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The Hot Tips Collection: Page 3


Here's a collection of hot tips, secrets and playing strategies from The GameMaster's personal archive. From Blackjack to Video Poker, from team play to counting techniques, it's all here. Pick one and jump right in.


Video Poker: The Value of a Hand

Needless to say, those of us who play video poker are going after a Royal Flush; it's the jackpot -- the big payoff. But, since it happens so seldom, it contributes a really small portion to the overall payback of a game. In most video poker formats, a royal only gives us about 2 % of the long term return.

So, where does the "big" money come from? This is not only a good trivia question; it also will give you some insight to why payoffs vary from machine to machine and will help you to understand why proper basic strategy at the game of your choice is so important. Every day I see players draw to any two cards of a royal and throw away better plays in the process. Sure, they will hit a royal quicker that way, but they will make less money in the long run. How can that be, you ask? Let me explain.

Figuring the long term payback of a video poker game requires us to know two things: how often will an event happen, and what is the payback is for that event. A royal may pay 4000 coins, but it will happen only about once in 40,000 hands. The "expectation" of that is the result of multiplying the % occurrence by the payout. At 1 in 40,000, the % occurrence (or probability) is 1 divided by 40,000 or .000025. Multiply that times the payoff of 800 coins (per coin played) and you can see that the result is about 2%. So, for every coin you put in the machine, your expectation is to get back 2% of that coin from a royal. Not very impressive, is it?

Now, let's look at a Jacks or Better game. There you can expect to receive two pair once every 8 hands, on average. That's a probability of about 12.5%. The payoff for two-pair is 2 coins for each coin put in, so that's .125 X 2 or 25%. You can see that for every coin you put in the machine, your expectation is to get 25% back from a hand of two pair. Twenty-five percent! That is an impressive number. Why do some games only pay 1 for 1 at two pair? Now you know. Of course, they make up for that some of that by paying more on other hands, but you can see the effect.

Ever wonder why some Joker Poker machines pay 20 coins (per coin played) for four-of-a-kind and others pay only 15? The probability of 4K at Joker Poker is about once every 120 hands; that calculates to 0.833%. Multiply .00833 X 20 and the payback is 16.66%. Cut the payoff to 15 coins and the payback is reduced to 12.45%, a four percentage points decrease. Ouch!

What about Deuces Wild; what's the big payoff here? It is , like Joker Poker, the four-of-a-kind (followed closely by three-of-a-kind). A 4K at Deuces Wild will happen, on average, about once every 16 hands, or 6.25% of the time. If the game pays 5 coins for a 4K, it contributes .0625 X 5 or a whopping 31.25% of the payback. Cut that to 4 and the total return is reduced by over 6% (only 25%)!

Now you know why it is so important to read AND understand the pay schedule of any video poker machine you intend to play. Dear reader, there are people out there who sit up all night trying to think of ways to get your money into their machines and they want to keep it. So, don't be tempted to break up those hands to shoot for the royal. Learn and follow the proper basic strategy; your share of royals will come.

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Basic Strategy Changes When Dealer Hits A-6

Many players from the East Coast have never played Blackjack where the dealer hits "soft" seventeen, consequently they are unaware of the changes which should be made in the basic strategy for such a game. While it's not a critical mistake to use the same strategy for this game as is used when the dealer stands on A-6, an extra edge can be gained by making the changes listed below.

Player's HandDealer Stands on A-6Dealer hits A-6
Ace-8Stand vs. upcard if 6Double vs.upcard of 6
11hit vs. upcard of AceDouble vs. upcard of Ace

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A Hot Tips Flash: The Queen Floats to the Top

With one small move the Casino Queen, located in East St. Louis, Il, across the river from St. Louis, MO became the best spot to play Blackjack in this area. The move was made by the cut card of the six-deck shoe that they use there; it has been repositioned in favor of the card counter. Ever since opening, the Queen was notorious for the lousy penetration of its game because they always used to cut off 3 decks in the shoe. Now they are cutting off only 1.5 decks which, when combined with their liberal rules, makes this the number one place for Blackjack in the St. Louis area. With 37 tables, limits which run $2-$100; $5-$200; $10 -$200 and $25-$500, along with a few $100 tables, the Queen has a game for everyone. Their rules are as follows:

Six-deck shoe, 75% penetration.
Dealer stands on A-6
Double on any first two cards
Double after splitting pairs
Resplit all pairs, including Aces up to four hands.

The house edge for a player who uses perfect basic strategy is .33%; the only thing close in this area is the Admiral with a .40% house edge.

Since it's located in Illinois, there is no "loss limit" placed on the player; all action is unlimited. The Queen has good safe parking, a $2 admission charge and it boards on odd hours from 5am daily. The buffet ain't bad, they have some full-pay $1 Double Bonus Video Poker machines and some $1 8/5 Jacks or Better progressives. The other video poker is nothing to write home about, but who wants to play VP when there's a BJ game like this available? Time will tell how well they "sweat" the action, but competition has again brought the player a better deal.

Go get 'em! The GameMaster

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The Bally "Game Maker" Video Machine

You may have seen these in your local casino; they are video slot machines which also offer various types of video poker. A player touches the screen to choose a game such as Jacks or Better video poker or some kind of slot or Bonus video poker, etc. Usually, there are about six games available. Be on the lookout for those which offer the following payout :

Royal Flush4000
Straight Flush1000
Four-of-a-kind200
Full House40
Flush40
Straight40
Three-of-a-kind15
Two Pair5
Pair of Jacks or Better5

This version will return 100% long term to players who use the proper basic strategy. Add in slot club points and this can be very worthwhile.

WARNING: The "short pay" version offers only 150 for Four-of-a-Kind , so the payback is cut to 99% by that change.

You might recognize this format where the Full House, Flush and Straight all pay the same; it's the old "All American" game which never really caught on, since it was one of the first to pay a "push" on two pair and players didnÕt like that. Now, with Double Bonus Poker gaining such an acceptance (it too, plays 5 for 5 on two pair), this game's time may have come. But, as you might expect, the proper basic strategy is a lot different than Jacks or Better, since itÕs much more profitable to draw for Flushes and Straights. If you have the basic strategy for All American, then use it on this machine. I'll also be giving you playing tips in the following weeks. For now, break any pair to draw to a four-card straight or flush.

Hmmm. The initials to this are "GM". The initials of the GameMaster are "GM". Think they named this after moi?

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A Good Rumor Heard in Cyberspace

In a chat roomthe other night, I heard of a scam in craps which is probably true, but is still incredible. Seems that a couple of players went into a Southern casino to play craps and manipulated the dice in a curious way: they added a spot to each four on the pair of dice (thus making them into fives!!) and started betting the 10 hardway, the field, etc. Supposedly cost the casino a couple of hundred BIG ONES! -The GameMaster

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Double Bonus Video Poker

Because this game pays 5 for 1 on a straight, you should play a hand which contains both a four-card straight and a small pair (10's or lower) differerently than you would at Jacks or Better video poker. In "Jacks", you should always draw to the pair. At Double Bonus, you should break up the pair and draw to the straight.

Example: 7 8 6 9 9 Drop one of the 9's and go for the straight; no, I don't have any advice on which 9 you should keep; it's a random choice.

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"Misconceptions On Blackjack"--A Conversation

Michael writes about certain misconceptions which seem to proliferate about the game of Blackjack. I've placed my comments after each question he posed.
-The GameMaster

I am writing to ask your opinion regarding some deviations from the standard basic method I have come across in the Blackjack literature, and about an unusual progression betting strategy. What do you think of the following?

1) Scarne says that you should stand on 16 against a Dealer 10 (over a 10% improvement in outcome; p. 377).

A starting hand of 16 vs. 10 is a loser, no matter how it's played, but the smaller loss comes from hitting, not standing. In the book which I consider to be the card counter's "bible"; Stanford Wong's "Professional Blackjack", he has calculated the expectation for each hand. In a six-deck game, standing with a 16 (9,7; 10,6, etc.) against a dealer's 10 has an expectation of -.537 which means that a player will lose 53.7% of all the money s/he bets in that situation. By hitting, the loss is reduced slightly to -.535. So, Scarne wasn't off by much on this one, but the problem is that the hand occurs relatively often, so that .2% really adds up if you're playing for high stakes.

2) Scarne says that you should not split 8s against a Dealer 9 or 10 (p. 379).

This is a result of, I believe, "intuitive" thinking, not sound mathematics. It seems like such a dumb play to make; by splitting, you're risking twice as much money in a losing proposition. But, as Wong shows, standing with 8,8 against a 9 shows an expectation of -.539 where splitting (and no double after split is allowed), drops that to -.421 (all figured on the initial bet). Against a 10, the difference is not as big, but it's still significant. Standing is -.537 and splitting is -.493. Now I understand that Wong may also be incorrect, but his determination of these statistics is based upon sound principles which he explains and Scarne just wants you to take his word for it.

3) David S. Popik ("Winning BJ Without Counting Cards") observes a change in basic strategy for 8-deck play as opposed to single-deck, to the extent that a player should hit a 12-count against a Dealer 2 with 1 deck, but stand on a 12-count against a Dealer 2 with 8 decks (p. 101, 102). I suppose this has to do with the predictive value of the three cards involved with 49 cards left vs. 413 cards left.

