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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: The double down bet outpaces the insurance bet by a mile

11 April 2008

Dear Mark: Why is doubling down in blackjack so advantageous for the player? Also, why shouldn't I always take insurance? The worst that could happen is losing half my bet. Hector F.

The three main reasons why doubling down is so advantageous to you, the player, is because 1) you know the dealer's up card, 2) the casino is allowing you to bet more money with that information, and 3) your chances of winning the hand, when you should to be doubling, are better than the dealer's.

You always want to bet more when the casino is at a distinct disadvantage so as to increase your potential return. Your edge comes from the new bet's paying even money on hands that you are favored to win.

Let me give you an example of where doubling down will give you a substantial edge over the casino.

Take doubling down on an 11 against a dealer six. The odds with this hand are that you'll win 63.3, lose 30 and tie 6.7% of the time. Play this hand for $5 a thousand times and you can expect to win $3,165 and lose $1,500 for a net profit of $1,665 on doubling this one wager alone.

Far too many players don't double, fearing that losing the extra bets might wreak havoc on their bankrolls. Hey, Hector; if you find you're getting cold feet betting one of the best wagers the casino has to offer, you shouldn't be on that denomination game.

Back when I dealt blackjack, I was always amazed at how many players would take insurance on every hand (even dog ones like a 16) when I was showing an ace. They, as your question states, believed that the worst that could happen was losing half their wager.

God forbid (actually the casino forbade) me telling players that 10-point cards (10, J, Q, K) make up 31% of the deck, so there was a 69% chance that I didn't have a blackjack. With that 69% chance that the dealer doesn't possess a snapper, and there's you insuring your weak hand, you could easily lose both the insurance and your original bet.

So NO on insurance, Hector, even if you have a blackjack. With a 3-to-2 payoff, you'll make more money in the long run by never taking it.

Dear Mark: Suppose I have the following hand: A jack of spades, 10 of hearts, six of diamonds, four of clubs and a four hearts. Being that the pair of fours does not pay, wouldn't the correct strategy be to go after the royal (as you've stated in the past, that's what we're here for) and discard the fours? Don B.

Hold on, Don. When I made that statement, it was to debate keeping a high pair over a three-card royal. I stated; "the expected value (win potential) of three cards to a royal and a high pair is so insignificant, even I abstain from perfect basic strategy and jump on the chance, as remote as it might be, of hitting the elusive royal flush." As for a low pair hand, it is far superior to a single high card hand.

Let's review your example: A jack of spades, 10 of hearts, six of diamonds, four of clubs and a four of hearts. If you are trying to force as many royals as possible, sure, you hold just the jack and discard the rest. But the expert play here is to hold the pair of fours. The frequency of hitting two pair, three of a kind, full houses or four of a kind when you hold the low pair more than makes up for always chasing that elusive royal.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: In poker as in life, there will always be people who will take advantage of your weaknesses." --VP Pappy

Recent Articles
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.