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Deal Me In


“I’ll do the thinnin’ around here – and don’t you forget it!”

Dear Mark: I was sitting next to a lady in a casino who was playing at a speed that I had never witnessed in the 30 years that I have been going to the casino. When she finally stopped to catch her breath, I had to ask her, “Does it help?” She said the faster she played, the higher the return on the machine. Is this true or hogwash? Sandy C.


My first impression from your question, Sandy, is that this lady perhaps is gambling far more than she should be, and that is a question/answer for another day, one she needs to ask herself first. As to “the faster she played, the higher the return on the machine,” unequivocally utter hogwash!

Faster play makes zero difference to the random number generator. Over the long run, she will get the equivalent payback percentage regardless of the speed of her play.

What is working against her and her Quick Draw McGraw speed is the total amount she is wagering, especially against any machine that carries a high house edge, which, by the way, is all of them.

If she is wagering $0.75 a spin on a quarter machine for 600 spins in an hour, she is putting at risk $450. If you, sitting next to her, are wagering that same $0.75 a spin, but spinning the reels only 150 times per hour, you are only risking $112.50. Faster play means more money exposed, and with the casino holding, for instance, a built-in 15% on quarter play, she’s donating far more to the casino's coffers than you are.


Dear Mark: Why does a player who is betting two spots in blackjack have to bet double the minimum? Ed P.


I learned the answer to this question, Ed, on the first day I dealt blackjack. 

Yours Truly thought dealer school was an inconvenience during ski season, so I self-taught myself by pitching cards across the room into a hat, practiced shuffling, dealing and the pay and take on an ironing board. I did have some tutelage from a dealer roommate who went on to become a gaming agent for the State of Nevada; but obviously, he couldn’t cover all the rules. One such overlooked tenet missed was the rules related to payouts for scoring 21 on split aces. I assumed that if you split aces and got two face cards, you just got yourself two blackjacks, so I paid accordingly. Yep, I paid them.

Another was the appropriate amount needed when playing two hands. An old-time pit boss named Dennis Healy at the Club Cal Neva noticed my error, among others, and corrected me on my break. Being the curious sort, I did ask why. Healy said the reason the casino requires a double-minimum bet to play two spots is that it doesn't want a player to tie up multiple spots with minimum bets. Leaving the spot open for another player who might bet several times the minimum will make the casino more money over the long run, hence, the double-minimum.

Incidentally, errors on my early shifts should have sent me down the road, but Healy and the Club Cal Neva let them slide. Ultimately, dealing there ended up being a terrific place to work for the break-in dealer. 


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Poker is a lot like sex, everyone thinks they are the best, but most don't have a clue what they are doing!” - Dutch Boyd


Separating the wheat from the chaff

Dear Mark: A few weeks back you had mentioned both the math and rules for the table game Let-it-Ride. You also recommended not playing the game. But there are other table games that seem interesting, for instance, Three Card Poker and Caribbean Stud. Compared to Let-it-Ride, which would you recommend between these two other games? Nicolas C. 


Personally, Nicolas, I would recommend Three Card Poker, both for the fun factor and because the casino advantage is lower on selected bets among the three games (Let-it-Ride, Caribbean Stud and Three Card Poker) your question mentioned.

With Caribbean Stud, the best you can hope for is a casino edge of about 5.2% based on the player's ante wager, or, 2.6% based on the ante and call bet. As for the progressive wager, the average house edge is over 26%, depending, of course, on the size of the jackpot. 

As for Let-it-Ride, even if you played the game flawlessly, the casino's edge on Let-It-Ride is 3.51%. As for those Let-It-Ride side bets where for $1 you are offered an additional payoff with certain paying hands you really get snookered; these bets carry a double-digit casino advantage so definitely scratch this offer. 

With regard to Three Card poker, it depends on your cards. Allow me to rephrase that: on whether you should play your cards. The house edge is 3.37% against the Ante alone, but only 2.01% against your Queen-6-4, that is if you decide to make the Play bet. With a Pair Plus wager, the casino advantage is slightly higher at 2.32%. 

So, Nicolas, among these choices, Three Card Poker is the way to go as it offers better wagers for the player. Although the casino advantage is above my suggested “never make a wager that has higher than a 2% house edge,” of the three it has the best return, is easy to learn; and plenty of players find it fun to play.

My true suggestion here would be to give Mini-Baccarat a try. Not only is Mini-Baccarat one of the easiest casino games to play, but you don’t even have to know the rules because the correct hitting sequence is predetermined. Additionally, stakes can be relatively low when you play on a Mini-Baccarat table. With Mini-Baccarat the house advantage is either 1.17% when betting the Bank hand or 1.36% with a Player hand wager.


Dear Mark: I disagree with one of your assessment/strategies that you should always hit a 16 against a dealer with a 7-10. Sorry, but I am from the school that you should always let the dealer bust instead. What is the basis of your recommendation? Alex A.


You give me credit I don’t deserve, Alex. Hitting a 16 against a dealer with a 7, 8, 9, 10/face showing isn’t my personal assessment of how to play the hand correctly. I don’t own the math on this play or trust my back of the envelope figuring. The correct strategy for this particular hand comes from a set of computer-derived rules for playing every hand against every possible dealer up-card.

Here’s the arithmetic based on a kazillion computer calculations. If you hit this lousy hand, you are going to bust over 60 percent of the time. By giving the dealer a chance to bust out instead, you will lose approximately 70 percent of the time. 

The dealer’s chances of having a 17 or more when he or she shows a 7, 8, 9, 10 or Ace is between 74% and 83%. It is for this reason that the correct basic strategy dictates that you should always hit your lousy 16. 


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Eat your betting money but don’t bet you’re eating money.” – Horseracing Proverb

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