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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Mistakes shouldn't cause problems

10 March 2000

Dear Mark,
I was in Atlantic City last week, minding my own business on a blackjack game, when a player started verbally insulting me on how I played my hands. He told me I was ruining his hands and always taking the dealer's bust card. Do I really have that much control over the outcome of the game? Helen L.


First, Helen, it's your money, not theirs, so you should be able to play your hand any way you want. Second, one of the biggest fallacies in all of gambling is that your play affects the overall outcome of all hands dealt. Not true! Each card comes out of the shoe randomly and since you, the dealer, fellow players and yes, even the nitwit who insulted you, have no idea what the next card is, poor play will have no consequence on the game in general. Unfortunately, it does influence the outcome of "your hand," which leads me to third — playing perfect basic strategy.

Blackjack is a unique casino game because it allows players to make playing decisions that will affect the outcome of their bet. Poor play will allow the casino to have a 4-5% edge over the average player. If however you learn perfect basic strategy, that edge can be reduced to well under 1%, making it a terrific wager and one of the best player bets in the casino. Now if the thought of breaking even against the house does not offer you ample monetary incentive to take the time to learn basic strategy, maybe knowing that you will place yourself in the 99th percentile among all players will, as less than one in every 100 players uses perfect basic strategy. Helen, your goal should be to join the 1% who do take advantage of this lucrative way of wagering.

Dear Mark,
On a craps game, why is the dealer insistent that I make $6 wagers when I want to place either the 6 or 8? Jeff T.

Because by betting $6 you will get the correct return for your money. When making a place bet on the 6 or 8, you should always wager in multiplies of $6 ($12, $18, $24, etc.). The reason is that 6 and 8 pay off at 7 to 6 — win $7 for every $6 bet.

Anything less and the dealer will round down and you will be shortchanged.

Dear Mark,
In blackjack, I seem to lose more hands than I win, even when I play perfect basic strategy against the house. If the house has only a slight edge against the player who uses basic strategy, why don't I win close to 50% of my hands? Jason C.

If you employ perfect basic strategy, Jason, expect to win approximately 43% of all blackjack hands, lose 47% and tie 9% of the time. Throw out the ties, and that figure changes to winning 47% and losing 53% of hands dealt.

So how is it possible to be on even keel with the casino when you lose more hands than you win?

Because some winning hands are blackjacks where you are paid 1.5 times your initial bet, or hands that you split or double down on that double your initial wager.

With losing hands you are normally betting and losing only your original bet. It is the blackjacks, double downs and splits that take you fiscally from red to the black in blackjack action. That, Jason, is why you can win as much money from 47% of your hands as you lose from the casino-captured 53%.

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.