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I'm here to gamble

20 August 2015

Basic strategy helps take as much of the gamble out of blackjack as possible. It’s based on the mathematical probabilities for each possible hand against each dealer face-up card.

The best strategies don’t guarantee winners, but they do reduce the house edge and take a little risk out of gambling.

Nonetheless, I occasionally find myself in a situation where, “I’m here to gamble” is a useful phrase. Such a time came in late July when the dealer and another player double-teamed me over insurance.

For non-blackjack-playing readers, insurance is offered whenever the dealer has an ace face up, and it’s a bet that the dealer has a blackjack. To take insurance on most hands, make a bet half the size of your original. If the dealer has blackjack, the insurance bet is paid at 2-1 odds, so the insurance winnings offset the loss of the main bet and you break even on the hand.

If you have blackjack, the procedure is different. You tell the dealer you want even money. The dealer immediately pays you at even money – your \$10 bet wins \$10, instead of winning \$15 if the dealer doesn’t have blackjack and pushing if he does.

Insurance would be a break-even bet if dealers who started with an ace up had blackjacks a third of the time, and better than even bet if dealer blackjacks came more than a third of a time. But only 30.8% of cards are 10 values, so unless you’re a card counter who knows there’s a higher than usual proportion of 10 values remaining in cards to be played, insurance is a bad bet.

Early in my session, I was dealt a blackjack, and the dealer had an ace face up. He asked if I wanted even money, and I declined. The gentleman sitting at first base – the position at the end to the players’ right – chimed in, “I always take even money.” The dealer agreed, saying, “It’s the only sure thing in the casino.”

Alas, the dealer had a jack face down, and my blackjack pushed his. The dealer and first baseman gave each other knowing glances.

Ten or 12 hands later, it happened again. I had a blackjack, and the dealer had an ace up. He offered even money, I declined, and the first baseman said, “Haven’t learned your lesson yet, have you?”

The dealer repeated his line about it being the only sure thing and added, “I know when I play and the sure win is there, I want to take it.” And the first baseman came right back with, “So why don’t you take the money?”

That’s when I told them, “I’m here to gamble.”

The dealer gave a snort and the first baseman shook his head, but it ended the conversation. And that’s all I was after. I didn’t want to get into any explanations of going by the book and the math of the game. The last thing I want to do is call attention to skill level. But that was an explanation the dealer and first baseman could accept, even if they disagreed with it.

As it happened, the dealer had a 6 face down, I collected a 3-2 payoff on my blackjack and the first baseman said, “Well, your gamble paid off this time.”

I resisted the temptation to say it pays off more often than not, and that you’ll win more money on your blackjacks overall if you accept there are going to be some pushes and decline even money. For this audience, “I’m here to gamble” was the way to go.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
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.

Books by John Grochowski:

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.