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Best of John Grochowski

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Some players can't beat beatable games

8 June 2010

The phone rang, and a voice on the other end said he had a question about beatable casino games.

"You wrote that on every game, the house gets its edge by paying less than true odds, right?"

Right.

"And you've written that blackjack and video poker are beatable games?"

Right, provided the blackjack player is skilled at counting cards and the video poker player uses expert strategy and sticks to certain games.

"So does that mean blackjack and video poker pay at more than true odds?"

In a way. It's more that a skilled enough player in blackjack and a skilled enough player with a good enough pay table in video poker shifts the odds of the game in their favor.

"Explain, please. Why would a casino offer a game that favors players?"

They don't favor ALL players. There's not one player in a thousand who can really count cards effectively enough to beat the casino, or play video poker well enough to get maximum return on the best games. The games make money. Just as important in some casinos' views is that offering "beatable" games that most players can't really beat is an attraction, a reason for players to choose their casino over a competitor.

"How can they pay different to one player than to another? A blackjack still pays 3-2, no matter how you play the game. A royal flush doesn't suddenly pay more because you play better."

In blackjack, the odds are constantly changing. As cards are dealt out, the composition of the remaining deck changes. When there is a higher than usual percentage of high cards remaining, the odds shift in favor of the player, because more blackjacks, paying 3-2 are dealt, and because players are more likely to draw high cards in double-down situations.

"OK, but that would be true for both skilled and unskilled players, right?"

True. For any player, sometimes the composition of the deck in blackjack favors players, sometimes it favors the dealer. But card counters can take advantage of that shift, and less-skilled players can't. When the odds shift in favor of the player, the card counter bets more money.

The card counter is no more likely to get a blackjack or win on a double down than any other player at the table. But by betting more money in those situations, the counter shifts the overall odds of the game. If I'm betting $10 a hand when the chances of getting a blackjack are 1 in 21, drop to $5 when they're 1 in 22, but raise to $20 when they're 1 in 20, then I've changed the odds of the game.

"What about video poker? The pay table stays the same for everybody."

Yes, but a real pro will confine play to games such as 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker, which pays 10-for-1 on full houses, 7-for-1 on flushes and 5-for-1 on full houses, and returns 100.17% with expert play. It won't return 100.17% to everyone. The average player is going to get from 2% to 4% less than that, depending on how close to expert strategy they play.

And the expert will know, for example, that holding a low pair instead of a single Jack or better will bring fewer winning hands, but more big wins. The pro will get back more money for the same amount of play.

"Can a video poker player walk into any casino and start winning?"

No, adjustments on the pay tables can make the games unbeatable. If you drop the full house payoff to 9-for-1 on Double Bonus, leaving a 9-7-5 game, then the long-term return with expert play drops to 99.1%. Every game, whether it's Jacks or Better, Double Double Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild or anything else, is available to casinos with different pay tables. Part of expert play is learning to recognize the higher-paying games.

Not every casino offers the highest-paying video poker games. You'll find them mostly in competitive markets with a strong video poker following, where the presence of high pay tables will draw in customers. Most will not actually be able to beat the games, and most also will play other games while they're in the casino, but the high pay tables draw them in.

"And blackjack? Does everybody have beatable games?"

No, there are options that can make blackjack unbeatable. If blackjacks pay only 6-5 instead of the traditional 3-2, or if the games use continuous shuffling machines, skilled players will avoid those games like the plague. Problem is, such games take the money from average players a little too fast, and casinos that use them risk driving away good customers.

"So bottom line. What you're telling me is that the odds are different for different players?"

In those games, yes. In roulette or on slot machines, the odds are the odds. In some card games, such as Caribbean Stud Poker, Three Card Poker, and Let It Ride, skill can shift the odds, but not enough to give the player an edge. But in blackjack and video poker, where skill is a larger portion of the game, your play makes a big difference.

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