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Casino games of skill

11 November 2008

All casino games are games of chance, but a select few incorporate elements of skill. Blackjack has strong elements of skill, leaving a game that can be beaten by experts. There are weaker elements of skill in card games such as Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride and Three Card Poker.

Among electronic games, slot machines and video keno are games of pure chance, with rare exceptions in some bonus rounds. Video blackjack and video poker are different, more akin to card games at the tables. Skill makes a difference.

How do you develop and take advantage of the skills required to get the most out of casino games? Let's take a look.

Blackjack: There are several levels of skill in blackjack, but good players start by learning basic strategy for hitting, standing, splitting pairs and doubling down. Basic strategy charts cover every possible play. When you have 16 and the dealer has a 7 face up, do you hit or stand? You have a pair of 8s and the dealer has a 10 up, do you hit, stand or split the pair? You have a two-card total of 11 and the dealer has 10, do you hit or double down?

A basic strategy chart will tell you the best plays, the ones that on average will bring you the best return. They won't always work, but those are the plays to make, every time. (Answers to the above plays, in order, are hit, split and double.)

I learned by taking a basic strategy chart and a deck of cards, and dealing myself hand after hand of blackjack. Nowadays it's easier and faster with computer software such as Blackjack 6-7-8 from StickySoft Corp. If you just want a basic strategy chart, they're easy to find in blackjack books or online at sites including Michael Shackleford's wizardofodds.com, one of my favorite resources.

Beyond basic strategy, you can improve your results a little by incorporating composition-dependent strategies. Specific cards make a difference on certain close-call hands. If you have 16 and the dealer has 10, basic strategy says you should hit. But 9-7 and 10-6 aren't the same as 8-4-4. With the latter, there are two 4s out of play, not available to help you on your draw, and the odds shift in favor of standing.

Fred Renzey has a good guide to such close-call hands in his Blackjack Bluebook.

Finally, there's the leap to counting cards, which can actually give a smart player an edge on the game. There are a number of good card counting books on the market, but for beginners looking for the easiest system, I recommend Frank Scoblete's Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution.

Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride and Three Card Poker: Your skill doesn't have as big an impact here as it does in blackjack, and you can't get an edge in these games. But you can shave a little off the house edge if you know when to bet and when to stand down. Scoblete's book Bold Card Play covers those games, or you can find strategies online at wizardofodds.com.

Video blackjack: Basic strategy and composition-dependent strategies are the same as in table blackjack, though you can't count cards on most machines. But beware: Most video blackjack machines pay only even money on two-card 21s instead of the 3-2 you get at most tables.

Video poker: Skill at knowing which cards to hold and which to fold is important, and so is the knowledge of which pay tables are beatable and which are not. There are as many strategy variations as there are different games and different pay tables, but you can get a handle on them a couple of different ways.

Being a Midwesterner and being used to seeing pay tables not covered in most video poker books, I tried to show how strategies change as pay tables change in my Video Poker Answer Book.

For those who prefer to practice on the computer, there are several outstanding pieces of software that will adapt to different pay tables and warn you when you're making mistakes. I've long used both Bob Dancer Presents WinPoker and Jean Scott's Frugal Video Poker. Dancer's Video Poker for Winners is the latest entry in the quality video poker software derby.

Craps: It used to amuse me no end that when Missouri casinos first opened, only games of skill were permitted, and craps somehow qualified. Video poker was in, slots were out. Blackjack was in, roulette was out. But somehow craps was included. That struck me as odd. Craps, after all, was a game of random chance, with the "skill" perhaps being the knowledge to tell the good bets on the table from the bankroll eaters.

I no longer laugh off craps as a game of skill. Having attended Scoblete's dice control seminars and having watched controlled rollers in action, I see craps as a game of skill for a select few, though for most it remains a game of pure chance. The skill isn't easy, but if you want to give it a go, read Scoblete's Golden Touch Dice Control Revolution. Then practice, practice, practice.

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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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski