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Best of John Grochowski
A shuffle through the gaming mailbag7 April 2009
Q. I have a question about strategy that you didn't answer in your Deuces Wild columns. If I'm dealt four parts of a flush and four parts of a straight in the same hand, is it always better to go for the flush? With 4 of clubs, along with 5, 6, 7 and 10 of hearts, should I automatically hold the four hearts, or go with 4-5-6-7?
A. It is exactly as likely that you'll complete a straight as a flush with a one-card draw in that situation. If you hold 4-5-6-7, your straight can be completed by any of the four 3s, four 8s or four wild 2s in the remaining deck — a total of 12 cards. Hold the four hearts, and you complete a flush with any of the nine remaining hearts, including the 2, or any of the other three 2s — also 12 cards.
Since the odds of drawing a winner are the same with either choice, the decision comes down to the pay table. All Deuces Wild games that I've seen pay 2-for-1 on a straight. Flush payoffs vary — some versions pay 3-for-1 on flushes, others pay 2-for-1.
If flushes pay 3-for-1, then the decision is a no-brainer. A one-card draw for a flush brings a greater potential return than a one-card draw for a straight. If both flushes and straights pay 2-for-1, then it's a coin toss. The expected value for either draw is the same.
With the exception of the full-pay version of Deuces Wild that's rare outside Nevada, I don't recommend playing Deuces games that pay only 2-for-1 on flushes. Look for versions that reward your flush with a 3-for-1 payoff, and always hold four parts of a flush in a hand that also includes four parts of a straight.
Q. Playing Three Card Poker for the first time, I had something very strange happen. I had a flush, and the dealer had a straight. I got paid on the Pair Plus, but then the dealer took away my ante and bet. I asked what was going on, and he said straights beat flushes in that game.
None of the other players seemed to think anything was wrong, so I guess it was just a surprise to me. Do you think there was anything fishy?
A. In five-card poker games, straights occur more often than flushes. The probabilities are different with three-card hands, with flushes occurring more often than straights. Because of the relative frequency of the hands, flushes outrank straights in five-card games, but straights outrank flushes in three-card games.
Since you were playing the Pair Plus option, where you're paid on any pair or better regardless of whether you beat the dealer, you might have noticed the pay table. In the most common version, straights pay 6-1 and flushes 3-1. Straights pay more because they're the less common hand and outrank flushes.
The same goes for bonus payoffs on the ante-bet portion of the game. Regardless of whether you beat the dealer to collect on ante and bet, you're paid a bonus on hands of a straight or better — 1-1 on a straight, 4-1 on three of a kind and 5-1 on a straight flush. You get no such bonus on a flush.
That's a roundabout way of saying the dealer got it right. His straight beat your flush.
Q. My wife and I like to play roulette together. I play on the outside, red or black, odd or even, the columns or the dozens. She plays on the inside, covering our birthdays, our kids' birthdays, our anniversary. We play at as cheap a table as we can find, just for fun.
I guess my question is whether either of us is getting a better deal than the other, with my outside bets and hers on the inside.
A. As long as you stay away from the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3, you're getting equivalent deals. The house edge on all other wagers on a double-zero roulette wheel is 5.26% — red/black has the same house edge as betting on a single number, a dozen or anything else.
The difference is in the frequency of wins. Your bets are of the even-keel variety. A red or black bet will win an average of 18 of 38 spins. The even-money payouts leave you set up to stretch your dollar, but make big winning sessions rare. Your wife will win a single-number bet only once per 38 spins, so long losing streaks are common, but the 35-for-1 payoff means that a short hot streak brings big rewards.
Since she's playing multiple numbers at a time, that evens out the roller-coaster a bit, and in the long run you'll end up in the same place.
That 5.26% house edge is on the high side for table games, by the way. Playing for fun at low minimum bets is a sensible approach.
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Best of John Grochowski