Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Myths and legends, table games edition

In any casino game, there are myths and legends, things people believe that don't quite square with reality.  Let's take on a few myths from a table games player perspective.

MYTH: The third baseman is a team player, and shouldn't take the dealer's bust card. A third baseman hitting 12 when the dealer has a 2, for example, is hurting the entire table.

FACT: A player hitting in that situation helps the rest of the table as often as he hurts it. Anyway, it's the best play for his hand. Hitting 12 against 2 is what he SHOULD do.

Wouldn't it be nice if we knew whether or not the next card in the deck would make the dealer's hand go bust? Problem is, we don't know what the dealer has face down, and we don't know what the next card is. Sitting at third base, I've drawn a 9 to my 12 for a 21, had the dealer turn up a 10-value card, then draw another 10 to bust. The entire table won, but if I hadn't hit, the dealer would have had a 9 and the whole table would have lost.

I've also drawn a card that would have busted the dealer. Most often, though, the dealer has something less than a 10-value face down, and NO one-card draw can bust the dealer's hand.

Unless other players are willing to pay for losses, the third baseman's responsibility is to make the play that's best for his or her own hand.

MYTH: A hot craps table is likely to stay hot, a cold table is likely to stay cold.

FACT: Average results on a table after a hot streak are the same as after a cold streak. Odds of the game don't change, regardless of how hot or cold the shooters have bene.

Craps players are always looking for hot tables, and avoiding cold ones. But unless you're dealing with controlled rollers, a la Frank Scoblete and his Golden Touch Craps team, I've never really seen a reason why a hot table should stay hot, or a cold table stay cold. We are dealing with dice, after all, that don't know what the previous results have been.

Several years ago, I put it to the test. For nearly a year, every time I was in a casino in the Midwest, South and in Nevada, I stopped by a craps table, waited until I saw two consecutive passes, then tracked the result of the next decision -- not as good a sample as a million-hand computer run, but a lot more time-consuming.

The result: Pass bettors won 489 wagers and lost 511 on the next sequence after two consecutive wins. There was no tendency for the dice to stay hot.

I also watched 1,000 trials that started with two don't passes, then charted the next decision. The dice passed 496 times in those 1,000 trials a mere three more passes than the expected average. There was no tendency for cold dice to stay cold, either.

Now, a thousand trials each way isn't enough to satisfy a statistician, but if hot tables stay hot and cold tables stay cold, well, you can't prove it by me.

MYTH: Just as in blackjack, counting cards can help you win.

FACT: Counting cards in baccarat doesn't help in any practical way.
Favorable situations in baccarat are really rare. The late Peter Griffin wrote in The Theory of Blackjack that a baccarat player who doesn't bet unless he has an advantage can squeeze an edge of about 0.7 percent of his maximum bets on banker and player. However, that player might play only about three hands per eight hours. That's watching, not playing.

For bets on ties, it's theoretically possible to count down to a 24 percent edge with six cards remaining, provided all the cards are dealt out.

In the real world, nobody deals out all the cards, and with one-half deck cut out of play, the bettor's potential edge on the last hand shrinks to just 0.08 percent. With just a small reservation, we can say the myth of the baccarat card counter is JUST a myth.

MYTH: An experienced roulette dealer can make the ball land where he pleases.

FACT: Dealers I know scoff at the notion they can hit a number at will. With the wheel spinning one way, the ball going in the opposite direction, bouncing on the surface and from fret to fret separating the numbers, there are far too many physical variables for a dealer to control where the ball will land.

Anyway, the last thing the casino wants is a dealer who can hit a number at will. As long as the results are random, the casino makes its money. However, if a dealer could control what numbers were coming up, there'd be a chance someone would be in on the secret and take a lot of money from the casino. Random games mean big profits for the operators. Taking the randomness out increases operator risk.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Rare strategy quirk in a Deuces Wild practice session

Practice may not make perfect in video poker, but it can spring some surprises on you.

I got a surprise of my own recently as I was practicing my strategy on Not So Ugly Deuces Wild. It's a game

I hadn't played in some time, but I was planning a day at a casino that offered it. With expert play, NSUD pays 99.7 percent with expert play. That figured to be the best game I'd find on that trip, so I figured I'd better put in a little practice time on the WinPoker software I use.

Here's the hand I was dealt: Queen of clubs, 9 of diamonds, 8 of diamonds, 4 of spades, 3 of hearts.

