Deal Me In with Mark Pilarski

Read Mark Pilarski's Deal Me In Column every week right here. A recognized authority on casino gambling, Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audio book series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.

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Did a crappy thing happen on the crap table?

27.08.2016

Dear Mark: I will try to keep this as short as possible. Where I play, the Crap table offers what is called a Fire bet. If you make all the point numbers (4-5-6-8-9-10) in any order before 7 rolls, you are paid 1,000 to 1. I made the 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10, and then low and behold, the 9 rolled, which should have paid me $5,000 since I had $5 on Fire bet. However, the pit boss yelled out “No roll” and the shooter proceeded to roll a 7 three rolls later. My question is, was I screwed by the pit boss out of $5,000? While you are at it, should I be making the bet in the first place? I have been playing the Fire bet for a few years now, and this was the closest I have ever come to hitting all six numbers. John K.

I will begin, John, with the game, followed by the math, and then that “no roll” call.

Some casinos offer what’s called a "Fire Bet," that pays if the shooter makes “at least” 4 different points (4, 5, 6, 8, 9,10) before the seven rolls.

The bet is typically offered at $1 to $5, and the bettor is betting that a hot shooter will make multiple valued points. For the points to count towards the Fire Bet, they must all be different. For example, if a player were to make a point of 4 twice, only one of those rolls would only be credited for a point on the Fire bet, not two.

For the first three points hit, there are no payoffs. However, increasing odds are paid for the fourth, fifth, and sixth points; 25 to 1 odds are paid for the fourth point, which would be $125 a $5 bet; the fifth point pays at 250 to 1 odds, which is $1250 for a $5 bet; and the sixth point pays 1,000 to 1 odds or $5,000 in your case. It is important to note here that you won something on that $5 wager: $1,250.

As for to your inquiry about the worthiness of this wager, John, consider this. There is a reason why, as you stated: “this is the closest I’ve come to hitting all six numbers.” The Fire Bet is the worst bet you can make on a crap game. It has a huge house edge of 24.7%.

Concerning your question about being screwed, I doubt you were unless, of course, your legitimate win of $1250 for hitting five numbers was not honored.

When the boxman supervising a crap game invalidates a roll, he or she will call “no roll” or “no dice.” Usually, this happens when one or both of the dice fail to cover much distance, they bounce off the game, a player tries to slide them, or the dice do not land flat. More than likely one of those possibilities happened on that fateful roll.

I can tell you first hand, John, that in a fast paced game like craps, a boxman needs to make split-second decisions that won’t always be favorable to you.

True, John, I wasn’t there boxing the game. So I can only presume that the boxman either thought it wasn’t a legal toss, or, one of the dice after landing was tilted at such an angle that he or she couldn’t clearly distinguish it as that 9 that you were eager for.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “His hands become nervous when he picks up their cards, exactly as if he were holding live birds instead of inanimate pieces of cardboard.” - Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) describing Leo Tolstoy at cards


One coin is fine on a multi-coin/multi-line

12.08.2016

Dear Mark: On a multi-line/multi-coin video slot machine, how many coins do you recommend per line? Also, on a slot machine where you can push a button to stop the reels when I do decide to stop them, does it make any difference as to my chances of winning? Susan L.

On multi-line/multi-coin slots, I would recommend playing one coin per line. The reason, Susan, is that more than likely you are playing on what is called a Straight Multiplier or an “equal distribution” machine. The payouts on additional coins per line are just straight multiples of the one-coin payout on most of these machines. Hence, there is no advantage to playing more than one coin per line.

Pressing the stop button at your choice of intervals, Susan, has no effect on your chances of winning, or losing for that matter. What pressing the ‘Stop Spin” button does do is cut out the “round and round she goes…” fun factor that many players enjoy.

Dear Mark: We are offering a Las Vegas Night this year for our charity. There will be two blackjack games, both single deck. Chips will be valued at $1 with winnings that can be turned in for prizes, not cash. Although we will be using standard blackjack rules, I am questioning burning a card after the shuffle. Should we, and what is the reasoning behind it? Henry P.

With blackjack, Henry, the top card or cards are typically discarded after the shuffle. When these card or cards are discarded from the top of the deck, they are called burn card(s). The reasoning for this security measure is to reduce the chances of a player or players getting advance information about future cards.

There is a good chance that as you swap out dealers at your charity event most will forget to burn a card every time. Even newbie dealers in a casino sometimes forget, added Yours Truly to that list when I broke in.

Worry not, Henry, as this security measure is certainly not imperative with casual play, especially if your top prize is a gigantic stuffed teddy bear.

Dear Mark: I have two questions regarding home-play poker ethics. First, what are your thoughts on a player who “chip dumps?” Some of my poker buddies find it acceptable to do, but I don’t. I find it unethical. What are your thoughts? Also, is it okay to talk about your poker hand while playing? Pete J.

To clarify for readers who don’t know, chip dumping is when a player makes large bets and raises, only to fold later to a much smaller wager, a bet that any legitimate player would typically call.

Another example of chip dumping is two players who are collaborating; one making large wagers with an inferior hand and expecting to lose to the accomplice, which gives the co-conspirator more chips.

