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Card counting - beyond blackjack
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Card counting - beyond blackjack

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A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. Every gambling writer I’ve read says that card counting works and those who are really good can turn the tables and get an edge.

Why wouldn’t counting work in other games, too? Why couldn’t you count numbers in roulette, count rolls in craps or count jackpot symbols on slot machines? Why couldn’t you count cards in Three Card Poker or Ultimate Texas Hold’em?

Shouldn’t the theory in blackjack work in every game? It’s all gambling.

A. Blackjack is different from most other casino games in that the odds change on every hand. As cards are dealt and removed from play, the remaining deck’s balance between high and low cards changes. If there’s a higher than average percentage of high cards remaining, it favors players. If there’s a higher than average percentage of low cards remaining, it favors the house.

Now think about roulette. Imagine No. 17 has just come up. Is 17 removed from play for the next wheel spin? No, 17 remains one of 38 numbers on a double-zero wheel or one of 37 in a single-zero game. The odds don’t change.

Same thing with craps. It doesn’t matter if the shooter has just rolled a 7, or even if he’s rolled several 7s in a row. Combinations totaling 7 aren’t removed from play. No matter how many 7s have been rolled, six of the 36 possible combinations for the next roll are 7s.

On slot machines, if low-paying symbols crowd the reels on one spin, they’re not removed from play to increase the chance of bigger-paying symbols appearing. The random number generator has the same full set of numbers to work with. The odds are the same on every spin.

Three Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em and other poker-based table games are dealt from a freshly shuffled deck for every hand. If multiple hands were dealt from the same deck, there would be potential for a workable card counting system. But that doesn’t happen. With a full deck for every hand, odds are unchanging and there is no opportunity to count cards.

Baccarat deals multiple hands from the same deck, and each hand dealt changes the odds of the game. Unfortunately for players, the impact of the changing deck composition is so small that there is no practical benefit to counting cards.

In most casino games, “no practical benefit” becomes “no benefit at all.” When the odd are unchanging and probabilities are the same on every play, there is no point in trying to keep count.

Q. I returned to one of the casinos near me for the first time in several months. I had liked to play there because they had quarter 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, but when I went back I the pay table had dropped to 9-5.

I’ll grudgingly play because nobody has better than 9-5 in my area except at dollars. What strategy adjustments I should make?

A. In 9-5 DDB, it’s better to hold a pair of Kings, Queens or Jacks than any three-card royal. In the 9-6 version, you’d hold the high pair unless the royal was King-Queen-Jack, in which case you’d discard the non-suited pair card and go for the big hand. The drop to 5-for-1 on the flush makes it a better play to hold the pair on suited K-Q-J, too..

With a 9-5 pay table, unsuited K-Q and Q-J are more valuable holds than suited J-10. At 9-6, you’d hold J-10.

And at 9-5, unsuited K-Q-J becomes a better play than holding the three-card inside straight flushes K-10-9, Q-9-8 and J-8-7.

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