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Best of John Grochowski

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

15 July 2008

Q. What can you tell me about playing with coupons? My wife and I were playing blackjack together, and we each had a coupon. If you bet $5 plus the coupon, they'd pay you $10 on a winning hand. She won on her coupon, and I lost on mine, so I guess we broke even.

We played for a couple of hours, so even if we'd both won, the extra $10 would have been a drop in the bucket. That seems hardly worth the bother.

A. You didn't break even on your coupon play. You came out $5 ahead.

Think about it. You and your wife each wagered $5, for $10 in total risk. If there had been no coupons involved, you'd have had nothing to show for your wager, and your wife would have had $10 — getting her bet back, plus $5 in winnings. That's a break-even experience, with $10 risked and $10 returned.

But with the coupon in play, your wife had $15 at the end of her hand — getting her bet back, $5 in winnings on the bet and $5 in winnings on the coupon. Between you, the risk was $10, and the return $15, for a $5 profit.

Was it worth the bother? You tell me. If you left the table with money, you left with $5 more than you would have without the coupon. And if you lost your stake before leaving the table, the coupon at least bought you one extra bet.

I'm a big fan of coupon play for low-rollers, and have been ever since my second trip to Las Vegas. My wife and I bought a package deal that included airfare, three nights at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, and $55 in match-play chips. Each chip was the equivalent of your $10-for-$5 coupon — wager a regular $5 chip plus a $5 match-play chip, and a winner would bring $10.

We were true low rollers, and hadn't brought more than $300 to play with. A good run with the match-play brought us an extra $60 — a welcome stretch to our budget.

Since then, from time to time I've gone on coupon runs, hopping from casino to casino, stopping only long enough to play available coupons. I've gotten the odd dirty look from a dealer or pit boss when leaving after one hand, but I've never failed to make a small profit.

The important point is that any time you use such a coupon or match-play chip, you have a mathematical edge on the house. During the other hands on which a coupon is not in play, the house retains its advantage. If you were able to play a coupon on every hand, the odds would be strongly in your favor. And you're just playing one coupon in a longer session, at least you're looking at a little extra bonus at no cost to yourself.

Q. I know the basic strategy charts say that you should split a pair of 8s even when the dealer has a 10 face up. I do it, even though it hurts when I wind up with two 18s and the dealer turns up another 10 and beats me with a 20. I accept that, overall, I wind up better splitting the 8s than just trying to hit 16 against a 10.

But what if I draw another 8, and wind up with another pair? Do I split again? I cringe at winding up with three 18s, and losing three bets at once to a 20.

A. As difficult as it may be, the basic strategy play remains to split 8s against a 10. That remains true even if you're splitting a second time to create a third hand, or a third time to create a fourth hand.

There will be times when you lose three bets at once, or even four bets in casinos that allow you to split up to three times for a total of four hands. There will also be the odd miracle hand, like one I once had at the Stardust in Las Vegas. I split a pair of 8s, and on the first I was dealt a 3. So I doubled down, and drew a 10 for a 21. On the second 8, I was dealt another 8, so I split again. Again I drew a 3, double down, and topped it off with a 10 for 21. On the third 8, I drew a 6, then hit with a 7, for another 21.

The dealer turned up a 10, but her 20 lost to all three of my 21s, two of them with double bets.

That won't happen often, but 8 is always a better starting point for a hand than 16. On average you lose only half as much money by making the extra bet to split the 8s than if you play it as 16. You gain by taking the extra risk even if it's your second or third split of the hand.

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> 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