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Deal Me In


Gimmick bets are part of the game

Dear Mark: With “Fortune” Pai Gow Poker, how bad are the odds on the bonus fortune bet? Ray C.


Pai Gow Poker is a hybrid of Chinese dominos, “Pai Gow” and American seven-card poker. Played with a standard 52-card deck plus a joker, it differs from the typical seven-card game in that you play against a banker, not against other players at the table.

The Pai Gow house edge playing house rules against a player who does not bank (acts as the banker for other players to play against) is 2.84%. Most of that edge, 1.27%, comes from players losing a tie to the bank. The remainder comes from the 5% commission paid on winning hands.

Fortune Pai Gow Poker is a popular variant played in casinos today. The game plays exactly like Pai Gow Poker with the exception of an optional Fortune Bonus side bet.

Whenever, Ray, the casino proposes a wager that requires that you put more money on the layout, it most likely is a losing proposition. Better stated, it is a sucker bet that carries a high house edge.

The Fortune Bonus is a side bet that pays strictly on the value of a player’s seven cards and not how the player sets his or her hand. In addition, if another player has a four-of-a-kind or better, the player making the Fortune bet will get what is called an "Envy Bonus," a bonus that is paid when other players at the table make a certain paytable hand. To qualify for the Envy Bonus, typically a minimum of $5 must be bet on the Fortune Bonus.

Based on a typical paytable, the Fortune Bonus Pai Gow wager has a house edge of nearly 8% before considering the Envy Bonus. With the Envy wager, you can subtract approximately 1% for each additional player at the table.

I recommend, Ray, that you stay clear of a Fortune Bonus Pai Gow wager. Pai Gow Poker already has some of the best odds/money return of most casino games outside of craps or blackjack, so don’t give the casino any more of your hard-earned money than you have to.


Dear Mark: I recently played at the MGM Grand in Detroit. I asked an employee to be shown where the 9/6 machines were for Jacks-or-Better. We searched all over, and the best he could find were some 8/5 machines. There were also many 7/5 machines. I did manage to win a little on the 8/5 but not as much as I had at Greektown Casino, which does have 9/6 machines. Can you tell me what the different odds are on a 9/6 vs. an 8/5 and a 7/5? Mike O.


I am pleased to see, Mike, that you are on the hunt for full-pay (9/6) jacks-or-better machines. They are just not that easy to find anymore, but once located, if you employ basic strategy, your expected payback is 99.544%. However, you must take into account that those high returns are predicated on your hitting the royal flush. The royal flush is so dominant in the casino payout calculations for video poker that it is going to cost you 12% over the long run while you burn through your bankroll chasing a suited Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace.

Now compare that, Mike, to the reduced return of an 8/5 game, 97.3%, and a 7/5 machine that returns 96.2% with five coins inserted.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “I like to play blackjack. I'm not addicted to gambling. I'm addicted to sitting in a semi-circle.” – Mitch Hedberg


Times to split 10s at blackjack are extremely rare

Dear Mark: I am aware that you never – ever – ever split 10s against a dealer’s 5 or 6.  However, I have been tempted to do so when no one else is at the Blackjack table.  My question is what is the percentage odds of winning (or losing) by doing so? Herb C.


Surprisingly, Herb, there was a gaming writer, John Scarne (Scarne on Cards), who did recommend splitting 10s when playing the standard version of blackjack. However, Scarne’s book was published in 1949, well before computers could analyze the game of blackjack with multi-million hand simulations.

Then in 1962 along came Edward Thorp, the first blackjack specialist who used an IBM 704 computer and published the results in his book, Beat the Dealer. Since then, I can’t think of any blackjack authors that recommend splitting 10s in most, if not all, cases.

Moreover, years ago I ran a 20-million hand simulation analysis using a Macintosh software program called BJ Trainer. My results clearly favored leaving those 10s unaided versus splitting them, even against a 5 or a 6. I favor taking computer results over advice written in 1949 every time.

That said, Herb, in reference to your question where you state “Never – ever – ever split 10s against a dealer’s 5 or 6” there are moments where it could be a good strategy.

In Face-up Blackjack, where all the cards dealt are exposed, including both dealer’s cards, the correct strategy calls for splitting 10s against the dealer’s 13, 14, 15, or 16.

Also, for card counters, a situation that favors splitting 10s would be when there is a high proportion of high cards left in the deck, for instance a high-low true count of plus 6 or more with the dealer showing a 6.

There is one other scenario where splitting 10s can be the better play than standing, that being the last hand of a round during a blackjack tournament. I had it happen to me once when, while observing the leader’s chip count, I calculated that by holding on to a probable winner of 20, I still wouldn’t have won enough money to overtake him.  So, Herb, I split them, and a $20 payout difference got me to the next round.

As for the arithmetic, the statistical data on how often you will win when you split a pair of 10s against a dealer showing a 6 is 64% of the time. Your profit expectations for every $100 you bet while splitting those 10s will be, on average, a $56 profit.

However, Herb, we had better look at your other option: standing pat on your 20. By standing, you will win around 85 percent of the time, and will make about $14 more per $100 wagered than splitting.

My recommendation is to stand on your 20. Your fair share of being dealt a 20 is approximately 9.2% of the time, and I just don’t want you putting that stellar hand in unwarranted jeopardy, but for those few exceptions listed above.  


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Blackjack--what a game! How simple it looks, yet how complex it truly is.” – Victor H. Royer