Q. I’d never played sic bo before, but it was only a dollar a bet at one of those new tables with the video dealers, so I decided to give it a try. Another player told me that the best bet was on single numbers, that a dealer had explained to him that with three different numbers on the dice, he paid half the numbers and took the other half. I tried it a while and didn’t really win much. Was he right?
A. Interesting that other players are spreading that particular piece of misinformation now. Decades ago, the late John Scarne wrote about a dealer demonstrating such a split, and I later witnessed it myself with a dealer as he explained the game in which players bet numbers and combinations before three dice are rolled.
The dealer put six imaginary bets on the board, on numbers 1 through 6. Then he set three dice on numbers 1, 2 and 3. “See,” he said, “I pay 1, 2 and 3, and take away 4, 5 and 6.”
That would give the single-number bets no house edge if the dice always landed on three different numbers. But they don’t. Let’s say there’s a chip wagered on each number, and the dice come up 1-1-2. Then the dealer pays 2-1 odds on 1, and even money on two, for three chips paid out. He then takes away bets on 3, 4, 5 and 6 — four chips take away. Or if all three dice come up on 1, the dealer pays 1 at 3-1 odds, but takes away the other five bets — three chips out, but five back in to the house.
Far from being even bets, the single numbers yield a fairly high house edge of 7.9 percent.
There are a couple of dozen possible wagers at sic bo. You can bet on specific totals of three dice, on “triples” — all three dice on the same number — or “doubles” — two dice on the same number. The lowest house edge, 2.8 percent, is on “small” or “big.” Bet on small, and you’re wagering the three dice will total anywhere from 4 through 10, while big pays off on 11 through 17. You do not get paid on triples when you bet small or big — a 15 that consists of three 5s is not a “big” winner.
Sic bo, based on an ancient Asian game, has been around the U.S. as long as there have been casinos. It’s mostly confined to the large resorts, but seems to be getting a little push on electronic table games.
It’ll be interesting to see if the game catches on with low-limit players in that format, but beware. House edges on most bets are in double figures, up to 19 percent on the three-dice totals of 9 and 12, and even more with a little tinkering on the pay tables.
Q. If I make the $1 jackpot bet at Caribbean Stud Poker and get a royal flush, I can win hundreds of thousands of dollars. If I bet $1.25 on a quarter video poker game and am lucky enough to get a royal, I only win $1,000. They’re both five-card poker games. Is it because Caribbean Stud is on a table and video poker on a machine?
A. No, the difference is in Caribbean Stud being a stud poker game, while most video poker games are draw poker. Your first five cards are all you get with stud, but you can discard any number of cards and draw replacements in video poker.
That makes a drastic difference in odds. In Caribbean Stud, royals come up an average of once per 649,740 hands. In video poker, it’s more like once per 40,000, with some variation depending on the specific game and strategy.
For example, in 9-6 Jacks or Better, expert play will bring a royal an average of once per 40,390 hands. In 10-7 Double Bonus Poker, that drops to once per 48,048 hands.
Both games are five-card draw poker, and the cards are dealt in the same way. The difference is in strategy as we approach the game. The 7-for-1 payoff on flushes in full-pay Double Bonus makes a big difference. Dealt a hand such as King of diamonds, Queen of diamonds, 5 of diamonds, 10 of clubs and 7 of spades, we’ll hold all three diamonds in 10-7 Double Bonus. In 9-6 Jacks or Better, with just a 6-for-1 payoff on flushes, we make the opposite play, holding just the King and Queen and leaving open the possibility of a royal flush.
The strategy differences mean we’ll draw royals more often in 9-6 Jacks than 10-7 Double Bonus. But in either game, the royals will come far, far more often than in a stud poker game such as Caribbean Stud.
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