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There's experience, and then there's experience

4 October 2011

There's no substitute for experience, or so says an old adage. And experience does help at the blackjack table. Knowing the game, rules and procedures puts the experienced player a jump ahead of the novice.

But there's experience, and then there's experience.

I was playing a little $10 a hand blackjack when a man in his 30s, or perhaps early 40s, sat down and bought in for $100.

"My favorite game," he said as the dealer delivered his chips. "I've been playing this game since I was 10."

The dealer nodded. "Not in casinos, I hope," she said, laughing.

The player laughed, too.

Everything moved along normally for a dozen or so hands. I could see that for all his experience, the man didn't really have a handle on basic strategy. He stood on 16 when the dealer showed a 7. He stood on soft 17 against a dealer's 8.

I'm used to seeing players who are a little fuzzy on the fine points. None of the other players seemed much troubled by his misplays, and all was quiet.

Until ...

The dealer had a 10 face up. The man of experience had a 5 and a 2, then drew a 3, another 3, an ace and a 4. His cards totaled 18, and it was time to stand.

Except he expected more.

"That's five cards," he said. "Shouldn't you pay me?"

The dealer looked surprised. "I have to play out my hand," she said.

I picked up on what was going on, and I told the player, "They don't pay on five-card Charlies."

Then it dawned on the dealer. "Oh, no," she said. "You have to beat my hand."

That upset the player.

"What do you mean, no five-card Charlie? That's always an automatic winner."

The dealer was polite. "It's not an automatic winner here, sir."

The player was flush in the face. He looked at the rest of the players, and said, "Can you believe that? I've been playing blackjack for almost 30 years, and now you're telling me they don't pay five cards under 21?"

I piped in, "That's the way it works pretty much everywhere."

The player gave me a "you've got to be kidding me" look, and glanced around the table for help. Most suddenly found staring at their cards very interesting. One fellow finally asked, "All this blackjack experience of yours, has any of it been in casinos?"

Turned out it was his first trip to a casino. His blackjack experience had been with his grandparents, his parents, college buddies, friends at home poker games — just about everywhere but a casino.

A pit supervisor came over to calm him down. The dealer turned up another 10, and took his money, along with mine and everyone else's.

"I still think this isn't right," he grumbled.

Chalk one up to experience.

TWENTY-ONE, TOO: In another time and another place — the mid-1990s in Las Vegas — I was playing at a casino where the dealer didn't check to see if he had blackjack after his first two cards.

Common procedure when a dealer has an ace or a 10-value card is to check the face down card. If the down card completes a blackjack, play is stopped, players who also have blackjacks keep their bets, and the dealer takes everyone else's wagers. No cards are drawn.

At this casino, procedure was that the dealer just play on. When you see that policy, it's usually at a casino that doesn't have a mirror reader in the table so the dealer can check the card without turning a corner up. Some managers fear their dealers expose too much of the card when turning a corner, giving an edge to players who can ID the down card.

It's not a major problem unless the house takes all pair-split and double-down bets when the dealer finds a blackjack. Those are bets that wouldn't have been made had the dealer checked the down card. At this casino, the extra bets were returned to players. The house just took players' initial wagers when the dealer had a two-card 21.

Still, the policy led to a real brouhaha with a novice player.

That player drew a 21 in four cards. The dealer had a blackjack, and raked away everyone's wagers.

"We tied," the player said. "I should get my money back."

The dealer explained that blackjacks beat other 21s. Other players backed up the dealer. The player reacted angrily, slamming his fist on the table, demanding to see a manager, and storming off when the manager explained the facts of blackjack life.

"Since when does 21 beat 21?" he shouted on his way out. "We tie and you take my money. See if I every play here again."

The dealer gave an uncomfortable smile to the rest of the table. "Just when you think there's nothing new," she said. "That, I've never seen before."

A player asked, "You've never someone leave angry and shout at you?"

"Oh, that I've had happen," she said. "Not knowing blackjacks beat everything, then screaming and pounding fists over it — that's the new part."

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