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Best of John Grochowski

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Avoid 6-5 Single-Deck Blackjack Games

25 September 2002

From time to time in this column, I've ranted about continuous shuffling machines, not so much because they make counting cards impossible, but because they're hazardous to the bankrolls of average players.

There's no need for the dealer to stop to shuffle the cards, and that makes for a faster game with more hands per hour. More hands per hour means more chances for the house edge to work against you.

A faster game is a way for the house to squeeze a little more out of low-limit players. If they lose a little faster and are forced out of the game a little sooner, well, some operators are happy to turn that seat over to another player so they can attack a fresh bankroll. I've seen several casinos that put the shufflers only on low-limit tables, not on the big-money games. They're not trying to dissuade the well-financed counters who could hurt them. They're aiming at the little guy.

Putting the squeeze on the small bettor is all the rage at some of the largest casinos in Las Vegas. It's not just with continuous shufflers. Now some operators have added a nasty little rule that turns a seemingly attractive single-deck blackjack game into a bankroll-gobbling monster.

Single-deck blackjack long has been a rarity on the Strip. It's back, but it's back as something of a Trojan horse. As of early this month, Caesars Palace, the Flamingo Hilton, O'Shea's, Las Vegas Hilton, Bally's, Paris, Harrah's Las Vegas and the Aladdin were offering low-minimum single-deck games.

Most blackjack players have heard that single-deck games offer better odds, so playing with one deck pretty much assures the casino of busy tables. But hidden in this game is a weapon: blackjacks pay only 6-5 instead of the normal 3-2. Bet $10 and get a blackjack, and your payoff is $12 instead of $15.

How much difference does this really make? It adds about 1.4 percent to the house advantage, and in the world of casino edges, that's King Kong. A single-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17 would normally have a house edge of just under 0.2 percent. You can get that game, or games with edges very close to it, in some downtown casinos or in casinos that cater to Las Vegas locals.

We don't have single-deck games in Illinois or Indiana, but we have some pretty decent six-deck games. The six-deck games at Empress and Harrah's in Joliet have house edges against a basic strategy player of about 0.33 percent. Dealers stand on all 17s, players may double down on any first two cards, may double after splitting pairs and may resplit Aces.

In Las Vegas, a low-limit blackjack player can find many such six-deck games, on the Strip and elsewhere. And they'd be far better off sticking to those games than getting suckered into single-deck games with bad rules.

Take a single-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, then have the house pay only 6-5 on blackjacks, and the house edge against a basic strategy player soars to about 1.6 percent--nearly five times as high as the house edge in a good six-deck game.

These single-deck games are a trap for the unwary, and a way for the house to increase its take on tables full of low rollers. Don't get suckered into these games. If you happen upon a game that pays only 6-5 on blackjacks, take your business elsewhere.

*****

One thing the "6-5" rule does in blackjack is to change our basic strategy for insurance. Oh, we still skip insurance in most situations, but we do take even money on our blackjacks when the dealer shows an Ace--provided the house allows it. For some operators, short-changing customers on blackjack payoffs isn't enough of a squeeze. They ban the even-money play, too.

Let's say we're betting $10 a hand, and have 1,000 hands in which we have blackjack and the dealer's up card is an Ace. If we take even money, we win $10 per hand for a total of $10,000, regardless of what the payoff is on blackjacks.

If we take our chances and skip the insurance, on the average we'll win 692 hands and push on the 308 that the dealer matches our blackjack. If blackjack pays 3-2, we'll get $15 on each of our 692 wins, for a total of $10,380. That's $380 more profit than we'd show if we took even money, and it's why basic strategy says that non-card counters should just play out the hand instead of playing it safe.

When blackjacks pay 6-5, we get just $12 on each of those wins for a total of $8,304. Now we're far better off taking even money. No wonder some casinos don't allow it.

Of course, we're even better off not to get involved in this wretched game at all. If you're going to play blackjack, make sure you're getting the full 3-2 payoff on two-card 21s. Then you can relax and ignore insurance--even money and all--as usual.

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski