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Best of John Grochowski

Gaming Guru

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

22 May 2007

Q. I'm just learning how to play craps. I know all about the pass line and come and the place bets, and I stay away from the hard ways and the sucker bets.

My question is about the odds. My friend who's played craps for a long time says the best place to play is the one that offers 100x odds. Well, I can't afford 100x odds. Is it really any better for me to play there than a place that only has 10x odds, or even less?

A. There's little point in worrying about a bet that you can't afford to make. For players with moderate bankrolls, 100x odds is usually just a flashy number.

Still, you don't HAVE to bet 100x odds just because it's offered. You can back your pass and come wagers with single odds, double odds --- whatever your bankroll can handle. Then, if a shooter has a hot roll and you find your bankroll growing, you can expand your odds wagers. A table with 100x odds gives you more room to expand those bets than a table offering less odds.

You might never be in a position where you want to take the full 100x odds. Heck, depending on your bankroll, you might never even want to take 10x odds. But no matter what the odds limits, one thing you want to do is to keep your pass and come bets to the minimum. The house has no edge on the odds, but it does on pass and come.

So keep pass and come bets to table minimum, and fill out your wager with free odds at a level you can afford. Don't push your total wager past your comfort zone, no matter how much odds are offered.

Q. I saw a $5 Double Double Bonus Poker machine that paid only 239 credits on a straight flush or on four 5s through Kings instead of the usual 250. I asked an attendant about it, and she said it was because of the taxes. On a $5 machine, 239 credits is $1,195, and that doesn't require a tax form, while 250 is $1,250, and that's over the limit.

I guess I understand all that, but my question is how much does it cost you in payback percentage when the hands that usually pay 250 credits pay 239 instead?

A. On 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes pay 6-for-1, the long-term payback percentage with expert play comes to just about 99 percent --- 98.98 percent, to be precise. Drop the returns with five coins wagered to 239 coins on straight flushes or four 5s through Kings, and that return drops to 98.6 percent. The change costs nearly four-tenths of a percent of your expected return.

As you were told by the attendant, the reason for sizing the payoffs like that is to stay under the magic $1,200 figure at which casinos are required to have you sign an IRS form W-2G before they can pay you.

For a player who itemizes deductions on federal taxes and keeps careful records of casino play, staying under $1,200 might not be particularly significant. Such players are allowed to deduct gambling losses up to the amount of winnings. Still, players in some states might have to pay state income tax on the jackpots of $1,200 or more even if they lose money overall. Illinois, for one, does not permit players to deduct gambling losses on their state income taxes.

Residents of such states, along with those who do not itemize and therefore can't deduct gambling losses on their federal returns, are the ones who benefit most from payoffs that are 239 coins on $5 machines instead of the usual 250.

Q. I've been learning to play basic strategy in blackjack, and I'm a little confused about soft hands. My basic strategy card says to double down on soft 17, Ace-6, when the dealer's up card is 3, 4, 5 or 6.

That's worked out pretty good for me, but what happens when my soft 17 is three cards, like Ace-2-4, instead of Ace-6? What do I do then? I can only double down after two cards, not after three or four. So do I just stand on the 17 then?

A. When your basic strategy card says to double down, and you have three or more cards, hit instead.

That includes soft 17, whether it's Ace-Ace-5, Ace-2-4, Ace-2-2-2 or any other combination you can think of. With Ace-6, you double down if the dealer shows 3 through 6, and hit against anything else. With any other soft 17, you hit against anything.

One important thing to remember is that 17 is not a winning hand unless the dealer busts. The best it can do is tie a dealer's 17. Other than that, it loses unless the dealer busts. So with soft 17, where you can't bust with a one-card hit, you take your chances to improve the hand.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at http://1059freefm.com.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski