As the saying goes, sometimes the best offense is a good defense. Believe it or not, this is true in casino gaming too.
In many games, we barely notice we are actually doing this. When we get a bad hand in blackjack, we frequently choose the lesser of two evils. When we hit a 16 looking into a 10 we are not playing a winning situation. We are merely making a losing situation (sticking on 16), just a little bit better.
Since we don’t have to put up any more money to hit vs. stick, this situation goes by unnoticed. However, in cases where the casino allows you to surrender – give up 1/2 your wager and walk away from your hand, you are playing a strong defense. In this case, you are giving up all chances to win the hand, but you will, in the long run, lose a little less money.
Video poker has the same type of situation. Sometimes the choice you will be faced with is between a net winner and a net loser in the long run. Playing a 4-card Flush over a Low Pair is such a situation. If you choose the Low Pair, you are picking a hand which you will lose money in the long run. If you choose the 4-card Flush, you will win money in the long run.
Frequently, however, your choice will be between 2 long-term losers. Do you play the Low Pair or the 4-card Straight or 3-Card Straight Flush. All three of these will lose money in the long run, but would you rather lose 10% of your wager or 20% of your wager over the long haul? I hope you’d pick the 10%.
Again, however, your choice is to pick something in front of you without having to put any more money on the table (or into the machine). You already made your wager and all that is left is a choice of A, B or C. When you sit and play most table games, however, at some point you have to make a choice of play or fold.
Anytime you have make that decision, you will, at times, choose a strong defense. This is probably best explained through some examples. I’ll use a relatively simple game like Three Card Poker.
After you make your Ante Wager, you get your three cards and review them. Now it’s time to decide – play or fold. Well, if you’re dealt a hand like 9-6-3 Flush, you can expect to win 11,647 of the 18,424 possible outcomes with the dealer qualifying and another 5,292 with him not qualifying.
You’ll lose only 1,482 of the hands making the decision rather easy. Obviously you play this hand. If dealt a Pair of 4’s, you’ll still lose only 4,168 of the 18,424 hands and the decision is again pretty easy.
Now let’s say you’re dealt a K-Q-10. In this case you can expect to win 4,090 with the dealer qualifying, win 6,210 with the dealer not qualifying and lose 8,098 (there will also be 26 ties).
So if choosing to play, we will wager 36,848 units and only have 35,042 units returned. So, should we fold? Absolutely not! If we fold, we’re going to lose all 18,424 units from our Ante Wager. So, we are put into a situation where we actually have to bet more in order to lose less!
Many of you know by now that Q-6-4 is the lowest hand that should be played in Three Card Poker. With a Q-6-4 we will win only 305 hands where the dealer qualifies, 5,758 hands with the dealer not qualifying and we will lose 12,335 hands – or nearly 60%!
So, how can this hand warrant a play? When we add up the results we find that the player will wager 36,848 units if he plays and get back only 18,546, resulting in a loss of 18,302. Still, it’s better than losing 18,424 units that we would by folding.
But, this is as far as it goes. If we attempt to play a Q-6-3, we will have returned to us only 18,377 and our net loss will be slightly greater than the 18,424 we would lose by folding. The situation only gets worse for the person who plays hands that are Jack High where they have no chance of winning with the Dealer qualifying.
In essence, they are wagering two units in the hopes of winning one and are doing so with very bad hands!
So, the idea of a good defense does not always mean put up more money to lose less. Sometimes it means fold and cut your losses.
The critical point to learn is that just because you are putting up extra money does not necessarily mean you should expect to win the hand more often than you lose. In the case of the K-Q-10, you will actually win more often than you lose, but your play bet will frequently push – blunting the impact of your win.
In the case of Q-6-4 you will lose more often than you will win, but it is still the right play because you will lose even more if you choose to fold. Again, knowing what to expect can be a critical factor in keeping you on the right path of knowing the right strategy.
The casinos rely on human error to increase their advantage. Much of this human error comes from a lack of understanding of what to expect when you’re playing which then causes players to alter their strategy from sound to more wasteful.
Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].