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Deal Me In: So, to shield her from embarrassment, I took the money

8 October 2010

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: My last time playing blackjack I happened upon a brand new dealer just out of dealer school. She was paying pushes, and even paid a couple losers. I took the money, but is it illegal to do so? Bob H.

Let me guess, Bob. When she underpaid you, you were all over her derriere? Just sayin'.

Most newbie dealers develop their knack for pitching cards by going to a local dealing school and then auditioning. Are all the skills after two weeks intact and ready for Bob? Hardly. Even Yours Truly, who thought dealer school was an inconvenience during ski season, self-taught himself by pitching cards across the room into a hat, and practiced shuffling, dealing and the pay and take on an ironing board. My first day, no week, okay, first month, I was a mess. On my first shift I made the dim-witted decision that if you split aces and got two face cards, you just got yourself two blackjacks, so I paid accordingly. I was actually paying this unmerited royalty on spilt aces for most of my first shift until an old-time pit boss noticed my generosity and corrected me on the break. Some joints might have sent me packing, but possibly he thought I had the potential to do a job a chimp could do.

So were the blunders on my part cheating? --- or yours when you accept as winning a bet that actually lost? Ethical issues aside, the answer is no, it is not illegal.

Pit bosses are always on the lookout for dealers making paying errors, and they'll be all over the their backside to correct such transgressions. It is casino management's responsibility to monitor their pit and make sure that their dealers are following the correct dealing protocols and paying off bets correctly, not yours.

As a break-in dealer, or even as a veteran, I was always appreciative of the player who corrected my pay gaffes and handed back the money. I follow suit to this day.

Dear Mark: All the books say always split eights. But if the dealer were showing a 10 or Ace, why would you want to double your loss by splitting? Why wouldn't you just hit it? Dave K.

Blackjack is a game where the proper hit, stand, splitting and doubling decisions are necessary in order to cut the house edge down to a minimum. These proper decisions are called basic strategy and have been arrived at by computer simulations of millions of hands. The strategic aim of pair splitting versus standing or hitting, Dave, is either to win more or lose less over the long run.

I appreciate your apprehension, Dave, to come out of pocket with additional money, but the key behind basic strategy is: Win more money, not necessarily more hands. What basic strategy states in this scenario is that playing two hands starting with an eight on each is better than playing one hand starting with 16 when the dealer shows a ten.

Fallacious logic tells you that splitting this hand creates two losers. But according to computer simulations in the gazillions, the proper move is to split 8s if the game you are playing doesn't allow surrender. Why? Because you will lose more money in the long run if you hit instead of splitting. Mathematically, when you just hit this hand, you will lose $51 for every $100 wagered. However, if you split, you will lose $44 for every $100 bet when you split eights. A seven dollar difference for every hundred dollars wagered.

What's important to remember, Dave, is that over the long haul, you will wind up losing less if you split than if you stand or hit. Follow the basic strategy suggested by most, if not all the experts, and always split eights no matter what the dealer shows.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: There is no one good thing which can be pointed to as produced by betting. It is the prolific mother of a brood without exception evil. - Professor Marcus Dods On Betting 1897

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.