A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. Is there ever a time to make a side bet like 21 + 3 or Lucky Ladies at blackjack, the Dragon Bonus bet at baccarat or the Prime bet in Three Card Poker you wrote about a few weeks ago?

It seems to me that when you describe these bets, they always have house edges that are higher than the regular game. So why not just play the regular game and skip the side bet?

A. You are correct in that side bets generally have higher house edges than the main games. In the blackjack examples you gave, house edges are 3.2 percent at 21 + 3 and anywhere from 13 to 30 percent on Lucky Ladies, depending on pay tables.

Baccarat’s Dragon Bonus has a house edge of 2.7 percent on player and 9.4 percent on banker, and the edge on Three Card Poker Prime is 3.6 percent.

Blackjack basic strategy players can cut the house edge to well under 1 percent, the precise amount depending on house rules. In baccarat, the house edge is 1.06 percent on banker and a 1.24 percent on player, and the edge is 2.01 percent on the ante-play option in Three Card Poker.

Strictly on a percentage basis, the better play is to save your money for the main game and skip the side bets. That’s how I play.

However, some side bets are vulnerable to advantage play. Lucky Ladies, which pays varying amounts on 20s depending on their composition, and the odds swing toward the player when there is a high concentration of 10s remaining in the deck.

Another that was vulnerable to card counting was Over/Under 13. Using a specialized count, players could gain a larger advantage on the side bet than they could in the main game.

Of course, for most players such advantage play is not a factor. Nonetheless, some are attracted by potential for a big jackpot on side bets.

Lucky Ladies has several pay tables available to casinos, but it’s a jackpot-chaser’s delight with payoffs of 125-1 or 200-1 on a Queen of hearts pair and 1,000-1 if the dealer beats your heart Queens with a blackjack.

Even the 9-1 payoff on 21 + 3 livens blackjack for players bored with grinding it out on even-money payoffs.

My advice to non-advantage players is to avoid side bets. But not all players have the same goals. Those who like the side bets for their big-pay possibilities just need to understand the cost is an increased house edge and very frequent losses.

Q. Your recent discussion about holding the low pair in video poker begged one additional question that was just a touch on a tangent. What if you have four cards to a flush with no straight flush possible in a hand that also has a low pair but has either no high cards or only one Jack or Better? Do you hold the four cards to the flush or the pair?

A. With four to a flush, draw for the flush and toss the unsuited card from the pair.

It’s not really close. Using 9-6 Double Double Bonus as an example and assuming a five-coin wager, the average return on 2-5-7-9 suited plus another 5 is 5.74 if you draw to the flush and 3.67 if you hold the low pair instead.

To include a single high card, with 2-5-7-Jack suited plus another 5, expected values are 6.06 on the flush draw and 3.67 on the low pair.

Low pairs are more valuable than many players think they are, but not as valuable as four to a flush.

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