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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. He also might have a "thing" for Wonder Woman.

Earlier this month I attended the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas. It was informative and overall a good experience. One of the highlights of the event for me was meeting "Wonder Woman," actress and former Miss World USA Lynda Carter. She was there as a guest of Bally Technologies to introduce a new "Wonder Woman" slot machine. As a kid I was smitten with Lynda Carter in her role as Wonder Woman. The 1970s television show preceded Monday Night Baseball and it was a bummer when our Little League baseball schedule conflicted with the best doubleheader night of the week for summer television viewing. In case you are wondering, Lynda Carter is still very beautiful and could hold her own with any of the ladies half her age I saw in Las Vegas that week. What in the world does Lynda Carter/Wonder Woman have to do with being a better blackjack player youíre probably asking at this point? Well, read on and Iíll connect the dots.

Lynda Carter in her role as Wonder Woman subconsciously or maybe consciously became my "brunette standard." When I thought of a brunette that was not only beautiful, but intelligent, graceful, and the overall complete package, she was the first to come to mind. As I sat through a G2E seminar late in the afternoon daydreaming about the actress that played Wonder Woman in my adolescent years, I realized that standards are often overlooked when it comes to blackjack. With so many rules variations on the casino floors these days, a successful player really should have high standards. As I walked through the Venetian and the Palazzo casinos that night and the next, I couldnít help but notice all the people playing the lousy six-deck games being offered. In case you didnít know, these two casinos (which operate under one gaming license) reduced their player blackjack payouts earlier this year to the dreaded 6:5 on all of their blackjack tables that have less than a $50 table minimum. Why were these people playing these dreadful games? Some of the games were $25 table minimums. Shouldnít they know better? Hereís the question I ask you dear reader: Will you play any game just because itís offered and you are on-site? Maybe thatís what these people were doing. They were staying at the hotels and didnít want to venture out. Las Vegas Strip casinos, and Iím sure those in other markets, count on this kind of thinking. (This also applies to video poker and even sports betting in some cases.)

Establishing Your Standards

Lynda Carter became my standard that all brunettes would be judged against and I have a standard in blackjack as well. Ultimately, itís the original version of the single-deck game that Dr. Edward O. Thorp dissected and wrote about in his classic book, "Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One" (1966). Finding this game in todayís playing environment is akin to meeting Lynda Carter, so sometimes you have to make allowances to the reality of the situation. An example of this for me is accepting the "dealer hits soft 17" rule. This subtle rule change reduces the players expected return by 0.20% over time. In its infancy, I was able to avoid games with this rule (all other things being equal). However, it has become the industry standard in the United States. Unless you are playing high-limit rooms in Las Vegas or a few other markets, youíll be hard pressed to avoid it.

Whatís your standard? Have you even thought about it? Letís look at a few common things youíll find in most present-day blackjack games and perhaps together, we can help you develop your own standard of what blackjack game youíll play and which you will shun. First, do you prefer double-deck or six-deck? The house edge increases with each subsequent deck added. A double-deck game increases the house edge against you 0.35%; a six-deck game adds 0.58%. We wonít discuss single-deck as there are 10 or less playable single-deck blackjack tables open in the city of Las Vegas as I write this. Thatís probably more than in your venue. (If you want to know more about single-deck games, see my column in the August issue of BJI.) You may be restricted by the games offered in your local market and thatís fine. Just realize the percentage difference mentioned above. We have to start somewhere and develop your baseline or "standard."

Secondly, I suggest you only play games that allow you to double down after splitting. For example, suppose you are dealt a pair of eights against a dealer up-card of five. You immediately split the eights and are dealt a two or three; you now have a ten or eleven in this example. Thatís a great opportunity and a hand you want to double-down on as well. The ability to double-down after splits (DAS) decreases the house edge by 0.13%. To repeat, DAS is a big one. Make it a "standard" if at all possible.

Third and while weíre on the topic of doubling-down, look for games that allow you to...

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