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Ask the Wizard #35

I have two questions here. What is the house advantage on Battle Royale if a second tie wins 7 to 1? I am a Casino-on-net fan. What is the basic strategic for BJ? At some place it says they use 4 or 6 decks.

Dany from Montreal, Canada

For the benefit of those who don't know, Battle Royale is what Starnet calls Casino War. However Starnet pays 3 to 1 on the total amount bet. Perhaps what you mean to ask is what if they pay 7 for 1 on the original wager only, which would equate to the same thing. The house edge under these rules is 0.66%, as indicated in my Starnet review.

Casino on Net follows typical U.S. blackjack rules with the curious exception that if you split tens and draw an ace it pays 3:2 (I only know this because I saw it happen to another player in muli-player mode). However splitting tens is still a bad idea. The basis strategy is the same as for Cryptologic.

What is the best counting system to use. I've tried the Hi-Lo (balanced) and the KO (unbalanced). I like the KO system best because it seems to be the easiest. But I have a fairly good mathematical mind and am able to concentrate pretty well. I play in Biloxi, usually only double-deck games, DAS, split any pair, dealer stands on soft 17, one card after splitting aces, no surrender. What's the best, don't mind a bit difficult, but don't want too difficult. Thanks a lot.

Marie from Montgomery, USA

There is no best card counting system. Personally I like balanced systems but don't know enough about the KO system to comment. My opinion is that you should only consider systems you are comfortable using and among them weight both the power of the system and how comfortable you are with it.

You might try asking this at

In November in Las Vegas, I encountered a table game called "3 Way" in which players went head-to-head with the dealer in high card, blackjack and best five cards poker using the same cards. Have you seen this game? Any odds and/or advice. Enjoy your site!

Billy O. from Vancouver, USA

I saw this at the World Gaming Expo, but have never studied it. After I move to Las Vegas in February I will be better at covering new games such as this.

Michael, thank you for the great resource. Several of your in-depth strategies have no doubt increased my playing time. My new favorite game is multi-hand video poker. My question is this: On an X-play machine, having been dealt Y cards to the royal, what are the odds of connecting on Z royals? Only include hands for which the correct play could yield a royal. Again, thanks for your help!

Jeff from Granger, Indiana

You're welcome, thanks for the kind words!

The general formula is combin(X,Z) × pZ × (1-p)X-Z, where p = 1/combin(47,5-Y).

Combin is an Excel formula, which equals X!/[Z! × (X-Z)!].

Let's look at an example of 10-play video poker where the player holds four to a royal.

10-Play with Four to a Royal

Royals Probability
10 0.0000000
9 0.0000000
8 0.0000000
7 0.0000000
6 0.0000000
5 0.0000010
4 0.0000378
3 0.0009943
2 0.0171513
1 0.1753242
0 0.8064914
Total 1.0000000

Is there a casino that teaches how to play craps?

Marty from Houston, USA

There are lots of them. Many casinos give free gambling lessons in the mornings when things are slow.

Two questions for you:

1) Regarding the basic blackjack strategies, you have for different online casino groups. Specifically, two different ones that both use single deck: Microgaming and Unifed Gaming. I cannot understand why you list 11 VS 10 as a hit for Microgaming, but as a double for Unified. Since they both use single deck, it seems the same strategy should be used here. I lose more often than win when I double this.

2) In Roulette, it seems to me that your odds would be better to bet equally on both red, and the 3rd column, or black and the 3rd column. The 3rd column has, I believe, 8 reds and only 4 blacks. Conversely, the first column has more blacks. Does betting like this lower the house edge?

Brian from Pennsylvania, USA

If you double on 11 at a Microgaming casino and the dealer gets a blackjack you will lose the total amount bet. At Unified Gaming the blackjack would be turned over immediately if the up card were a ten so there is no risk of losing to a blackjack when doubling in this situation.

All combinations of bets in roulette yield the same expected return, assuming the dreaded five-number combination is avoided. You're right that the third column has eight reds and four blacks. The probability of winning 3 units is 8/38, 1 unit is 4/38, breaking even is 10/38, and losing 2 units is 16/38. The combined expected per unit bet is return is (1/2)*(3*8 + 1*4 + 0*10 + 2*16)/38 = -2/38. Betting on black and the third column the probability of winning 3 units is 4/38, 1 unit is 8/38, breaking even is 14/38, and losing 2 units is 12/38. The expected return is (1/2)*(3*4 + 1*8 + 0*14 + 2*12)/38 = -2/38. Both combinations weight the various outcomes differently, but they average to the same number.

I noticed that on your full pay Deuces Wild strategy table that one pair (no deuce) is higher on the list that two pair. Does this mean that if I am dealt two pair, that I should always discard three cards and keep only one of the pairs? If so, how do I decide which pair to keep?

Dean from Toronto, Canada

Yes, you should only keep one of the two pairs. The only exception to this two pair rule is if you also had three to a royal flush. It does not matter which pair you keep. This is one of the few situations among all games of skill where the optimal strategy player has some free will. Personally I always keep the higher pair, just so I don't slow myself down trying to decide.

Hi, I just looked at your Microgaming blackjack basic strategy card. I notice that on 7,7 you advise that the player not hit against a 10. Why is this, and does this override the advice to hit on 14 against a 10?

Joseph T. from Singapore

This is the correct play in all my single-deck blackjack strategies. The reason is that the probability of getting a third seven is 2/49 only, or about 4.08%. Compare this to the probability in double deck of 6/101 = 5.94%. With the low hope of beating a dealer 20, it is better to hit, or surrender if you can. Yes, this does override my advice to hit 14 against a 10.

What do you know about the randomization process that online casinos use to simulate shuffling? How closely does it approximate the actual manual shuffling of cards in a casino? And finally the obvious: wouldn't it be fairly simple to write a randomization (shuffling) program that would give the house a bigger edge -- sort of stack the deck? Enjoy your site. Thanks.

Jim from Cincinnati, USA

I know that one software company randomly picks two cards in the deck and reverses them, and repeats this numerous times. Since learning of this technique, that is also how I shuffle in my random simulation programs. As long as any method of shuffling is done enough times the deck should be properly randomized.

Manual shuffling is more vulnerable to a biased shuffle and consequently some players try to exploit this by shuffle tracking and card clumping. There are numerous ways an online casino might cheat, but a bad shuffle I don't think is one of them.

Wanted to know if you have ever played Vegas Palms. They use Microgaming for their blackjack. I have never seen such a streaky game. I have lost 18 out of 20 hands and 1 hour later won 23 out of 30. It seems that every time I play it turns out to be a streak one way or the other. I am just happy that I have had more winning streaks than losing streaks. I also like their Cyberstud Poker. It is close to Caribbean Stud, but I think the payouts are a little different (i.e. 2 pair is 2-1, but 3 of-a-kind is 4-1).

I have yet to have a losing session playing this game. Knock on wood! One hand I did lose. I would like to get you to figure the odds of it happening. I had a diamond flush king high and got beat by a spade flush ace high. What are the odds of 2 flushes in one had?

Bert from Richmond

I have never played at the Vegas Palms. However, I have a lot of faith in the fairness of Microgaming and believe that it is just chance you are having streaky games. Cyberstud poker is the same thing as Caribbean Stud Poker, with a slightly more generous pay table. The expected return is 5.01%, as opposed to the usual 5.22% with Caribbean Stud. The probability of two flushes is (4*(combin(13,5)-10)/combin(52,5)) * (3*(combin(13,5)-10)/combin(47,5)) = 1 in 203,725.