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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Using Final Jeopardy tactics at blackjack

7 February 2014

Dear Mark: A few weeks ago I got into the final round of a blackjack tournament. When we got to the final hand, the three remaining players with chips, me being one of them, had nearly an equal amount of chips remaining. It felt like we were on the game show Jeopardy, and it was the final question. Both player A and B bet all their chips, so I decided to go along and bet all of my chips. The dealer ended up have a blackjack, and we all lost. The rules stated that in the event of a tie, the remaining players are each given $200 worth of chips, and four additional hands were dealt to determine the place winner. Naturally, my luck (cards) went downhill from there, and I ended up in third place. Getting back to that final round before the “playoff,” what should have been my correct move? I blame myself for losing. Nate S.

Instead of blaming yourself, Nate, how about what Jean de la Fontaine once said: “Luck's always to blame.”

One important thing you want to remember when playing in a blackjack tournament is that all players are competing against the same dealer. The significance of this is that players tend to have similar outcomes on any given hand. In your example, if the dealer draws a blackjack, the entire table ends up with the same result, a loss.

One way to gain ground is by playing each hand correctly and having better cards than your opponents have. However, it is a lot easier to gain ground by betting and playing your hand differently than the others are at the table.

I was once in that same Final Jeopardy position as you, Nate, and here is the move that I made.

Unlike you, I pushed in all my chips on the last hand but for one $5 chip. The others on the table chucked in all their chips on the last hand, only to be wiped out by the dealer having a blackjack. My remaining red chip was enough to win the tournament.

Dear Mark: Now that football season is over I can say that I had a decent year. Total net loss: just over $100. I consider this one of my better years. Typically, I bet against the spread, betting $11 to win $10. Who actually pays the 10 percent commission, the winner or the loser? Michael S.

With most point-spread bets, Michael, the Lords of Chance make their money by charging a commission, or vigorish (aka vig) on every bet. When betting a typical football game, you wager $11 to win $10. When you redeem your winning ticket, you get back $21.

Assuming a 50 percent probability of winning, I can justify both the winner and loser paying the commission that creates the 4.54 percent house edge.

From the loser’s perspective, if you make an $11 wager, you get a refundable fee of $1 if it wins. Otherwise, the loser is paying the $1 commission.

From the winner’s view of that same $11 to win $10 wager, if the bet wins, you only get a return of $10. That missing dollar is viewed as the vig.

Gambling wisdom of the Week: Gambling in my neighborhood was widespread and wide open. Crap games were liable to spring up almost instantly in any hallway and disappear just as fast. I was eighteen before I learned gambling was illegal. – Darwin Ortiz, Gambling Scams (1984)
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.