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Deal Me In: Never and always are princes among slippery terms

23 March 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: Why do some players on a blackjack table get all hot and bothered when I split 10’s? I don’t do it every time, nor do I get a 20 hand very often. I never correct their play, like when the dealer is showing a six, and they hit a 12-16. Dan P.

A number of players will go into a tizzy when you split 10’s because they erroneously believe that you are “always” taking the dealer's bust card. “Always” may come from the fact that the most common initial hand is a pair of 10s, simply because there are more tens (10s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings) than any other card rank. Your fair share of getting a 20 is approximately 9.2% of the time.

Even so, Dan, as long as the shuffle is randomized, your play, incorrect as it may be, can just as likely help the table as hurt it. Although your play will have no consequence on the game in general, you are putting your stellar hand in unwarranted jeopardy, nor will you get a recommendation from me to split 10s, but for two exceptions.

In Face-up Blackjack, all the cards dealt are exposed, including both dealers’ cards. Only here does correct strategy call for splitting 10s against the dealer’s 13, 14, 15, or 16. In addition, for card counters, when there is a high proportion of high cards left in the deck, for instance, a high-low true count of plus 4 or more, and the dealer is showing a 6, this would be a situation that favors splitting 10s. Otherwise, Dan, the correct play is to “always” stand on your 20.

Dear Mark: In Three-Card Poker, why is it that when I have a flush, and the dealer has a straight, I lose both my ante and my bet? Since when do straights beat flushes. Russ R.

When you’re sitting at the kitchen table with your cronies playing five-card poker games, straights materialize more often than flushes, which makes flushes the more powerful hand. However, with three-card hands, the probabilities are altered and flushes happen to occur more frequently than straights.

Although straights outrank flushes in Three Card Poker, there is still a way for you to win, something. By betting on the Pair Plus option, you are paid for your flush regardless of whether your hand can beat the dealer’s because the dealer’s cards are immaterial against this wager.

This separate, stand-alone wager has a payout based solely on the rank of the 3-card hand. If your hand contains less than a pair, you lose. With a pair or higher, you win, and the higher the rank, the greater the payout. Here is the payout schedule for Pair Plus wagers:

Straight flush: 40 to 1

Three of a kind: 30 to 1

Straight: 6 to 1

Flush: 4 to 1 (3 to 1 with some pay tables)

Pair: Even money

If you inspect the pay table, Russ, you will note that straights pay 6-1, flushes 4-1. Once again, because they are the less common hand, straights pay more because they outrank flushes.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “If a man has a competent estate of his own, and plays whether himself or another man shall have it, it is extreme folly; if his estate be small, then to hazard the loss even of that and reduce himself to absolute beggary is direct madness.” ?- Anonymous, The Nicker Nicked; or the cheats of Gaming Discovered 1669
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.