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Best of John Grochowski

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Why I write about casino games

29 July 2008

After 14 years of writing this column, I don't often get asked a question I've never been asked before. But I received one via e-mail in June, one that I've sometimes wondered why nobody has asked.

"Why do you do what you do?" asked the e-mailer, who identified himself as Chas. "It seems to me that being an expert on casino games doesn't amount to much. Everybody knows you can't win at those games. About all you can do is show people how to lose slower, but they're still going to lose."

The short answer is that I do this because I enjoy it. As I was learning about casino games and their odds and probabilities in the few years before somebody actually offered to pay me to write about it, I explored for myself the topics I share with you now. Is there a way to tell a high-paying slot machine from a coin gobbler? What's the best way to attack blackjack? Does strategy make a difference at video poker?

As gambling was legalized in the Midwest and casinos expanded out of their Nevada and New Jersey homes, I often thought there was a place for a column such as this. Thousands of people who had never played in casinos before suddenly were out there regularly in Davenport, Iowa, and Joliet, Illinois. There was a need for information.

It's not really true that you can't win at casino games, though it's true that most players will lose more than they win. There is opportunity to play for profit as well as for fun if you count cards at blackjack, control the dice at craps or play expert strategy at the highest-paying video poker games.

Most players don't play well enough to get that edge, and most players wouldn't want to put in the study and practice time necessary to play for profit. They play for fun, for entertainment, and for the occasional wins that come at any casino game.

Unlike my e-mailer Chas, I see value in showing those players how to lose more slowly — and in the process how to win more often. If you're a blackjack player who has been averaging $200 in losses per couple of hours of play, wouldn't you find value in learning how to cut those losses to a $50 average, with more frequent winning sessions? That's what basic strategy does, trimming the house edge from 2%-plus to half a percent, and sometimes less, depending on house rules.

If you're a craps player who has been wagering on propositions with house edges up to 16.67%, there's value in learning to stick to the best bets, with house edges of less than 2%.

Just in the Chicago area, where I'm based, more than 50,000 people a day go to the nine Illinois and Indiana casinos that are within an hour's drive of the city. To my way of thinking, those people ought to have easy access to information that will help them get the most of their money, even if the majority will leave some money behind as the price of the day's entertainment.

I'm not urging anyone to gamble. If you think it's not right for you, then it's not. But for those who do play, I'd like to see them have a fighting chance, and that takes knowledge of the best bets and strategies. That's why I do what I do.

** * ** * **

I mentioned that it's possible for the player to get an edge in three casino games — blackjack, craps and video poker. It's also possible to get an edge in pai gow poker at casinos that allow players to act as banker. I know of no such opportunities in the Midwest. As for the others, here's a little more detail:

BLACKJACK: Basic strategy takes you a long way toward getting more for your money, but to go the rest of the way and take a mathematical edge on the house, counting cards is necessary.

What's important is sizing your bets so that your largest wagers are on the table when there's a high concentration of high cards remaining to be played, and your lowest wagers when there's a high concentration of low cards. When the chances are greatest you'll be dealt a blackjack that pays 3-2, that's when you want your money out there.

CRAPS: For most of the time that I've been writing about gambling, I've said that the best a craps player can hope for is to narrow the house edge to hundredths of a percent in casinos that offer 100x odds. Frank Scoblete has turned me around with his "Golden Touch" dice control system. It's a lot of work, takes plenty of practice, and not everyone can do it. But it is possible to gain an edge in craps.

VIDEO POKER: There's a two-part problem here. First, you must be able to identify the high-paying games from the unbeatable ones. Then, you must know which cards to hold and which to discard.

None of this is easy, but hey, if it was, the games would disappear.

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