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Deal Me In: Beware of those odds on single-deck blackjack

18 May 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I was in Las Vegas last week for the first time in about six years and was disappointed to see all the casinos on the Strip changed to single deck with a payout of 6 to 5 for blackjacks. I was curious to know if it were more advantageous to double down on a blackjack if the dealer was holding a bust card, or just take the 6 to 5 deal. Jim I.

I cringe, Jim, when seeing the advertisement that reads; "Back by Popular Demand … Single Deck Blackjack," which lacks of course, itsy bitsy fine print stating, "6-5 blackjack is an inferior game."

Yes, Jim, the 6-5 game has become far too prevalent, and regrettably, the uninformed are lining up to park their posteriors on stools to submit to it. The easy out is to criticize the casino for its greed, but some blame must be placed on players who patronize 6-5 tables without researching the game. You always want to get maximum value for your blackjacks, and you do that by getting paid 3 to 2, not 6 to 5. These 6-5 games give the casino an edge of almost 1.5%.

To answer your question directly, even on a 6-5 game, by taking the guaranteed payoff, you still have a higher expected value than by just doubling down on an 11, regardless of the up-card, so take the snapper.

Historically, Jim, the 3-2 blackjack payoff originated in the betting parlors of Evansville, IN, and has been around since 1912. Now a century later, this columnist suggests when you come across a table that pays 6-5 for blackjacks, don't concern yourself over taking even money for a blackjack versus doubling down, just split, from that table that is.

Dear Mark: Being new to craps, I was wondering if it is okay to ask dealers for advice. Dave A.

Absolutely, Dave, as it should be included under the "be certified friendly and helpful" topic in their employee handbook, or at least it was in mine. Better yet, approach a dealer on a dead table to ask your uncertainties of the game. Most dealers are amenable to explaining the betting process. Finally, many of the larger casinos offer table game classes for the tenderfoot like yourself to help you learn the ins-and-outs of your preferred game. Just check with a pit boss to see if your favorite casino offers one for craps.

Dear Mark: You state that the expected value of all bets is negative, and that over time, the player will lose money. You also state that Free odds have no casino advantage. Are you not contradicting yourself? Richard D.

Not at all, Richard, simply because, "Free odds" must be packaged with your Pass line wager and cannot be made separately. Combined, they still make the expected value of your entire wager negative. By taking the maximum amount of Free odds possible, you substantially reduce, but never eliminate, the casino edge.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time." — Chinese Proverb
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.