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Best of John Grochowski

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Don't play when blackjacks pay 6-5

21 June 2011

As rules change in blackjack, so does our best strategy. In a six-deck game, basic strategy calls for doubling down on 11 against any dealer face-up card if the dealer hits soft 17, but not to double down against an ace if the dealer stands on all 17s.

In a six-deck game, we'll never split a pair of 4s if we're not allowed to double down after splitting pairs, but will split 'em against a 5 or 6 if we can double. Other strategy variations take into account the number of decks in play, whether we're permitted to double down, and whether surrender is offered.

But the common rule variation that has the biggest impact on the game comes when casinos pay 6-5 on blackjacks instead of the standard 3-2. That raises the house edge by 1.4%, and we don't really have a strategy option that can whittle down that game-changer.

A reader thought he might have something when we wrote about the possibility of treating a blackjack like any other 11.

"If you are absolutely stuck in a casino that only offers this game (and cannot easily go anywhere else)," he wrote, "would you be better off to double down on blackjacks at all times, or at least when dealer is showing 3, 4, 5 or 6?"

What I would do in that situation is to shoot craps, check out the video poker pay tables, or maybe play a little baccarat. I will not play a blackjack game where two-card 21s pay only 6-5. It's the full 3-2, or I will not play.

But to answer the specific strategy question, no, it is not in your best interest to double down on blackjacks, not even when that horrendous 6-5 rule is in effect. Many casinos don't even allow you to double on blackjacks, but in those that do, it remains a bad idea.

Trouble is, when you double on 11 even in a highly favorable situation such as the dealer showing a 6, you're going to lose sometimes, and sometimes you'll push. You'll win enough that you increase profits by doubling down on 9-2, 8-3, 7-4 or 6-5.

But a blackjack wins against a 6 every time. You're paid before the dealer even plays out his hand. The bottom line is that even with a 6-5 payoff, you win $6 for a $5 wager. Double on 11 versus 6, and your average profit is $3.35 per $5 in initial wagers.

Even if blackjacks pay only even money you're still better off just to take your winnings than to double down.

The one really favorable play I've ever seen in casinos with 6-5 blackjack pays came with coupon use. I once encountered a single-deck game in which the dealer stood on all 17s, and no big negative rules — except for the 6-5 payoffs. With a 3-2 payoff, that's basically an even game. At 6-5, there's a house edge of just under 1.4%. Ugh.

But the casino also had a promotions booklet that included a coupon for a 2-1 payoff on your first blackjack. That turns things around to a 2.3% PLAYER edge. Once the coupon has been used, and you revert to 6-5 blackjack payoffs, the house reasserts its edge. So the best strategy was to use your coupon on the game, then leave after your first blackjack.

I don't know of anyone who still allows players to use 2-1 payoff coupons on 6-5 games. That's not to say they don't exist, but I don't know of any. Without such a coupon opportunity, the best play in 6-5 blackjack remains to walk away.

MORE BLACKJACK: The same week's e-mail brought a question from a reader about hitting soft 18. Basic strategy in a common six-deck game calls for us to hit on ace-7 when the dealer has a 9, 10 or ace; stand when the dealer's face-up card is 7 or 8; and double down when the dealer shows 3 through 6. When the dealer has a 2 up, we stand if the dealer stands on all 17s, but double down if the dealer hits soft 17.

The reader had a three-card soft 18, such as ace-2-5 or ace-3-4. The dealer had a 6 up. Reasoning that this is a double rather than stand situation if the soft 18 was only two cards, then this must be a hit situation if the double option is not available. The reader took another card. He also took a razzing from a friend, who told him he should stand on that three-card soft 18.

The friend was correct. We double down to get more money on the table in situations where we'll win more often than we lose, while accepting that we'll lose a little more often with that one-card hit. All the double-down situations with soft 18 become "stand" hands when the soft 18 is three or more cards. We still hit soft 18 against 9, 10 or ace, but we stand on that three-card soft 18 when the dealer shows anything from 2 through 8.

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