John Grochowski

John Grochowski

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:Q. I’m using some of the time from not going to casinos to practice blackjack. I have software that tells me when I’m making a mistake. I seem to have a mental block on soft 17 when the dealer has 7. You have written often enough that soft 17 is not a standing hand, and I understand that. Doubling down against loser cards makes total sense, and so does hitting against 8 or higher.

Somehow, though, this voice in my head says, “17 against probable 17. Don’t screw it up.” So I click “stand” and the software tells me I goofed. Can you expand a little? I’d really like the right plays to be automatic for me.

A. Maybe a couple of tidbits will help. You’re assuming a 7 face up probably will lead to a dealer 17. That’s by no means automatic. Four of the 13 card denominations are 10-values, so 17 is the most likely dealer outcome, but it’s not a majority of hands.

In a six-deck game in which dealer hits soft 17, a dealer starting with 7 will finish with 17 just under 37% of the time, bust 26% and make 18 or better just over 37%. It’s slightly more likely the dealer will do better than 17 than land exactly on 17.

Also, you must convince yourself that 17 is not a winning hand unless the dealer busts. If you hit soft 17, you may lose the chance to push if the dealer lands on 17, but standing won’t beat any dealer standing hand.

You can’t bust soft 17 with a one-card hit, and hitting gives you a chance to draw a card that will beat a dealer’s standing hand.

If you stand on Ace-6, your average result is a 10.4-cent loss per $1 wagered. Hit, and you turn that around to a 5.5-cent profit per dollar wagered. You won’t win every time. Sometimes you’ll draw a bad card, then draw another and bust. Sometimes the dealer will draw a better hand than you.

But you’ll win more often than you lose by hitting soft 17 against 7. Taking the hand from losing territory to small profitland is a play worth making.

Q. Do you think video poker games would make good table games? I kind of feel like playing something like Double Double Bonus Poker at a table would be fun. It’d make it more social, and we could high five on others’ big wins and grumble together in the losing streaks.

A. There would have to be tweaks for video poker to work as a table game. More rounds of betting might be needed, and there might have to be a play against the dealer option.

The best video poker games have high payback percentages. That’s possible because you play so many hands per hour. Five hundred hands per hour is an easy pace, and many experienced players move at 800 or more hands per hour.

At a table, the dealer would need time to distribute the cards, there would be waits while all players decided on their draws, the dealer would need to deal the draw cards, and the dealer would have to make payouts in chips.

At a full table, you might see only 50 or 60 hands per hour. To make a profit comparable to other table games, the casino might need to reduce pay tables, increase minimum bets, or introduce new elements that would make it a totally different game than the one you see on machines.

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