Free Radical play has no effect on your cards

Dear Mark,
I like playing blackjack and feel that I play "by the book." Occasionally I am at a table where there are what my friends and I term, "free radicals"; people who hit their 15's when the dealer is showing a six. Often, I get frustrated and just get up and go to a higher limit table. There I find the play less reckless. Sometimes, however, the crazy play helps. I won two hands yesterday (at Caesar's in Vegas) when a woman hit a hand when she clearly should not have. Her hits prevented the dealer from making a 21 twice causing the dealer to bust out. My observation is that it seems like random play helps as much as hurts. Do you feel it best to avoid those types of players at your table or does it really matter in the long run? Paul G.

Practically all blackjack players have lost a decent-sized wager due to some nincompoop playing ugly on third base. The dealer is showing a six as her up-card, and all the players at the table stand on their stiff hands. Everyone, that is, but the nitwit on third base. He whacks his hard fifteen, is dealt a ten, and busts. "Hey you @ !! & ^ % jerk," we all mutter under our breath, "that ten was the dealer's bust card." It happens every day, in every casino, on every blackjack game. No wonder we tend to believe that the play of some dunce taking the dealer's bust card influences our hand.

The fact of the matter is, Paul, that a player taking the dealer's bust card has no impact on the overall outcome of your play. One of the biggest fallacies in gambling is the notion that mediocre play will have a long-term effect on the game in general. Mathematically, shoddy play will only influence the outcome of Shoddy's wagers, causing Shoddy eventually to fall a casino casualty. Not you.

True, unorthodox play by an inexperienced player can impair the outcome of any individual hand, but the converse also occurs every day, in every casino, on every blackjack game. The player who mistakenly hits his hard fifteen, draws a five, and the dealer proceeds to bust out with a ten. Do you congratulate him for his psychic play? Include him on your Christmas card list? Hardly!

My recommendation is to concentrate on your cards against the dealer's up-card. If bungled play by an inexperienced player takes away from that concentration, move your rump elsewhere.

Dear Mark,
Check this out. Recently in Las Vegas I spent 25 hours playing blackjack in three different casinos and never got one single blackjack. Do you think the dealers in Vegas are on the up-and-up? Believe me, I wasnšt happy. Calvin M.

Granted, Calvin, I was not there to view this dubious mathematical feat, but with all due respect, allow me to challenge your interpretation.

My suspicion is that you were probably dealt at least 50 blackjacks, and that, my friend, is far less than your mathematical share with 25 hours of play. You probably forgot them because like most players, you become delusional about not getting any blackjacks when losing big bucks at the game.

Sorry, Calvin. Just some experience-founded skepticism on my part.

Dear Mark,
What is the philosophy of a slot machine? Jake J.

SMILE, DEVOUR, SMILE. The philosophy behind slot machines is to extract (grind) as much money from the customer as the cybernetic one-armed bandit can, while simultaneously, the management hopes, putting a smile on the customer's face.

We all experience the slot machinešs logical concept every time we play. Insert coins -- pull handle -- open wallet for more money.

Gambling thought of the week: In Atlantic City, N.J., elderly gamblers got flu shots Monday at Bally's Park Place ballroom while slot machines jangled in the next room. Nurses said the shot could cause soreness in their arms, but many replied they would work it out by pulling the slot machine handle.