Q. I was looking online at the Wizard of Odds site (wizardodfodds.com), and found a page that says that continuous shufflers actually lower the house edge in blackjack. You've recommended playing in hand-shuffled games or in games with non-continuous shuffling machines and not playing with continuous shufflers.
In light of the Wizard of Odds findings, have you changed your opinion?
A. No, my opinion hasn't changed. Michael Shackelford's Wizard of Odds site is one of my favorite gambling resources, and I have mentioned his study on continuous shufflers several times.
His simulations found that high cards come out more frequently with continuous shufflers, where discards are shuffled back into the deck. More high cards leads to more blackjacks, where players are paid 3-2 - or, in a bad game, 6-5. More blackjacks mean a lower house edge.
Shackelford calculates that a continuous shuffling machine lowers the house edge by 0.014 percent in an eight-deck game, by 0.113 percent in a single-deck game and by amounts in between with two to six decks. He doesn't list seven decks, but then I've never seen a seven-deck game.
So in a common six-deck game with a 0.4 percent house edge against a basic strategy player, the house edge would drop to 0.38 percent if a continuous shuffling machine was used.
If that were the only factor, it would seem as if a basic strategy player should seek out continuous shufflers instead of playing games where a cut card is used to signal when to shuffle.
But the house edge is not the only factor. There's also the speed of the game, and Shackelford notes that continuous shufflers increase the number of hands per hour by about 20 percent.
Let's say you're playing that six-deck game with a 0.4 percent house edge, betting $10 a hand at a full seven-player table that moves slowly at 50 hands per hour. In an average hour you risk $500. Your expected average loss per hour is $2.
Now let's say a continuous shuffler is introduced. The house edge drops to 0.38 percent, but the hands per hour increase to 60. That means your risk per hour is $600, and your average loss is $2.28.
The house edge has gone down, but your average loss per hour has increased. And that's in a slow-moving game with moderate wagers, In a fast game with fewer players at the table, and with larger bet sizes, the effect is magnified. Play head to head with the dealer at 200 hands per hour in a cut card game and 240 with a continuous shuffler, and a $10 bettor sees average losses rise from $8 to $9.12. Make it $50 a hand, and losses rise from $40 to $45.60.
Speed of play favors whomever has the mathematical edge on the game, and most of the time, that's not you. The slight decrease in house edge is not enough to offset the increased speed of playing with a continuous shuffler.
Q. The Riviera in Las Vegas now offers 1,000x odds in craps. Have you ever heard of anything like that before? I can't afford 1,000x odds so I'll probably never play there, but what does that do to the house edge?
A. In craps, 1,000x odds means you can back your pass line bet with a free odds wager of up to 1,000 times your initial wager. Bet $5 on pass, and after a point is established, you can make an odds bet of $5,000.
Free odds bets are paid at true odds, with no house edge, so it's in players' interest to keep their pass bets to table minimum and make up the rest of their intended wager in free odds.
I've never seen 1,000x odds before. The most I've seen is 200x odds in Mississippi. In the monthly Las Vegas Advisor (lasvegasadvisor.com), Anthony Curtis says the most he's seen in Las Vegas is 100x odds.
The effect on the house edge is dramatic. The house edge on the pass line is 1.41 percent. With single odds, the edge on the pass-odds combination drops to 0.8 percent, and keeps dropping as more odds are allowed. At 10x odds, it's 0.2 percent, dropping to 0.02 percent at 100x odds and to 0.002 percent at 1,000x odds.
The Advisor notes that 1,000x odds on top of a $5 pass or come wager allows big players to get down big money of $100,000 or more in a hurry, with an expected loss of less than $2. What you'd see if you could afford such wagers are enormous swings, with huge wins offsetting huge losses. Over time, that would average out to $2 in losses per $100,000 wagered.
By the way, you don't have to avoid the game just because you can't afford 1,000x odds. Taking full odds is not mandatory. If your bankroll will only cover single odds, double odds, 5x odds or any other amount, there is nothing to stop you from betting within your comfort zone.
Find John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column runs weekly.