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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Your chances of busting are not as great as you think

12 July 2013

Dear Mark: Why would my blackjack cheat sheet tell me to hit a pair of 6s when the dealer is showing a 2, and possibly bust, but it tells me to split those same 6s if the dealer is showing a 4-6? Tim R.

A blackjack strategy card – your cheat sheet – is based on the mathematical probabilities of the game, and it provides you guidance on the best decisions to make with every possible situation during each hand.

One of the most misunderstood aspects of playing blackjack is that of splitting a pair of cards, especially 6s. Understanding when to split pairs, take a hit or stand is crucial to your play. When to hit, stand and split is also predicated on “Composition Strategy.” Composition strategy not only takes into consideration the dealer's up card, but the total amount of cards in your hand, plus which cards make up that total.

Plenty of players avoid hitting those 6s because they believe the dealer “always” has a 10 in the hole. Mistakenly they stand, figuring the dealer will bust out. The real deal here, Tim, is when you’re holding a 12 (6s), only four cards will bust you: the 10, jack, queen and king. You not only have a 65 percent chance of surviving a hit, but five additional cards, a 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9, will give you a hand of 17-21. Likewise, if you do stand, you will win only 35 percent of the time and lose 65 percent of the time. Thus, Tim, as your cheat sheet dictates correctly, you hit a pair of 6s against a 2 and split the pair against the dealer's 3, 4, 5 or 6.

The lone exception is if you can find a single-deck game; you would split the 6s versus a 2.

Dear Mark: When in Las Vegas and given a choice at multiple casinos, how is one to choose which is the best? Maria G.

The character and ambiance of every casino is different. Some have low table minimums and dealers that love to chitchat with players. Others require more sizable bets and feature dealers that are far more detached. Some casinos are so comforting that you’ll want to move to Las Vegas and freeload all day in a sportsbook – hmm, sounds like a retirement plan to me. Others make you feel uncomfortable just sitting at a blackjack table. The only way to figure out what’s best for you is to play at a few casinos and see which one you like best.

Additionally, all players, whether a newbie or not, should always seek out the best odds, rules and playing conditions for the casino games they will be playing. Search out a hand-held blackjack game with rules that are favorable to the player, single-zero roulette, the best pay tables in video poker, slot machines that advertise a return of 98-plus percent payoffs and a low-limit, 10x-odds crap game.

Unwinding in a keno parlor mooching free drinks might seem relaxing, but when you are tapped out because you didn’t shop for value, that comfy feeling goes away quickly.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Slot machines are the cotton candy and the McDonald's of the casino. Everyone knows that they're bad for you, but few can resist their junk-food appeal.” – Andrew Brisman, The Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling
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.