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Asking for advice at the blackjack table

15 April 2008

I was playing blackjack and just about holding my own, when another player hesitated over his soft 15, with the dealer showing a 5.

"Is it OK if I ask him how to play it?" he asked the dealer, while pointing to me.

"Ask whoever you want," she replied.

"That's what I thought," he said, and proceeded to double down without any help from me or anyone else.

That was the right move, and the rest of the play showed that he knew his basic strategy. So when it came time for a shuffle, I asked what that was all about.

"A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I went out together, and decided to play a little blackjack," he said. "She doesn't really play much. She usually sticks to the slots. But when there are a couple of seats together at a low-limit table, we like to play together for a while.

"She doesn't really know basic strategy, but she does OK on most hands. When she gets a hand she's unsure on, she asks me."

By then, the cards had been cut and the dealer was ready to go, but we kept up the conversation over play. I asked if someone had objected to my new comrade in 21 giving advice to his wife.

"The dealer did. My wife had the same hand I just did, ace-4 with the dealer showing a 5 face up. She knows better than to stand on that. I've told her over and over that the worst that can happen to a soft 15 is that you draw a 10 and make it a hard 15, that there's no penalty for a bad draw on that hand.

"She gets that. What she doesn't remember is when to hit and when to double down. She asked, 'What do I do?' I just said 'Double,' and she did.

"Right away, the dealer snapped at her, 'Play your own hand!' I said, 'What?' And she said, 'She has to play her own hand. You can't play it for her.' "

By this time, our pit supervisor was taking an interest in the conversation.

"Please tell me that didn't happen here," he said. "We're friendlier than that."

"It didn't," the player replied. "We have a couple of places we go to. I wish the pit boss had taken an interest there. She never came over while this was going on. I told the dealer I'd never heard of such a thing. My wife and I play together pretty often, both around home and once a year when we go to Las Vegas. I've always helped her on a few hands, and no one has ever said anything before."

He looked at me. "Have you ever been told not to give advice to other players?"

I haven't, I told him, but I don't really give it that often. Never without being asked. I figure everyone has the right to play their own cards their own way. But if I'm asked, I always give an honest answer, and no dealer or pit supervisor has ever backed me off.

In fact, once in Las Vegas, I played with a whole table of novices. We were all participating in a conference by day, and went out to play together at night. We filled up a blackjack table at Excalibur, and one player or another was giving advice on every hand. The pit supervisor even came over and joked about how if would have been easier if I'd just bought them each a basic strategy card to bring to the table. He even joined in a little bit, giving his own strategy recommendations and asking if I agreed.

My newfound friend shook his head. "That's not what we experienced. I said to the dealer, 'If she wasn't sitting there, I could just play two hands, right?' And the dealer agreed I could do that. So what's the difference if I just give some advice to the one who's playing the hand?"

The pit supervisor laughed.

"No difference at all," he said. "It all seems pretty silly. Did you ever call over the supervisor there?"

"No, she never looked our way, and I didn't want a fight. The dealer seemed so adamant that I figured it must be house policy. We weren't going to play that way, though. My wife's not comfortable enough in blackjack to be totally on her own. We cashed in our chips and left. I guess next time we go there, I'll ask a supervisor if it's all right before we play."

There was a gleam in the supervisor's eye as he offered a simple solution.

"That's easy enough," he said. "Don't go back. Just bring your wife here."

That brought a chuckle from the player.

"Just the advice I'd expect," he said. "We might have to do just that."

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski