A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag.

Q. Knowing that we must avoid 6-5 blackjack payoffs should be rule No. 1 for players, but let's assume we have a need to play (whatever the reason) and that's the only game in town, there is really no such thing as "even money" anymore, is there?

As an example, we bet \$10, have a BJ and the dealer shows an ace. Insurance costs \$5, and if the dealer has BJ we get \$10 on that bet and push our BJ for a profit of \$10, but if the dealer does not have BJ we lose the insurance bet and get \$12 for our BJ for a profit of \$7.

A. I’m going to take a bit of a detour to get to your answer.

In a 3-2 blackjack game, if your initial bet is \$10, then calling “even money” is just short-hand for adding a \$5 insurance bet. You’re guaranteed a \$10 profit regardless of whether the dealer has a blackjack.

It’s not a good bet. Even though you risk pushing by declining insurance, your average profit on the hand is higher by taking the 3-2 payoffs when they come.

But when 6-5 blackjack started to pop up on the Las Vegas Strip in 2002, blackjack players reasoned that even-money was the way to go. A guaranteed \$10 profit for a \$10 bet was higher than the average payoff skipping insurance and taking 6-5 payoffs when you won.

Casinos adapted quickly. Some dropped insurance entirely at 6-5 tables. Others started treating insuring blackjacks the same as other insurance bets. You couldn’t just call out even money anymore. Instead, given a \$10 bet, you had to put out a \$5 insurance bet, leaving the situation you describe above – you win \$10 if the dealer has blackjack but only \$7 if he doesn’t.

So in a world where you could still call “even money” and be guaranteed a profit equal to your initial bet, it would be to your advantage to insure blackjack in a 6-5 game. We don’t live in that world, and under the playing conditions that exist to day, insurance remains a bad bet for non-card counters.

Q. I’m not sure the video poker paybacks on full houses and flushes are all that important. If I get 45 coins or 40 coins on my full house, those are still just coins I’m going to bet back. The hands you cash out are the four of a kinds or better.

A. You seem to be suggesting you commit to losing everything you put into a machine unless you get quads or better. I wouldn’t go that far, but even in a quads-or-bust playing style, bigger paybacks on full houses and flushes give you extra chances to achieve your big-hand goal.

Let’s use 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker as an example. Given optimal strategy, you’ll see a full house an average of once per 92 hands and a flush once per 88.

In an average 900 hands – a hour for a really fast player or more like an hour and a half if you take your time – you an expect about 10 of each. If full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1, your five-coin wagers bring 450 coins on the 10 full houses and 300 on the flushes for a total of 750 on those hands.

If the paybacks are reduced to 8-for-1 and 5-for-1, the full houses bring 400 coins and the flushes 250 for a total of 650.

The reduced paybacks cost you 100 coins. That’s enough for 20 more five-coin bets – 20 extra chances to chase the big hands.