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Deal Me In


Never shortchange yourself with this betting opportunity

Dear Mark: Is there an appropriate time to “double for less” at blackjack? I do it occasionally, but I am beginning to feel that it isn’t worth the hassle that I get from fellow players and sometimes even the dealer. Doug D.


When players double for less, they are doubling down for under their original wager. When the rules permit doubling, you as a player do not have to double your bet, but you can increase it by any amount up to, but never more than your original wager.

In my view, far too many players overlook the fact that doubling down is an offensive weapon and that they should always double the full amount whenever possible. Since basic strategy dictates that you should only double down when you are more likely to win the hand than lose, you always want to wager the maximum amount.

Along with blackjacks, it is the double downs and the splitting of pairs that help you move your blackjack play from the red into the black. I highly recommend that you should never shortchange yourself with these betting opportunities. You have an edge against the house at this point in the hand, so double you money to maximize your bet.

If ever there is a time to double for less, Doug, it would be when you are down to your last chips, and you can't afford a full double down. As for the hassling dealer, possibly he or she is looking out for your best interest as many, yours truly included, are apt to giving unsolicited advice.


Dear Mark: My casino offers a wager on their blackjack game called “Perfect Pairs.” It pays 25 to 1 on suited pairs, 12 to 1 on black or red pairs and 6 to 1 on any pair. I ask because I get my fair share of pairs at blackjack. I was wondering if this is a gimmick bet, or does Perfect Pairs offer a halfway decent return for those of us who use basic strategy or at least a strategy card at the table? Jim M.


Every time you sit down at a blackjack game, Jim, you will no doubt get your fair share of "mixed pairs" (cards of the same number, one red and one black), "Colored pairs" (same colors and same numbers, either black or red), and the rare "perfect pair" (which consists of identically numbered cards of the same suit). Thus, is “perfect pairs” a value-added wager worth making?

Pay tables vary from casino to casino, Jim. On a six-deck shoe game and using your example of where you collect 6 to 1 for a mixed pair, 12 to 1 for a colored pair, and a perfect pair for 25 to 1, the house edge on a Perfect Pairs wager is over six percent. 

Unfortunately, Jim, the problem with most side bets offered at any blackjack game is that they are too costly for readers of this column. When hands are played correctly, blackjack has a casino advantage of less than a half a percent. So, Jim, while you are using basic strategy to keep the house edge down, do you really want to make a side bet where the casino advantage is more than 10X higher?


Sorry, Jim. A Perfect Pairs wager is just not a side bet that I would recommend.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Serious action is a serious ride, and rides of this kind are all but arranged out of everyday life.” – Irving Goffman, Where the Action Is (1967)


What’s in your wallet?

Dear Mark: My usual betting system in craps is to play the pass line with full odds and then follow it up with two come bets with full odds. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I tried a new system after having read a book that recommended playing the pass line with odds, and then placing the 6 and 8. (If the point is 6, place the 5. If the point is 8, place the 9). After two sessions with the place bets, I realized I did much better with my come system. My question is, in the long run, which betting system do you prefer? Michael F.


Gambling is a tricky gig, Michael, and the shrewd gambler should always be on the lookout on how to improve on sound gambling. Your initial option, a Pass line bet with full odds followed by two Come bets with full odds, is the best way to go, mathematically. I also believe that option two has a sizable shortcoming, especially if what you wrote was NOT a typo.

You penned, “If the point is 6, place the 5. If the point is 8, place the 9.” Hopefully, you meant if the point is 6, place the 8, and if the point is 8, place the 6. The reason, Michael, is that odds of any Place bet change depending upon which number you place. The house edge for placing the 6 and 8 is 1.5%, whereas placing the 5 and 9 it is 4.0%. My advice here is to scrap “placing” the 5 & 9 and stick only to placing the 6 and 8.

When playing craps, the predominant bet on the game is the Pass line wager. Although most players at a crap table have some action on the Pass line, taking odds is an auxiliary wager to your Pass line bet that you make after the point is established.

What’s great about taking odds, Michael, is that this wager is distinct from all the other casino wagers in that odds carry NO casino advantage. All bets are paid off at true odds, paying 2 to 1 on points of 4 and 10, 3 to 2 on a 5 and 9, and 6 to 5 on the points of 6 and 8. Without taking any free odds, both the Pass Line and Come wagers have a 1.4% casino advantage. When you package it with odds, the house edge in now substantially under 1%.

That said, there are two good reasons to go with option two and complement your one Pass line wager and odds with a Place bet on the 6 or 8. First, a Place bet has a relatively small casino advantage, 1.5%, and second, it is downright cheap. A Place bet can be had for as little as $6.

Obviously, option two is NOT the vanguard of faultless play on a crap game as it is costlier edge wise than your initial preference. However, everything depends on the amount of cash you have in your billfold. Taking odds, Michael, can be an expensive proposition, especially when dealing in multiples of 10X, and taking full odds on three separate wagers means you will need to be well capitalized.

 If you have the wherewithal, conventional gambling wisdom says a pass line bet with full odds, followed by two come bets and full odds is the smarter play. If you are light on funds, a Pass line bet with full odds and placing the 6 and 8 is not a bad second choice.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “I've always played cards. I can't remember when there wasn't a gambling game going on somewhere, even if it was a craps game in a wheelbarrow on the backside of the racetrack.” – Wilford Brimley