Aces Guide to Gambling

About The Author

John Grochowski is the author of four gaming books including The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Casino Answer Book.

Grochowski was recently named by Casino Player magazine as one of the 100 best gaming authors of the 20th century.

He also runs a gaming column in the Detroit News and the Chicago Sun-Times, which examines issues ranging from blackjack and video poker strategy to casino etiquette.

Remember these small tips next time you head for the casino:

John Grochowski

There are many large issues every player should consider before going to a casino: what size bankroll to bring, how best to manage money, what games to play and the best bets and strategies in those games.

But there also are some little tips to file away in the back of your mind. Some rarely, if ever, come into play; others may happen several times each visit to a casino, but make a difference of only a few cents at a time. Still, when there's a decision to be made that can mean a little extra edge, no matter how minute, there's no reason to give that edge to the house.

Remember these small edges next time you head for the casino:

Hold the fifth card: Deuces Wild video poker is popular largely because of the big secondary jackpot for four deuces. Not only is a royal flush with the full five coins played worth the same 4,000-coin payback available in Jacks or Better, but four deuces in the most common versions are worth 1,000 coins. There also are machines with four-deuce paybacks of 2,000 coins, 2,500 coins and even 3,000 coins.

That's a jackpot worth protecting. So what happens when you're dealt four deuces in the first five cards? That fifth card means nothing - it makes no difference on the payout if the extra card is a 3 or an Ace or anything in between.

Still, the best play is to hold all five cards. Why? On the glass of many electronic gaming devices, whether reel slots, video poker, video blackjack or video keno, you'll find the words "Malfunction voids all play," or words to that effect. What if the machine malfunctions, and in a one-in-a-zillion glitch, the discarded fifth card is replaced by a fifth deuce? Since the machine is supposed to be dealing from a 52-card deck containing only four deuces, any casino employee who glances at the screen would know there was a malfunction. The casino could void the play and refuse to pay the jackpot.

You'll probably never see this happen, but why take chances? Hold the extra card.

Play the pink chips: At most blackjack tables in Las Vegas, the tray holding chips is equipped with plenty of $1 tokens and quarters for the purpose of making change. If a player with a $5 bet hits a blackjack, the 3-2 payoff means he wins $7.50, which is paid with one $5 chip, two $1 tokens and two quarters. You cannot play the quarters at the table.

In other parts of the country, many casinos use pink $2.50 chips instead. A blackjack on a $5 bet brings one $5 chip and one $2.50 chip. These you can play. Many players wait until they have two pink chips and use those to make a $5 bet, or simply toss 'em to the dealer as a tip.

But what happens if you stack four $1 chips on top of a $2.50 chip and make a $6.50 bet instead? Now if you hit a blackjack, the 3- 2 payoff means the house owes you $9.75. Some casinos that use pink chips also keep quarters at the table just for this situation, but others have no denomination lower than $1. They can't make change, so most round to the nearest dollar. In this case, instead of $9.75, you'll get $10.

Ask at the table what the house rules are if you hit a blackjack with a pink chip in play. If you find a generous house that always rounds up, then play the pink chip, even with an odd number of dollars as the rest of your bet. For example, a $7.50 bet will bring you $11.25 on a blackjack if the house can make change. If not, a house that rounds to the nearest dollar will give you $11, and a house that always rounds up will give you $12. In a casino that rounds to the nearest dollar, play the pink chip only when the remainder of your bet is an even number - bets of $4, $6, $8 and so on will bring a little bonus with your blackjack.

Play an even number of coins: The problem with most video blackjack machines is that blackjacks pay only even money instead of 3-2. So those few machines that pay 3-2 on blackjacks are treasured by players.

But remember that the machine can't return less than a full coin. On a quarter machine, a blackjack with one coin played would mean a 3-2 payoff, which should bring 37.5 cents. The machine is not equipped with 12.5-cent tokens, so you'll only get a quarter back.

To take advantage of the rule, you'll need to play an even number of coins. A blackjack with two coins played will bring a three-coin payout; if four are bet, you'll get six back, and so on. However, the machine can't pay 4.5 coins on a three-coin bet, or 7.5 coins for five.

Play an even number of coins. Don't give that edge to the house.

The above article is excerpted, with permission, from John's book "Gaming: Cruising the Casinos."

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