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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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You still lose, just less often

9 April 1999

Dear Mark,
Every basic strategy card, blackjack book, and yes, you, recommend splitting eights against a dealer 10. Well, fear gets the better of me, and I depart from correct play and just hit instead of splitting the pair. So what should I do about a hand that always seems to haunt me? Hit, split or play the hunch? Scott N.

You're right, Scott, eights against a 10 is a phantasmal hand that stalks most players like Marley's ghost.
As my readers know, blackjack is a game where the proper hit, stand, splitting and doubling decisions are necessary in order to cut the house edge down to a minimum. These proper decisions are called basic strategy and have been arrived at by computer simulations of millions of hands.

But fallacious logic tells you that splitting this hand creates two losers. Seems every time you split those eights you get, at best, two 10s. Then the dealer always has a nine or 10 in the hole, and bang, the jingling you hear is not Marley's forged chains but all your money falling into the dealer's tray.

So what happens to the average player? He starts deviating from basic strategy because FEAR sets in. The FEAR is actually False Evidence Appearing Real. FEAR camouflages the logic of computer studies. But according to basic strategy, the proper move is to split 8s if the game you're playing doesn't allow surrender. Why? Because you will lose more money in the long run if you hit instead of splitting. Mathematically, when you just hit the hand, you will lose $51 for every $100 wagered. However, if you split, you will lose $44 for every $100 bet. A seven dollar difference for every hundred dollars wagered.
Granted, Scott, it's a character builder to come out of pocket with additional money, but the key behind basic strategy is: Win more money not necessarily more hands.

Dear Mark,
I've been around computers since 1978 and some folks even call me a computer genius. My new project is to develop a hand-held computer I can conceal in my pocket and try counting cards with much more accuracy. What are the risks/consequences if caught with a hand-held computing device in my possession in a casino? Anonymous

Dear Anonymous, allow me to let Beavis and Butthead spell it out for you: "Just because you own a computer doesn't mean you still can't be stupid."

Dear Mark,
I have been following your advice and making casino bets that have less than a two percent house advantage. I now consider myself a reformed player. My blockhead brother on the other hand makes bets with no rhyme or reason. Since we both play craps, show me why my pass line bet versus his favorite bet, hardway sixes and eights, will always do better? Susan M.

Susan, by using a simple mathematical formula, I will prove that by playing smart, your play will generally outperform your brother's.

Let's first analyze your action, Susan. A pass line bet, with no odds, has a house advantage of 1.4%. With a $5 wager and 50 playing decisions per hour, your theoretical loss (all bets lose over time) is $5 X 50 X 0.014, or $3.50 per hour. Relatively cheap entertainment. In comparison, your brother's bet, the hard six or eight, has a house advantage of 9.1%. The damage to his bankroll would be $5 X 50 X 0.091, or $22.75 in the same amount of time. Multiply that by 15 hours of play and you've got a sniveling, unhappy camper with a long car ride home.

Sibling rivalry aside, glad to see you're reforming your play. Now let's convert the blockhead.

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.