Mr. Popik is dead wrong on this one. In both cases it is a better (more profitable) play to HIT a hand of 12 against a dealer's 2. I wrote about situations like this in an article called "Donating Money to the Casino of Your Choice" since this is a common mistake players make. In a six-deck game (I don't have figures for an 8-deck game, but I assure you they are similar since there's little difference once you go above 4 decks), a player who stands with 12 vs. 2 has an expectation of -.290 and hitting reduces that to -.252. I know Wong's justification for that figure; I wonder if Mr. Popik has one.

4) Popik also lays out a unique "Win-Loss Group System" theory that claims the patterns to bet on are a win following one other win, and a win following three consecutive losses. I cannot condense his argument and tell you why he thinks these patterns exist, but he goes to great lengths (this and the eight-deck analysis are the only new perspectives in the whole book) to prove it.

We've been doing so well with Wong's book, let's use it here as well. In his discussion of "streaks" on page 239, he does an exhaustive analysis of the predictability of win/loss patterns. I won't go into all of it, but if you won two hands in a row, your probabilities for the next hand are, Win: .432; Lose: .478 and Push: .089. If you have lost 2 hands in a row, the probabilities for the third hand are exactly as those stated above. If you were to look out in the 4th decimal point of these types of studies, you'd see that the best chance for a win is after two pushes but the difference is too small to be of practical value to a player.

Mr. Popick is the product of a species (all of us humans) who can look up in the sky, see seven stars which have no relationship and proclaim: "Look, it's a Big Dipper". We seek patterns where none exist and I guess that's a good thing for art museums but not casinos.

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A Raised Bet Causes a Shuffle

One of my former Blackjack students, Ken, had been out in Reno partaking of some of their green felt delights (read: winning like crazy!) and when he got back, he called to bring me up to date on what was happening out there. Conditions were excellent, he said, at the Clarion and the Peppermill and he had received fine treatment from them while betting $25 to two hands of $100. (On a later trip he was barred from both places). The one thing which bothered him was a dealer at the Peppermill who would shuffle up every time he raised his bet; she obviously thought he was a counter -- how right she was! But, as I told Ken, rather than walk away from such a dealer, use their "prejudice" for your own means.

Now, I realize this isn't exactly a secret; almost any good book on Blackjack will cover this point, but not everyone reads a lot and sometimes we forget what we've read. So, I'll tell you how to handle a situation like Ken ran into, make some money doing it and give the ardent dealer a sense of "Duty, Honor, Company" as they walk away from you. The trick, of course, is to raise your bet when the count goes down, not up! If the dealer thinks you're a counter, they naturally believe you are raising your bet because the deck has moved in your favor, so they shuffle the opportunity away. Now, do just the opposite. As the deck moves in favor of the casino, raise your bet and they'll shuffle away Mr. Negative Deck. Leave the same bet out for the first hand (a small cost to you, long term) and keep a 2 or 3 unit bet out as long as the count is plus. Should the count go minus, raise your bet and the dealer will probably shuffle. Remember, few dealers can count cards and deal at the same time; they are just reacting to your signal.

This is no way to get rich, since you are basically flat betting the game, but with decent penetration, some $$$ can be made. I think the real value of this maneuver is the psychological factor of screwing with their minds. They're willing to mess with yours, so give them some of their own medicine.

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Blackjack Tips

Team Play at Blackjack
Playing A-7 Properly
Tracking Aces
The 17-Card Cut
BS Changes-Dealer Hits A-6
Insuring A Blackjack
Misconceptions On Blackjack
A Raised Bet Causes a Shuffle
Counting Cards at Spanish 21
Stand or Double with A-7?
Yet Another Blackjack Hot Tip
Hate to see players split 10s?
Doubling With 11
Blackjack: Splitting 4's
Double A-8?
Super Sevens Sidebet

Video Poker Tips

Deuces Wild - Potential Return
Video Poker-Tiny Tip
Two Machines, One Card
Dilemma Hands at Video Poker
100.6% Return at "Deuces Wild"
Video Poker Hot Tip
Video Poker: Value of a Hand
Double Bonus Video Poker
Using Match PlayChips
Joker Poker Strategy
Joker Poker?

Other Gaming Tips

Streaks in Baccarat
The "Hedge" System In Craps
Let It Ride Playing Strategy
Electronic Keno
A Craps Tip
How Much Should I Tip
The Queen Floats to the Top
The Bally Video Machine
Rumor Heard in Cyberspace
Lotteries- three digit number?
Practicing Let It Ride
The Grind System For Craps

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