Q. I was playing Three Card Poker and was winning pretty good and wanted to tip the dealer. I put down an ante bet for the dealer and had a pair of sixes, so I went to raise both my bet and the dealer's bet. The dealer told me I was not allowed to raise on the dealer's bet.
I won, so I won my $5 ante and $5 raise, and the dealer won only the $1 ante. The effect was a $2 tip since the dealer got the bet I put out for her, and the winnings.
I guess my question is whether an ante is the best way to tip the dealer, given that you can't raise. None of the other players were tipping.
A. In any game with a house edge, the method of tipping - or toking, as it's called in the casino - that gives the dealer the highest percentage of your intended tip is to just give the dealer the money and not bet it. However, that's not common. The customary way of toking is to place a bet for the dealer.
The ante-bet portion of Three Card Poker involves placing an ante before you see your cards. After you see your cards, you may then either fold and forfeit your ante, or stay in the hand by making a bet equal to your ante. If you follow basic strategy for the game and bet whenever you have Queen-6-4 or higher and fold lesser hands, the house edge is 3.37 percent of your ante or 2.01 percent of total action.
However, if you're limited just to the ante for the dealer, then the house edge with basic strategy soars to in excess of 10 percent.
There is another option at Three Card Poker. You could tip with a bet on the Pair Plus portion of the game. Pair Plus pays off on any hand of a pair or better, regardless of what the dealer has. The pay table I see most often pays 40-1 on a straight flush, 30-1 on three of a kind, 6-1 on a straight, 3-1 on a flush and 1-1 on a pair. With that pay table, the house edge is 7.28 percent. Another version, that lowers the straight payoff to 5-1 and raises the flush to 4-1, has a 5.57 percent house edge. It's also fairly common.
On any Pair Plus game, the bet wins a bit less than 26 percent of the time, but some of the wins will be large. Toking the dealer with an ante wins a shade less than 45 percent of the time.
So now you have a choice to make. Do you want to tip with a bet that wins less often but with a lower house edge, or with a bet that wins more often with one of the higher house edges in the casino?
My choice: If I can't match the ante with a bet, I'll stick to toking a Three Card Poker dealer by just giving them the chip, instead of betting it.
Q. Under what circumstances would you double down for less?
A. If after checking my wallet and digging through my pockets, I found I didn't have enough money to cover a full double down, or had enough only to do whatever else I needed to get done before leaving the casino.
Blackjack players double down in situations in which they are more likely to win than lose, and have a mathematical edge in the hand. When I have the edge, I want to take full advantage and maximize my profit potential, and that means doubling down with an amount equal to my bet.
That said, I always caution players not to overbet their bankrolls, to set limits as to the amount they can spend on a day's casino entertainment, and to stick to those limits. If you can't afford to make a full double-down bet in blackjack, then you really shouldn't be playing.
But if we assume bankroll is not the consideration, that players are thinking there are situations where it's somehow more favorable to double for less than the full amount, those situations don't exist. Failing to take advantage of blackjack options in the optimal way adds to the house edge. And the optimal way to double down is for the full amount.
Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski's weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.