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Sharpen your edge!

Apr 22, 2003 2:36 AM

The sign above the blackjack table in one of the Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos hit me like a Mack truck. "Single Deck Blackjack ”” Dealt to the Bottom" proclaimed the sign in bold letters for everyone to see.

You see, this is what all savvy blackjack players dream about. The more cards that are dealt by the casino, the greater the edge these expert players have over the casino.

Expert players always look for blackjack games with the greatest penetration. That’s the term used to describe how far the dealer will deal the cards before shuffling. The greater the penetration, the more cards are dealt and the greater the edge shifts to the astute player.

Arnold Snyder, editor of Blackjack Forum Newsletter, has studied the effect of penetration in detail. He calculated with a 1-to-4 unit betting spread in a typical two-deck blackjack game with Las Vegas rules playing one on one with the dealer as follows:

Penetration Advantage

50 percent +0.5 percent

70 percent +1.0 percent

90 percent +1.8 percent

This is why professional players always look for games with good penetration (at least 75 percent) and avoid games with lousy penetration.

At the blackjack tables in most casinos, the penetration varies from casino to casino and even amongst the dealers within the same casino. Usually the casino management sets the policy on where the dealers should position the cut card after the shuffle and cut. However, dealers have some leeway and sometimes can be influenced to give a better cut or greater penetration by making several tip bets for them.

In a typical penetration in a six-deck game dealt from a dealing shoe, the dealer will place the cut card about 1½ decks from the last card. This results in 4½ out of the six decks being played before the dealer reshuffles the cards.

Sometimes but rarely, you’ll encounter a dealer who puts the cut card only one deck from the last card, resulting in an 80 to 85 percent penetration. But never have I seen 100 percent penetration and in a single-deck game to boot, which essentially means the dealer will deal all 52 cards.

As I stood staring at the sign hanging from the ceiling, I rushed over to the blackjack table. Sure enough, the dealer was dealing with a single deck. The betting limits were a modest $3 to $300 (maximum bet). And like the sign proclaimed, the dealer dealt every single card.

In my head, I was quickly calculating what kind of edge I would have in this game. It would easily exceed two percent with proper play.

But something told me to read the rest of the fine print on the placard which set on the blackjack table. "$3 to $300 betting range, same rules as two-deck games, blackjack pays even money."

Oh, oh. What’s that last rule ”” blackjack pays even money?

For those new to blackjack, when a player receives an ace and a 10-value card, that player has a blackjack hand which universally receives a bonus payoff of 3-2 times the bet. Thus if you bet $10 and get a blackjack hand, you’d be paid $15.

As many players may know, some casinos such as those on the Las Vegas Strip, have reduced their payout for a natural blackjack from 3-2 to 6-5.

Getting paid even money instead of 1 1/2 times the bet for a blackjack is not good at all. In fact, it costs the player about two percent of their advantage. This means that one rule variation completely wipes out the edge I would have by card counting under the best conditions. For the average blackjack player who is not card counting but plays the correct basic playing strategy, the casino’s edge in a single-deck game, Las Vegas rules, and blackjacks paying even money is about one percent.

The bottom line is that this game with player blackjacks being paid even money even with the dealer dealing all the cards from a single deck is not as favorable as the regular game of blackjack with conventional rules (blackjack pays 1 1/2). Be alert when you play blackjack ”” check the rules ”” and know which rule changes affect the casino’s edge. It’s the alert, smart player that gets the winning edge.