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Best of John Grochowski

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How do advantage players get the advantage?

31 March 2009

Casinos make money by paying players less than the true odds of winning a wager. The red-black bet in roulette pays 1-1, even though the true odds are 20-18 against the player. The pass line bet in craps pays 1-1, but true odds are 50.7-49.3.

I've mentioned that before, and it was on the mind of a reader named Marcus when he phoned to ask a question.

"I had a talk with a host who told me they were worried about advantage players," Marcus said. "If casinos pay less than the true odds of winning, how do players get an advantage?"

The short answer is that they get an edge by changing the odds, I told him.

"OK, they'd have to change the odds. But how do they do that? I suppose we're talking about counting cards."

Counting cards in blackjack is one way to change the odds. In recent years, dice control in craps has been on the rise. Knowledgeable sports bettors who can pick more winners than expected by random chance change the odds there.

"And it's possible to be an advantage player in all those games?"

It's possible, but difficult. Truth be told, for every successful card counter in blackjack, there are dozens who try but never really get it, and hundreds, if not thousands, who never ever give it a go. Real video poker experts aren't numerous, and there are only a handful of video poker games in which even perfect play will give an edge to the player. Dice control in craps is hard work, and as for picking winners in sports at a percentage high enough to be profitable — well, most of us are better off in office pools.

"I get that it's hard, I'm just not so sure how or why it would work. Sports betting, picking more winners, OK, I get that. But what about blackjack? What about counting cards changes the odds?"

In blackjack, the odds of winning are constantly changing as cards are dealt out and the composition of the remaining deck changes. When there's a greater than usual concentration of high cards remaining to be played, it favors the player.

"Why is that?"

Because with a high concentration of aces and 10-values, we're more likely to be dealt a blackjack. So is the dealer, but we're paid 3-2 on blackjacks and the dealer isn't. Also, with that great concentration of high cards, we're more likely to get a 10 in double-down situations. If we have a two-card 11, we want that greater probability of drawing a 10.

"Gotcha."

The card counter bets more money when the odds favor the player, in the situation where the house is paying MORE than the true odds of winning. He or she bets less when the odds favor the house. And that changes the overall odds on the game.

"OK, what about craps?"

Courses such as Frank Scoblete's Golden Touch Craps teach players a method of setting the dice and limiting their bounces. Done by an expert, that can take some of the randomness out of a roll. Some players can decrease the frequency of 7s, leading to more frequent wins on the pass and place bets. A few can even increase the frequency of some winning rolls.

"I see. You get a different proportion of numbers, so that changes the odds."

Right. Craps odds are built on the mathematics of random rolls of two six-sided dice. Rolls totaling 7 will come up an average of 1 in 6 rolls. If the shooter depresses 7s to 1 in 7 rolls instead, that changes the entire game.

"That's good to know. I don't think I can do it, but it's good to know anyway."

** * ** * **

My phone conversation with Marcus was about table games, but casinos do make their money by paying less than true odds on electronic games, too.

Line up all the possible outcomes with their payoffs on a slot machine, and you'll get back less money than the total of your wagers. It would be possible to design a pay table in which the total of all possible outcomes would bring a 100% return, but that's not done. Instead, the machine pays you less than the true odds of winning your wagers.

The same goes for most video poker games, although player skill does make a difference and a few games do offer advantage players the opportunity to turn the tables.

On a weak video poker pay table, such as 7/5 Jacks or Better, all players will be paid at less than true odds, although a good player will get closer to true odds than a poor one. On a good game, such as 10/7 Double Bonus Poker (100.17% return with expert play), a poor player will be paid at much less than true odds, an average player closer to true odds, but an expert will be played at more than true odds. Your skill level changes the odds of the game.

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> 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