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Deal Me In: Some dealers have strategy know-how, others don't

23 October 2009

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I wanted to comment last week about dealer's giving blackjack advice. My experience is that all they have ever given is bad advice. The soft 18 you mention this week is the prime example. Not only do I have everyone at the table angry at me for hitting an 18, the dealer usually chimes in that I shouldn't have done that or trying to talk me out of it when I ask for the hit.

Another dealer got angry at me for not drastically increasing my bets when I won seven hands in a row. I argued that the next hand could have as easily been a loss of my hard earned profits. By the way, I walked away from table eventually with a win, albeit small. Phil R.

Hold on, Phil. The question I answered was in regard to WHETHER dealers were allowed to give advice, and NOT whether you should seek counsel or whether a dealer's guidance is any good. Case in point: Yours Truly, who learned how to deal cards on an ironing board and while pitching cards across the room into a hat.

During my virginal hours of dealing blackjack, if a player got a pair of aces, and then split them, I made the airy decision that if he split aces and got two face cards he just got himself two blackjacks, so I paid off accordingly, 3 for 2. I was actually paying this unmerited royalty on split aces until a pit boss finally noticed my generosity. The last thing you would have wanted from me then was my $.02 worth, just the free money I was doling out.

The deal, pun intended, is that some dealers know the game cold and others don't. It would be much better to learn basic strategy to a point where it becomes your automatic response, or – while working up to that proficiency – to carry along a basic strategy card and refer to it in those tough-decision moments.

A basic strategy card gives you a concise and definitive play for every starting hand you will be dealt. Using a card will ram the casino edge down to less than 1%. As long as you do not bring a blackjack game to a dead halt, most casinos will allow you to use your strategy card right at the table. This way, Phil, the advice is right every time.

As for a dealer getting hot and bothered about you not increasing your bets while winning, he might have been trying to recommend the 50% winning progression method of wagering. The progression would work like this for a $5 wager: $5, $7, $10, $15, $22, 30 etc. You keep increasing your bet until you lose, starting back over with a flat bet (table minimum) of $5. Winning progression is actually not a bad way to go, Phil, and you might want consider it over flat betting.

Dear Mark: Last week in Vegas we were at the Wynn Casino and I was watching a table game called 'Blackjack Switch.' The dealer was trying to get me to join the others in playing the game by telling me it had better odds than Blackjack. After watching for 45 minutes I could not see how the player had better odds. If anything, I think the odds were greater for the casino. Almost every round the player lost at least one of the two hands.

My thought is this is another gimmick to take our money with the odds much higher for the casino than in regular Blackjack. Your thoughts would be appreciated. Frank S.

Yes, Frank, there is such a gimmick game where they actually allow this cheating maneuver, swapping cards between two hands.

Called Blackjack Switch, it is a mutant form of blackjack where a player is dealt two hands and is allowed to trade cards between them. Outwardly, Frank, this seems like a great rule that favors the player, but unfortunately any gain is offset by the other rules that favor the house. Natural blackjacks are paid 1:1 instead of the standard 3:2, and a dealer 22 is a push.

Yet, even with rules that counter any advantage gained by being allowed to interchange your cards between hands, the house edge with perfect basic strategy, which is difficult and specific only to this game, along with the different rule variations from casino to casino, is relatively small, anywhere from 0.16% - 0.58%, which, Frank, can be lower than in regular blackjack.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Man conceals; poker reveals." --Lee Robert Schreiber, Poker as Life

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.