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Best of John Grochowski

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Single-Deck Blackjack Is Good for All Players, Not Just Card-Counters

24 July 2001

I was having a quiet lunch by myself at a casino buffet not long ago, when three older men approached. They were blackjack players, and at least one was a regular reader of this column.

"You say that it's better for the player if fewer decks are used, right?" the first gent asked.

That's true, I replied, provided other rules at the table don't tip the balance in favor of the game with more decks.

"But that's just for card counters, isn't it?" the second fellow piped in. "It doesn't really make any difference to the average player."

It's not just for card counters, and it does make a difference to the average player. For one thing, more blackjacks are dealt when fewer decks are in use.

"How can that be? The proportions of cards are the same no matter whether you use one, two, six or a hundred decks," insisted player No. 3.

Yes, the proportions are the same at the start, but the effect of removing each card from play is greater when fewer decks are in play, and that leads to more blackjacks.

Let's take extreme examples -- a single-deck game and an eight-deck game -- to illustrate the point. Other games will fall in between these examples -- you're more likely to get blackjacks in a two-deck game than in a four-deck game, and more likely in a four-deck game than a six-deck game.

So let's say you're playing a single-deck game, and your first card is an Ace. To complete a blackjack, you need a 10-value card -- a 10, Jack, Queen or King. Sixteen of the 51 cards other than your Ace have values of 10. That's 31.4 percent of the deck. So on the average, when your first card is an Ace, you'll finish with a blackjack 31.4 percent of the time.

Now let's say you're playing an eight-deck game. Now there are 416 cards in play instead of 21. Your first card is an Ace, leaving 415 cards, of which 128 are 10-values. The 10-value cards make up only 30.8 percent of the remaining deck. So when you start with an Ace in an eight-deck game, you'll wind up with a blackjack an average of only 30.8 percent of the time.

The other situation in which you can get a blackjack is if you start with a 10-value, and your second card is an Ace. In a single-deck game, after you start with a 10-value, four of the remaining 51 cards, or 7.84 percent, are Aces. In an eight-deck game, 32 of the remaining 415, or 7.71 percent, are Aces.

Regardless of whether you start with an Ace or a 10-value, you get more blackjacks if fewer decks are used.

Player No. 2 wasn't so sure this was a good thing. "Doesn't that mean the dealer also gets more blackjacks with fewer decks?"

Yes, it does. But players are paid 3-2 on their blackjacks, and the house isn't. Anything that increases the number of blackjacks is in the player's favor.

"So that's why fewer decks are better," said No. 1, glancing at each of his comrades. "More blackjacks."

That's not the only reason, I told them. Fewer decks also help you in double down situations.

Let's say you start with a two-card 11. When you double down, you're really hoping for a 10-value card that will give you a 21. What are the chances?

In a single-deck game, the two cards that give you 11 leave 50 cards in the deck, 16 of which are 10-values. That's an even 32 percent of the deck. So 32 percent of the time when you double down on 11 in a single-deck game, you'll draw a 10-value to complete your 21.

In an eight-deck game, the two cards that give you 11 leave 414 cards in the deck, of which 128 are 10-values. That's only 30.9 percent of the deck. So 30.9 percent of the time you double on 11 in an eight-deck game, you'll draw a 10-value for that 21.

"I knew fewer decks were better," said No. 1, "but I was never sure just why."

"There's still one thing I don't like about fewer decks," said No. 2, brow furled. "It seems like they're shuffling all the time."

I don't regard that as a negative, either. Unless you're a skilled card counter, the house has the edge. More hands per hour leave more opportunity for that house edge to work against you. Slowing down the game a bit for extra shuffles is good for most players.

That's the main reason I advise most players to avoid tables that use automatic shufflers -- especially continuous shufflers. With no pause for the dealer to shuffle the cards, the casino gets in more hands per hour, giving the house more chances to go for our wallets.

Fewer decks, hand-shuffled -- that's the ticket.

No. 2 grinned and shook his head, and they all turned to leave, with one parting shot from Player No. 3.

"I see one place the house has an edge on you."

What's that?

"That cold egg roll on your plate. Sorry to take up your time."

No problem. My pleasure.

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