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PAUL'S POINTERS: FIVE THINGS THAT ANNOY ME MOST WHEN I PLAY BLACKJACK

by Paul Wilson

BJI contributing writer Paul Wilson is a quasi-Renaissance man and graduate of Millsaps College. Some of his interests and hobbies include finance, consulting, travel, photography, and rock music. He's an avid baseball fan. Paul has done freelance writing and editing for gaming publications and takes blackjack, video poker, and sports betting very seriously. As we learned in the November 2014 issue, he also might have a "thing" for Wonder Woman.

I like playing blackjack. I enjoy the math involved; the mental challenge of a relatively simple game that is far from simple at the higher levels. I enjoy the challenge of trying to grind out a profit; to leave the casino with more money than I walked in with is a great feeling. I enjoy the anticipation involved as the dealer turns over a face card under their six and slowing draws the next card, hopefully putting them over 21 and busting their hand. If you are reading this, chances are you share some of these same feelings.

In last month's Paul's Pointers I wrote that blackjack is about more than X's and O's. In that issue I talked about things you can do to be a better version of you when you sit down at the table. This month I'm going to continue with the "it's more than X's and O's" theme, but at the same time go in a different direction. This month I'm going to talk about a few things that really annoy me about playing blackjack. Maybe these annoy you too. Let's vent!

WHAT'S THE RULES ON THIS TABLE?

I started playing blackjack in a simpler time when the playing rules were pretty standard just about everywhere you went. These days that is far from par for the course. I understand that some casinos deal better games than others, but what about when they have different rules in different pits and on different pits in their own house? That's really aggravating and taking things a bit too far. Granted it's a common practice to have different pay schedules on video poker machines throughout a casino, but table games are a different animal.

I appreciate that many casinos post their rules on small placards on the third base side of the table; usually in small print and difficult to read, but it's a start. Many casinos don't even have the decency to do that. Different rules on different tables confuse the players and even the dealers themselves. I've made it a habit to go over the double-down, split, and surrender rules with the dealer as I sit down. When in doubt, make the most advantageous play. I've doubled down before after a split even after being told I couldn't do that by a previous dealer on the same table. I've re-split Aces to form a third hand before in similar circumstances. These situations don't come up often and shouldn't come up at all in my book. It reflects poorly on everyone involved and is one of my annoying pet peeves about playing blackjack.

ACE-6 IS NOT A PAT HAND, EVER!

I wrote a section header several months back to the effect of "Your Ace-6 Is Not Heaven 17." My point was soft 17 is not a good hand, much less a pat hand. As a player you should always hit soft 17. Heck, the dealers hit this hand, and have for many years now, on the vast majority of the blackjack tables in the United States. It's an insidious rule adjustment that increases the house edge by 0.20% over basic strategy players. It drives me absolutely batty when players don't hit their soft 17s. Yet, this hand is one I see misplayed frequently and the trend seems to be getting worse.

Many players realize that you should stand on 17, but often fail to correlate that Ace-6 is not really 17. Think about when you have a hand totaling 17. How many ways can you win that hand? Only one; the dealer's total has to exceed 21. They have to bust or break. Other than a dealer bust, you might get a push and get to keep your chips. Remember, Ace-6 and most "soft" combinations (hands with an Ace in them where the Ace counts one) allow for a "free" hit. There's not much "free" in casino land these days boys and girls. Play this hand as seven and draw at least once to improve your hand. Only on the fourth or subsequent card, do you even have a chance of busting your hand and going over 21. Hit soft 17 and give yourself a chance. It will improve your overall results and diminish the long sighs from the guy at third base. It's pretty annoying to the rest of us when you don't.

NOT TAKING YOUR HITS OR PLAYING "SCREW YOUR BUDDY"

Another pet peeve I have about playing blackjack comes from my fellow players. Namely, when they fail to take a hit that basic strategy (or a close semblance of common sense) dictates. We all can agree that there a finite number of cards in each deck and we know the "identity" of each of them. What we don't generally know is the order in which each individual card will show itself. When one player hits or fails to hit their hand, it's like throwing a small stone into the pond and creates a ripple effect until a natural barrier is reached. Each player's individual decision could help or hinder my or your efforts.

If you think very long on the above it might very well drive you crazy. Don't do it. Even I don't. What annoys me though is when there are gross violations that ultimately hurt me (even ones that help me, I find annoying). I'm not a self-centered actress or drama queen, but, yes, there is a degree of self-interest involved here. I understand if you don't hit 12 against a dealer 2, or soft 18 against a dealer 10, or even if you stick on 16 all the time. I get it. It's when you stay on 14 against a dealer's 10 or hit your hard 13 against a dealer 5. I've been known to utter the phrase "so we're playing screw your buddy here" out loud at a table. Rarely does anyone understand or pay attention. It is gratifying though in low count situations when someone passes on a hit and I can tell the dealer, "I'll take that 5, since he didn't want it" and the cards comes up making my hand. Even if it does help me, I'd prefer everyone just take their hits. Don't be afraid to bust. The end result is whether you have chips in the circle after the hand is completed. Take your hits and don't play "screw your buddy;" it is annoying!

