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HOME > STRATEGY > Strategies & Tips > Pick your hit frequency on slots and five-card Charlies

Pick your hit frequency on slots and five-card Charlies

19 November 2012

By John Grochowski

QUESTION: Please explain something to me about choose your volatility slot machines. You’ve written about them before, and from what I understand you can choose how often you win. What does that actually mean as far as the overall payback? Are you better off choosing high or low volatility?

ANSWER: Choosing your volatility isn’t about choosing a payback percentage; it’s about choosing a play experience. High-, medium- and low-volatility games all can be programmed to yield the same overall return. It’s the journey of how you get to that payback that differs.

Let’s say you’re playing an Incredible Technologies Magic Touch game that gives you a choice between “win big,” “win steady” and “win often.” Not all casinos that buy IT games enable the volatility choice, but those are the games that pioneered volatility choice.

If you choose “win big,” you have a better chance at the highest-paying combinations, but the cost is fewer of the small wins that keep you going. The big wins are offset by the chance that you’ll lose faster and go through your buy-in. If you pick win often, you’ll have the opposite experience. There’s less chance at the big win that can make your day, but the smaller returns that keep you in your seat will come more often. Pick win steady, and the experience is somewhere in the middle.

Some manufacturers use the “choose your volatility” approach only on bonuses, especially on free-spin events. Would you rather have five spins with a 4x multiplier, 10 spins with a 2x multiplier or 20 spins with a 1x multiplier? A big win with a big multiplier is a bonus for the ages, but fewer spins also means you have a better chance of walking away with zero.

In the end, more big wins vs. more small wins vs. a more moderate approach balances out, and you’re left with about the same payback percentage.

QUESTION: When I was a kid, we used to play blackjack at home. That’s where I learned to play, with my parents and my brother and sisters. One thing we used to do, we had “five-card Charlies” where if you had five cards under 21, you were an automatic winner. I think that was pretty common. My buddies in college all knew of that rule, too.

I’ve been playing in casinos for 15 years or so now, and I’ve never seen that rule. I guess my question is, does any casino play with that rule? How much difference would it make in the game?

ANSWER: My experience is similar. The first time I ever played blackjack -- with no money involved, of course -- I was about 11 years old, taught by second cousins at my great grandfather’s house during a New Year’s Day gathering. We used the five-card Charlie rule.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a casino except in blackjack variants that also have offsetting negative rules. In one version that’s not the pure five-card Charlie form, Super Fun 21 pays 2-1 on any 21 that consists of five or more cards, unless the player has doubled down -- you can double on any number of cards in that game. The big negative: blackjacks in hearts, spades or clubs, or in mixed suits, pay only even money. Spanish 21 also pays bonuses on 21s of five or more cards. The tradeoff: 10-spot cards are removed from the deck, leading to fewer blackjacks and affecting double-down hands.

In its pure form -- five-card totals of 21 or less are automatic winners -- the five-card Charlie reduces the house edge by 1.46%. Put it on a bad six-deck game where the dealer hits soft 17, players may not double down after splitting pairs, can double down only on total of 10 and 11, and pairs can be split only once -- a game with a 0.75% house edge against a basic strategy player -- and the five-card Charlie rules gives the PLAYER an edge of seven-tenths of a percent. No casino is going to do that.

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at fscobe@optonline.net.

John Grochowski
John  Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field. Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago.

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