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Deal Me In: 21 Madness

17 April 2009

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: What do you know about 21 Madness? Is it a decent bet for the player? Kenny B.

Here's another one of those side bets in blackjack, Kenny, that sort of looks good, but just can't pass the smell test.

Kenny is referring to a $1 wager the casino allows you to make, in addition to your regular blackjack bet, that you will be dealt a two-card 21. Your natural allows you to push a button that starts a lighted display, governed by a slot machine-like random number generator, that stops to reveal a bonus payoff from $5 to $1,000.

Here's the skinny, Kenny. Blackjacks occur roughly once every 21 hands. So, think break-even bet if the average payoff is $21. Yet, through personal observation over a period of time, and sniffing around the internet and forums, I'm seeing/hearing that the average payoff is around $16, which gives the house an edge of 23.8 percent.

Of course, sniff testing doesn't allow me to give you a precise figure, and the average payoff could be lower, could even be higher, and a card counter sitting on a very high plus count might want to take a whack at it, but my guidance for the average player would be to stay clear of it.

Dear Mark: What is better for the player, a dealer who hits a soft 17 or one who doesn't? Brad N.

The dealer who doesn't, Brad. The house edge is lowered by approximately 0.2 percent if the dealer stands on all 17s.

Dear Mark: I play Three Card Poker, and stick exclusively with the Pair Plus bet. It seems I can stay on the table for a longer period of time playing this way over the Ante wager. Any merit to my way of playing? Dave S.

For starters, Dave, if you are asking me if it's the best casino table game to play in the casino, the answer is NO. If you are also asking me if it's the best bet table game to play at Three Card poker, the answer is still NO.

But seeing that it seems to be a game you enjoy, and because the difference in the house edge is ever so slight, I'll cut you some slack here.

What Dave's talking about is that he's making a wager that his hand will consist of a pair or higher (Pair Plus).

Betting on a pair is a simple matter of making a Pair Plus wager. You know immediately whether you have won a Pair Plus payoff as soon as you look at your cards. With a Pair Plus bet there is no raising or discarding, and the dealer's cards are immaterial.

Payoffs on Pair Plus wagers are made according to the following schedule, regardless of the dealer's hand:

Straight flush: 40 to 1

Three of a kind: 30 to 1

Straight: 6 to 1

Flush: 4 to 1

Pair: Even money

Besides Pair Plus being about the simplest wager to make, of all the new poker-based table games, this game has the lowest house edge. The wager Dave mentioned in his question, the Pair Plus option, has a house edge of about 2.3 percent, whereas the other option, the Ante wager, is about 2.1%; as long as your betting strategy, when making the "Play" wager, is to have at least a queen, six, and a four in your hand.

The Sine qua non here, Dave, is to have fun and have at Pair Plus.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Yup, playing the stock market is gambling. We hope this doesn't come as a surprise." --Lou Krieger & Arthur Reber, Casino Player magazine

Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.