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Deal Me In: Number of decks versus number of players

18 November 2011

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: When I play BJ in Vegas at a double-deck table, I always seem to win much more when there are just two people playing. Any logic to this? Ruth F.

If you base your line of reasoning on math, Ruth, yes as to the number of decks used, but no as to the number of players sitting tableside.

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 a heady -0.54% and at eight decks, it is -0.58%. Even though the house edge goes up considerably when you go from one deck to two, you do get some kickback, becoming less dramatic as you add more decks. Round one goes to you, Ruth.

My concern, Ruth, is that with just two players on the game you will be dealt far more hands per hour, which allows the casino edge to eat away at your bankroll at a much faster clip. Let’s run some numbers.

For instance, assume you are a basic strategy player, and your average bet is $10 per hand. When you’re playing with just one other player on a double-deck game you can expect to average at least 300 decisions per hour, with you seeing half, or 150 of them. Betting $10 per round means you will be wagering a total of $1,500 over the course of an hour. With the casino having a 0.5% edge against the basic strategy player, your expected hourly loss is $7.50. By increasing the number of players to four on the game and decreasing your decisions per hour to 75, that hourly cost would be cut in half. Round two goes to the casino.

If you really want to improve your chances of winning, Ruth, become, if you are not already, a proficient basic strategy player. Correspondingly, 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 re-splitting aces

Dealer stands on a soft 17

To this point, Ruth, your gaming timeline has been relatively short, and with just a couple of players on the game, the Gambling Gods have looked favorably on your play, so far. Nevertheless, skill and favorable rules will outweigh the effect of the number of players on the game, every time.

Dear Mark: To relax at the casino, I play either Let It Ride or Three Card Poker. Which of these games is a better bet? Dave B.

Three Card Poker with the right pay table is a fast and exciting poker game that offers two ways to play and four different ways to win. The three-card format makes the game quick, and easy to learn and play.

As for a betting strategy, most experts believe you should not make the “play” wager unless you have at least a queen, six, and a four in your hand. Using this approach, the house edge on the “ante” wager is about 2.1%, with the “pair plus” slightly higher at 2.3%. Yes, Dave, easily a very tolerable casino advantage.

As for Let it Ride, even when this game is played flawlessly, the casino's edge is 3.51%, which is almost double that of Three Card Poker. If it were close, I would recommend playing the game that you enjoy the most, but in consort with my advice of “Never making a casino wager that has higher than a 2% house edge” the better bet is clearly Three Card Poker.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
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.