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BLACKJACK ANSWER MAN

By John Grochowski

John Grochowski is a blackjack expert and a well-known and respected casino gambling columnist. His syndicated casino gambling column appears in the Chicago Sun Times, Denver Post, Casino City Times, and other newspapers and web sites. Grochowski has written six books on gambling including the "Answer Man" series of books (www.casinoanswerman.com). Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

 

Q. I'm used to looking for tables with good penetration, but a buddy asked me something I couldn't answer. He's a non-counter, and wanted to know if there's any edge to him with good penetration.

A. Penetration, which is the proportion of cards actually put into play between shuffles, really matters only to card counters. The greater the percentage of cards dealt between shuffles, the better the opportunity for an accurate count. Moreover, in extremely positive counts, the player wants more hands. He or she doesnít want a moneymaking opportunity halted by a shuffle.

For basic strategy or average players, penetration is not a primary concern. Penetration does not change basic strategy. While card counters make some strategy switches based on the count, regardless of penetration, basic strategy players just keep on making the same decisions regardless of how many decks are cut out of play.

If penetration makes any difference at all to a basic strategy player, itís in the speed of play. Lower penetration means more shuffles, and more shuffles means fewer hands per hour. Fewer hands per hour reduces exposure to the house edge. The vast majority of players will actually lose less money per hour in games with poor penetration.

Speed of play favors whoever has the edge on the game. The advantage player wants more hands per hour, more chances for the edge to work in his or her favor. Against basic strategy or average players, the house has an edge, and the casino wants more hands per hour to allow that edge to pad the bottom line.

Casinos walk a tightrope with penetration. Those who are overly concerned with card counters and reduce their penetration wind up dealing fewer hands per hour. That costs them money, often more than it would cost them if they didnít worry so much about low-stakes counters.

 

Q. I had to wait to play at a six-deck table because a sign said "No mid-shoe entry." The dealer said it was a courtesy to players, but another guy at the table said it was more likely to shoo away back counters. What do you think?

A. I donít often see mid-shoe entry restrictions on shoe games in my neck of the woods, and when I do, it always takes me aback. A while back, I eyed a table with a "no mid-shoe entry" sign for a six-deck game with a $10 minimum. There was one player making minimum bets, and it was just about one deck into the shoe. I knew the dealer and caught her eye, and she just kind of rolled her eyes back at me. The next time I went to that casino, the signs were gone. Itís just not cost effective to restrict play on a low-limit game like that.

In talking with table games managers over the years, many seem to feel they are genuinely offering a service to their customers by restricting entry on high-limit games. But certainly, thereís an element of concern over back counting, meaning counting cards while standing away from the table, and not entering the game except in positive counts.

In single-deck and double-deck games, there is no doubt fear of back counting is a reason entry is usually restricted until the next shuffle. But six decks? Thatís a long time between shuffles to keep extra money off the table, and at those casinos that restrict mid-shoe entries in six-deck games, Iíd assume fear of back counting comes into play.

Q. What do you think of "Automatic Win" at blackjack? It used to be called Casino Surrender. Is it as good as regular surrender?

A. Itís been a few years since Casino Surrender was changed to Automatic Win, and it seems to have become more successful under its new name. Despite its original moniker, Automatic Win isnít really much like surrender; itís more akin to the "even money" form of insurance.

The Automatic Win option kicks in when the player has a two-card 20 and the dealer has a 10-value card face up, but does not have an Ace down for a blackjack. When those conditions are met, you have the option of taking Casino Surrender, and get a payoff of half your bet instead of playing out the hand. If you've wagered $10, you keep your original bet and get paid $5.

Now, that may sound like a good deal to some, and I can just hear dealers around the country revamping the "it's the only sure win you'll ever get in the casino" speech that so many give players who are trying to decide whether to take even money on their blackjacks. But that 20 is a good hand, and even against a 10, it's a favorite to win more often than it loses.

On the average, you'll make a little more than $5.50 for every $10 you wager when you have a 20 and the dealer has 10 up without having a blackjack. The amounts vary a bit according to the number of decks in play and the composition of your 20. At
www.wizardofodds.com, Mike Shackelford calculates that in a common six-deck game, your expected profit per $10 wager is $5.59 if you have two 10-value cards, and $5.55 if you have Ace-9. If you're playing a single-deck game, your expected profit rises a bit, to $5.85 with two 10-values, while staying at about $5.55 with Ace-9.

In every case, your expected profit is more than 10 percent higher if you play out the hand rather than taking the Automatic Win option and settled for a $5 payoff.

Is there ever a situation where it's the best play to take Automatic Win? Sure, if you're counting, and you have a Hi-Lo true count of plus 4, Automatic Win becomes a favorable play. In addition, itís not hard to imagine situations in tournament play in which youíd want to take the sure thing.


However, the basic strategy play for Automatic Win is simple: you should never take it.

 

 

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