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Deal Me In: Lady Luck smiles over the short run

19 February 2016

Dear Mark: I love your column and look forward to it every Thursday. I am a dedicated blackjack player and follow basic strategy. For years, I have preferred playing one- and two-deck games (on Fremont St.), but lately, I find I do better with the six- and eight-deck shoes. My question is, do the odds and basic strategy change when the number of decks changes? Bob N.

Concerning you doing better at multiple-deck games, Bob, your gaming timeline has been relatively short, and, for now, at least, the Gambling Gods have looked favorably on your play. Winning as you have, Bob, is just a temporary loan from Lady Luck.

It is always to your advantage to play on a game that offers the fewest decks. Compared to the single-deck game, your two-deck game handicaps your play 0.35%, but as you climb the ladder to four decks, the handicap clambers up to 0.48%; at six decks, it’s 0.54%; and at eight decks, it is 0.58%. Note, however, that even though the house edge goes up considerably when you go from one deck to two, the rate of increase becomes less dramatic as you add more decks.

To truly get a good deal when playing blackjack as a basic strategy player, it is important to look for a game with favorable rules. More than any other casino game, the rules for blackjack will vary considerably from casino to casino, with some blackjack games being better for the player than others.

The most important rule look out for – and one that is becoming routine – is the 6-5 blackjack payout. It has often been discussed in this column, but if you want to play on good blackjack games, it is essential that you avoid these tables at all cost. Only play on games that offer 3-2 payouts on blackjacks.

The fewer decks, the better. Additionally, your best value is to play at a casino that offers the following combination of rules that are advantageous to the player:

—The fewer decks, the better.
—Surrender, both early and late.
—Double down allowed on any two cards.
—Double down allowed after splitting pairs.
—Multiple pair splitting allowed, plus resplitting aces.
—Dealer stands on a soft 17.

While many Las Vegas casinos now offer terrible rules on blackjack, there are still several places where a good game can be had, and one such joint on Freemont St. offers probably the best game in town.

The El Cortez Hotel & Casino (600 E. Fremont St.) is probably the best place to play blackjack in the Downtown area. They still spread a single-deck blackjack game that still offers the ideal 3-2 odds on a blackjack. That game has a house edge of about .3%, while a double-deck game there comes with a .45% edge. Both games can be played for $5 on weekdays, $10 on weekends.

Sure, there are other decent blackjack games in Vegas, but you are looking at games with a $25 minimum. And you not going to bring Vegas to its knees at $5 a pop.

What I like best about the El Cortez is that almost all the games are a single deck with 3-2 for snapper, and one of my favorite rules, doubling on any two cards. The double deck game allows doubling before and after splits. Be aware, Bob, that they DO sweat the money at the El Cortez. If you use any spread betting, plan on being backed off the game.

As for the basic strategy differences between single and multiple decks, yes, there are subtle changes between the games. My suggestion, Bob, is to purchase a “multi-deck” laminated basic strategy card from the casino gift shop and use it at the table while learning and eventually memorizing the modifications.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “(Vegas) looks like somebody took one of Liberace's jackets and made a city out of it.” – Lance Humble, Ph.D., and Carl Cooper, Ph.D, The World's Greatest Blackjack Book
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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.