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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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Double-deck blackjack can be a wolf in sheep's clothing

4 July 2007

Double-deck blackjack is a novelty in the Chicago area gaming market. When two decks of cards are used in a game instead of the six and eight decks that have become the norm at casinos across the country, serious players will usually take notice.

There's an implication of player advantage that surrounds blackjack played with two decks of cards, a throwback to the good old days of the single-deck game. Even though half of the cards are generally cut out of play after the shuffle, some players have strong feelings in favor of the game. The general perception is, "the fewer number of decks the better".

That, however, is not necessarily the case. Ultimately the most important factor in determining the house advantage is not the number of decks but the proprietary rules.

Double-deck blackjack with player-friendly rules is an outstanding game. When (among other strategic decisions) you may double down on any two cards and double after splitting, the house edge with perfect basic strategy is around 0.45 percent. Take away the perk of doubling after splitting and it escalates to 0.59 percent.

You'll find both versions at casinos in Las Vegas, even at some of the larger Strip properties. It's a better proposition than the new-wave single-deck game that pays a budget-busting 6 to 5 on blackjacks (21) instead of 3 to 2.

Many of the so-called "locals" establishments, such as Sam's Town, Gold Coast and South Point, offer $5 minimum tables.

Gamblers accustomed to playing the game with the cards dealt face-up out of a shoe should know most two-deck games are "pitch"; in other words, the dealer holds the cards and deals them face down to each player. Players pick up their cards with one hand and opt for a "hit" by scratching the felt table layout with them, or deciding to "stand" by slipping the cards under their chips in the betting circle.

The most oppressive tactic that casinos impose on a double-deck game is permitting players to double down ONLY on two card totals of 10 or 11. That's the way the game is played at two of the Midwest casinos which offer it, the Majestic Star Casinos in Gary, Indiana and Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee.

Majestic has two double-deck tables, one $10 game and one $25 game. In addition to being able to double down only on 10 or 11, players cannot split aces or double down after splitting. But throw in the advantage of the dealer standing on soft-17 and the house edge settles at around 0.60 percent.

Potawatomi also has two tables, but both of them are in the casino's Solstice (high limit) Room and have betting minimums of $50. By letting players split aces and double down after splitting, the house edge stands at around 0.70 percent, a figure that's inflated because the dealers hit soft-17.

Now contrast these versions of two-deck blackjack to the game played out of a shoe with six decks and featuring such player-friendly rules as splitting any two cards, doubling after splitting, and splitting to up to four hands. The house edge with perfect basic strategy is around 0.60 percent, equal to or in some cases, better, than its two-deck cousin. If the dealer stands on soft-17, the edge plummets to around 0.35 percent.

Analyze the rules before you count the decks and you can't go wrong when it comes to scouting the best blackjack games.

CASINO NEWS: Chicago area video poker players who gravitated to Argosy's Empress Casino Joliet for the player-friendly games offered there are stunned with the property's recent decision to slash the pay tables at two popular $1 royal flush progressives on the main level.

The bank of eight Double Bonus machines, which did pay 9-coins-for-one for a full house/7-coins-for-one for a flush/5-coins-for-one for a straight (99.11 percent payback with expert play) have been reduced to 9/6/4 (96.38 percent payback). The bank of 12 Double-Double Bonus machines, which were 9/6/4 (98.98 percent payback) have been trimmed to 8/5/4 (96.79 percent).

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp