Home play versus the real deal

Dear Mark,
I use a Blackjack game on my home PC to practice before going to the casino, where I like to play video blackjack. I have set the blackjack game on my PC to the same rules (I think) that the video game in the casino plays by. BUT, it seems that although I do well on my home practice sessions, I get my clock cleaned on the video games in the casino. Why do you feel I win at home but not in the casino? Robin B.

Let's begin, Robin, with what you are doing right: using a computer to acquire gaming skills without the expense of a live or video blackjack game. The benefit of computer training is the ability to practice perfect basic strategy, test card-counting strategies, and examine money-management progressive-win formulas at no financial risk. A computer will also accumulate data for later review, enabling you to spot costly trends that you can avoid when playing the "real deal."

Any knowledge obtained without a cash outlay "should" make you more money down the road. Albeit "should" is the operative word here, let's examine why your computer practice still might not bring legal tender dancing into your wallet.

First, when risking hard-earned money at the casino, your decisions may be less confident than those you make when playing with free "computer credits." When betting dollars versus donuts, many players tend to make careless moves like not hitting a 16 against a six, forgetting to split your 8s against a dealer's 5, or failing to double down or split hands in favorable circumstances.

Also, you might be playing more hands per hour in the casino than on your computer. With any game that has a built-in advantage, and a video blackjack machine in the casino does, the more hands you play, the more the machine will chip away at your bankroll.

We also need to talk about your gambling timeline. Your duration of play, both with your computer and in a casino, is far too condensed to determine if one method is better than another. It is not anomalous to have 10 winning sessions at home and 20 losing sessions in the casino.

Finally, the rules of the video blackjack game the casino provides might have one slight variation that can turn a winning visit into a losing one. For example, most casino video blackjack machines pay even money on natural 21s instead of the true value of a blackjack (3 for 2). Because you can expect a blackjack every 21 hands, the loss of that bonus will cost you an additional 2.3 percent. Considering that blackjack has a house advantage of less than .5 percent to a knowledgeable player- possibly, another problem you have- your losses might very well be tied to this perfidious rule change.

Also, Robin, be leery of machines that round down blackjack payoffs. If you do happen to find a machine that pays the bonus for a blackjack, make wagers in even amounts so you can get the maximum value of a blackjack (a payoff of $3 for every $2 wagered). Quiz: and what will a single dollar wagered get you for a blackjack? Just a buck, so always bet in two-unit increments.

Gambling thought of the week: "Las Vegas is not renowned as a literary town. In fact, the word "book" around here, 90% of the time is a verb." - Deke Castleman