re wrong. So when in doubt keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open.

My general advice for all "should I stay or should I go" or "which one should I pick" questions is to do what your BRAIN is telling you to do. That will often be the harder decision to make in the short-run but in the long-run you will waste less time in bad relationships and expose yourself to higher quality candidates.

Another frequent question is on how to break up. My advice is that a break up should be cold and clean. None of this friendship nonsense. If you can still be friends, then why are you breaking up? If there was already a breakup, which you are happy with, but the other party is not letting go, then don’t lead him on or humor him. Tell him to not call, write, or communicate in any way and do not respond if he does anyway.

"Be true to yourself and you can’t go wrong" - Eurythmicser