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# 6:5 blackjack

23 February 2010

My friend Bob is a blackjack player from way back, one who knows his basic strategy even though he's not up on all the math behind it.

"Explain something about 6:5 payoffs on blackjacks," he phoned to ask. "You warn against it all the time, and I know it's not as good as getting the usual 3:2. But is it really all that bad?"

It really is, I told him. Among the common rules variations in blackjack, 6:5 payoffs on two-card 21s is by far the worst. When the dealer hits soft 17 instead of standing on all 17s, that's a bad rule for the players, padding the house edge against a basic strategy player by two-tenths of a percent. Jumping from a single deck to a six-deck game adds about half a percent to the house edge.

Paying only 6:5 instead of 3:2 on blackjacks costs 1.39% — an amount larger than the entire house edge against a basic strategy player at most blackjack tables. Take a run-of-the-mill six-deck game where the dealer stands on all 17s, the player is allowed to double down after splitting pairs and may resplit pairs up to three times for a total of four hands. The house edge is only 0.41%.

That one rule, paying 6:5 on blackjacks, is more than triple the house edge than the entire set of rules on a common six-deck game. So yes, it really is THAT bad.

"That's an impressive sounding number," Bob said. "But how often does it really come into play? Blackjacks don't happen all that often."

On the average, a player is dealt blackjack about once per 21 hands. If I'm betting \$10 a hand I want to be paid \$15 on those two-card 21s, not \$12.

"OK, let's put this in dollars and cents. If I'm betting \$10 a hand, how much am I losing in a couple of hours at the tables?"

Let's use a sample of 441 hands — about two-hours of head-to-head play, or around eight hours at a full table. On the average, you'd get about 21 blackjacks. On one of those the dealer would also have blackjack, meaning you'd get your money back.

"It's a push, yeah."

Right. That leaves 20 blackjacks. If you're only getting \$12 instead of \$15, that means the rule has cost you \$60. That's six bets worth in your 441 hands.

"Gotcha. One more. I was in a casino where there was a seat open at a \$5 table with 6:5 payoffs, and a \$15 table with 3:2 payoffs. Where am I better off?"

If other rules are the same, you'd lose \$1.39 more per \$100 wagered with 6:5 payoffs.

Let's say the 3:2 game has a house edge of 0.5% against a basic strategy player. The 6:5 game would have an edge of 1.89%.

In 100 hands at \$5 minimums at a 6:5 table, you'd risk \$500 and have an average loss of \$9.45. In 100 hands at \$15 minimums at a 3:2 table, you'd risk \$1,500 but have average loss of \$7.50.

"Wow," Bob said. "Lower losses at bigger bets."

Not so fast, I cautioned. That's an average loss, and the larger risk is real. Lose six or seven hands in a row at \$15 a hand, and you're out \$90 or \$105, not the \$30 or \$35 you'd have lost at a \$5 minimum table.

Never overbet your bankroll, not even for the sake of a game with a lower house edge. If you can't afford the risk at a higher-limit game, you shouldn't be playing it.

Bob chuckled and said, "That's a lesson I learned a long time ago. I have my set amount to play with, and I never go beyond it. But it doesn't sound like you think anyone should play 6:5 blackjack."

Right. If a casino doesn't pay the full 3:2 on two-card 21s, I start looking for other things to do. I'll check out the video poker pay tables, maybe play a little craps or take a walk around and see if there's anything new on the slot floor. I'm always interested to see how fast the newest slot games are getting into casinos. If there are other casinos within walking distance, as in Las Vegas, maybe I'll take a little hike. Even if there's not another place to play nearby, if I'm on my own and not tied to anyone else's timetable, I might cut my visit short.

But one thing's certain. If 6:5 blackjack is the only option within the limits of my bankroll, I walk away from the games.

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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.

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Winning Tips for Casino Games
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.