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Best of John Grochowski

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Casino player pep talk

16 September 2008

Max had been to a seminar I'd given years ago, and decided to renew old acquaintances recently via telephone.

"I remember you saying that you played everything to keep current on games, but that your main games were blackjack and video poker, right?"

Yes, I told him, I enjoy the games where skill makes the greatest difference. So I'll try out the latest and greatest slots, and I'll play a few hands of many new table games. But when I'm playing for fun and profit rather than for a column, magazine article or book research, I stick to blackjack and video poker.

"Those are my games, too," Max said. "My wife and I will play the slots together sometimes, but mostly, it's blackjack and video poker for me.

"I've been having a problem, though. A crisis in confidence, you might say. In blackjack, I've had a bunch of losing sessions in a row. Video poker, too."

That happens. One thing we all have to learn as players is that losing streaks are a normal part of the game. We have to be in command of our bankrolls, and get out before the losses get too steep.

"I understand that," said Max. "Gambling money comes out of an entertainment budget, and my wife and I set our limits and stick to them. What's been frustrating has not been the losses so much, but the way they've happened."

How so?

"Let me give you an example. The last time I was playing, I couldn't catch a card. I know basic strategy, and I was making all the right moves. I split 8s when the dealer had a 10, drew 10s on each 8 for two 18s, and the dealer wound up with 19 and 20. I hit 16 when the dealer showed a 7, and busted. Not once, but five times in a row. I doubled down with 11 against a 6 — I should win that one, right? Nope. I drew an ace for a 12, the dealer scraped out a 17, and I lost both bets."

I winced. I've been through many a session like that, and each one is painful.

"Yeah. What was making this one worse is that there was a guy at the table who knew nothing about the game. NOTHING. And he was making it hand over fist. He'd stand on ace-4 against a 10 and win. He'd stand on 16, and win. Everything he did worked.

"It's been the same for me at video poker, except that I don't really notice how others are playing. It got so frustrating I started counting hands. Eleven times in a row, I had four cards to a flush and drew an off suit. I'd hold a pair of 7s, discard a Jack, and not only would I lose, but there'd be a Jack on the draw that could have given me a winner.

"I tell you, it's enough to make me think that these strategies don't have all the answers."

Well, I told him, they don't have all the answers.

Max snorted. "That's not what I expected you to say."

They don't have all the answers because they don't know what the next card is, whether the deck is physical or electronic. All they can do is tell you what the best strategy is based on probability and payoffs.

Blackjack basic strategy tells you to double down on 11 when the dealer has a 6 not because you're going to win every time, but because you'll win more often than you lose. It tells you to hit 16 vs. 7 not because it's a winning play — you'll bust more often than not — but because you'll win a little more often than if you simply wait for the dealer's 74% chance of making 17 or better.

"And video poker?"

You draw one card to a flush not because the next card will always be in your suit — you have only about a 1 in 5 chance of drawing a winner — but because the payoffs on flushes make it worthwhile.

"Still," Max said, "I wonder if I might be just as well changing it up a little. I might have won by standing on some of those 16s."

You might have. Bad plays win sometimes.

"But they're still bad plays, huh?"

Yes, they are. Each time you have 16 vs. a dealer's 7, your best play is to hit. Each time you have a low pair and a jack on a video poker screen, your best play is to hold the low pair. The plays won't always bring winners. Sometimes, you'd win by making the opposite play.

But there's no way to know when those opposite-play winners will come. Neither you nor basic strategy can predict the next card. So you're better off to stick with the best percentage play.

Max sighed. "I guess I knew all that before I even called you. Needed the pep talk, I guess."

And the next time you play?

"I'll stick to the strategies. I don't need to turn the odds further against me."

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