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Best of John Grochowski

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Pushing the casino with pink chips

7 November 2006

Reviewing Jean Scott's latest book, Frugal Video Poker, a couple of weeks ago started me thinking about Scott's most frugal tip from the first book, The Frugal Gambler. In her earliest low roller days, she used to return baggage carts others had left behind at Las Vegas' McCarran airport to collect the 25-cent deposits.

A quarter saved is a quarter earned.

The thought set me off on another tangent, thinking about a column I'd written a number of years ago. I noted that some blackjack tables were well stocked with quarters to make exact payoffs on blackjacks, but others used pink $2.50 chips. With a $5 bet on the table, a two-card 21 brings you $7.50 in winnings. Some casinos will give you a $5 chip, two $1 chips and either a half dollar or two quarters. Others will give you a $5 chip and a $2.50 chip.

But what if you then bet that $2.50 chip? What if your next bet is $7.50, and you're dealt a blackjack? Your payoff should be $11.25. That's no problem at tables stocked with quarters. But at those that use the pink chips, the closest they can come is $11.50 --- a $5 chip, a $2.50 chip and four $1 chips or tokens.

When I wrote about this lo those many years ago, I left it at that --- the true frugal low-roller can claim an extra quarter now and than at casinos that round up when you bet the pink chips.

But what if we were to go to Frugal Extreme mode, and buy pink chips whenever we sat down at a blackjack table --- assuming the casino would let us? What if we sized our bets so the casino that rounds up was giving us that extra quarter every time we were dealt a blackjack? What would that do to the house edge?

Let's assume we're playing basic strategy at a six-deck game in which the dealer stands on all 17s, we are permitted to double down after splitting pairs, and no other exotic rules are in force. That's a pretty common game, one with a house edge of 0.41 percent.

I'm also going to assume 63 hands per hour, just to make this easy. Blackjack operates at variable speeds, mostly depending on the number of players at the table but also including speed of the dealer and decision-making by players. The range is from about 50 to 250 hands per hour. Low rollers mostly play at full tables, meaning slow play. We average a blackjack about once per 21 hands, so I'll use the multiple of 21 hands that comes closest to the speed of a busy table.

The lower the wager, the more extreme the effect on the house edge an extra quarter here or there will be. So let's start with JUST wagering the pink chips, betting $2.50 a hand. Table minimums of at least $5 will make that impossible at most Midwest casinos, but it will give us an idea of the maximum effect. At $2.50 per hand and 63 hands per hour, we risk $157.50 per hour. The 0.41 percent house edge tells us a basic strategy player will average 64.6 cents per hour in losses. If the house rounds up to $4 payoffs instead of $3.75 on three blackjacks an hour, we pick up an extra 75 cents an hour. Instead of 64.6 cents in losses, we have 10.4 cents in profit. The advantage swings to the player, with a minuscule 0.066 percent player edge.

Let's try the same thing with a $5.50 wager, so that it qualifies at a $5 minimum table. Now our risk per hour is $346.50, and the expected average loss for a basic strategy player is $1.42. If we get an extra quarter on each of three blackjacks, that decreases the average loss to 67 cents, and drops the house edge to 0.19 percent.

I could complicate this a bit more that noting about once per seven hours, our blackjack will push against a dealer's blackjack. That dilutes our gain just a little, but the far larger factor is the size of our bets. The bigger our wagers, the smaller our percentage gain vs. the house edge when we try a little quarter pinching.

Is all this of any practical value? Probably not, and I certainly don't expect to see armies of blackjack players buying up all the pink chips when they stop to play. But those of a super frugal nature --- OK, the cheap ones among us --- might appreciate a tiny potential gain when blackjacks bring those $2.50 opportunities.

** ** **

POKER RETURNS: The Blue Chip casino in Michigan City is back in the live poker business. An eight-table room offering Texas Hold'em, seven-card stud and Omaha Hi/Lo began operations Oct. 23, and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This is Blue Chip's second foray into poker. On its old boat, Blue Chip ran a poker room for about a year. It was popular, but after about a year, it closed to make way for penny slots --- casinos do still make more money per square foot on slots than on poker. Now Blue Chip has room to stretch out, with 65,000 square feet of gaming space in the facility that opened earlier this year, and poker is back.

PRIMED FOR BEEF: Harrah's in Joliet, which started revamping its restaurants earlier this year, has moved to satisfy steak lovers with the new Reserve. With "A passion for fine steaks" appended to its name, you know where the Reserve is going: prime beef, along with lamb, lobster and a 150-item wine list from around the world.

The Reserve is open 4:30-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 4:30-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4-9:30 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call (815) 740-2624.

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:

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