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Ask the Wizard #49

I was at the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, MI this past weekend and while I was there I noticed a game called "Pitch" blackjack. The game uses 6 decks, which are put into a shuffle machine, and then the machine delivers one "deck" to the dealer. Dealer cuts and deals (usually only two hands for a full table). Then he takes the deck, puts it back in the shuffle machine, and retrieves another 52 card "deck" from the machine. The rules are the same as for a standard shoe game except that the player is allowed to double down with 3 cards if they total 9, 10, or 11. I’m always suspicious of "special" games, so I wondered how the house advantage on this game would differ from a standard shoe game. Does the house have a greater or lesser advantage?

Bruce from Champaign, Illinois

I’ve seen these things at the Las Vegas club, only they cut off two decks out of six I believe. It is a deceptive way to appear to be using fewer decks than are actually involved. Mathematically speaking the house edge would be the same as for the total number of decks in the shuffle machine. Penetration does not matter for the non-card counter. Thus it would not matter whether a machine or a human being cut off two decks from a six-deck shoe, the cards were taken from a six-deck shoe either way.

I often play Caribbean Stud with my wife and look at her cards before I play mine. Should I do anything different based on the cards she is holding? For example, I assume that I should stay in if I have an Ace/King and she has a card (less than a King) that matches the dealers up card.

Mike from New York

Yes, knowledge of other player cards can help if you use the information correctly. I haven’t studied this in depth but what you are already doing is a good idea. When you have an ace/king you don’t want the dealer to form a pair. If you or your wife can match the dealer’s up card that lowers the probability of the dealer forming a pair, and thus increases the probability that the dealer won’t qualify. However if you’re willing to fight to cut down the house edge marginally I wouldn’t waste your time and money on Caribbean Stud Poker but rather on a lower house edge game like blackjack or video poker.

Hi, I’m from Germany and it’s difficult to play craps here. I finally found a place where it is possible. But they changed the rules: 1. you may only bet the "right way"
2. it’s not allowed to make odds-bets after establishing the point
3. if the come out roll is craps (2, 3, 12) the bet is deferred and if the next roll is 11 you get your money back, otherwise it’s lost. I wonder which effect it has on the house edge?

Toter Man from Munich, Germany

I went to casinos in Berlin and Hamburg last year and didn’t see craps at all. Let’s consider rule change 3 first. My craps appendix shows the probability of winning the pass line bet as 244/495. Under the German rules it will be marginally higher. The probability of rolling a 2, 3, or 12, and then an 11 is ((1+2+1)/36)*(2/36)=1/162. So the house edge will be 1/162 less. From the craps appendix we see the normal house edge is 7/495 =~ 1.41%. The German house edge is 7/495 - 1/162 = 0.80%. The combined house edge under full double odds is 0.57%, and 0.43% when laying the odds. So clearly the US rules are favorable.

In the game of blackjack, can you tell me if people entering and leaving the game changes your odds of winning or losing? It seems to have an effect when I am playing.

Jerry from Shreveport, USA

No, other players entering and leaving will have no long term effect on your odds. This may seem to be true but I suspect you are more likely to remember when entrances and departures hurt you than the times they helped you. In the long run the cards are the cards and all other factors cancel each other out.

If you are playing Slots at an online casino, but have only a limited amount of money to spend, (ex. $100), is it wiser to play for instance, 25cent slots 1 coin at a time?-or-would it be wiser to play the MAX on one machine even if you seem to be losing it faster?

Lori from Allentown, USA

I believe that most online slots have a fixed return, regardless of the coinage. This is unlike slots in real casinos, which return more the greater the coinage. What you should do depends on your priorities. If you want playing longevity then you should play as little as possible per spin. If you want hope for a big win then you should play as much as possible per spin. However the house edge is likely the same either way.

I was wondering about house edge: The house always has the advantage of change but one thing is forgotten and is not to be taken lightly when doing the calculations: I choose when to stop. If I see I am losing I may cut my losses. If I see that I won enough (there is no such thing) I can decide to stop betting. The house has no such option. How does it affect the calculation?


In the long run this kind of money management will neither help you nor hurt you. By cutting your loses at a certain point and walking away you risk missing a comeback. By walking away with a modest win you risk not turning it into an even bigger win. Of course things could also get worse too. In general you can assume the past does not matter and every hand is a new beginning. The best way to improve your odds is to cut down the house edge as much as possible. I’m not against money management but it won’t effect the house edge.

Hi. Do you sell or recommend a basic blackjack strategy card. In the past I purchased some from Winning Publishing NV. Your Site is the very good.

Tom from Lancaster, USA

Your timing with this question is perfect. Marsha Ness, the proprietor of Custom Strategy Charts is now ready to sell laminated blackjack and Spanish 21 strategy cards. The strategies come directly from me and there is a wide variety to choose from depending on the particular rules. As of this writing, electronic payment options are not in place yet so you'll have to send a check by mail.

Update: Since the publication of this question, Custom Strategy Cards has gone the way of the dodo bird.