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Best of John Grochowski

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I came to gamble

17 April 2012

My old friend Jim and I see each other only a couple of times a year nowadays, but we keep in touch. He plays a little blackjack and dabbles in other table games, so when he was going to be visiting in March we planned a day at the casino.

It was one of those up and down days. Neither of us were getting terrible cards, but they weren't great either. We were both down a few bucks, and decided to take a break from blackjack.

"Do you ever play Caribbean Stud?" Jim asked. "I see the jackpot's up over $140,000."

I told him I didn't play often, but we could give it a go if he felt like it. That jackpot on a royal flush is a 1 in 649,740 shot, but the game itself can be interesting for a change of pace. The house edge of 5.2% of the ante or 2.6% of total action is higher than that of half a percent or so against a blackjack basic strategy player, more or less depending on house rules. So when I play Caribbean Stud, I keep my bets low and my sessions short.

After a few hands, a 40-something fellow took a seat and bought in for $500, starting with antes of $15 that meant he'd be adding on a bet of $30 whenever he liked his cards. And he was making the $1 side bet on the progressive jackpot.

Jim and I had bought in for $100 each and were making $5 antes, $10 bets and the $1 side bet, so the new player was taking bigger risks to chase bigger rewards on the main games.

Bet size wasn't the only difference. As soon as the cards were dealt face down, the big player pushed out a bet of double his ante.

The dealer asked, "Don't you want to look at your cards first?"

"Don't need to. I'm feeling lucky," the player said.

Jim shook his head and said, "I don't think I could bring myself to do that."

"Well," the big player responded, "I guess I came here to GAMBLE."

That was all the discussion that was really needed. To me, "I came to gamble" is shorthand for "I don't really care what the odds are. I'm going to bet my money and trust to luck."

That's what he did. He bet every hand without looking. He lost more than he won, but there were hands he won antes that he'd have lost had he been playing basic strategy. That's because if you stay in the hand by making the bet and the dealer doesn't have a qualifying hand of ace-king or better, you get your bet back and are paid even money on your ante. Whenever one of those hands came around, he made sure to point it out.

"See? If I was betting like you guys, I'd have folded and lost my ante."

The downside: When the dealer did qualify against his bad hands, he lost both ante and bet instead of just losing the ante. Since the dealer qualifies a shade more than 56% of the time, he was giving away more in the extra bets than he was gaining in the antes.

Jim and I played for about half an hour. He left the table with $91 of his original $100, and I still had $88. We decided to grab a sandwich before heading back to the blackjack table, and in the coffee shop, Jim asked, "Just how bad is that strategy?"

Pretty bad, I told him. It roughly triples the house edge to about 16.6% of the ante.

"Awful," Jim replied. "But hey, he came to gamble."

MORE ON STRATEGY: Jim was playing a simplified version of basic strategy in which he always made the bet of twice his ante if he had a pair, made the bet if he had ace-king and any of his other cards matched the dealer's face-up card, and folded anything else.

I was playing a slightly more detailed strategy, betting not only on the same hands as game, but with A-K-Q and my next highest card outranking the dealer's up card, or with A-K-Q or A-K-J and any of my five cards matching the dealer, including the ace or king.

The provisions about matching the dealer's up card are included because the presence of a matching card in your hand decreases the chances of the dealer having a pair.

That you bet these hands doesn't mean they're winners. On the ace-king hands and some low pairs, you're betting because you'll win often enough that you lose less by staying in the hand than by forfeiting your ante.

Truth be told, there's not a world of difference between our two strategies. On mine, the house edge is about 5.23% of the ante. Jim's simpler version nudges the house edge up a few hundredths a percent, to about 5.26%. Either way is far better than betting without checking your cards.

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