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Best of John Grochowski

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Following My Own Advice

3 October 2006

I'm often asked if I follow my own advice when I play in casinos. Do I really refuse even money when I have a blackjack and the dealer has an Ace face up? Do I really steer clear of the one-roll propositions in craps? Do I really bet the max on every spin on a progressive slot machine?

The answers are yes, yes, yes --- with the proviso that I don't play progressive slot machines all that much. But when I do, I make the bet necessary to be eligible for the top jackpot. When I play craps, I stick to the best percentage bets and skip the one-roll propositions. And when I'm dealt a blackjack, I go for the full 3-2 payoff and decline the even-money form of insurance, accepting that sometimes the dealer will have a blackjack and I'll just get a push for that hand.

I was put to the test on one of the rarer situations I'm asked about during a recent video poker session. I can pinpoint the time and date --- it was about 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, shortly after finishing up my Saturday night radio show on WCKG-FM. We were broadcasting from Majestic Star Casino in Gary's Buffington Harbor, and I decided to take advantage of Majestic Star's good video poker pay tables.

I settled in for a short session of 25-cent 9-7 Double Bonus Poker, a 99.1-percent game with expert play. After about 10 minutes, the deal brought three Aces and a pair of Kings --- a full house worth 45 coins for my five-coin wager, if I held all five cards.

One of the little quirks in the expert strategy for Double Bonus Poker is that the best play in that situation is to break up the full house whenever it includes three Aces. Keep the Aces, and throw away the other pair. That's what I tell other players, and that's what I do myself.

The reason is that with five coins wagered, four Aces brings an 800-coin bonanza. If I was playing Jacks or Better, where any four of a kind brings 125 coins, or even Bonus Poker, where the four Aces are worth 400 coins, I'd just hold the full house. But with a possible 800-coin jackpot for drawing the fourth Ace, well, that's different.

Breaking up the full house was no sure thing. There are 1,081 possible two-card draws. The vast majority, 968 draws, won't improve the three Aces, and that means settling for a 15-coin payoff. Another 67 draws will be a pair to replace the discarded pair, bringing the hand back to a full house.

Value comes in the remaining 46 possibilities, the 46 times per 1,081 trials that the two-card draw includes the fourth Ace. That 4.2 percent of three-Ace hands is when we draw the fourth Ace and collect the 800-coin payoff. It's worth the risk. Our average payoff for holding just the Aces is 50.26 coins per five wagered --- 5.26 coins more per trial than just holding the full house.

I didn't think all that through when pushing the buttons. The play is automatic --- I held the Aces, and hit draw.

Up popped the fourth Ace, and things were all good. Thanks to Majestic Star for having us out for the show, and for having the video poker games that make such plays necessary.

** ** *** **

During the show, a listener called in to tell of a hand she'd been dealt in pai-gow poker. All Aces and Kings --- much like my video poker hand. Hers included four Aces and three Kings, as close to an unbeatable pai-gow hand as you'd ever want to see.

In pai-gow poker, the player must arrange the cards into a five-card "high" hand and a two-card "second high" hand. To win your bet, you must win both hands. If you only win one hand, the bet is a push.

She used the four Aces and a King as the high hand, and a pair of Kings as the second-high. That was more than enough to win the bet, but the dealer told her she'd made a mistake, that she should have used a pair of Aces to make an unbeatable second-high hand, leaving a Kings over Aces full house as the high hand.

The reasoning is that you want to make the second-high hand as strong as possible. That's a good, solid strategy, but didn't really apply in this case. Since the player already had four Aces, there was no pair of Aces available that could have beaten her pair of Kings. She already had an unbeatable second-high hand.

The only way the dealer could get a push out of the hand was with a straight flush to beat her four Aces. If she'd put Aces in the second-high hand instead, and settled for a full house in the high hand, then the dealer could have won the high hand and gotten the push not only with a straight flush, but also with any four of a kind.

Dealer advice to the contrary, the listener not only had a great hand, she made a great play. Congratulations to her.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at http://1059freefm.com.

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