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Finding The Best Blackjack

Where to cash in on player-friendly blackjack games, and how to avoid the bad ones

by Henry Tamburin

The 6-5 payoff rule increases the house edge by almost 1.4 percent. If you’re a $10 bettor, playing a 6-5 game will cost you $3 each time you get a blackjack (and you’ll average roughly four blackjacks per hour), which comes to $12 that you are forking over to the casino bosses every hour.

This month, my column is going to accomplish four things:

  1. Provide you with a convenient list of casinos that offer a single-deck blackjack game that pays 3-2 for a blackjack (also known as a “natural”)
  2. Give you an accurate single-deck basic playing strategy that you can use to play this terrific game
  3. Summarize the casinos in and around Las Vegas that offer the abominable 6-5 single-deck games (so you can avoid them)
  4. Give you some advice on how you can help eradicate the awful 6-5 games, which have been spreading like a cancer in casinos throughout the U.S.

Note: The information on which casinos offer single-deck games and the corresponding rules and house edges mentioned in this article were obtained from Current Blackjack News (CBJN), with their permission (www.bj21.com). Casinos can change the rules at any time, so check CBJN for the latest rules and playing conditions in casinos across the country.

In the March 2008 issue of Casino Player magazine, I wrote a detailed column about why the 6-5 single-deck game is bad news for players. Without rehashing all the points that I made back then, let me briefly summarize why this game should be avoided like the plague. The 6-5 payoff rule increases the house edge by almost 1.4 percent (no, that’s not a typo). If you’re a $10 bettor, playing a 6-5 game will cost you $3 each time you get a blackjack (and you’ll average roughly four blackjacks per hour), which comes to $12 that you are forking over to the casino bosses every hour.

That is an atrocity, which is why a smart blackjack player would never play this game.

If you talk to casino bosses about their 6-5 games (which I‘ve done), you get this sort of universal response from them: we know players don’t like the 6-5 games, but as long as they keep playing them, we’d be crazy not to offer them. In a moment, I will give you some tips on how you can help us eradicate the 6-5 games from casinos everywhere. But first, let me discuss the single-deck game that I am encouraging you to play; namely, the game that pays the traditional 3-2 for a natural. It’s available, and I’ll show you where.

The house edge against a basic strategy player in a 3-2 single-deck game is a function of the mix of playing rules. The best single-deck games have h17 (dealer hits soft 17), and allow players to resplit aces. The house edge in this game is a meager 0.13%. Second best is an h17 game without resplit aces (house edge: only 0.18%).

The following chart summarizes the relationship of the rules and the house edge for a basic strategy player in a 3-2 single-deck game. You’d be hard-pressed to find a multi-deck game with these low house edges.

Playing Rules

House Edge (%)
h17, rsa 0.13
h17 0.18
s17, d10 0.29
h17, d9 0.32
h17, d10 0.44

 

Where would you guess is the most likely place to find a 3-2 single-deck game? If you said Las Vegas, you’d be dead wrong. According to CBJN, there are only four casinos that offer a 3-2 single-deck game in Las Vegas (and unfortunately, 44 casinos in and around Vegas that offer the dastardly 6-5 single-deck games, making Las Vegas the #1 gambling destination with the most 6-5 games).

Table 1 lists the casinos in Las Vegas that offer 3-2 single-deck games. Table 2 is the list of Las Vegas casinos that offer the 6-5 game. Be smart—on your next trip to Vegas, play the juicy 3-2 single-deck game and avoid the terrible 6-5 game in the casinos listed in Table 2.

 

The areas of the country where the concentration of 3-2 single-deck games is the greatest are Tunica and Vicksburg, MS, and Reno/Lake Tahoe/Wendover, in Nevada. You’ll be delighted to find many casinos in these cities that offer the fair 3-2 single-deck game. (See Table 3 for the list of these casinos.)

Now that you know where to find 3-2 single-deck games, you need to learn the basic playing strategy for them. Table 4 summarizes the strategy where the dealer hits soft 17 (which is the case in the majority of casinos that offer a single-deck game). You should become familiar with this playing strategy, because it’s slightly different than the basic strategy for multi-deck games. If this is your first time playing a single-deck game, I would also recommend that you bring a strategy card with you to avoid making playing mistakes. It’s perfectly legal to refer to a card before you play your hand.

 Table 1

Las Vegas Casinos That Offer

3-2 Single-Deck Games

 

h17 = dealer hits soft 17

d10 = double down only on two-card ten or eleven

rsa = aces may be resplit

 

Casino Rules House Edge
Binion’s h17, d10 0.44%
El Cortez h17 (dealt from a shoe) 0.18%
Four Queens h17, d10 0.44%
Hooters h17, d10 0.44%
Silverton h17, d10 0.44%

 

Note: I’ve had friends in the past play the single-deck games at Binion’s and Four Queens, and they claimed they had a good time. However, Al Rogers, manager at bj21.com, had this to say about the single-deck games at both casinos: “Anyone showing the slightest degree of brain usage at reasonable stakes will not be allowed to play the 3-2 single-deck games at either casino.”

