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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Dealers do bust, really, with a little help from you

28 April 2003

Dear Mark,
When the dealer is showing a bust card (2, 3, 4, 5, 6), how often does she
really bust? Dan A.

Never, as in "When I'm playing, they never bust," overstates it, Dan, though
we've all had that feeling. But they do bust, as often as 43% of the time
when a six is showing.

Success at blackjack, Dan, is based on how you play your hand against the
dealer's up card. The up card provides you with enough information to reliably
predict the most likely outcome of play against any dealer's hand, based on
the makeup of a standard deck of playing cards.

A multitude of computer studies have been done on the game of blackjack,
analyzing the correct strategy on playing your hand, against any given
dealer's up card.

Because the dealer plays by a set of strict house rules on when to stand or
when to take a card, she must draw a card until she has a total of 17 or
more.

Based on computers crunching their diet of 1s and 0s, the dealer will bust
more often when her upcard is a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, and she will successfully
complete more hands when her up card is a 7, 8, 9 or a 10-value card (10,
J, Q, K) or an ace.

The following table, Dan, shows the dealer's likelihood of busting with any
particular up card.

Percent of the time she'll bust:

2- 35%
3- 38%
4- 40%
5- 42%
6- 43%
7- 26%
8- 24%
9- 23%
10-value card 21%
Ace- 11%

Note, Dan, that the dealer will bust most often when she has a 5 or a 6 as
her up card, and she will bust the least frequently, approximately 11% of the
time, when her up card is an ace.

Generally speaking, basic strategy dictates it is to your advantage to stand
down when the dealer's up card is a 2 through 6, then hope, wish and pray, as
we all do, that your femme fatale of fate draws a 10-value card that makes
her bust. (Yes, I know there's a pun in there somewhere, but I'm avoiding
it.) It also means that when the dealer's up card is 7 through ace, she will
complete more of her hands. In that situation, you will need to draw cards
up to a total of 17 or more.

Dear Mark,
In blackjack, is it true that the biggest jump in the casino edge is when
you move from one to two decks, and with each additional deck, the house
edge is less dramatic? Sam B.

You are correct, Sam. It is always to your advantage to play against as few
decks as possible. With respect to deck sizes, the casino edge goes up
substantially as you go from 1 deck to 2, tapers off when you go from 2 to 6
decks, and is negligible when you go from a 6 to 8-deck shoe.

Casino edge
Two decks -0.35%
Four decks -0.48%
Six decks -0.48%
Eight decks -0.56%

You can offset this casino advantage by finding player-friendly rules where
surrender is allowed, as is doubling down after splitting pairs, and
resplitting aces.

Improvement in your winning chance

Double after split +0.14%
Early surrender +0.70%
Late surrender +0.06%
Resplit Aces +0.14%
Double anytime +0.24%

Or how about this gem I haven't seen in a blue moon: A natural paying 2 to
1. Your expected win rate goes up +2.3% with this beauty.

Bottom line: Smart players always know enough to take advantage of favorable
playing conditions and to sniff out and shun the unfavorable ones. Which
type of player are you? Unfair question, but what the heck?

Gambling thought of the week: "The longer you expose yourself to the casino
environment, the more susceptible you become to their ploys."
- Jerry L.
Patterson, 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.