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Best of John Grochowski

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Choosing What You Play

26 July 2005

Casino games come in all shapes and sizes, from craps' rectangular layout to the horseshoe-shaped blackjack tables to traditional upright slot machines to the Death Star towering over the floor on Star Wars video slots.

The house edge comes in all shapes and sizes, too. A blackjack player who knows basic strategy might narrow the house edge to less than half a percent, while the average player bucks more like a 2 to 2.5 percent house advantage. Back a pass line bet with free odds in craps, and the house edge is measured in tenths of a percent. Make the worst one-roll bets at the table instead, and the house edge can be as high as 16.67 percent. Ugh.

Every player must decide which bets are worth making, and which should just be left alone.

Where to draw the line? In 109 Ways to Beat the Casino (edited by Walter Thomason, $13.95, Bonus Books), in which several gambling authors, including myself, contributed tips, Dr. Henry Tamburin puts the cutoff at 1.5 percent. That limits game choices to the best bets at craps, blackjack for a basic strategy player, baccarat and many video poker games, provided the player learns the strategies needed to attack them. Columnist Mark Pilarski draws his line at 2 percent, which adds just a few options beyond Tamburin's --- craps place bets on 6 and 8, which are practically right on Tamburin's line at 1.52 percent, at a few more video poker games, Four Card Poker play against the dealer, but not the Aces Up bet, and perhaps play against the dealer in Three Card Poker (2 percent of total action, or 3.4 percent of the ante).

Roulette (5.26 percent) does not make either cut. Neither do poker-based games such as Caribbean Stud (2.6 percent of total action, 5.2 percent of the ante) or Let It Ride (2.8 percent of total action, 3.5 percent of one bet). And slots --- well, forget the slots. Depending on denomination and jurisdiction, house edges on the slots can range from about 3 (on the best of the high roller machines) to 20 percent (on the lowliest penny games).

So why are 70 percent or more of casino customers taking a spin on the slots instead of demanding more craps and baccarat tables?

Because most casino players play what they like, and where they're having fun, and don't worry much about the house edge.

My standard for my own play is stricter than Tamburin's 1.5 percent. I'll play everything for the sake of research, but when I'm playing for myself, I want games I can beat --- at least in theory. I want 99-percent-plus video poker games with enough cash back and comps to crack 100-percent return. I want blackjack games with decent rules and decent penetration.

Still, I don't draw a hard or fast line for what other people should play. I'll just point out a few factors that should be weighed:

SPEED MAKES A DIFFERENCE: On the surface, mini-baccarat looks like a much better deal than roulette. Bet the banker at baccarat and you face a house edge of only 1.17 percent, far lower than the 5.26 percent on most roulette bets. But in roulette, it takes time to pay off bets, for players to make their wagers and for the dealer to spin the wheel and drop the ball. Mini-baccarat is a fast game that can move at 200-plus hands per hour. At roulette, you might see only 30 to 40 spins of the wheel in an hour.

Bet $10 a hand for 200 hands of mini-bac, and your average expected loss comes to $23.40. Spread $10 around the roulette layout for 40 spins of the wheel, and your average expected loss is $21.04.

The faster the game, the more chances the house edge has to work against you.

YOUR GOALS MAKE A DIFFERENCE:

If I'm choosing between playing blackjack basic strategy and playing Three Card Poker's Pairs Plus option, I'll have fewer bankroll busting losing streaks and grind out small profits more often at blackjack, with its low house edge. On the other hand, I'll never collect $200 for a $5 bet at blackjack. I will get that little bonanza with the straight flushes that come about once per 460 hands at Three Card Poker --- and the Three Card Poker player doesn't need to put in the study time a blackjack basic strategy player does.

Those who want the best chance at a winning session should stick with the low house edge games. But if your goal is one big payoff, and you don't mind that more often than not you'll expend the day's gambling bankroll without getting it, then the higher house edge games are for you.

FUN MAKES A DIFFERENCE:

Some players want to relax, have a few drinks and not have to focus on strategies. That's what games such as Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride and, yes, slot machines are for. If spinning the Wheel of Fortune is your idea of a good time, who am I to say, "Don't"? These games won't make anybody's list of the best casino bets, but if they're fun for you, enjoy yourself.

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