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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Yuck!

1 September 2003

Having just returned from a recent gambling trip (Las Vegas), I was surprised to see many casinos offering single-deck blackjack. I thought single-deck was very rare because it affords a player the lowest house advantage and is a card counter's delight. Well, my surprise soon turned to disappointment when I approached a table and read the fine print. They only pay 6-to-5 on a blackjack! What's up with that? Isn't 3-to-2 the proper payout? How much does that tactic improve the house's edge? Is this game worth playing? Michael H.

Many casinos are now offering single-deck blackjack games that pay a natural blackjack 6-to-5 instead of the traditional 3-to-2. One word, Michael, can best describe this subtle rule change many players have not even noticed. As the schoolmarm says, "YUCK!" (I know you've got a better word, so spit it out.)
Here's some 'rithmitic to analyze this pickpocket variation of single-deck blackjack being offered to the inattentive in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
Theoretically, single-deck games do offer the best odds for skilled players, with a house edge of only about 18 cents for every $100 wagered. When a casino offers single-deck games that reduce the payoff on a player's blackjack from "7.5 to 5" down to "6 to 5," meaning instead of winning $7.50 for your hard-earned snapper, you win $6, that payoff slash increases the house edge from 0.18% to 1.45%, which, Michael, is a colossal 800% increase in the house edge.
YUCKS! (or better) loud and clear, please.

Dear Mark,
Concerning blackjack versus roulette, which does a player stand better chance of winning? I am leaning more towards roulette due to the black/red or odd/even scenario. I am aware of the 0 and 00 killing my bets, but does blackjack still provide better odds? Damon C.

Blackjack is a game played poorly by many, and well by few. The desirable rearrangement is quite simple: Employ perfect basic strategy. Playing it correctly will bring the house advantage down to well less than 1%. But, even Ho-hum Hannah's careless play at blackjack is far-and-away a better deal than double zero roulette, where the house edge is 5.26% of every bet you place on the table. Yep, Odd/Even, Black/Red, it doesn't matter. The casino advantage is 5.26% and you aren't going to change that with any particular wager.
Now if your blackjack play is ghastly, like splitting 10s against a dealer ace, well . . . stick with roulette, but only on a single-zero roulette wheel where the house edge is a less murderous 2.70%.
What's so special about single zero? Because, Damon, while in the end you will lose about $5.26 for every $100 wagered on a double-zero table, your loss at the single-zero table drops to a more digestible $2.70.

Dear Mark,
When is the best time to double down for less in blackjack? Dick H.

I'll ask you, Dick, why do you double down in the first place? Answer: you double down because you are more likely to win the hand than lose it. For that reason, you always want to wager the maximum amount. Never shortchange yourself when it comes to doubling down. It is the double downs, splits and blackjacks that shove blackjack play from the red into the black.

Gambling quote of the week: "I am shocked, shocked, that there's gambling going on here." Captain Louis Renault, Casablanca

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.