The Timeless Razgu

The Timeless Razgu

           By now, hopefully we all know that once something is posted on the internet, it never disappears completely.  Nonetheless, it was quite a shock when I received an e-mail this past week from a reader who came across a column I wrote in 2004!  I knew the site still existed, but I'm still amazed that a column I wrote nearly 13 years ago can so easily be referenced.  You'd think that they might archive the articles or during some redesign of the site would remove the older articles.  I guess the good news is that more than a decade later, the column is still as relevant today.

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Never Surrender

Never Surrender

            This week's column is again in response to an e-mail I received this past week.  It's good to see that after nearly 15 years of writing for Gaming Today that my readers finally seem comfortable to shoot me an e-mail!  This one asked how come I never talk about Surrender in blackjack.  I gave it some thought and realized that I don't think I have written a single word about the Surrender option in blackjack through those 15 years!  As I thought about it some more, I'm not sure I've talked about Insurance either.  So, this week, I'm going to talk about both.

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Pocket Hand Win Frequency

Pocket Hand Win Frequency

            The inspiration for this week's column comes from a reader this week who e-mailed me and had a question regarding a column I recently wrote about Ultimate Texas Hold'em.   In that column I was describing a hand I saw actually played at the Wynn a while back.  The Player was dealt a K-8 offsuit and did NOT wager 4x at that point, instead opting to wait for the Flop.  I had said that this hand was a marginal 4x wager and that the Player could expect to win the hand 54%, while losing it 42+% of the time. 

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Math vs. ESP

Math vs. ESP

            You're playing blackjack and you're dealt a 16 looking into a Dealer 7.  What do you do and why?  I've watched a lot of Player with this hand and it is almost fun watching them.  Sure, there are some blackjack counters who spend a few seconds thinking about it, thinking about the count and working out what to do in this situation.  Then there are the good Player who aren't really counting but trying to figure out what is left in the shoe - big or small cards?  Next up are the Players who haven't been paying attention to the shoe but are trying to do some form of math to figure out the probability that they will bust (8 out of 13!) and if they are better off hoping the Dealer will bust.  Last, but not least, we have the majority of Players who are simply trying to 'guess' what the next card will be using more ESP than math.

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Not All Props Are Created Equal

Not All Props Are Created Equal

As I write this column, the world is getting all excited about the Big Game, this Sunday.  Oodles of money will be wagered on the game.  Here in Vegas, most of it will be legally wagered!  Some of the people might have a clue what they are wagering on.  For those that remember last year's column at this time, I had the pleasure of watching a man plunk hundreds of dollars on the game and then ask the man behind the betting desk what the +110 and +3 meant!  Nothing like betting first and then figuring out what you actually wagered on.

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Running Hot and Cold

Running Hot and Cold

            Through the years, a number of betting schemes have been created that are supposed to increase the chances of winning by the Player.  To the best of my knowledge not a single one of them has ever been shown to actually work.  I'm sure I could spend my time giving a detailed math proof as to why not, but there is actually simpler methods to use to prove it doesn't work.  The first is the most obvious one - no casino will stop you from trying to use one. 

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Video Poker Beginnings

Video Poker Beginnings

            This past week, with my son in town, I found myself sitting at a blackjack table.  When I was in my 20's that is what I played when I went in to the casino.  It had a good payback (99%+) and it required a fair amount of skill in the form of strategy to earn this payback.  When video poker came along, I slowly found myself playing more of that and less blackjack.  Nowadays, I almost never sit at the blackjack table except when my son is in town and drags me over.  My experience this past week only reinforced why this is so. 

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Multi-Strike Mania

Multi-Strike Mania

            I never know if my explanation of how an expected value is calculated is really being understood by my readers.  It seems obvious enough to me, but I've been working on casino games for nearly 30 years.  In my writings, I've generally tried to explain by using an example which I think explains it clearly enough.  I usually use one of a couple of examples that my father originally used in his Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas book.  This book starts by using a Three of a Kind and follows up with a 4-Card Straight that is also a Low Pair.   

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The Magic of Video Poker

The Magic of Video Poker

            A few months ago, I volunteered at my son's school at their book fair.  During slow periods, the parents shoot the breeze while getting to know one another.  My job is relatively unique, so it tends to get a lot of attention.  This inevitably leads to me telling the story about how my dad got started analyzing casino games.  It started one day when he walked into a casino and saw a video poker machine.  This was the late 1980's (maybe early 1990's?).  A short time later he walked into a different casino and saw a similar video poker machine.  The two machines advertised very different paybacks.  My dad didn't understand how two machines with identical paytables could have different paybacks.

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Don't Deviate!

Don't Deviate!

            This past week, I ventured over to Red Rock Station and had what was possibly the worst video poker session I have had in years.  I was playing Double Double Bonus on a Multi-Strike machine and I just had no luck from beginning to end.   To win at Double Double, you have to get the Bonus Quads.  To win at Multi-Strike, you need your Four of a Kinds to appear at the higher levels.  Well, I certainly didn't get many of the Bonus Four of a Kinds and what little I got in Quads were at the bottom two levels for the most part.

