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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Some common blackjack misconceptions that needn't cost you plenty

11 February 2006

Dear Mark,
Does it matter much which casino I play in since the game is pretty much the same from one casino to the next? Barry D.

For starters, the number of decks of cards being used and each casino’s in-house rules determine how much of an advantage the casino has over its patrons. Furthermore, both playing rules and number of decks in use often differ from one casino to the next. Some casinos allow the players to surrender and to double down after pair splitting, others don’t. In Casino A, dealers might stand on a soft 17, in Casino B they hit. Even within the same casino, or same pit, you will find one dealer holding a single or double deck right next to a dealer dealing out of an 8-deck shoe, both using different rules based on the decks in play.

If you want to know what really matters when playing blackjack, it’s shopping for best rules at hand.

Dear Mark,
If the object of blackjack is to get as close to 21 as possible, why do you stop at 17, 18, or even 20? Kathy S.

The objective of blackjack is to avoid going over 21 when the dealer does, or to beat the dealer by having your hand total higher than the dealer's hand. Your assumption, Kathy, is amiss, and it would take a pricy toll on your bankroll if ever employed. Say your hand totals 18, and you’re thinking maybe you’ll say “Hit me”, when ZAPPO! -- a frantic gray cell points out that only three cards are safe at this point, the ace, 2 and 3, while any one of the rest – ten! Count ‘em – will sink you like a lead dollar.

Dear Mark,
I pretty much stick to basic strategy except for one hand. I never hit a 12 when the dealer' has an up card of 2 or 3. Every time I have hit my 12 in the past, out comes a 10 and I bust. Would you recommend just standing when this scenario happens? Brett H.

No doubt, Brett, a 12 is a crummy hand, yet you will win more often over the long haul when you hit those 12s. Here’s the 'rithmetic. If you hit your 12 against a 2 or 3 you will win 37% of the time and lose 63%. If you stand, you will win 35% of the time and lose 65%. Personally, I prefer to win 37% of the hands rather than 35% of them. Wouldn’t you?

Dear Mark,
If you win 50% of the hands at blackjack, where is the house edge? Larry F.

Yo, Larry, no one wins 50% of his or her hands in blackjack. Discounting ties, which happen 9% of the time, you will win, on average, 47% of your hands and lose 53%.

By the way, Larry, the only advantage the casino 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.

Dear Mark,
When you lose five hands in a row in blackjack, do you recommend betting more money based on the fact that you are due to win the next hand? Marty M.

Ah, betting more based on the “due factor.” How sweet it isn’t!

The cards, Marty, don't give one iota that you just lost the five hands. Didn’t even notice it. The sixth hand remains an independent event, and your chances of your winning it are the same whether you lost, won or tied the previous 5, 10 or 15 hands in a row. Betting on this misconception that you are “due” to win will put you in the poorhouse sooner than later.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "The whole world loves a gambler, but not when he loses." Coach Lombardi after his (and my beloved) Green Bay Packers won an unprecedented third straight National Football League title.

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.