High pairs don't pay off in Deuces Wild --- the pay table starts at three of a kind --- so I wasn't going to hold the low Queen. Straights in Deuces Wild pay only 2-for-1, so you need four cards before you start thinking about possible straight draws. The best straight possibilities here were only two-card sequences.

Flushes pay 3-for-1 in NSUD, better than the 2-for-1 in full-pay Deuces Wild, so we do look for flushes often. Still, there were only two cards of the same suit in this hand.

Straight flushes pay 10-for-1, another step up from full-pay Deuces, which pays 9-for-1. But two cards to a straight flush? Not likely.

My conclusion: Toss the entire hand. Take a chance on five fresh cards.

The software's conclusion: A pop-up box, warning me I was making a mistake.
I changed my play to holding the 8-9 of diamonds, the only feasible play I could see here. At least it would give me starts on possible flushes, straights, and a long shot at a straight flush.

That, the computer accepted. It played out the draw, and then I clicked on the "analyze any hand" option to check out the numbers.

Sure enough, the calculations told me that holding the 8-9 of diamonds would bring an average return of 1.6075 coins per five wagered, while tossing the entire hand would bring only 1.6074 coins. I was wrong by one ten-thousandths of a percent.

Not a make-or-break hand obviously, and if you're playing in a casino and decide to toss the entire hand, well, I won't quibble. In order for holding the suited 8-9 to be the correct play, all the circumstances had to be in place.

To start with, the NSUD pay table had to be in place. In full-pay Deuces Wild, which pays less on flushes and straight flushes than the Not So Ugly variety, the best play is to discard all five cards. Even in Illinois Deuces, which matches NSUD in paying 3-for-1 on flushes but retains the full-pay return of 9-for-1 on straight flushes, the expert play is to toss the lot. The same hand in Illinois Deuces returns an average of 1.6012 coins with a five-coin discard, but only 1.5828 when holding the suited 8-9.

Beyond that, the situation regarding other possible straights and flushes had to be the same. Remember the hand: Queen of clubs, 8-9 of diamonds, 4 of spades, 3 of hearts
If holding the two consecutive diamonds with a straight flush possibility meant tossing a third diamond, the percentages would shift. If the 3 of hearts was a diamond instead, the best play would be to throw away the entire hand. Three diamonds with no straight flush possibility wouldn't yield enough to hold them, and throwing away a third diamond would diminish flush possibilities enough that holding the 8-9 would no longer be worthwhile.

Same deal with straight possibilities. The only possible straight involving three cards in the original hand is 8-9-Queen. There are two gaps on the inside, so the only combinations that can complete the straight are 10-Jack, 10-2, Jack-2 or two wild deuces.

What if the Queen of clubs was a Jack instead? Then there would be only one gap, and the combinations that would result in a straight would increase to 7-10, 10-Queen, 7-2, Queen-2, or 2-2. Throwing away the Jack would decrease the chances of building 8-9 into a straight that here too, the best play would change to discarding all five cards.

It seems by random chance in practicing with the WinPoker software, I ran into the right hand on the right pay table to learn a little something. If I'm playing with the Not So Ugly Deuces Wild pay table, and if I'm dealt a hand with 8-9 suited, no other cards of the same suit, and no straight possibilities with less than two gaps, I'll be holding the 8-9.

That's a rare situation, and who knows when I'll run into it again. But it's a play I'll never forget, and one I'd never have noticed had I not taken the time for a little practice.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New on my non-casino blog

A conversation with original Beatles fan club secretary Freda Kelly,

Players relive the agony of defeat

Where there are gamblers, there are tales of big wins, and there are woulda, coulda, shoulda stories of near misses. The conversation among a group of players sitting around a casino buffet table brought more than a few retellings of the thrills of victory and the agonies of defeat:

Joan: "It was in Las Vegas, at one of those Fifty Play video poker machines. I've played a lot of the Triple Play and Five Play Poker, but I'd never played the Fifty Play, so I thought I'd give it a try. They had it for pennies, so it took $2.50 per hand.

"After about 10 or 11 hands, I was dealt Ace-King-Queen-Jack of clubs, along with a 7 of something. I figured that was great. Fifty chances at a royal flush. OK, a royal only brings you $40 on a penny machine, but even one would buy a few hands, and there's always the chance to draw two or three royals, or even more.

"I didn't even get one. A bunch of high pairs, a few flushes and a couple of straights. I didn't even get my money back. I did OK on the machine and got to play a while, but never did get my royal."

