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Deal Me In


How’d he do dat?

Dear Mark: I witnessed something interesting once while I was playing blackjack. The dealer, about every 15 minutes or so, would yell out a card, and low and behold, that exact card would appear. I am not kidding. He must have done it three times in an hour. Once it was a seven of diamonds, later the three of clubs, and I cannot remember what the third card was, but he guessed it right. What do you think was happening here? Any chance the deck was prearranged so he could call out a specific card. Neil K.


What you witnessed, Neil, was a bored dealer, with a delusory belief that he can call up a card at will. I was one once, delusional that is, with my go-to card being, Athena, the queen of spades, the Greek goddess of war. I would dumbfound players, but their selective memory only remembered when I called out a card that helped or hurt their hands, and not the 98% of the time that I was dead wrong. So, Neil, no Carnac the Magnificent here, nor with your clairvoyant dealer.

Nevertheless, any dealer shuffling a deck of cards has to ensure the cards get as mixed up as possible. Even if it were a sloppy shuffle, you would be surprised to know the staggering number of ways a deck of 52 cards can be arranged.

There are 80,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (67 zeros) ways to arrange a deck of 52 cards. Shuffle any deck of cards at the kitchen table, Neil, and you now have an arrangement that possibly has never existed before, anywhere.

The casino will do any and everything to avoid a dealer jeopardizing game security. Topping that list is avoiding having a dealer who can physically pull out a particular card at will, or even thinks he can.


Dear Mark: What do you think of Free Bet Blackjack? Stephen S.


Free Bet Blackjack, Stephen, is sort-of what it sounds like, since, after your initial wager, you can split pairs and bet your double-downs, for FREE!

Played with a standard deck of cards from a six-deck shoe, traditional blackjack rules apply, along with table minimums and maximums, and a blackjack pays 3:2.

So, Stephen, what constitutes FREE? Well, anytime you have either a pair, or a hard total of 9, 10 or 11, you are allowed to split or double-down on the house's money. If you end up winning your hand, you are paid as if you had made a traditional split or double, even though you did not put any of your hard-earned money at risk.

Free Bet Blackjack plays much like traditional blackjack, with the following standard rules:


•    Played with 6 decks

•    Dealer hits soft 17's

•    Blackjacks pay 3:2

•    Double on two cards only

•    Double after split allowed

•    Re-split pairs up to four hands

•    Re-split aces allowed (one card only)


Yes, Stephen, as to be expected, there is a small catch to playing FREE. All dealer hands that total a 22 become a push instead of a win for the player. Even so, the house edge is approximately 0.8%, which is relatively small for a 6-deck shoe game, making this game a recommended play from Yours Truly.  

Note also, Stephen, that with this FREE wager opportunity there comes a variance in strategy. I recommend doubling down on any 9, 10 or 11, plus, you will also want to split any pair except 4's, 5’s and 10’s. If you have 4’s, split only against a 5 or 6 up-card. With 5’s, double instead of splitting. Finally, never split your 10’s.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Mathematics... are a good servant to the poker player but a bad master.” – Hubert Phillips, Profitable Poker (1960)


Dealers aren’t paid enough to spar with players

Dear Mark: I have been a dealer for almost 20 years. Blackjack players love to argue about what the correct strategy is to be played. This can result in intimidation and even violence if someone at the table isn’t going by “their” rules. As a dealer, I try to keep the peace by telling them to play their own cards. Does what other players do really have any effect on one’s own odds? They claim their odds are increased when everyone at the table plays “right.” What are your thoughts on this? Danyelle D.


Probably, Danyelle, the same as yours. It doesn’t make one iota of a difference.

It is a mistaken belief that incorrect play by someone at third base, or any position for that matter, always takes the dealer's bust card, or gives the dealer a card that always seems to beat the table. Statistically, it makes zero difference to that tetchy individual over the long run. Far too many players hold accountable others for giving the dealer an advantage by “supposedly” misplaying their hand and hitting or standing in a manner they wouldn’t.


For you as a dealer in the line of fire, it’s hard to block out the grumbling from the know-it-all who thinks a misplayed hand always takes the dealer’s bust card. Unfortunately, your paycheck doesn’t include combat pay for refereeing those petulant players you have to deal with every night. Personally, I have always thought that the worst part of the job dealing blackjack was settling squabbles of players who have spent hours gulping for effect, barking both at you and fellow players with that pretentious voice they get when they are a bit ... expansive. Then again, they could be jerks all the time.

You don’t have, nor do they, any knowledge of the cards remaining in the deck(s). When someone hits a hand that deviates from basic strategy, his or her poor play is just as likely to take a card that might have benefited the dealer’s hand as one that would have busted it. The only hand influenced by the outcome of their play is "their hand," not others.


Dear Mark: On some video poker machines, they offer suggestions on what cards to hold. Do the machines use perfect basic strategy? Would you ever follow the advice that the machine is giving you? Dave F.


I have found Dave, the results to be somewhat mixed. Most video poker machines in land-based casinos in the US do follow, for the most part, the proper strategy for that machine. Plus, the guidance offered on machines where they highlight which cards to hold, even if slightly off, is a far better way to play each hand than the Average Joe just winging it, cocktail in hand. Get my point?

What I have noticed, though, on a machine with a positive expectation, particularly with the better paytables, is the absence of any assistance from the machine. You are on your own, hand-by-hand, on what cards to hold, so it’s up to you, Dave, to know that machine’s perfect basic strategy.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “To gamble is to risk, to approach the "ruin factor." When I was poor the ruin factor was not important. Hell, I was ruined anyway.” – Mario Puzo, Inside Las Vegas (1976)