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Some useful shirt-pocket truths

12 October 2007

Dear Mark: What are your thoughts on a blackjack game where all the cards are dealt face up, including the dealer's cards? Why is the casino giving you such an advantage by exposing both of their cards? Alex M.

Of all the possible blackjack rule variations, viewing both of the dealer's cards before you play your hand is the absolute best. Straight up, it increases your odds of winning by 8.80%. But that doesn't mean that casino philanthropy exists, or that playing on this game, which can be called Double Exposure, Face Up 21, Dealer Disclosure or Bayou BlackJack, in any way gets you a crack at that eight-plus percent.

Because both the dealer cards are dealt face-up, the playing rules are usually adjusted to favor the casino even more than in conventional blackjack. This adjustment includes paying blackjacks at even money, doubling down permitted only on 9, 10, 11; and insurance, re-splits and surrender, is not allowed. Also, all tie hands result in a loss with the exception of a player's blackjack, which beats a dealer's blackjack.

Yet, when played properly, and depending upon playing conditions, the house edge can also run below that of conventional blackjack. For example (take a deep breath), with six decks, dealer hits a soft 17, double on any first two cards, doubling after splits not allowed, tied blackjack wins, split only once, a jack and ace of hearts pays 2:1 and a suited 6-7-8 pays double, the casino advantage is 0.26%. But (don't blink), with six decks, dealer hits a soft 17, doubling allowed only on a hard 9-11, doubling after splits not allowed, split only once, and a tied blackjack pushes, the house edge is 1.47%, which is more than in standard blackjack.

As you can see, Alex, slight modifications in the rules can greatly affect the casino's edge, but still, with either example, it still ranks as one of the better bets in the casino, and possibly worthy of a few of your hard-earned dollars.

Dear Mark: Is any bet in roulette a good bet, or should I just throw that money in the fountain on the way into the casino? Dick D.

First off, Dick, let the wishful thinkers throw their hard-earned money in the fountain for luck. You, on the other hand, are going to learn here and now the secret of roulette: It's about which game, not which bet.

That's right, Dick, most gamblers mistakenly believe that certain wagers on a roulette table are superior to others. Example: Betting on even money wagers (red/black or odd/even) are said to be always better bets than wagering a straight-up number. Nothing could be further from the truth. All bets on the layout, with the exception of one, hold the same house edge of 5.26%. That one exception is the five-number bet, 0, 00, 1, 2, 3 — also called "the beast with five numbers." Makes sense, as the house advantage on this sole wager is a humping 7.89%.

What you want to search out is a single zero wheel where the house edge is reduced to only 2.7%. If it's not offered, don't play; indeed, more money can be made with a snorkel and mask.

Dear Mark: When you worked in the casino, did you ever use shills in blackjack, and if so, how do you spot them? Sam A.

In the seven casinos where I was in collar, none employed shills (a starter), but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

"Shill" is a term for a casino employee who bets money and pretends to be a player to attract customers to an empty table and remain at the table until the table fills up or the game stabilizes.

Shills typically follow the same rules as the dealer, which makes them somewhat easy to spot (they don't Split or Double Down); plus they commonly have an eye-bugging heap of chips in front of them, which gives the unsuspecting player the idea that the table is hot.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Learning to play two pairs is worth about as much as a college education, and about as costly." -- Mark Twain

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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.