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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: How'd he do dat?

11 April 2014

Dear Mark: I witnessed something interesting once while I was playing blackjack. The dealer, about every 15 minutes or so, would yell out a card, and lo and behold, that exact card would appear. I am not kidding. He must have done it three times in an hour. Once it was a seven of diamonds, later the three of clubs, and I cannot remember what the third card was, but he guessed it right. What do you think was happening here? Any chance the deck was prearranged so he could call out a specific card? Neil K.

What you witnessed, Neil, was a bored dealer, with a delusory belief that he can call up a card at will. I was one once, delusional that is, with my go-to card being Athena, the queen of spades, the Greek goddess of war. I would dumbfound players, but their selective memory only remembered when I called out a card that helped or hurt their hands, and not the 98 percent of the time that I was dead wrong. So, Neil, no Carnac the Magnificent here, nor with your clairvoyant dealer.

Nevertheless, any dealer shuffling a deck of cards has to ensure the cards get as mixed up as possible. Even if it were a sloppy shuffle, you would be surprised to know the staggering number of ways a deck of 52 cards can be arranged.

There are 80,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (67 zeros) ways to arrange a deck of 52 cards. Shuffle any deck of cards at the kitchen table, Neil, and you now have an arrangement that possibly has never existed before, anywhere.

The casino will do any and everything to avoid a dealer jeopardizing game security. Topping that list is avoiding having a dealer who can physically pull out a particular card at will, or even thinks he can.

Dear Mark: What do you think of Free Bet Blackjack? Stephen S.

Free Bet Blackjack, Stephen, is sort of what it sounds like, since, after your initial wager, you can split pairs and bet your double-downs, for FREE!

Played with a standard deck of cards from a six-deck shoe, traditional blackjack rules apply, along with table minimums and maximums, and a blackjack pays 3:2.

So, Stephen, what constitutes FREE? Well, anytime you have either a pair, or a hard total of 9, 10 or 11, you are allowed to split or double-down on the house's money. If you end up winning your hand, you are paid as if you had made a traditional split or double, even though you did not put any of your hard-earned money at risk.

Free Bet Blackjack plays much like traditional blackjack, with the following standard rules:

• Played with 6 decks
• Dealer hits soft 17's
• Blackjacks pay 3:2
• Double on two cards only
• Double after split allowed
• Re-split pairs up to four hands
• Re-split aces allowed (one card only)

Yes, Stephen, as to be expected, there is a small catch to playing FREE. All dealer hands that total a 22 become a push instead of a win for the player. Even so, the house edge is approximately 0.8 percent, which is relatively small for a 6-deck shoe game, making this game a recommended play from Yours Truly.

Note also, Stephen, that with this FREE wager opportunity there comes a variance in strategy. I recommend doubling down on any 9, 10 or 11, plus, you will also want to split any pair except 4s, 5s and 10s. If you have 4s, split only against a 5 or 6 up-card. With 5s, double instead of splitting. Finally, never split your 10s.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Mathematics... are a good servant to the poker player but a bad master.” – Hubert Phillips, Profitable Poker (1960)
Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
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.
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.