Table 2

The Hall Of Shame:

Las Vegas Area Casinos That Offer

6-5 Single-Deck Games

Aliante Excalibur Main Street Station Red Rock
Bally’s Fiesta Henderson Mandalay Bay Rio
Bill’s Gambling Hall Fiesta Rancho MGM Grand Riviera
Binion’s* Fitzgeralds Mirage Santa Fe Station
Boulder Station Flamingo Monte Carlo Stratosphere
Caesars Palace Four Queens* Orleans Sun Coast
California Fremont Palms Sunset Station
Casino Royal Hard Rock Paris Texas Station
Circus Circus Harrah’s Planet Hollywood TI
Cosmopolitan Imperial Palace Plaza Wild Wild West
Encore Las Vegas Hilton Railroad Pass Wynn

*Binion’s and Four Queens offer 3-2 and 6-5 single-deck games, which is why they appear in both Tables 1 and 2.

 

Table 3

MS and Laughlin/Reno/Wendover, NV Casinos

With 3-2 Single-Deck Games

 

Tunica

Reno

Laughlin

Fitz

Alamo

Pioneer

Gold Strike

Atlantis

Riverside

Harrah’s

Bonanza

 

Horseshoe

Cal-Neva

Lake Tahoe

Sam’s Town

Circus Circus

Harrah’s

Tunica Roadhouse

Diamond’s

Harveys

 

Eldorado

Lakeside Inn

Vicksburg

Grand Sierra

Mont Bleu

Ameristar

Harrah’s

 

Grand Station

John Ascuaga’s Nugget

Wendover

Rainbow

Peppermill

Montego Bay

Riverwalk

Siena

Peppermill

 

Silver Legacy

Rainbow

 

Sands Regency

Red Garter

Crystal Bay

Nugget

 

Western Village

 

 

Note: The Isle Casino in Biloxi, MS, and L’Auberge du Lac casino in Lake Charles, LA also offer 3-2 single-deck blackjack games.


Table 4

       Single-Deck Basic Strategy

       Dealer Hits Soft 17,  No DAS

Note: Hard hands are hands that either don’t contain an ace, or if one (or more) aces are present in the hand, they count as 1 (e.g., 10-7; 8-4-Ace-4; 3-Ace-Ace-10).

Soft hands are hands that contain an ace counted as 11 (e.g., Ace-7; 3-4-Ace; Ace-7-Ace).

 

If the rules do not allow doubling on soft hands, then you should always hit soft hands from 13 through 17, and always stand with soft 19 through 21. Likewise, if you are not allowed to double down on hard 8 through 11, then hit.

 

Hard Hands Playing Strategy
8 Double if dealer has 5 or 6; otherwise hit
9 Double if dealer has 2 through 6; otherwise, hit
10 Double if dealer has 9 or less; otherwise hit
11 Always double
12 Stand if dealer has 4, 5, or 6; otherwise hit
13-16 Stand if dealer has 2 through 6; otherwise hit
17-21 Always stand
Soft Hands
A-2; A-3; A-4; A-5 Double if dealer has 4, 5, or 6; otherwise, hit
A-6 Double if dealer has 2 through 6; otherwise, hit
A-7 Double if dealer has 3 through 6; hit if dealer has 9, 10, or ace;

stand if dealer has 2, 7, or 8A-8Double if dealer has 6; otherwise standA-9; A-10Always stand  Pairs 2sSplit if dealer has 3 through 7; otherwise hit3sSplit if dealer has 4 through 7; otherwise hit4sNever split; double if dealer has 5 or 6; otherwise hit5sNever split; double if dealer has 9 or less; otherwise hit6sSplit if dealer has 2 through 6; otherwise hit7sSplit if dealer has 2 through 7; stand if dealer has a 10; hit if dealer has 8, 9, or ace8sAlways split9sSplit if dealer has 2 through 6, and 8 or 9; stand if dealer has 7, 10, or ace.10sNever split; always standAcesAlways split

 

If the 6-5 game continues to proliferate, it will ultimately ruin blackjack. Here’s what you can do to help eradicate this game.

  1. Refuse to play any 6-5 blackjack games. Instead, only play blackjack games that pay 3-2 for a natural.
  2. If you come across a 6-5 game, voice your displeasure to a casino supervisor, your casino host, and even the casino manager (better yet, email the casino manager). Be sure to also tell them you are taking your business to casinos that don’t offer this wretched game.
  3. Warn your friends and family members who play blackjack about this outrageous game, and do not play it.

I can promise you this: If enough players say NO to 6-5 blackjack games, casinos will eliminate them. Collectively, we can make a difference.

Tamburin’s Tip of the Month

The 6-5 rule isn’t just confined to single-deck games. For example, as I was writing this article, the Las Vegas Advisor reported that the new Margaritaville casino (located inside the Flamingo casino in Las Vegas) opened with eight-deck games with h17, and almost all of them pay 6-5 for a natural. Even though the rules allow you to double down after pair splitting, resplit aces, and surrender, collectively these player-friendly rules are not nearly enough to offset the dreaded 6-5 rule, resulting in a ridiculously high house edge of 1.85% against a basic strategy player. Therefore, even if you play a multi-deck game, it pays to double-check the payout for a natural to be sure it’s 3-2.

 

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Henry Tamburin is the editor of  Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com), and host of www.smartgaming.com. For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/freetrial.com. To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.

 

Finding The Best Blackjack.

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