CHAIN SMOKERS - THAT'S SO RATCHET

Ever have this experience or something resembling it? A fellow casino patron strolls up to your table, points and says, "Ashtray." In case you haven't noticed lately, the ashtrays are normally kept on the dealer's right side near the third base circle. Do the above while I'm there and you will get ignored. Inevitably, the "Ashtray" comment is made a second time and I might look at the person and go back to playing the hand. A third, and usually angry comment, might get a response. If so, the person won't like it as my response will be something along the lines of "So it is" or "Thanks, for pointing that out." See the problem here? The correct play is, "Could you pass me an ashtray, please?" after I'm done playing my hand. Failing that, I'm not budging and the dealer has to do the passing of the ashtrays. I'm not at the casino to make friends and you aren't either if you act like that.

The above scenario I described could just as readily be aimed at rude people or those that are totally self-absorbed and fell off the turnip truck thinking they are entitled to special treatment. There are plenty of those people out there that don't smoke and don't play blackjack. I've sat with many smokers who went out of there way not to let their habit bother me or others and that is greatly appreciated. It's the rest of you that annoy the heck out of me! I find it incredibly annoying when a smoker insists on sitting next to me with other circles on the table and keep their ashtray next to my pile of chips and turns to blow their smoke my direction every chance they get. If we started out like my scenario above, then I actually get it and might even do the same. However, we'd never get to that point because I'm one of the better people you'll meet provided you don't cross the lines of civility with me or your fellow man in my presence.

I've never been a smoker, but have been known to fire up a cigar in celebration every few years. If you are a smoker, I have noticed that you are probably the second most persecuted individual in the country, behind white southern Protestant males. Again, I get it. Just don't be a jerk; and by all means, don't cough on me while you ponder whether to hit your soft 17!

(Note: If you do smoke cigarettes regularly, think about the money you could put in your bankroll if you were able to reduce your consumption in half or even eliminate it all together? After a few months, that could add up. Not lecturing; just food for thought.)

OUR BLACKJACKS PAY 3:2 EXCEPT THE ONES THAT DON'T

C'mon, you knew I couldn't write a piece like this without a 6:5 blackjack payoff rant didn't ya? Blackjack payouts continue to be a topic of concern and consternation for players across the land. I absolutely loath the spread of 6:5 blackjack payouts. However, if you are going to do it, own it. For many months last year there was a casino in Las Vegas that boasted on its marquee that all their blackjacks paid 3:2. Granted, they did, except on the single-deck games that paid 6:5 and later on the six-deck shoe games in a small pit that allegedly made donations to veterans groups from the proceeds collected on these tables. I won't call any names, but the property is currently in the midst of a major renovation and is located on Sahara Avenue, just west of the Strip. I've got a picture of the billboard marquee somewhere.

I've noticed many casinos like to print "blackjacks pay 6:5" in very small print on placards that only the player at third base can read if they brought their glasses. That's annoying enough in its own right. There are many party pit blackjack games and shoe-dealt games on the strip returning only 6:5 on player blackjacks. Some insist players make $50 minimum wagers to receive the proper payout. Again, I won't call any names, but these two properties share the same gaming license and are owned by Sheldon Adelson. If it isn't paying 3:2 for blackjack it's a bad game and should be avoided, but you already knew that, right?

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. 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. I'll settle for greed and disrespect for their customers. This blackjack payout 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 once 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, you'll receive $12 for each winning blackjack. This $3 difference per occurrence can add up. With an expectation of three blackjacks per hour, you're costing yourself $9 per hour on a $10 game ($3 difference x 3 blackjacks per hour). At higher bet 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 - if not for your bankroll, then these folks. Just say "NO to 6:5 blackjack." When I see people sitting at these tables like lambs to the slaughter, well, you not what it is? Yep; it's annoying!

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

This month I shared some personal rants about things that annoy me about playing blackjack. Parts of it were a bit tongue and cheek with some of what I call the old guy that shakes his fist and screams, "get off my yard," to all passersby. However, there were elements of truth in all five sections. The topics covered do annoy me and they probably do you as well. If so, take it for what it's worth and find solace that you are not alone. I'd love to hear what annoys you about playing blackjack too.

To summarize common things that annoy me about playing blackjack, the first I mentioned was casinos that have different rules on different tables throughout the casinos. Knock it off. It confuses your customers and your dealers. Secondly, I mentioned players misplaying soft 17. Always hit it. It's one of the only free things left in all "Casino Land." Third, I continued with players that refuse to take their hits, despite basic strategy and common sense. It turns the proceedings into what I call "screw your buddy." Sometimes, your "buddy" catches a break, but my experience is that it's rare and over time, I'm screwed. Take your hits and if you bust, so be it. What's the difference if the dealer takes your chips after they turn over their hole card or shortly thereafter? My fourth pet peeve, dealt with rude smokers. I'm not one to judge and could care less what you do in your personal life until it infringes on mine. Say "please" when asking for an ashtray and make an effort to minimize the impact of your cigarette smoke on your fellow citizens. We appreciate it. Basically, live the Golden Rule. In conclusion, I couldn't get out without a rant on 6:5 blackjack payouts. Avoid these games at all cost. These low payouts are endangering the very game we love (or hate). Respect your bankroll and those that work hard for low wages in the Land of the Free. I hope your Memorial Day weekend was special and let me extend a salute to the Veterans out there - past, present, and future. That is not annoying.

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