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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Machines do matter

14 December 2007

Dear Mark: Per your advice, I'm learning blackjack on a video machine at 25 cents a hand versus live play at $5 a hand. I was wondering if I am allowed to use a blackjack strategy card in the casino while I play? Does it matter how many coins I put in? Any other advice would be appreciated. Paul G.

One of the primary reasons for blackjack's immense popularity is that when played with skill, it offers the best odds of all casino games. Blackjack also offers two sweet little bonuses. You are paid an extra half of your bet on natural blackjacks — no skill or monetary risk involved — and you get to put more money down on favorable doubles and splits. As long as you select the correct video blackjack machine, these rules still apply even against a cybernetic one-armed bandit.

As for using a blackjack strategy card, yep, it's absolutely allowed, and a must for newbies learning the game. As in the table game, the idea behind using basic strategy is to reduce the casino's advantage, and by using a blackjack strategy card you can whittle the house edge down to less than 1%.

So long as you play an even money amount (see below why that's important), it doesn't matter how many coins you insert. Like the video poker machines, video blackjack machines use a random number generator (RNG) software algorithm to determine the game's outcome. The number of coins played cannot influence the end result.

Never play a machine that offers even money for a blackjack. Also remember: machines that do pay 3 to 2 typically do so only when an even amount of money has been wagered. Don't short-change yourself on the correct payoff by betting an odd amount.

Just as you would in a live blackjack game, make sure that you get rated for your play. Always use your players' card when playing video blackjack.

It is the splits, double downs, and blackjacks that jiggle your blackjack play from the red into the black. Do not shortchange yourself in these situations. When your strategy card says to double or split, do it.

Make sure to read the posted rules, so that you can quickly determine the house edge on your selected machine. For example, I used to play on a machine that allowed early surrender with liberal doubling down rules. Surprisingly, with the use of perfect basic strategy, the house had no advantage on my play on this particular machine. Toss in the cash-back when I used my Player's Card, and the owners were actually paying me to sit in front of their machines.

Dear Mark: In video poker, am I correct in this conclusion that if the pay tables are essentially the same for different denomination machines (they are where I play), that it would be smarter to play on a $1 machine rather than a quarter one since the profit per hour would be much higher? Robert A.

Right off the top of my head, you overlooked two things. Playing on a dollar machine and hitting a royal will definitely get you a W-2G (yuck, taxes), plus, you are going to need a larger war chest to play at a higher denomination. And there's more, Robert, including the possible assumption on your part of an assured "profit," which I'll tackle in a future column, so stay tuned.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Show me a person who calls losing entertainment and I'll show you either a liar, idiot or both." VP Pappy, Midwest Casino Guide

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.