Rules that improve blackjack conditions

Dear Mark,
In Atlantic City we are forced to play on a shoe (multiple-deck) game. How much of an edge am I giving up to the casino? Dan M.


Compared to a single deck, a two-deck game handicaps your play -0.35%, four decks, -0.48%, six decks, -0.54% and eight decks -0.58%. As you can see, Dan, it is always to your advantage to play on a game that offers the fewest decks. Also note, the house edge goes up substantially when you go from one deck to two, but the change is less dramatic as you add more decks.
So how much is this costing you in dollars and cents? If you were to play 100 hands per hour at $5 per hand, each -0.1% would cost you approximately 50¢ per hour. Playing on a game with two decks versus one will cost you $1.75 per hour, with each additional deck costing you increasingly more.

Dear Mark,
Thank you for making me a smarter blackjack player. I now carry my basic strategy card whenever I play, progressively bet more when I'm winning and always set loss limits and win goals. Unfortunately, where I play, the casino doesn't offer the best playing conditions for players. What are the best rules to look for when playing blackjack? Stephan H.

Smart blackjack players always play in a casino that offers the best rules. To avoid hostile playing conditions in blackjack, look for the following combination of rules that are favorable to the player:

a single deck game
surrender, both early and late
double down allowed on any two cards
double down allowed after splitting pairs
multiple pair splitting allowed, plus resplitting aces
dealer stands on a soft 17
deep deck penetration

Because no two casinos are alike, Stephan, no two blackjack games are created equal. The extra effort you make finding the most favorable playing conditions will be fiscally meritorious.

Dear Mark,
Of all the proposition bets on a crap game, which wagers should the player avoid? Marty G.

This column forever examines the making of any wager when good bets, with a lower casino advantage, also exist. So my reply, Marty, is ALL OF THEM!
Answering your question directly, the worst proposition bet on a crap game is the "any 7" bet. With this one-roll wager you win if a 7 rolls, but if any other number appears, you lose. The odds are 5-to-1 of a 7 rolling, but the casino will only pay you 4-to-1. This gives the house an edge of 16.7%. Ouch!

Dear Mark,
Is it better for a new player to sit on a blackjack game that has no players or one that is crowded? Mary Anne W.

For all new players I recommend playing at tables with low minimum bets ($1-$2) plus play at a busy table. Besides having more fun with comrades, you will make fewer bets per hour, which decreases your exposure to the almighty house edge.

Dear Mark,
While visiting my mother in Maine, I met her neighbor who was willing to sell me a slot machine (see enclosed picture) for $700. I know nothing about the machine other than he claims it works fine. As you can see it looks in very good condition. Is it worth $700? Blaine G.

Here is a simple test to tell if a slot machine is in good running order. Insert a few coins and if nothing comes out, it's working fine.
The machine in the picture you sent me is a Bally "EM" machine worth, in good condition, between $1,000 and $1,500. It is an electromechanical controlled slot machine, has open contact switches and was the best selling slot machine in the '60s and '70s. Unfortunately, Blaine, you reside in Pennsylvania, where it is unlawful to own machines built after 1941, even for private ownership. Though very reasonably priced at $700, this machine with its manufacturing date creates a weighty legal dilemma.