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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Hostile playing conditions found on some blackjack games

8 July 2005

Dear Mark, I just noticed that our local casino has brought back single-deck blackjack. The only rule difference I noticed is that they pay six for five for a blackjack instead of three for two. Is this game a good deal for the player? Justin A.

In the "good ol' days," Justin, it was always to your advantage to play on a game with the fewest decks. Compared to the math of a single- deck game, that of a multi-deck game seriously handicaps your play: 0.35% for two decks, 0.48% for four, 0.54% for six, and 0.58% for eight If you were to play 100 hands per hour at $5 per hand, each -0.1% of additional handicap would cost you approximately 50¢ per hour. Playing on a game with two decks versus one deck will cost you an extra $1.75 per hour, with each additional deck prying deeper into you wallet.

Unsurprisingly, stumbling upon a single deck blackjack game today is a rare occurrence, unless you come across a casino that advertises "Back by popular demand, Single Deck Blackjack." But — write this down — look closely at the table layout, to see whether there's the fatal notice: "Blackjack Pays 6:5."

On a conventional blackjack game, a blackjack typically pays 3:2. If you bet $10 and get a natural, you'll be paid $15. However, at these new 6:5 games, a $10 blackjack gets you only $12. Despite the fact that the game is played with a single deck, this one little rule change — inspired by Saint Barnum — dramatically increases the house advantage — big time!

This new single-deck game has been very successful for the casinos because the uninformed player has been told over the years that single deck blackjack is a better game than the shoe games that are now prevalent on the casino floor. But here's the real deal. By accepting blackjack payouts reduced from 3:2 to 6:5, a generosity you may not have intended, you are giving the casino a 1.39% advantage. Compare that to an eight-deck game where the house edge for a basic strategy player is a more civilized 0.58%.

So what's the difference between the two in actual dollars and cents? For a $10 player playing perfect basic strategy at 60 hands per hour, the expected loss on an eight-deck shoe is $3.50 per hour. The expected loss for the same player on a 6:5 single deck game is $8.35. Ouch!

I highly recommend, Justin, that you don't waste your hard-earned money on any blackjack game that pays less than 3:2 for a blackjack. Instead, imitate smart blackjack players who play in a casino that offers the following combination of rules: Fewest decks possible; surrender, both early and late; double down allowed on any two cards; double down allowed after splitting pairs; multiple pair splitting allowed, plus re-splitting aces; dealer stands on a soft 17; deep deck penetration; and of course 3:2 for a blackjack.

Dear Mark, Long ago while playing poker with friends I learned the term "eight, skate and donate" whenever an eight appeared. But I never learned its true origin or what it means. Have you ever heard this term before, and if yes, what does it mean? Dick E.

I looked for and couldn't locate its origin, Dick, but I do know that "Eight, Skate, and Donate" is not known as a greeting for an eight. "Eight, Skate, and Donate," "Eight-to-Go" and "Eight-to-Skate" all describe a no-limit game whose minimum bet is $8.

Gambling quote of the week: "Judged by the dollars spent, gambling is now more popular in America than baseball, the movies, and Disneyland-combined." -Timothy L. O'Brien, Bad Bet (1998)

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.