Q. In cautioning to check for unusual pay tables you said you saw a Bonus Poker game that paid 2-for-1 on two pairs instead of the usual 3-for-1. Isn’t 2-for-1 the usual? I’ve never seen 3-for-1.
A. That was a case my typing fingers moving faster than my brain. What I should have said was that I once saw a Bonus Poker that paid 2-for-1 instead of the usual 3-for-1 on three of a kind.
That’s a pretty disastrous change for players. The game in question, which was on a Midwestern riverboat, had a full 8-5 Bonus Poker pay table except for the three of a kind switch.
With the full payoffs, 8-5 Bonus Poker returns 99.2 percent with expert play. The short pay on three of a kind, with all other paybacks normal, drops that expected return to 91.7 percent, making the game a coin gobbler of the first degree.
Even small changes in payoffs on frequently occurring hands low on the pay table have large effects on our overall return. When three of a kind pays 3-for-1, it accounts for 22.8 percent of our overall return. When it pay only 2-for-1, that plummets to 14.8 percent.
The primary payoffs to check when choosing a video poker game are full house and flushes. Those are the ones most frequently altered to change expected returns. But don’t forget to glance at the other pay, too, just to make sure there’s not an unexpected dip on other hands.
Q. I went to a charity casino night, and played a little blackjack. The main funky rule was that blackjack pays even money.
Two questions: How much does that affect the house edge, and how does it affect basic strategy?
I told my wife that I didn’t mind losing a little because it was a worthy cause and a charity we’ve given money to in the past. I just want to know for my own edification what I was getting into.
A. Paying even money on blackjacks adds 2.27 percent to the house edge compared to games that pay 3-2. That’s an enormous difference that dwarfs the house edge on the rest of the game.
Take a common six-deck game where the dealer hits soft 17, blackjacks pay 3-2, you may double down on any first two cards including after split, you may split Aces only once but may split any other pair up to three times. That has a house edge of about 0.62 percent.
If blackjacks pay even money, the house edge against a basic strategy player zooms to 2.85 percent.
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At that level, blackjack is a weaker bet than craps pass or come (1.41 percent), craps don’t pass or don’t come (1.36), baccarat banker (1.06), baccarat player (1.24), Three Card Poker ante-play combination (2.01 of total action), many video poker games and more.
The lower blackjack payoff does not affect basic strategy. You’d never hit a blackjack anyway, and non-blackjack hands are unaffected by the lower payoff.
Your approach to the game was fine. I’ve long recommended that on charity nights with low-paying games, go ahead and play if it’s a charity you’d feeling comfortable with giving a donation, and skip the event if it’s not a charity you’d support.
When you play at such events, set your loss limit at the amount you’d be comfortable giving. Then go ahead and have some fun and see if luck smiles on you for an evening while you keep tabs on your budget.