John Grochowski

John Grochowski

On a Tuesday morning, I was in my home office and a message window popped onto my screen.

“Whatcha doin’? Got a little time?”

It was Blackjack Bob. Talking blackjack over a buffet lunch is out for now. Serve-yourself lines seem like something from long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Messaging we could do.

BOB: Is it an oversimplification to say the games with the most complex strategy are the best games? Thinking house edge here.

JOHN: It is a bit of an oversimplification, yeah. You have to consider craps and baccarat.

BOB: OK, I guess it’s kind of a stretch to consider choosing which bet to make a strategy.

JOHN: I usually consider strategy involving decisions you make after you place your initial bet.

Craps, baccarat, roulette – you’re just deciding what bets to make and then letting the results take care of themselves.

BOB: Let’s divide them into strategy heavy, strategy light and low strategy. I’ll start with my favorite. Blackjack is strategy heavy. Without counting cards but with basic strategy, you only spot the house edge a half percent or so in six-deck games.

JOHN: Rules options can move that up or down a few tenths of a percent, unless you’re talking about 6-5 pays on blackjacks instead of 3-2. That adds 1.4 percent to the house edge. But if you avoid the 6-5 pays, you can get a blackjack game that gives you a fighting chance.

BOB: You’d say video poker is strategy heavy.

JOHN: Yes, especially since each game and pay table has its own strategy quirks. The best versions of Double Bonus Poker have a lot of fiddly special cases.

BOB: How much difference does strategy make?

JOHN: Many years ago, a slot director showed me stats that showed players were getting 2 to 3 percent less than expert strategy would bring on the games he had available, and he had several where optimal play would bring edges of less than 1 percent

BOB: The poker-based table games seem strategy light.

JOHN: I’d agree. Mind you, we’re not talking about poker against other players. That’s more complex than blackjack. But Three Card Poker is easy. Bet with Queen-6-4 or better in the ante-play portion, and the house edge is 2.01 percent.

Mississippi Stud is a little more involved, with three betting points after you’ve seen more and more cards leading to an edge of 1.37 percent of total action. Maybe I’d give that a strategy medium designation.

BOB: More of a strategy continuum, heavy-medium- light, than a clean break from heavy to light.

JOHN: Then there are the no strategy games. You still have to know enough to pick the best bets. Craps, bet on pass, don’t pass, come, don’t come, odds, place bets on 6 or 8. Highest house edge of those is 1.52 percent on the places. But if you stray into bad bet territory, you can bet all the way up to 16.67 on any 6.

BOB: I know baccarat. Player and banker, good. Ties, terrible. That’s all you need to know. And roulette, just avoid the 0-00-1-2-3 bet on double-zero games. All other edges are the same.

JOHN: Baccarat, with its 1.06-percent edge on banker and 1.24 on player, has two good bets. Craps, the combos free odds are less than 1 percent. Double-zero roulette, though, doesn’t get any better than 5.26 percent.

BOB: I see what you’re getting at. Strategy heavy games aren’t the only good ones.

JOHN: Yep.

BOB: Good to chat with you. Want hit the buffet?

JOHN: Hah!

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