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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Side bets usually have a huge house edge

28 December 2004

Dear Mark,
What is your opinion of a side bet offered on the blackjack table that allows you to bet the under or over 13? Is it worth playing? John P.
The under/over 13 is a side bet in blackjack that a player can make on the first two cards dealt to him, and the bet turns on whether those two cards total under or over 13. Aces always count as one. The dealer automatically wins if the hand totals exactly 13.

The betting, John, works like this. After you make your standard blackjack wager, a designated area on the layout is available for you to place chips on either under 13 or over 13. You must make a blackjack bet first in order to place this side wager, and your under/over 13 wager cannot be for more than your original blackjack bet, though it may be for less.

Immediately after you receive your first two cards, the dealer settles all under/over wagers. For example, if you wagered on the under 13, you win an even money payoff if your initial two cards are anything from two (ace, ace) through 12. If your hand totals 14 through 21, you lose. A similar rule applies for the over 13 wager, except that you win one-to-one only if your hand totals 14 or more. The outcome of the under/over bet is entirely independent of the player's normal blackjack hand, and it's always settled before play resumes on the blackjack hand.

So, John, you inquired if I thought it a good bet for the player. Well, that one simple rule — the dealer winning hand totals of 13 — gives the casino a sizeable advantage. So, for the Average Joe, I give it two thumbs down. However, for the perspicacious and patient player, a tidy profit can be had by tracking high and low specific cards as they leave the shoe.

For those reluctant (99% of all blackjack players) to track specific cards at the table, the hefty house edge on the under 13 is 10%, and 6.6% on the over 13. Clearly, neither wager warrants your attention. Nevertheless, John, I do know someone who has done exceptionally well making this bet by systematically tracking the composition of cards remaining in the shoe. When he observes a large number of low cards being played, he knows that the remaining cards contain an abundance of high ones, which favors the over 13 bet. If many large cards have flown the shoe, he will bet the under 13.

Though the card tracking system he uses for the under/over 13 wager is somewhat different from the card counting system he uses for blackjack, surprisingly, this very proficient card counter can run both systems simultaneously in his head, yielding him a distinct advantage over the casino for both blackjack and the under/over 13 bet.


Dear Mark,
I am still very new to the game of blackjack, and I have a question about basic strategy. Is doubling down considered the ideal option for playing a soft 18 against a dealer's 3, 4, 5 or 6? Is standing recommended if doubling is not allowed? Andy K.

A soft hand in blackjack is any hand which, due to ace magic, the ace can be counted as either a one or as an 11. As to how you should play your soft 18 against a 3, 4, 5, or 6; yes, ideally you should double down, if your casino allows it; otherwise stand. You should also stand if you have a soft 18 against a 2, 7, or 8 — BUT if the dealer shows a 9, 10 or an ace, it is always best to take a hit.

Gambling quote of the week - "We needed money real bad at home and my daddy told me I had to stop work or stop gambling." And I said, "Daddy, if I don't work, how can I get money to gamble?" And Daddy, he said, "Son, that's what gamblers got to figure out." So, I quit work. Johnny Moss (World Champion Poker Player), Fast Company 1975

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.