Casino Answer Man Cards

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. You've fielded questions about video poker strategy when you have both low pairs and high cards. My question is about flushes.

Do you always hold four cards to a flush, even if the non-suited card is a high card? What if the card is an Ace in Double Double Bonus, where four Aces get you 2,000 coins? What about a flush with a low pair?

When do you break up four parts of a flush to hold something else?

A. I'll use 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker as an example, since part of your question had to do with Aces and DDB.

Four cards to a flush ranks high on the strategy table among non-winning hands. You wouldn't want to break up any winner to hold your four-flush, but it does outrank non-paired high cards or low pairs.

Dealt 2-4-7-9 of hearts with a Queen of spades, the average return per five coins wagered is 5.74 coins if you hold the four hearts and 2.20 if you discard them and hold the Queen instead.

It's not much closer if the high card is an Ace instead, with an average return of 2.37 coins. Holding the four suited cards wins in a landslide.

The four-flush also easily beats holding a low pair. If our sample hand is 2-4-7-9 of hearts and a 7 of clubs, the average return on the low pair is 3.67 coins, far short of the 5.74 on four parts of a flush.

It'd be to your advantage to break up a four-flush for a non-winning hand only when your suited cards include three parts of a royal.

Dealt 7-10-Jack-Queen of hearts and a 7 of clubs, average returns are 7.27 coins on 10-J-Q and 6.38 on all four hearts. Turn the 10 into a King, and averages are 7.29 on J-Q-K and 7.20 on the four flush.

But unless you have that two-card draw to a royal, your best play in hands that don't already include a winner is to keep the four parts of a flush,

Q. Tell me something about keno and its history. I know about games being called "races" because there used to be racehorse names attached to the numbers, but someone told me it also used to be called the Chinese Lottery. What is Chinese about it?

A. Games similar to keno were played in China more than 2,000 years ago. One version is said to have been played in the Han Dynasty roughly 200 B.C., and some sources say it helped financed the Great Wall.

In more modern times, immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1800s to work on the Transcontinental Railroad brought with them a game called pakapoo. It had 80 spaces, just like modern keno cards, except they used Chinese characters instead of numbers.

A substitution of numbers for characters transformed it into the game we know now.

The racing terminology came into the game in the 1930s. Lotteries were prohibited in Nevada, and operators skirted the issue by calling the game "racehorse keno" and assigning the name of a racehorse to each number.

That practice ended in the 1950s when Nevada introduced a racing tax on off-track wagering. To avoid confusing any regulators who might decide the game was subject to the tax, casinos removed the horse names. Nonetheless, referring to games as "races" persists in some places to this day.