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PAULíS POINTERS: 3:2 BLACKJACK PAYOUTS VERSUS 6:5

by Paul Wilson

BJI contributing writer Paul Wilson is a quasi-Renaissance man. Some of his interests, skill sets, and hobbies include finance, consulting, travel, photography, and rock music. Heís an avid baseball fan. Paul has done freelance writing and editing for gaming publications and takes blackjack, video poker, and sports betting very seriously.

This is my first foray into writing for Blackjack Insider (BJI). As the new kid in your local fish-wrap, err, on your computer monitor or mobile device, and with all due respect to Messieurs Jagger and Richards, "Please allow me to introduce myself/Iím a man of wealth and tasteÖPleased to meet you/Hope you guess my name."

Actually, you donít have to guess my name. Itís written above. I require no sympathy; Iím not the Devil in The Rolling Stones song; and "wealth" and "taste" are subjective terms at best. I am many things, but what you need to know is that I am a blackjack player.

Iíve been playing blackjack for a long time Ė almost 25 years. Iím self-taught and never had a mentor. However, over the years, Iíve read a lot of books and played a lot of hands in a lot of casinos all over the United States and in several international venues as well. I believe in basic strategy and over the years learned the Hi-Lo card counting method and incorporated it into my game. I have a small gambling library, mainly titles from the Huntington Press, Anthony Curtisí operation in Las Vegas. There are a few titles from the Gamblers Book Store in Las Vegas as well. Iíve been known to dabble in personal finance and the stock market. Iíve read a lot of books and watched a lot of CNBC over the years in that realm too. Let me tell you, the more I learn about gambling and the more I learn about investing, the more similar the two disciplines appear to me.

Speaking of books, I purchased a copy of Dr. Henry Tamburinís Blackjack: Take the Money and Run in 1995. Iíve read and re-read that book many times and admittedly, am about due to study some parts of it again. The thing about blackjack, like so many things in life, is that you never really quit learning. Even when youíve mastered a topic, I find it never hurts to go back and brush up on some topics or areas. Over time you can develop bad habits. In blackjack, that can cost you money. Take the Money and Run accompanied me on just about every gambling trip I took for many years. When questioned why I was leaving the table when ahead, sometimes even slightly, Iíve even been known to utter the phrase "Yeah. Think Iíll take the money and run."

You may be reading this now and thinking Iím some kind of "kiss-up" writing for BJI and plugging Dr. Tamburinís book above. First, it doesnít need plugging, but more importantly it leads us to why I am sitting here going through the exercise of getting whatís in my head on paper Ė aka, writing (One of the most challenging, yet satisfying things Iíve discovered in all my adventures). Iíd been reading BJI sporadically for many years and had a subscription to Casino Player magazine for many years, so I was familiar with Dr. Tamburin. Through coincidence and a mutual friend he and I managed to meet a couple years back. Our paths crossed again last fall. Long story short, he contacted me recently to ask if Iíd be interested in writing a regular strategy, help, and tips type of column for BJI. Needless to say, it sounded like an honor and a challenge. So before we get into this monthís topic, Iíd like to thank Henry and say that I appreciate the opportunity to share with you, the readers, some of the knowledge and experience Iíve gleaned over the years. Whether youíre just learning the game of blackjack, want to improve your game, or are on your way to becoming a truly elite player, we plan to include a little something for everybody in this space. I have a few ideas and Iím sure Henry does too, but feel free to send ideas or topics youíd like to read about.

Now with introductions out of the way, letís talk about blackjack payoffs, namely 3:2 versus 6:5. This is a controversial topic in the blackjack community. If you are new to the game, let me explain what it means. First, an original two-card hand composed of an Ace and a ten-count card (King, Queen, Jack, Ten) together equals 21 and constitutes a blackjack. That hand cannot be beaten (if the dealer also has blackjack, itís a push). When the game of blackjack was invented, the winning Ace and ten-count combination was paid 3:2, namely three chips for every two chips bet. Another way to look at it is time-and-a half or 1.5 times your original bet. When the dealer has a blackjack you lose your original bet; not 1.5 times that bet. As you can see, this "three chips for the price of two" payout is extremely important and one of the primary ways you have of prolonging playing sessions or even walking away with a profit.

I first saw 6:5 blackjack advertised at the Aladdin in Las Vegas in the late 1990s or early 2000s. It was on a single-deck game. Thanks to the internet, books, and the accessibility of casino gambling throughout the United States, many people have heard that single-deck blackjack provides the best odds. That depends on a lot of things. If it isnít paying 3:2 for blackjack itís a bad game and should be avoided. The fallacy that single-deck is good, no matter what, is an example of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. To the best of my knowledge there are only three casinos in Las Vegas that deal single-deck games that offer 3:2 payouts on blackjacks. To make matters worse for the players, many casinos on the Las Vegas Strip are now paying 6:5 on 6-deck and 8-deck shoe-dealt games. The Venetian and Palazzo recently changed to 6:5 payouts on all their blackjack tables with less than $50 minimum bets. By changing payouts, casinos are effectively not even dealing blackjack, but a lower payout game that closely resembles it. Some would argue fraud or false advertising. Iíll settle for greed and disrespect for their customers. This adjustment alone increases the house edge over even the best of players by about 1.4 %. That may sound slight, but keep reading.

The probability of being dealt a blackjack is slightly less than 5%; approximately one every 20.7 hands. On average, you can expect to play about 60 hands per hour (this number may vary based on number of players at the table, hand shuffling of the cards versus automatic or continuous shufflers, and dealer speed). Mathematically you can expect to average about three blackjacks per hour. Say you bet $10 per hand. A blackjack will return $15. If you are only getting paid 6:5 or $6 for every $5 bet, youíll receive $12 for each winning blackjack. This $3 difference per occurrence can add up. With an expectation of three blackjacks per hour, youíre costing yourself $9 per hour on a $10 game ($3 difference x 3 blackjacks per hour). At higher limits, the cost is even greater. There are people in Las Vegas that work hard for $9 per hour or less; probably in your town as well. Have a little respect Ė if not for your bankroll, then these folks.

Another issue with 6:5 games is that if your bet amount is not a multiple of 5, youíll get less than 6:5 payoffs on your blackjacks. For example, if you bet $8 and get a blackjack, most casinos will pay you 6:5 on the first $5 and only even money ($3) on the rest (instead of $3.60 in this example). That's a $9 payoff for an $8 winning bet Ė even less than a 6:5 payout! Also, even though even money is not a good bet, it isn't offered on many 6:5 games because the math doesn't work in the casinoís favor. 

I hope the above has shed some light on why getting paid 3:2 versus 6:5 on your blackjacks is so crucial. Stick with 3:2 games and stay away from casinos that pay 6:5. When it comes to 6:5 blackjacks, just say "NO!" Thatís my pointer this month. Iíll be travelling next month, but back with another Paulís Pointer in the October issue. Stay tuned.

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