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Ask the Wizard #183

In New York state they have Video Lottery Terminals (VLT’s) at off-track betting spots. You hear the term a machine is approaching it’s "Set Point" when a VP machine gets "hot" and deals winning hand after winning hand. This would explain why the same machine pays on one day and doesn’t want to know you on other days. Also, most of these machines will not allow you to lose a winning dealt hand. Throw it away and it will return the equivalent hand or better. What are your thoughts on this subject?

Tom from Buffalo, NY

VLT’s are glorified pull-tab games. There is a predetermined pool of outcomes. When you play, the game picks an outcome from the pool at random, and displays the win to the player in the form of a slot machine or video poker game. Since the outcome is predestined, any element of skill is imaginary. For example, if you are dealt a royal flush and throw it away, you’ll get another one on the draw. Usually I say that in gambling the past doesn’t matter, but in this case there is an effect of removal. If you play one time and lose, then it will marginally improve the odds of the remaining game outcomes, until the supply of virtual pull-tabs is exhausted, and I presume the virtual drum is refilled. I believe that your hot and cold swings are just normal luck, and any predestination is imagined.

A reader later added the following to this topic.

I have a comment on your February 14 "Ask the Wizard" column (No. 183). It’s doesn’t really have anything to do with the question you answered. It’s just something you might find interesting.

Prior to the passing of Proposition 1A, that allowed to have full class 3 gaming, we had a small installation of VLT style for a couple of years. In our system, which was run by SDG (now part of Bally), the prize pool started with 4 million draws. When the pool was reduced and 2 million remained, the next pool of 4 million was added for a total pool of 6 million draws. When the pool was reduced to 2 million again, the process repeated.

I’m a novice card-counter. The simplicity of your Ace-Five counting system appeals to me and I’ve played a few shoes online with some success using the system. Is it possible to combine the Ace-Five system with some form of penetration adjustment. E.g., if the count is positive and there is only two decks left (of six) then increase the bet more than is normally provided for under the Ace-Five system? Or is this just likely to draw more attention from the pit if they are looking for card counters?

Adam from Toronto

I wanted to keep the ace-five count as simple as possible, so I didn’t want to mention a true-count conversion. However, you may make one yourself if you wish. Just divide the running count by the number of decks remaining. You don’t need to be perfect in either the deck estimation or the math; a rough guess will be fine. The greater the true count, the more you should bet.

What is the best way to make money at craps consistently?

Tibor from Bradenton

Own the casino dealing the game.

According to standard BJ rules and perfect basic strategy, how many percent of my DOUBLED DOWN hands should I expect to win, push and lose?

Cameron from Melbourne, Australia

Assuming liberal Vegas Strip rules (six decks, dealer stands on soft 17, double after split allowed, late surrender allowed, resplitting aces allowed) the following are the probabilities of each possible outcome when doubling on the initial two cards. This does not include doubling after splitting.

  • Win: 54.99%
  • Lose: 38.06%
  • Draw: 6.95%
  • I had a question that happened in my home tournament game the other night. The middle stack went all in and the short stack called. The short stack flipped over pocket aces, as we were chipping up the all in. The middle stack said you have me beat and tried to muck his hand. He slid them over to the dealer to be folded. Is a player allowed to fold his hand at that point if he chooses to muck? Another player in the hand said he could not fold so we ran out the hand. He caught a runner to hit a flush, however I considered the hand to be over since he verbally said I am beat and slid his cards to the dealer face down. I believe if his cards touched the muck pile they are dead, but is he allowed to fold at that point by choice. The middle stack was not that experienced and figured he was beat. I would greatly appreciate it if you could clear this up for us.

    Chad from Charlotte

    For the fine points of poker rules, I turned to my friend Jason for this one. Here is what he said, "This is very interesting. Anytime two cards hit the muck, the hand is dead without exception. However, since this was an all-in situation, this should not have happened. Any time someone is all-in in a tournament, all hands must be turned face up. If two of the players aren’t all-in, then play continues without all hands being exposed. My ruling would be the hand is dead, since he did muck his cards. Why he would do that is beyond me! Hope this helps a little."

    I’ve played a lot of Blackjack over the years but have never struck anything like the situation I experienced on the weekend. Playing $25 a hand I lost 19 hands in a row with no pushes. One of the hands was a double down, so effectively I lost 20 x $25 bets in a row. I was playing strict Basic Strategy for New Zealand conditions (not counting, CSM in use). Have you ever heard of such a horror streak? I was ahead about $300 when the sky fell in but stuck to the strategy and eventually left the session $200 ahead and very relieved. My calculations estimate the probability of 19 straight losses as 1 chance in about 207,000; you may well correct me on this. I play to a betting progression system, purely for discipline/money management purposes which has me betting 1 unit after every loss. Had I done anything differently, I would have been cleaned out well before the 19 hands came up.

    Ken from Auckland, New Zealand

    From my blackjack appendix 4 we see the following probabilities for each initial hand.

    • Win 42.43%
    • Lose 49.09%
    • Draw 8.48%

    So the probability of going exactly 19 losses in a row is 0.4909^19*(1-0.4909) = 1 in 1,459,921. By way of comparison, the probability of being dealt a royal flush in video poker is 1 in 649,740, or 2.25 times as likely. Avid video poker players have been known to receive several dealt royals, so if you play a lot of blackjack you’ll likely hit such a losing streak eventually.

    In the game of Chinese poker, four players are dealt 13 cards each. What are the chances that one player is dealt the Dragon (a hand with no pairs)?

    Costa from Ottowa, Canada

    The probability that any given player will have a dragon is 413/combin(52,13) = 0.000106. The probability that exactly one player is dealt a Dragon could be closely approximated as 4*0.000106*(1-0.000106)3 = 0.000424, or 1 in 2,359.

    I am a crap dealer in a casino that offers the fire bet (pay table A, 20.83% edge). The limits on the fire bet are $1-$5 (for players and dealers), but the dealers are limited to $1000 payout. What does that do to the house edge?

    Donald from Las Vegas

    That is very tight to limit the dealers like that. On a $2 bet the house edge goes up to 29.02%, and a $5 bet it is 41.94%.

    You say there’s no winning system in roulette. Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo and his family won a lot of money in many casinos all over the world. They even published a book, and describe how they did it. What’s your opinion?

    Jose from Spain

    I saw a television show about him once, and I applaud what he did. What I define as a “system” is a betting pattern, such as the Martingale, applied to a game with a house advantage, such as a fair roulette game. What Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo successfully did was survey how often the ball landed in each number, in an effort to find, and then exploit, biased roulette wheels. This I would call a strategy, as opposed to a system. There are lots of profitable strategies for beating the casinos, but zero profitable betting systems.