John Grochowski, Casino Answer Man

Q. I saw something weird at the blackjack table. The dealer accidentally, or absent-mindedly, flipped up both her cards. Everybody at the table could see she had a hard 19. I was sitting there with hard 18, ready to hit rather than just take the loss to the 19. She called over the pit supervisor, and the supervisor voided the hand. That upset a couple of players. One had a blackjack, and another had a 20, so I'd have been pretty mad, too. Did the supervisor handle it correctly?

A. I'm not sure I've seen that happen, so I asked a casino table games director who is a longtime source of mine. He said that it depends both on jurisdiction and internal controls the individual casino files with the state gaming board.

In most jurisdictions, casinos must file voluminous internal controls with the gaming board that details situations that can and do crop up in casinos. One casino's internal controls might say the hand is voided if the dealer exposes both cards. At another casino in the same state, the internal controls might say the exposed card is replaced with a new down card.

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In some cases, voiding the hand will help players. In some cases it will help the house. What's important to the gaming control board is that there is a clear policy and that it is enforced the same way every time the situation occurs.

My source said he'd like to have the option to do something creative, like "semi-voiding" when the dealer has a standing hand, paying players who have him beat on board and ruling no bet on those who don't. Were he based in Nevada, he said, that's what he'd do. But he said in his state, that's not practical, that he is required to follow the internal controls the gaming board has on file.

Q. How can I find out how video poker cards are dealt? When you draw cards after the deal, do I get the next card, or is the replacement already under the card you discard? Wouldn't that affect the odds? I think the next card would give me better odds!

A. This remains one of the questions I'm asked most often. I received letters about it via good old snail mail about a dozen times the first year I wrote this column in 1994, and new receive it at least once every two or three months via email. So pardon me if you've heard this one before, but it's a topic that seems to need revisiting once every couple of years.

More than 95 percent of video poker games in casinos are made by IGT. On IGT machines, after you see the first five cards, the remaining 47 are continuously shuffled. After you hit the draw button, you then receive the top cards off the deck.

The "shadow hand" programming, in which there was a card under each of the original 25 cards, was abandoned at least 25 years ago. There have been different permutation of giving you the top card off the remaining deck ever since. For a while, the original shuffle determined the first 10 cards - the cards you saw on the screen, plus the next five at the top of the deck. When you hit the draw button, your draws came from the top of those next five.

No matter what the method of dealing, the odds are the same. The changes weren't made for the sake of the odds, they were made for game security.

If you have four parts of a royal flush, and discard a 2 of diamonds, the chances of you royal card coming off the top of the deck are 1 in 47. If a machine using a shadow hand shows you four parts of a royal and a 2 of diamonds, the chance of it dealing the royal card as a shadow behind the 2 of diamonds are 1 in 47. The method does not change the odds.

Nonetheless, I know of no one who is still using a shadow hand. That's a 1970s-early 1980s method, and time and programming have marched on.

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.

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