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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Hold, house edge and no-no-no

14 March 2005

Dear Mark,
In casual conversation with a pit boss while noting that everyone on our blackjack table was losing, I asked him how he thought the casino was doing that evening. He replied; "we're probably going to hold about 50%." Seems high, especially since you have stated that blackjack is one of the best games in the casino to play. Harry S.

Don't confuse, Harry, the "house edge," which is nil against a perfect basic strategy player and approximately 5% against the Average Joe who plays by the seat of his pants, with what the pit boss referred to as the "casino hold."

The "hold" percentage is nothing more than the ratio of chips the casino keeps to the total amount of chips sold, generally measured over an eight hour period, which in your case, was probably swing shift. For example, if the blackjack table you were on sold $10,000 in chips and dropped the currency in the box, and the table ended up keeping $5,000 of those chips (players cashing in the other $5,000), then that particular table game would hold 50% for the evening. If every player were to lose their entire purchase of chips they bought off the game, then the hold would be 100%. (It can even exceed 100%, Harry, if players purchase chips from one table and lose them on another, like the table you were on).

Dear Mark,
My brother-in-law seems to think that by mimicking the dealer in blackjack, the house has no advantage, even on a shoe game in AC. For instance, he always hits up to 16, and always stands on a soft 17 or more. What do you think of his system? Clark B.

Listen up, brother-in-law of Clark B., the only advantage the dealer has over you in blackjack is that you must act on your hand before the dealer takes action on his. Rule variations have some effect on the player's expected return, but not on the casino's sole advantage of having players whack away and bust before the dealer exposes the hole card. The one advantage most players have over the casino is the ability to quit while ahead, though that probably would exclude your B-in-L when making use of the foolhardy system of mimicking the dealer.

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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.