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How to Shop Smart for Best Blackjack Games

23 November 2005

Because blackjack is the lone casino table game in which skill can play an important role, casinos have done everything they possibly can through the years to re-tool the game in an attempt to neutralize any edge studious players can acquire.

If you play the game with any degree of regularity and are serious about keeping the house advantage to a minimum, it is important to scrutinize the rules at individual properties to know exactly what you're up against, to concentrate on the casinos with the most player-friendly rules and avoid those with bad ones.

Here are the primary categories for smart blackjack shoppers:

TABLE MINIMUM: You have to play at a table you can afford. For a majority of recreational players, that would be tables with a $5 minimum. Check out when $5 games are available. In many cases, this will be during morning and afternoon hours. The games are more difficult to find on weekends and busy weekday nights.

Keep in mind that even though it's a $5 minimum, you can always wager more, up to the table max. A $5 minimum, however, will give your bankroll more mileage and help you weather cold streaks.

NUMBER OF DECKS: Ever since Dr. Ed Thorp's breakthrough 1963 book Beat the Dealer, in which basic strategy was popularized, casinos have abandoned single-deck hand-dealt games in favor of multiple-deck games dealt out of shoes. The more decks in play, the harder the house advantage works against players.

The most popular variations are six-deck games and eight-deck games. The former is the lesser of two evils, so make it a point to seek them out. Better yet, if you're lucky enough to find a four-deck shoe or the rare two-deck game, by all means go for it.

CUT DEPTH: This is a critical category, especially for players who keep track of the cards that are dealt. The more decks the casino puts in play after the shuffle, the better it is for skilled players.

Watch carefully to see where the dealer places the cut card and how many decks are chopped off. The norm is up to two decks, but if you find a casino where only one and one-half decks is cut out, or the generous one deck, you can bet it's a good place to play the game.

SOFT-17: Blackjack games where the dealer must stand on a soft 17 (ace-six) are preferred over games where the dealer hits that hand. When the dealer is given the opportunity to make a better hand out of a marginally weak one, it increases the house advantage at the expense of players.

OPPORTUNITY: It's a tough go grinding out profit winning even money on minimum bets. That's why when the situation warrants (a weak dealer up-card), you should take advantage of the chance to bet more when the dealer is in a position of weakness and in jeopardy to bust.

Opportunities for players to accomplish this goal include being able to double down on any two cards, being permitted to split any pair, and being allowed to double down after splitting. Casinos that place restrictions on these perks are ones to avoid.

Pay special attention to house rules on splitting aces. Most will allow you to do it only once, which means if you draw a third ace on one of them you're stuck with a 12. If you find a casino that allows you to split aces twice, or even up to three times, you've struck a strategic pot of gold.

THE SHUFFLE: Automatic and the more insidious continuous shufflers are popping up with ever increasing frequency at casinos around the country. They are designed to speed up the game and subject your bankroll to the ravages of the unrelenting house advantage.

The best games are where the dealers shuffle up manually. It not only gives the players a little break to collect their thoughts and regroup, it also provides some down time. Automatic shufflers are the lesser of the two evils. Continuous shufflers should be avoided at all costs. Not only do they ensure the action will be non-stop, they eliminate any skill you may employ to keep track of the cards.

In the coming weeks we'll explore these categories further as we get down to specifics on how they apply to the blackjack games available in the greater Chicagoland area.

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