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Ask the Wizard #27

I disagree with a statement you made regarding random number generation in computers. While it is true that a sequence will appear and repeat after time, it is not true that this is unavoidable. The trick is setting a correct seed. If you are using a UNIX-based architecture, one method is to set the seed to the seconds passed since 1/1/70, which is a constantly updated variable inside the system. Since you are using Visual C++ and J++, they should reset themselves to some random seed each time they are run, but it would be wise to set the seed yourself during the program. I think you would be wise to set the random seed each time a new deck is ’dealt’ to the current time on the machine or something similar. In this way, yes, you will be using the same loop of numbers, but at least you will be picking moderately ’random’ points along the way, so as to not make it a total loop.

Joe B. from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

When using Visual C++, the seed is evidently always the same. If I give the program the same input, then the output will always be the same after a random simulation. It is my understanding that this is what Microsoft intended, so that experiments could be replicated exactly. Visual J++ is evidently different based on my games, otherwise the same hands would occur in the same order every time.

Postscript: Since this writing I have a slower but much better way of calling random numbers. Click here for more information.

I know of a casino in the Seattle area that has six-deck payout odds for the match the dealer bet in Spanish 21 with an eight-deck shoe. I am curious how this effects the house advantage?

Chris from Seattle, Washington

This lowers the house edge from 3.06% to 1.42%.

I believe I remember reading that if there is a group of twenty people in a room the odds of two of them sharing the same birthday is less than 50/50. Is this true?

Ginny from Seattle, Washington

The probability of 20 different people all having different birthdays (ignoring leap day) is (364/365)*(363/365)*(362/365)*...*(346/365) = 58.8562%. So the probability of at least one birthday match is 41.1438%. Also, 23 is the fewest number of people needed for the probability of a match to be greater than 50%.

I play pai gow poker in Atlantic City. Frequently I observe a player playing two hands. My question is: does looking at 14 cards out of 53 give the player any kind of advantage. If so, how much, what kind of change in strategy does entail. Would appreciate any advice.

John from Baltimore, Maryland

Sometimes in pai gow poker the dealer sets aside a dragon which is offered to each player in turn. This is like playing two hands and is likely what you are observing. However, when playing the dragon hand the rules generally specify that it must be set according to the house way.

Even if the player could use information from 14 cards when setting his hand, I doubt it would help that much, and making proper use of the information would be complicated.

In Spanish 21 you state that the house edge is .34% using your basic strategy and dealer stands on soft 17. How does the super bonus affect this percentage? That is to say, what would the house edge be without the super bonus? Also, what are the odds of hitting the super bonus on any given hand?

Randy from Toledo, Ohio

In a 6-deck game the probability of a super bonus is 1 in 668382, and in an 8-deck game it is 1 in 549188. The house edge without the super bonus would be 0.03% more either way.

Great web page wiz! I like to think of myself as a wiz of sorts. Question -- I like to play casino blackjack -- mostly Las Vegas, I've been using Hi Opt 1 counting without great success. In Casino Player Magazine Aug. 2000 pg. 50 is a system comparison table. It claims that Uston APC, Halves Count, Revere APC, Advanced Omega 11, & Hi Opt II are the most profitable counting systems. Can you comment on these and tell me the point values assigned under these systems?

Andrew from Jupiter

A book could be written in response to this question. Please excuse me for only scraping the surface. On page 107 of Uston’s ’Million Dollar Blackjack’ he indicates that following card values for the Uston Advanced Point Count:

Uston Advanced Point Count

Card Value
2 +1
3 +2
4 +2
5 +3
6 +2
7 +2
8 +1
9 -1
10 -3
ace counted separately

It is very true that this is a more powerful system then {-1,0,+1} systems like the Hi Opt I. There are different ways to measure the strength of any given system. My opinion is that the serious player should use the most powerful system that they are comfortable with. It is better to play a level 1 system (like the Hi Opt I) well than to play a level 2 system badly (like the Hi Opt II).

A suggestion, really, O Wizard--when next you print up your book, could you make it smaller? Perhaps a pocket edition that could fit in a purse?

Maryanne S. from Redmond, Washington

My current book is 5.5" x 8.5". Sorry, but I don't plan to publish another one anytime soon.

Are Indian Casinos held to the same standards as non-Indian? Is the pay out regulated as overall per month or regulated per machine? If payout is overall, couldn't a casino adjust payouts for any machine at any time of day or week?

When walking into one of these "Indian" casinos, I can stand for five minutes, listen to the bells and tunes, and know if it will be a good day. Take 300 slot machines with fixed payouts and listen, given the same number of players should produce the same frequency of sounds. It doesn't. I think all of the new machines are networked and changed based on overall psychological factors of the players.

K Foster from Temecula, California

In general Indian casinos are self-regulated. There is generally a tribal commission that will hear disputes, but ultimately the members of the commission know which side of their bread gets buttered.

Don't assume any kind of minimum return on the slot machines. However, ultimately economics would dictate that a return too low would be sensed by players, who would be unlikely to return if they consistently lost too much money too quickly. It would also be bad business, and time consuming, to loosen and tighten the slots like a yo-yo.

Your sound level hypothesis sounds interesting, I never thought of that.

How is it possible for casinos to program their slot machines to pay out a regulated percentage if the slot machines run off a random number generator? It would seem there is no way to know what number or combination (winning or losing) is next.

Steve from Milton, U.S.

The casinos don't actually program the casinos to pay a certain percentage, but determine the weighting of the reels so that the theoretical return is whatever they wish. In the short run, the actual return can be either much higher or lower than the theoretical return. However, the laws of mathematics dictate that the actual return will get closer to the theoretical return the greater the number of trials.

Biloxi, Mississippi casino has single-deck blackjack dealt to the bottom. What is the casino's edge on this game? Does the basic strategy for blackjack still hold still hold for this game? by the way, blackjack in this game pays even money.

Roger from Baton Rouge, U.S.

Dealing to the bottom of the deck would not help the basic strategy player but greatly benefits the counter. There would be no changes to the basic strategy. However, this game may be of interest to card counters. Vegas World (now the Stratosphere) in Las Vegas used to have such a game but I don't think card counters ever took it seriously because of other adverse rules like a blackjack only paying even money.