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Table Rules Add Up for Savvy Player

3 March 2006

Last week, we discussed a "generic" basic strategy that consisted of only nine rules and that could be used in most situations. I warned you that the generic basic strategy is not perfect, that it needs fine tuning, and that we would start going over some refinements later. But, generally speaking, you could use the simplified, generic basic strategy against most table rules.

When I speak of table rules, as opposed to basic strategy rules, I mean rules such as whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17, whether the player is allowed to resplit aces, whether doubling after splitting is allowed, etc. Each rule contributes to or subtracts from the house edge.

The most basic table rule, however, is number of decks in use. Generally speaking, if all other things are equal, single-deck games are better than multi-deck games. When only one deck is used, the basic strategist starts out on an almost-level playing field with the casino. Almost but not quite. When two decks are used, the house advantage jumps to one-third of a percent. When there are six decks on the table, that edge increases to over half a percent.

But, unfortunately, the comparison does not stop there. Because casinos realize that a single-deck game is a good game, they throw in a lot of table rules that are not so good while leaving their six-deck games with table rules favorable to the player. A player that comparison shops then has to know the values of each table rule before he can make an informed decision as to which casino to play at.

The reason that table rules make such a big difference is that there are so many of them and they add up quickly. For example, when you're comparing video poker games, you basically look at a particular game's pay schedule plus the cashback rebate at the casino where the game is located. You also look at the advantage that some promotions may give you, but usually you start by comparing the game's expected value plus cashback.

But with blackjack, there are about 11 or 12 different table rules that you have to be aware of. True, some of them are rare, but five or six of them are common enough that it pays to know them and their relative values.

Some casinos stack so many bad rules on top of their single-deck games that those games are twice as bad as their six-deck games. Lately, and before Katrina came calling here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, only the Copa's single-deck game was a good one, but traditionally our six-deck games have been very good games.

Besides increasing the number of decks, one of the worst things that a casino can do is to make the dealer hit a soft 17, that is, when he has an ace and a 6. That one is bad for the player and is becoming more and more common in Las Vegas. Fortunately, however, Coast casinos still follow Atlantic City rules as far as this one is concerned, whereas most Tunica casinos (Grand Tunica is the exception) are following Vegas' lead.

Another bad rule is the one that allows the player to double on 10 or 11 only, instead of any first two cards. This limitation is as bad for the player as the dealer's hitting a soft 17, but it's common only on single-deck tables.

A rule that is good for the player is when he's allowed to double after splitting. For example, if you split a pair of 8s and draw a 3, you want to be able to double on that 11 against almost anything a dealer has. And when you are allowed to double after splitting, that means you will split pairs more often than otherwise.

Another good thing for the player is when he is allowed to resplit pairs. For example, if you split a pair of 8s and receive another 8, you can split a second and even third time, but four hands is usually the limit.

Next week, we start with some refinements to generic basic strategy. Until then, aces and faces to you.

Linda Mabry

Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com
Linda Mabry
Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com