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Bettor's Rx

The Best (and Worst) Prescriptions for Gambling Fever
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 1)

NO. 4--Baccarat, The Bank Bet: --1.15 percent

If you enjoy the challenge of calling heads or tails on a coin flip, baccarat is for you. Though the casinos toil mightily to imbue the game with enough faux glamour--crystal chandeliers, tuxedo-clad dealers, free-flowing Champagne-- to make even the grungiest gambler believe he's the living incarnation of James Bond, the game requires absolutely no decision-making other than picking "heads" or "tails." Or in this case, "Player" or "Bank." (There is a third bet, "Tie"--but more on that nefarious option later.)

Two hands of cards are dealt. The one with a point total closest to 9 wins. Because of some arcane rules involving how and when an extra card may be drawn, the Bank hand has a slight advantage over the Player's. Alas, if you bet on the Bank, you must pay a 5 percent commission on your winnings. Thus the casino's small edge.

Incidentally, the Player bet, with an expectation of -1.37 percent, still less attractive than the Bank bet, qualifies for the casino Hall of Fame.

NO. 3--Blackjack, Basic Strategy: --.5 percent

One of the most popular games in the casino also happens to be one of the best values--if you play Basic Strategy. That's a big "if." Gamblers who make their "hit" or "stand" decisions on hunches, emotions or some farfetched theory their Cousin Jed told them will see their bankroll shrivel faster than a raisin in the sun. Those who master Basic Strategy will enjoy one of the fairest gambles in the casino. Furthermore, if you can find a single-deck game with favorable rules--dealer stands on soft-17, etc.--the casino edge can be reduced to 0 percent. If you learn a simple card-counting system, blackjack becomes a positive expectation gamble: you have the advantage over the House.

Basic Strategy is a set of easily memorized playing decisions based on the dealer's up card and the player's two-card total: Hit your 16 versus the dealer's 7; stand on 13 versus the dealer's 6; double down on your pair of 5s versus the dealer's 8; and so forth. (Reliable Basic Strategy tables can be found in almost any blackjack book written after 1960.) Each play in the Basic Strategy matrix has been tested with billions of computer-simulated hands. Follow the guidelines and you will always be making the unequivocally best decision. You will be playing perfectly. And enjoying a nearly break-even game.

NO. 2--Craps, Maximum Odds: --.018 percent to --.002 percent

After you've made your line bet--No. 5 in the Hall of Fame--you can "back up" your initial wager with a "behind the line" bet, called odds. This secondary bet is paid at true odds; the casino has no advantage on this wager. Many casinos let gamblers bet only twice the amount of their line bet, or "double" odds. The better casinos allow odds bets of 10 times the initial wager ($10 on the line and $100 behind; a .018 percent House advantage).The truly great ones offer 100 times odds. In this case, you are betting $100 at absolutely even money, with no House edge, and $1 at a 1.4 percent disadvantage. The cumulative effect is a bet that in the long run loses only two pennies for every $1,000 you wager.

"If everybody who played dice took the full odds," said Jack Binion, owner of Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas, "we couldn't pay our light bill."


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