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Ask the Wizard #17

I know. I know: Casino War is mindless game. However at Casino Niagara the rules are somewhat different. When there is a tie and you go to war, you place a second wager of equal value to the first and if you win the war you are paid 2-1. If you tie with the dealer after the second cards are dealt you win 3-1. I think these rules reduce the house edge by a good margin. Am I right?

Tibby from St. Catharines, Canada

Thanks for pointing out this variation to me. They use different semantics to explain casino war at the Casino Niagara. What they fail to mention is that the original wager always loses if in the event of a tie.

What is really going on is they pay two times the Ante for a win after a tie, and three times the ante for a tie after a tie. The usual rules still pay two times the ante for a tie after a tie. This rule change decreases the house edge from 2.88% to 2.33%.

I have a thick, and I mean thick, friend who is intoxicated with having won a fair amount betting Player only in baccarat. He plays $10 units and does the dumb play that 9 straight Banker wins won't happen. He escalates to a risk of $3,980 by going 10 10 30 60 120 250 500 1000 2000. How can I find solid mathematical evidence to try to convince him to stop?


This is a close variation of the Martingale betting system, in which the player doubles after every loss. Usually, the Martingale player will win but occasionally he will have more consecutive losses than he can handle and suffer a major loss. Assuming your friend is betting on the player, the probability that any given bet will begin a streak of nine losses in a row is (2153464/(2153464+2212744))9 =~ .001727, or 1 in 579, assuming ties are ignored. There is more information available about the folly of the Martingale in my section on betting systems. However, the more ridiculous a belief is the more tenaciously it tends to be held. It usually takes a big loss to possibly convince a believer in any particular betting systems to stop.

When calculating the house edge in blackjack, do you include pushes as you do in baccarat?

Erica from Los Angeles, California

Yes. I always include pushes in the house edge. The only exception is certain craps bets that usually result in a push, namely the place, buy, lay, and hard ways, that tend to remain up until resolved. For those bets, I define the house edge as the expected loss per bet resolved.

What is the best site to play free online blackjack?

Heather from Alma

Bovada has lots of games you can play for fun, including blackjack. No account required, just one click and you're in. Just go to the Instant Play casino and then then click "practice" for blackjack.

I see that the odds you've published for single-deck blackjack are in favor of the player. Does this mean that if I play over and over again I have better odds than the house?


It is hard to find a blackjack game where the basic strategy player has an edge over the house. The player edge in single-deck blackjack on my site is based on otherwise multiple deck rules, which rarely exist in single deck. I organized the table this way to illustrate the effect of the number of decks. Unified Gaming offers the best blackjack game for the basic strategy player I have ever seen is offered anywhere. For a list visit my online casino index. If you do play a game with a negative house edge then, yes, that does mean you will have better odds than the house, assuming you play the basic strategy.

Thank you for you website, it answered a lot of questions. For online casinos that are downloaded, are the games played from the server or on your personal computer. The reason I ask is that you suspect some casinos of cheating. So does the downloadable games protect you from cheating because the game is played off your computer. Specifically, in roulette for example, the number that pops up, is it determined by the online server or the downloaded program on your computer? And if there are cheats, do you suspect that the programs were written to cheat or are there live people regulating your play?

Tom from Los Angeles, California

No, when you download software you are still playing a game based on a server elsewhere. The day may come when people can play on their own computers but casinos would have to worry about you cheating. Whether downloadable or Java, the number that pops up in roulette is determined by a remote server. The software on your end just presents the graphics and establishes communication with the online casino's server.

Unfortunately, casino cheating does happen. I keep a list of some incidents I suspect in my blacklist.

Great Site! Clearly the Wizard rules! I am an avid fan of playing some of the free online casino games. My current favorite is "quick draw" poker with a growing jackpot on

First, could you recommend the best strategy for this game? If you assess the rules, players are allowed 17 hands, and may bet 0, 1, 2, 5, and 10 points a hand. The object is to increase your original point value of 150 to 500 in the 17 hands. Second, could you recommend other free sites, and the best strategies?

Phil from Goleta, California

I see from your e-mail address you are with U.C. Santa Barbara. That is where I went to college. BA in mathematics/economics, class of ’88. For a fellow Gaucho, I spent about an hour playing this game, to hopefully help you out. I got up to 426 points one round. For the benefit of other readers the game in question has 17 rounds of jacks-or-better video poker, with a much different pay table than found in the casinos. Most notably a high pair pays 2:1 and two pair pays 4:1.

With the generous pay table of this game, the player should bet the maximum unless the cards are total garbage. With garbage, the expected return is about 0.7X money bet. With a single high card, the return is 0.94X money bet. With a low pair, the return is 1.53X money bet. Betting the maximum on a single high card may sound like a bad bet but in this game you need to be aggressive. Towards the end, the player should bet the maximum, even on garbage, because a long shot is the only hope to get 500. I would not sacrifice pairs for 4 to a straight or flush. It will likely take getting a 4 of a kind at some point to get the 500.

Here in Natchez we have a river boat casino that allows the Royal Match (version 1) with blackjack, using six decks. They also have an added bonus that if the player and dealer both get a royal match on the same hand, then the player is paid an additional $1,000. How does this affect the house edge?

Robert from Natchez, Mississippi

This $1000 bonus lowers the house edge from 6.67% to 6.00%, assuming a $1 bet.

Using your basic strategy for Cryptologic, what is the probability of winning five units before losing 20. If I played everyday for a year, getting out after winning five units or losing 20 units, what can I expect my net to be?

Bert from Richmond, Virginia

There was a similar question asked in the June 15 column, which I worked out in detail. However, briefly, I estimate the answer to be about 78%. Over a year, you could expect to lose 0.52% (the house edge) of the total initial bets.