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Ask the Wizard #181

Three Card Poker toking: If a player tokes on the ANTE bet, but does not toke on the dealer’s play bet, then the toke bet is technically "surrendered," - just as if the player had refused to make his own PLAY bet to play out the hand, technically. However, most dealers ignore the absence of a matching PLAY dealer’s bet, and are loath to petition a generous player for fear of appearing selfish, so just pay the ANTE dealer’s bet. Of course, the PLAYER must ALWAYS make a PLAY bet to match his ANTE bet if he wants to play out his Three Card Poker hand. Is there an unfair dealer’s toke edge to this practice, or is it similar to surrendering after double down for less? I think it’s unimportant, as since the player’s hand is active, then the toke is active, and the risk versus reward are simply cut in half for both the dealer and the house, - no harm done. The Wizard’s view would be GREATLY appreciated by this dealer.

Dan from Las Vegas

You’re right. If the player makes an ante bet for the dealer then he doesn’t seem required to match it with a raise bet if he raises his own bet. The optimal strategy on the tip is to raise with K/Q/10 or better. To keep it simple, this is almost the same as ace high. Anything less and the raise portion of the tip is a bad bet. Following this strategy will result in an advantage of 26.09% on the combined tip bets.

Hi, Wizard. Here’s a fun question for you. There’s been something I’ve wondered about (long before it was quasi-depicted on an episode of "Heros"). If you were given the ability to stop time once (and only once), during which you had several minutes to yourself and the ability to manipulate objects (such as a deck of cards, roulette wheel, etc.), what game would you play? Assume you have a moderate sized bankroll, and can get away with nigh-impossible odds, but not flagrant cheating.

Lorne from Richmond Hill

Those ideas sound like flagrant cheating. However, putting ethical issues aside, I would find a game of Caribbean Stud Poker with a high progressive jackpot. Then I would arrange the cards to give myself a royal flush and the dealer a qualifying hand. After resuming time make the $1 side bet and the maximum ante bet.

My all time favorite slot game is Spin 2 million at LV Grand, Monaco Gold and Club Dice Casinos. They no longer service US customers. Do you know any other Casino that has that game?

Kathy S. from Pueblo

I’m afraid that 100% of casinos using Playtech software are closed to U.S. players.

I’ve found an online video poker game with a ridiculous payout structure. What are some good (simple yet reliable) hypotheses to test to find out if the game is unfair?

Jon from Knoxville

First play optimal strategy using software such as Winpoker, Video Poker for Winners, or Frugal Video Poker. Then keep track of how much you get each hand compared to expectations, which both programs can calculate. Finally do a chi-squared test of the results. If you need help with the last step you can send your results to me, as long as you have a sample size of at least 300 hands.

First off, my apologies if you consider this a basic math question. I’m a dealer at a Northern Ontario casino, and last night (for the dealer) drew a 12-card 17 (A-A-A-A-A-A-6-A-A-A-A-A). We use six decks. Neither my player or I had ever seen this before. What are the odds of this?

Timothy Rowland from Orilila

Wow! The probability of this is (combin(24,6)/combin(312,6)) * (24/306) * (combin(18,5)/combin(305,5)) = 1 in 287,209,346,813,617.

Hi Wizard, always love your columns and miss those personals. I have a question about a blackjack variation. The following is the "on fire" blackjack rule from an online casino I have recently played at.

In order to be "On Fire" you must win three hands in a row. You will notice the On Fire gauge at the bottom of the game screen. When this gauge fills up, you will be on fire. Once you have accomplished this, all winning blackjack hands pay you at 2-1 odds instead of 3-2 odds, dramatically increasing your potential pay out. However, if you are on fire and you lose a hand, you lose your current on fire status and must go back and try to win three hands in a row. Pushed hands do not affect your On Fire status.

How much does this lower the house edge? Would it be +EV if you raised your stakes every time you were On Fire? Would love to hear your thoughts. The casino is jonwoodgaming.com, by the way. Thanks

Mick from Port Kembla

My blackjack appendix 4 shows the probability of a net win, loss, and draw in blackjack are 40.59%, 42.69%, and 12.44% respectively, assuming Atlantic City rules. The probability of a win, not counting ties is 40.59%/(40.59%+46.97%) = 46.36%. The probability of three consecutive wins, skipping ties, is 0.46363 = 9.96%. Assuming six decks, blackjack paying 2 to 1 is worth an extra 0.02267. So this gives the player 0.0996*0.02267 = 0.002258. The house edge is usually higher than that, but it is a nice reduction. All this assumes you are flat betting. If you could bet more on the "on fire" hands you could destroy them with a house edge of 1.5% to 2.0%, depending on the specific rules.

Are there any other basic strategy changes that have a meaningful impact to expected return at various counts?

Dan from Las Vegas

At some count you should start to accept insurance. However, the point of the ace/five is to be simple. If you’re willing to memorize index numbers you should learn a more robust count strategy, like the plus/minus.

I've been to Vegas six times in the past year, and each time I go I find it more difficult to find a "full pay" Jacks or Better machine. In fact, this last visit, I couldn't find any! Are full pay machines a thing of the past, or do the casinos just rotate machines?

John G. from Bellingham, WA

9/6 Jacks or Better can still be found at most casinos, although often limited to the high limit room. I suggest VP Free 2 for the latest video poker offerings.