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Best of John Grochowski

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Shuffle through the gambling mailbag

20 September 2012

QUESTION: Is it possible to get an edge at blackjack without counting cards? The reason I ask is that my brother-in-law told me that if you learn all the plays on those basic strategy cards, you can win at blackjack. Is that right?

ANSWER: Kind of makes you wonder why some casinos sell basic strategy cards in their gift shops, let alone allow you to use them at the tables, doesn't it? If learning basic strategy could give you an edge over the house, would the house put the weapon that could beat them in your hands?

Except in rare cases, basic strategy can't give you an edge on the game. It can get you very close to even, but it can't make you a long-term winner.

How close to even? That depends on house rules. In a six-deck game, figure basic strategy will get you to within half a percent or so. On my regular rounds, there is a casino that used to deal a six-deck game in which the dealer stood on all 17s, players were allowed to double down on any first two cards, and players could double down after splitting pairs. In that game, basic strategy cuts the house edge to 0.41%. That casino changed one rule: It now has the dealer hit soft 17s instead, and basic strategy can get you only to 0.63%.

If you're in an area with single-deck blackjack and decent rules, you may find some games with house edges of less than 0.2%, or even 0.1%. Given that average players face house edges of 2% or so, basic strategy is worth learning. But it can't give you an edge on the game, unless the casino has some really unusual favorable rules.

What kind of game would allow a basic strategy player to gain an edge on the casino? A single-deck game in which the dealer stands on all 17s and players are permitted to double down after splitting pairs is one example. Learn single-deck basic strategy, and you have an edge on a tenth of a percent on the game.

It's unlikely you'll ever see such a combination like that on a casino floor. Stand-on-all-17s games are so rare as to be non-existent on single-deck tables, and one-deck games often have other negative rules such as barring double-downs after splitting pairs or -- worst of all -- blackjacks that pay only 6-5 instead of 3-2. The 6-5 payoff rule alone adds a whopping 1.4% to the house edge. With any number of decks, if blackjacks pay only 6-5, find something else to do.
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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> 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