A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:
Q. I decided to mix some table games in with the slots because I heard the odds were better. I decided to start easy with roulette, then after a while I tried blackjack. It was because I heard the odds were better there, too.
I tried to do it right. I looked at basic strategy tables before I played. I won’t claim to be perfect, but I think I got the idea.
Still, I went to play blackjack and lost money a lot faster than on roulette. I couldn’t win a hand, or at least not very many hands.
What do you think went wrong? Was I playing a lot worse than I thought I was?
A. Sometimes bad streaks happen at any casino game. The best card counters have losing sessions at blackjack. Video poker players who play expert strategy at the best games with average paybacks exceeding 100 percent still have more losing sessions than winners.
It’s all part of normal probability,
I don’t know how well you were playing. You could have been playing perfect basic strategy and still had a blackjack session in which you couldn’t win for losing.
Imagine you played lots of sessions well enough to narrow the house edge to 1 percent, just a tad higher than the edge against basic strategy players. Then you would have more winning sessions and not lose as much in the bad times as a double-zero roulette player who faces a 5.26 house edge. But there would be some sessions in which your money left your side of the table just as fast as you could bet it.
There are no sure things in gambling. You can get lucky and win in a high-house edge game. If that never happened, no one would play. And you can have big losing sessions in low-house edge play. Stuff happens,
Q. I’ve been playing video poker long enough to remember when full-pay Deuces Wild used to be common in Las Vegas. Even when I was playing at home in the Midwest, I used to get a decent enough game, the one they call “Airport” or “Illinois” Deuces.
When casinos reopened, I decided to get reacquainted with Deuces Wild, but where I was playing, pay tables had all been reduced. One had the “Illinois” pay table, except flushes paid 2-for-1 instead of 3-for-1. Another had the 3-for-1 on flushes, but wild royals paid 20-for-1 instead of 25-for-1.
I decided to skip it and played different games. But can you tell me the paybacks on those games?
A. The “Illinois” Deuces game mentioned has these returns with one coin wagered: Natural royal flush 250 (jumps to 4,000 with five coins wagered); four deuces 200; royal with wild cards 25; five of a kind 15; straight flush 9; four of a kind 4; full house 4; flush 3; straight 2; three of a kind 1.
Other than on natural royals, paybacks are proportional to wager size, so four 2s return 1,000 for five-coin wager, a wild royal returns 125, and so on.
With expert play, that game returns an average of 98.9 percent.
If you drop the flush return to 2-for-1, the overall return on the game plummets to 96.9 percent.
Leaving the flush return intact at 3-for-1 but reducing wild royals to 20-for-1 brings a less extreme dip to 97.9 percent.
Reducing returns on more frequently occurring hands brings bigger changes in a game’s overall payback percentage. Flushes are dealt a lot more often than wild royals, so payback changes at that level have a bigger impact on your shot to win.