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Deal Me In


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)


Reader catches discrepancy in blackjack basic strategy

Dear Mark: I noticed on your audio that you advised standing on nines versus a dealer’s two. However, your strategy card that was included with the audio shows splitting (SP) nines against a two. Please clarify. Also, is always hitting, and never splitting fours, the appropriate play? Rita C.


I believe, Rita, you are referring to a 15-second segment on my Hooked on Winning audio where I gave some simplified rules if you were not in possession of a blackjack strategy card. I stated that adhering to those few simple rules can bring the house edge down to approximately one percent. One was a tip where I suggested you should “stand on 9’s against a dealer 2.” 

When I first recorded Hooked on Winning 18 years ago, I initially worked off a blackjack strategy card that recommended splitting them 9’s except when the dealer shows 2, 7, 10, or an Ace. I later found that view of standing on 9’s against a 2 in the minority on the multitude of cards I possessed when it came to splitting 9's. Subsequently, when creating my own strategy card to go along with my audio product, I changed the advice to split those 9’s to go along with the majority rather than stand in this situation.


Nice catch, Rita, although I did make a correction in a column more than a decade ago when but one other reader, like you, caught it.

As for hitting and never splitting 4’s against any up-card, you are correct. I recommend just whacking it every time.


Dear Mark: When playing on a slot machine, does it make a difference if I put in a $100 bill instead of in increments like $5, $10 or $20? Sylvia L.


It doesn’t matter, Sylvia. The odds remain the same regardless of the amounts or the denominations of your deposits in the machine. This holds true for all video machines. That said, Sylvia, if you are always reaching into your purse for a $5 bill, you are not physically engaged with a one-armed bandit that has a huge built-in house edge against you. As a result, feeding a machine constantly stops, at least for a mere moment, the casino from keeping “up to” 20¢ of every dollar you circulate through it.


Dear Mark: We always learn something when we read your column and very much appreciate what you pass along. Thank you! We enjoy video poker, so, is there a better way to play smarter? Bob and Lois


Because video poker can be a positive expectation game, it is the one video machine offered that really gives the player a chance to get the best of the casinos. A caveat to that statement is that you must select the best machines, and, just as important, know which cards to hold.

What you never want to do, Bob, and you too Lois, is let the casino floor be your classroom. So, allow me to recommend my favorite book when it comes to video poker.

For the average player struggling to understand and apply the proper strategies for video poker, my pick for an easy-to-grasp, straightforward book is Victory at Video Poker by Frank Scoblette.

Once you learn to distinguish the decent paying machines from the dogs, and then apply the proper strategies for the hands that you are dealt, you will watch, with pleasure, the direction your hard-earned money starts flowing.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “The first rule of poker, whether you play by western or eastern rules, is put up or shut up!” – Henry Fonda, A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966)