At 83, Carol is one smart player

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I follow your column faithfully, and value your opinion. So-called “experts” have always told me NEVER to break up a winning hand when playing video poker. I had an ace high straight with A-K-Q-10 of hearts and the jack of clubs. I discarded the off jack and was fortunate enough to draw the jack of hearts for a $1,100 royal on a 25¢ machine. My question, did I play the hand correctly, or was it dumb luck? I have been playing these machines since they came out, but at 83 years old, I am now spending more time playing a hand-held game at home. Carol M.

You played the hand, Carol, like the video poker “expert” that you are. When playing video poker, all experts discard certain cards to optimize the “expected value” of their hands. Herein lies the secret to winning at video poker-or to say it another way, playing perfect basic strategy.

So, what does “expected value” mean? Expected value (or win potential) is the average value of all the wins attainable (after the discards are replaced), assuming that the optimum cards are retained and each unique possible draw occurs. In your case, the expected value of your 4-card royal (A-K-Q-10 of hearts) was a 19, and your natural straight was just a 4. Great heads-up playing, Carol.

Oh yes, that hand-held game you mentioned playing at home-another brilliant move on your part. It is one of the best ways of acquiring gaming skills without the expense of a live game. Hopefully, some of my other readers will pick one up (as inexpensively as $5 at Wal Mart for the Radica model), to sharpen their playing skills and become experts, like you.

On my last trip to Las Vegas, I played a game called Multi-Action. The game crushed me. Either I was misplaying my hands terribly, or it was one of the worst run of cards a player could get. I will be going back in March, but before I do, I would like your thoughts on the game. David S.

I have never favored the game, David, and here is why. Multi-Action blackjack “multiplies” the impulse for most players to misplay their hands. Far too many players employ a never-bust strategy because they are afraid of losing all three of their bets immediately. They stand on a 12 despite the dealer’s up-card. They wish, hope, and pray the dealer will bust on one or more hands. This, David, can be a bankroll-killer. If you are not willing to risk $15 on a hit/stand decision, you should not be playing Multi-Action. Additionally, if you’re going to play it, your bankroll needs a royal jacking up. Your typical $5 table minimum player now has to wager $15 worth of bets. A few triple losses and you’re down and out in Las Vegas.

Finally, often the house rules of Multi-Action are more punitive than those for regular blackjack. One example would be the prohibition of doubling down after splits on a Multi-Action game.

Can I claim a Mutual Fund/Stock loss toward my $5,000 slot win? Brad V.

Sorry, Brad, you can only offset your casino winnings against your gambling losses, on Schedule A as an Other Miscellaneous Deduction, and only to the extent of those losses, not against salary cuts in a 9-to-5 job, nor losses from a Mutual Fund.

Gambling thought of the week: “Italians come to ruin most generally in three ways, women, gambling, and farming. My family chose the slowest one.” -Pope John XXIII

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