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Don't Be a Turkey!

Don't Be a Turkey!

By the time you read this, Black Friday will be done.  Cyber Monday will be done.  Never mind that neither is quite what they once were.  I picked up some Black Friday items the Monday before Black Friday.  It’s only Thursday as I write this and my son and I have been going back and forth about some on-line sales.  The point of this column is NOT about how the retailers have completely destroyed their own marketing tool.  It is about how everyone gets so hyped up to save a few bucks even if it means getting up at 3 a.m. or leaving the Thanksgiving table to go wait on line for a few hours.

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Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks

          Successful game inventors know that they cannot fall in love with their game idea.  Just because you like it, doesn't mean everyone else (or anyone else) will.  Of course, one of the issues with this is that even if you are willing to be flexible, you generally don't get endless chances.  Some have suggested that you get only one, maybe two changes at tinkering with your game before you're likely going to have to abandon it.  This applies to a game that has been placed in a casino and not necessarily one in the process of being showcased.

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How to Beat the Casinos?

How to Beat the Casinos?

           If you're reading this, it's either Election Day or shortly thereafter, which means that hopefully we all survived it.  Well, you did.  You'll know I survived it if there is another column from me NEXT week!  I look forward to going to my mailbox and not having 10-12 postcards every day telling me how to vote.  Aside from the name of who NOT to vote for, I don't think I actually learned anything about any of the candidates.  Frequently, the opponent would take some little piece of information, exaggerate it out of proportion and give the mailing a great big title to catch your eye.  Something like "HOW TO BEAT THE CASINOS!"

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When to Call it a Day

When to Call it a Day

          One of the questions I'm often asked is how do you know when to stop playing.  This is not an easy question to answer.  It is a good idea to go in with a plan.  But, it is tough to give a one size fits all answer.  Some people have in mind an amount of time they want to gamble.  Others say that they'll only lose a certain amount.  Both of these are part of the reason why they can build multi-billion dollar casinos. 

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Do's and Don'ts

Do's and Don'ts

            A colleague of mine writes a gaming column for another publication.  It's not a strategy column.  It mostly talks about what goes into inventing a table game.  The author should know as his name is Roger Snow and he's a Vice President for Scientific Games and heads up their table games division.  I've worked with Roger for more than a decade and together we've invented countless successful table games and sidebets.  Together, we've also seen hundreds of game ideas submitted from inventors.  There have been a lot that had merit.  There have been even more that have been absolutely awful.  But that's okay.  Personally, I find a bad game much more desirable than a bad attitude.

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Straight Flushes

Straight Flushes

            A few months ago, I wrote a column that discussed the value (or lack there of?) of a Suited Hand.  It started by discussing the relative value of a suited pocket hand in Texas Hold'em vs. an unsuited hand.  It then touched on the topics of 3-Card Flush and 2-Card Royals in video poker.  The former is quite unplayable and the latter is just barely playable due to the 800 for 1 payout of the Royal and the added value of the High Cards you would be holding.  It also glanced over the 3-Card Straight Flush.  The black sheep of video poker hands.

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Why Full Pay?

Why Full Pay?

          This week's column comes courtesy of a letter I received this past week.  A Gaming Today reader ordered a copy of Winning Strategies for Video Poker to help him identify full-pay machines as he and his wife had no clue how to go about finding them.  Winning Strategies is actually an excellent choice for this.  It really isn't a beginner's book on video poker.  For that, I would recommend Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas (or Atlantic City version if you are on the East Coast).  These two books will explain everything there is to know about video poker.   It will go through the process of explaining why we play the hands the way we do, what expected value is and help with finding some of the right machines.  Winning Strategies on the other hand, simply lists out 60+ different paytables, let you know what the payback of those paytables are and provide you with the strategy table for each.  If you don't know what a strategy table is or how do use one, you'd do better with one of the other books.

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Analyzing Games

Analyzing Games

            I was asked this past week about the process of analyzing a game.  I was caught a little off guard when I was asked in front of a room full of people.  My answer was probably a little jumbled.  But now, with some time to think about it some more, I think I can explain it better.  The real trick is not coming up with the payback of win frequencies.  What I'm really in search of is the proper strategy for the Player to play.

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Walking Away A Winner

Walking Away A Winner

            Today's topic comes courtesy of Facebook.  A friend of a friend posted that she was leaving Las Vegas happy because she was leaving as a winner.  She played three spins at roulette and won all three so she was done.  I was tempted to write a reply asking if she had played all 37 numbers on each spin.  This would guarantee that she 'won', depending on the definition of winning a particular spin.  Alternatively, she could've bet 'red' on three consecutive spins and had a red number come up each time.  The odds would be about 11.5% that she would win all three.

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