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Ask the Wizard #69

Thanks for the answer about risk of ruin on power poker vs. single play. Now for a follow up... which has more volatility, $1 jacks or better, or $.50 4-play jacks or better (betting $10 per play instead of $5 per play)?

Ray from Maple Glen, Pennsylvania

From my video poker appendix 3 we can see the standard deviation for 1-play jacks or better is 4.417542. The standard deviation for 4-play jacks or better is 5.041215. Keep in mind these figures are per hand and relative to the betting unit. Adjusting for bet size and number of hands the standard deviation of $5 bet in 1-play jacks or better is 11/2*5*4.417542 = 22.08771. The standard deviation of 4 bets of $2.50 in 4-play jacks or better is 41/2*$2.50*5.041215 = 25.20608. So you are better off betting the smaller total amount in 1-play. Interestingly you can double the total amount bet in 4-play and the standard deviation only goes up by 14.12%.

Hi, have you ever heard any complaints about "SLOTLAND casino" because I am a bit suspicious about their space jack game. Playing the perfect strategy the expected return is 101.7%. But after playing many and many hands I have not made any profit. So, I would like to have your opinion!

Stephanie from Les Clayes Sous Bois, France

Actually I get a player return of 101.62%. Buried within their rules is this statement, "Please note that all games share the same mechanism which determines the jackpot win. Thus, with card games, the probability of hitting the jackpot combination is not natural but controlled by this shared random mechanism in the same way as slot machines' wins." It is my understanding that they offered this game for quite a while before posting this warning. I just don't trust any casino that would rig a card game, even if they admit it in the fine print.

If you have 15 and the dealer shows an eight...basic strategy say to hit. In this case, whether you hit or stay your chance of losing is over 70%........why is not the better play to surrender if you are going to lose over 70% of the time no matter if you hit or stay?

Nino from Glastonbury, USA

For the sake of simplicity let’s stay with your example and say the probability of winning is 70% and losing is 30% if you hit. The expected value of hitting would be 0.3*1 + 0.7*-1 = -0.4. This is greater than the expected value of -0.5 by surrendering.

Appendix 3b: Composition dependent exceptions to double deck basic strategy where the dealer stands on soft 17. Do these apply to multiple (4, 6 and 8) deck games or is there NO variation from Basic Strategy on these?

Trevor from Northampton, United Kingdom

No, these exceptions should not be used for 4-8 decks. There are a few exceptions in 4-8 deck games but they are so border line that it isn’t worth the bother to learn them. An interesting rule of thumb for all numbers of decks is that with 16 vs. 10, where the 16 is composed of 3 or more cards, in general the odds favor standing.

I play the negative system in black jack meaning I double every time I lose until I Win. I wanted to what the odds are of losing 4,5,6,7,8,9 hands in a row? How many hands should I expect to play till I lost 8 hands which is my stopping point?

Jay from New Haven, Connecticut

The name for this system is the Martingale. Ignoring ties the probability of a new loss for a hand of blackjack is 52.51%. So the probability of losing 8 in a row is .52518 = 1 in 173.

I play 50 cent slots and higher. I am happy with making a profit of $20 to $150 each session. I quit playing when I reach these levels. Are the high volatility, low frequency and low jackpot machines the best to play using this strategy? Please give me names of particular lines of machines to play.

Darin from Iroquois, Canada

No. If your goal is a small win then you should be playing low volatility, high hit frequency games. I can’t suggest any particular games but look for ones with comparatively small jackpots. These will also help you to play longer.

I read your topic in Roulette on the Martingale method. I have tried this method a few times on the computer and I have been up $500. Then I went to the casino and lost over $1000. Because black came up 8 times in a row. But I’m just starting to learn baccarat. I was trying it on the computer and again I have been up $500, by betting on the banker. Starting at $20 then going to $40 then $80 and so on. I was up $500 even with paying the 5%on each hand. Do you think this method would work in a casino? I thought I would ask before I go and lose another $1000. Like I said black came up 8 times in a row. But do you think that the player hand would win 8 times in a row? Plus this game is good because a tie is a push, where in roulette 0, or 00, is a loss.

Andrew from Maitland, Canada

The Martingale is dangerous on every game and in the long run will never win. However it is better to use in baccarat than roulette, just because of the lower house edge. The probability of the player winning 8 times in a row is 0.493163^8 = 1 in 286. Also keep in mind you could win a hand late in the series and still come out behind because of the commission. For example if you started with a bet of $1 and you won on the 7th hand you would win $60.80 ($64*95%), which would not cover the $63 in previous loses.

Have you calculated any of the odds for the slot machines at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino? NC law requires games of skill. As a result of this law all of the common slots such as Double Diamond, Red-White-Blue, etc were installed with a two spin option. After the first spin you may hold or respin any of the three rows to obtain final results. Charts are available on every machine to show the total number of each symbol and blanks in each row. Since these machines are IGT machines I assume that the symbols are weighted and randomly selected as posted. If this is true then the payback % can be calculated just as it is in video poker. Just curious if you had any info.

David from Peachland, North Carolina

I’ve been asked about these North Carolina slot machines so many times I’m tempted to fly there just to see them for myself. Yes, if they did give the probability of each symbol for each reel then an optimal strategy and a return could be fairly easily calculated. However I have never actually seen such a table and have never worked out the odds.

In your Table of probabilities in Three Card Poker you state the number of combinations as 9720 for Queen to Ace high and Jack high or less as 6720. I’m trying to calculate these probabilities myself and have failed to do so. I would be obliged if I you could let me see your calculations. Much obliged.

Paul from Bradford, England

The probability of any hand less than a pair is the product of the number of ways to pick 3 different ranks out of 13, less 12 for the consecutive ranks that result in a straight, and the number of ways to pick a suit 3 different times, less 4 for picking the same suit each time. So the total combinations for ace-high or less is (combin(13,3)-12)*(43-4) = 16,440.

Now let’s look at the combinations for a jack high or less. We have omitted 3 ranks so there are 3 ranks to choose from among 10. However 8 of these combinations result in a straight (2/3/4 to 9/10/J). Again there are 43-4 ways to pick the suits. So the total combinations is (combin(10,3)-8)*( 43-4) = 6,720. The total combinations for Q-A high is simply 16,440-6,720=9,720. For an explanation of the combin function please see my probabilities in poker section.