Q. What would you say is the best game to play? I’ve always thought it was blackjack, but I have two new brothers-in-law — I just got married earlier this year — and one insists it’s craps and the other doesn’t play anything but video poker.
So tell me, is there a best game?
A. It depends on what you mean by “best game.” Even if we narrow the definition to “game with the lowest house edge,” there are a ton of “what ifs.” A blackjack basic strategy player can get the house edge down to a half percent or so, with a swing of a few tenths either way depending on house rules at the casino or website. But if you don’t know basic strategy, the house is higher, in the vicinity of 2 percent against an average player and even more against a really bad player.
Similarly, a video poker player who sticks to 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 5-for-1, can expect a 98.98 percent return with expert play, the equivalent of a 1.02 percent house edge. But against average players, the house edge runs between 2 and 4 percent, depending on the caliber of their play. The payback drops even more on Double Double Bonus games with lower full house-flush returns.
In craps, a player who sticks to pass and come bets faces a house edge of 1.41 percent, and you can get well below 1 percent with free odds. But if you bet on any 7, the house edge is an astronomical 16.67 percent.
Just on a house edge basis, the best game of these three depends on house rules, pay tables and your skill level.
But really, the best game depends on the tastes of the individual. If you don’t like to play blackjack, it’s not the best game for you despite its low house edge.
Q. I believe blackjack analysts sell progressive betting short. Consider a recent scenario I experienced on a $5 minimum/$500 maximum table that progressive betting produced a net win of $2,733, whereas flat betting would only have returned $70.
The progression started with a $5 bet, then $5 after the first win. Then it progressed to $10, $20, $30, $45, $65, $100, $150, $225, $335. By hand No. 12 I was betting the table maximum of $500. With blackjacks paying 3-2 on my $150 and $335 bets, I’d won $3,233 before a $500 loss on Hand No. 16..
Granted, this was an unusual run of 15 winning hands in a row, uninterrupted by a loss or a push. But, these streaks do occur, usually at something less than 15, such as 6 or 7 wins in a row. The point is, if I flat bet the minimum the same as another person, I miss out capitalizing on the win streaks when they do occur. With the loss streaks that are also part of the game, I’m only betting the table minimum.
A. Congratulations on your big win. Betting progressions can produce some spectacular wins far in excess of anything you could do by flat betting the minimum.
But as you acknowledge, progressive betting cannot change the odds of the game. When you bet with a progression, there will be times that you have your largest bets on the table in negative counts, when the house has its biggest edge.
The spectacular wins require long winning streaks. Those are rare and precious.
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. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at casinoanswerman.com. Answer Man runs every week.