Tom: "Funny you should bring up Fifty Play. I actually was DEALT a royal on Fifty Play. Got it 50 times, and it was on a nickel machine, so it was worth $10,000. What suit? Hearts. Got my picture taken with it and everything. I don't think I've ever been dealt a royal in the first five cards before, so I was really lucky it came when I'd get it 50 times."

Wanda: "You guys and your poker. You know I only play the slots. I think my worst moment came on a nickel Jackpot Party machine. I put in $20, and my very first play the five green 7s lined up straight across the bottom. That's a pretty big pay, and I was really excited, but the machine didn't do anything. I looked at the credit meter, and it was down five cents. It said I'd only bet one coin, and that only gives you the center payline.

"The best I can figure is that I hit the repeat bet button, and the player before me had only been playing one coin on one line. That's a mistake I'll never make again. I felt just awful. Now whenever I play, I make sure I hit the button so that I'm playing all the paylines."

John: "We all make mistakes, but the one that stands out for me came at a blackjack table when I misread the dealer's hand. I had a 9 and a 7 for a hard 16, and the dealer had a 6 face up. I'd misread it as a 9, so I signaled for a hit. The dealer paused and looked at me, because I'd been playing straight basic strategy to that point. I signaled for a hit again and drew a 4. I had a 20, and another player grumbled something about luck over skill.

"When it came the dealer, she turned up another 6, and it finally hit me that her first card was a 6, and I'd made a bad play. So now she had 12. The next card was a 9. Of course. She had 21, and she beat me, along with everyone else. If I hadn't take the hit, she'd have gotten the 4 for a 16, then the 9 would have busted her and the whole table would have won.

"One guy was so mad he immediately left the table. Very embarrassing."

Frank: "Do you remember the old Multiple Action Blackjack game? You'd make three bets. You'd only play one hand, but the dealer would play out three hands, each one starting with the same face up card. I don't think I've seen it in years, but I played it quite a lot at the Four Queens in Vegas for a while.

"One time, I was dealt a blackjack. That feels great, because you figure you have three winners, right? You're already counting your money before the dealer plays. Well, the dealer had an Ace face up. He asked if I wanted insurance, and I refused. So he plays out the hand once, turns up a King for a blackjack. He moves the Ace for the next hand, King, blackjack. Moves the Ace for the third hand, 10, blackjack. Bye-bye winnings. Instead of three wins, I just had three pushes.

"Would you believe, two hands later, I was dealt another blackjack and the dealer had another Ace? Dealer's first hand, Jack, blackjack. Second hand, King, blackjack. I said to her, 'Please. Don't do this to me again.' Third hand, she drew a 6. Finally, I won one. They way things were going, I was happy to take it."

Jack: "I played that game once. Had a great session. My blackjacks all won, three times over. Next time I went to Las Vegas, I looked for it, but it was gone. Easy come, easy go."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chicago note: New high-limit slot room at Horseshoe Hammond

It’s been five years since Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind., opened its roomy, glitzy, amenity-laden new barge, the $500 million facility that before opening was referred to internally as Project MOAB, for Mother of All Boats.

The project didn’t stop with opening. Operating a successful casino means constant freshening and upgrading. The latest upgrade at Horseshoe is a new high-limit slot room, opened Aug. 8 on the casino’s fifth anniversary.

The highest-grossing casino in the Chicago area, Horseshoe has had strong play among high-end players both on tables and slots right from the beginning. The new high-limit room has been designed for player comfort, and has added some of the most popular games in dollar-and-up denominations.

Among the games added:

**         New $1 WMS video titles, including Colossal Reels, Zeus, Kronos and Queen of the Wild. All have proven their popularity among high-limit players in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

**         From IGT, under its license with Action Gaming, comes All-Star Poker. It’s loaded with IGT/Action’s most popular multi-hand video poker games, all for dollar-and-up play. Touch the icons on the screen to choose among Ultimate X, Super Times Pay, Double Super Times Pay, Spin Poker and others.

**         New $1 5-reel, 9-line IGT stepper slots with classic title including Double Gold and Triple Lucky 7’s.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Off-topic blog.

I just wanted to let everyone know I've started a separate page for non-casino material, a place where I can share some of the work I've done related to other passions --- baseball, music, science, science fiction. The first post, on The Fest for Beatles Fans, is up at

Hope at least some of you enjoy