Players who chip dump think it’s ethical. I believe it’s out-and-out cheating.

Talking about your hand, especially with the disingenuous intent of deceiving other players, is called coffeehousing. Again, is it ethical? Personally, Pete, I don’t think it is. My suggestion here is that house rules with respect to coffeehousing and chip dumping should be established at the outset of kitchen table play.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “The only man who makes money following the races is one who does it with a broom and shovel.” – Elbert Hubbard


Fast play can make your day

05.08.2016

Dear Mark: Over the years I have been playing slots less and less. Now I just play in an occasional slot tournament that our local casino offers. I do find these enjoyable. Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve my chances of winning in these tournaments? Mary L.

A good number of casinos offer slot tournaments for their patrons. The most popular format is one that offers timed sessions where the slot machines are in free-play mode. What free-play means is that you show up with an entry fee, say $25, and you don't have to buck up with any more money. That up-front $25 entry fee, Mary, is your total cash outlay, which as you know, you can burn through in mere minutes on your favorite slot. Yes, Mary, slot tournaments are rather cheap fun, and one might even include a buffet lunch. With a trip to the chow line as part of the deal, you’d be losing money if you didn’t play.

When playing these free-play tournaments, every player each round is given 1,000 credits and 20 minutes to play them. Every time you tap the spin button, three credits are deducted from your starting credits, and credits that you win are shown on a separate meter.

After time has expired, the machine automatically locks up, halting play. Any credits un-played are automatically lost. Winners move on to the next round and the player with the most cumulated points at the end of the tournament wins.

The main objective of this type of slot tournament, Mary, is to make use of all your credits within the specified period.

By not using up all your credits, you will lower your chances of winning because players who are super fast at hitting the spin button will automatically accumulate more spins than you will, making them more likely to have more points than you.

Unfortunately, Mary, there is no slot strategy that will make you a long-term winner at slot machines. With a slot tournament, though, it just so happens there is one straightforward stratagem: Get in as many spins as you can.

You do this, Mary, by keeping your fingers directly on the spin button along with skillfully timing the exact moment when you press the spin button. The reasoning here is that the machine will not spin until the winning credits have been tallied and displayed on the screen, making precision timing, everything.

WARNING: Fast-paced spinning is only appropriate in slot tournaments. Never, ever employ this fast-paced method while playing your favorite slot machine. With the huge built-in house edge on your typical slot machine, speedy play will empty your purse at full tilt.

One other tip, Mary, is to focus on your play and your play only. Avoid viewing the scores of your opponents. A few precious seconds here or there can sometimes be the decider on whether you advance to the next round or not.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal. Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it occurs.” - Mario Andretti


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

15.07.2016

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

08.07.2016

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


A Video Poker machine so good it is hard to believe

02.07.2016

Dear Mark: You have written that with perfect basic strategy some video poker machines will have a payback above 100%. I have also read that the machines can NOT be set to return over 100%. Can you please explain the difference of what I am reading? Dave D.

When employing expert play, a player’s strategy can affect payback percentages. A good basic strategy player who can identify decent paying machines can virtually eliminate the house advantage, bringing it down to zero, and in some cases, giving the skilled player a slight edge. An example of the machines I am speaking of are a full-pay Deuces Wild and 10/7 Double Bonus. By playing these two machines and using perfect strategy, and playing the maximum amount of coins, you can achieve the following payback percentages: 100.7% on full-pay Deuces Wild and 100.1% on 10/7 Double Bonus.

But, you are also correct, Dave, to be suddenly suspicious of what I wrote. Certain states do not allow video poker machines to produce a 100% or higher return. I note here that your letter comes from Indiana, which is one of the states that limit the return. I believe your bordering state Illinois is another. I can’t think of another.

All states with legal casino gambling have a minimum payback percentage on slots and video poker. The two mentioned above also have maximums. The reasoning, at least the state’s reasoning, is to collect as much in taxes on casino revenue as it can.

What is great about video poker, Dave, that not only do you have the probability of a decent payoff, but you truly are in control of the game by your skillful decisions. The tricky part here is finding those advantageous machines. Today, they are few and far between, and generally can only be found in very competitive markets.

Dear Mark: When playing at a higher denomination, are the returns on a 9/6 video poker machine in high-roller room higher than on a 25¢ 9/6 machine on the casino floor? Mike M.

When you can find a 9/6 (9 for a full house, 6 for a flush) video poker machine and use basic strategy, you can achieve a 99.5% percentage payback on a 9/6 Jacks or Better machine.

All paytables being equal, Mike, a 9/6 Jacks or Better machine will return 99.5% over the long run with expert play regardless of whether the game takes quarters, dollars, or $125 per hand ($25 X 5). What will not be the same is the net profitability from playing at a higher coinage level.

The problem with a higher denomination machine, Mike, is that IRS reporting becomes mandatory with certain jackpots. For instance, a hand pay for a four-of-a-kind or a straight flush on a $25 machine will automatically get you one. With these payoffs, you will be required to sign an IRS form W-2G before they can pay you any jackpot of $1,200 or above.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Under the influence of uncontrollable ecstasy the players gambled their wives, their children and ultimately themselves into captivity.” – Tacitus, Germanicus (A.D. 99)



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