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Ask the Wizard #30

Certain video poker machines have a "double down" or double-or-nothing wager feature when you win a hand. I usually avoid this wager, not wanting to risk winnings in excess of my original bet. But I AM tempted to try this wager on winning hands that only pay even money on the original bet. My reasoning is that the machine's usual payback is somewhere in the 96-99% range, which includes rare hands over the long haul; but in this circumstance, this bet would seem to payback an even 100% over a shorter period of time.

Ron from Manchester, New Hampshire

The double or nothing feature in video poker is the only other casino bet, besides the odds in craps, with no house edge. Whether or not you take it depends on your reason for playing. If you are playing a negative-expectation game, for purposes of entertainment, then I think you should accept the double-up option in moderation, depending on on your desire or aversion to volatility. The reason is that it is better to play a game with zero house edge than a positive one. However, you have to balance that against your tolerance for risk. If you are fortunate to be playing a positive-expectation game, then I would decline the opportunity to double.

What are the odds against winning seven hands of blackjack in a row? How about six?

James from Palo Alto, California

According to my blackjack appendix 4, the probability of an overall win in blackjack is 42.22%, a tie is 8.48%, and a loss is 49.10%. I'm going to assume you wish to ignore ties for purposes of the streak. In that case, the probability of a win, given a resolved bet, is 46.36%. The probability of winning n hands is a row is 0.4636n. So the probability of winning six in a row is 0.99% and seven in a row is 0.46%.

I SAW YOUR ARTICLE "EXPLORING MICROGAMING" WHICH YOU SAID IT OFFERS THE PAI GOW DOMINO GAME. I WOULD BE VERY MUCH APPRECIATED IF YOU CAN TELL ME WHICH ONLINE CASINO OFFER THIS GAME. THANK YOU.

Allan from San Gabriel, California

Three that I know have it are the Caribbean Gold, English Harbour, and Silver Dollar. Also, using all capital letters is rather obnoxious.

I have read about a few casinos that pay 3-1 on both the 2 and 12 in a field bet. What Las Vegas casinos offer this bet?

Rolland from Buffalo, USA

I've never heard of a Las Vegas casino paying 3-1 on both the 2 and 12, but the Santa Ana Star in New Mexico does (at least as of this writing in 2013). This rule results in a house edge of exactly 0.00%.

You take a lot of your time or space on your web site to explain that no system can beat the house edge. I'd like to know what drives you to continue to play casino games if you know that you will loose in the end?

Yvan from Quebec, Canada

The rare times that I play a negative expectation game it is for entertainment. pai gow (tiles) is the only game I find enjoyable enough to play without an advantage.

My question concerns baccarat, is a 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,etc. progression a profitable method of play? I add the previous two bets and bet the sum on a loss and subtract one level of the progression on a win. Any two wins in a row and I go back to 1 unit. i always bet on banker. I've tried this online in several casinos (as well as your site's baccarat game, and it has worked great. Is it flawed?

Brantley from Waycross, Georgia

All betting systems are flawed. Progressive systems like yours usually do when but with occasional large losses. Over the long run, you will do no better nor worse than the flat bettor or user of any other system.

Do the odds at table games change when the number of players change? In other words, if there are more hands dealt, do the odds change? If not, is there anything at all salient (odds wise) about the number of players partaking in a particular game? This will settle a "bet".

Steve from Detroit, USA

Generally, no, the odds do not change depending on the number of players. The only exception I can think of is side bets like Fortune in Pai Gow Poker, which feature an envy bonus, and thus pay better according to the number of players.

Very interesting site, do you produce your income as a gambler? Have you looked at the probabilities in stock index futures trading?

Randy from Aurora, Illinois

I am tempted to learn more about futures trading but for now I simply don't have the time. My income comes from both advertising revenue on this site (please click through the banners) and consulting fees on the analysis of new casino games.

Great site! Is there any way I can download your pai gow practice program to preclude always having to play online? Thanks in advance.

Abraham from Ocean, New Jersey

Sorry, there isn't.

Regarding your exceptions to surrender in appendix 6, how should I best adapt it to the Unified Gaming single-deck game with early surrender against the ace? Thanks for any help and great site.

Dave from Provo, USA

Thanks for the compliment. You should use appendix six only if the dealer is showing a ten in a Unified Gaming blackjack game. There are no exceptions to the Unified Gaming basic strategy when the dealer has an ace showing.

Just one more question today. In your introduction to your site, you make a big deal of losing in the long run at all games of chance. However, what is your opinion of playing tons of hands at Unified Gaming sites with the -0.57% house advantage? How realistic would it be to make $5.70 per hundred hands with $10 bets for a few hours a day? It would sure beat getting another part-time job:), even if I could only do it for a few months (while I'm finishing school at the U. of U.). The math seems correct even to me (a history major), yet I have this nagging feeling that I've left something unaccounted for, and this wishful thinking is just too good to be true. I'd appreciate your opinion.

Dave from Provo, USA

Your math is correct. For every 100 bets at $10 you make, you could expect to make $5.70 assuming you follow my basic strategy. Keep in mind this is a long-term return and in the short run you could easily lose. There is also a problem with broken connections with Unified Gaming casinos, which slows down the number of hands playable per hour. Somebody told me that turning off the sound card can take care of this problem. Whatever your gambling bankroll is, I would recommend dividing that by 100 and bet in those units. So to bet $10 a hand you should have $1000 to risk.

How do online casinos work out their promotions? What is the best sort of promotion to play, money bonus on sign-up or cash back on games? I ask because I have just received a promotion offering 5% of total stake back on any one of five games (keno, slots, sic-bo, video poker and roulette) and wonder if it's worth playing.

Steve from Lyon, France

There is no simple answer to which is better, a deposit bonus or cash back based on total money bet. You have to consider the percentages offered, the amount of play required, and the house edge of the games in question. This 5% cash back promotion sounds great for any game with a house edge of less than five percent. The house edge on the small and big bets in sic bo have a house edge of only 2.78%. Video poker may be even lower depending on the pay table. I would be interested to know who is offering this.

Can it actually be true that what I experience has a statistical base? It seems to me that it takes a lot longer to win X number of chips that to lose the same amount (I only play blackjack). For example, if I start with 300 chips, it might take hours to double my money (my goal), yet I can lost that number in what seems like almost no time at all. Can this really be true? Also, do you have a rule of thumb about when to leave the table when you are winning?

Chris from Gaithersburg, Maryland

What you have experienced is likely the result of some very bad losing streaks. It may also be the result of progressive betting or mistakes in strategy. The basic strategy flat bettor should have a roughly symmetrical expectation in terms of steep ups and downs, slightly favoring steep downs due to the house edge and a 48% chance of a losing hand compared to 43% chance of winning. If I'm playing for fun then I leave the table when I'm not having fun any longer.

I just came back from Costa Rica. They pay even money on a blackjack. What is this worth to the house and should I double down on 21 versus say a dealer 3-6, since I am only going to get paid 1to1?

Rick from Jacksonville, USA

Please see my page on rummy, which is the blackjack variant popular in Costa Rica.