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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.

This month I'm going to talk about single-deck blackjack and where to find playable games in Las Vegas. Chances are your favorite casino deals a table or two of single-deck, but these games probably return 6:5 for player blackjacks instead of the customary 3:2. If that's the case, these games should be avoided. The resultant house edge is too much to overcome. This may come as a surprise to many of you, but there are still a few playable single-deck blackjack games in Las Vegas. As you might have noticed by the title, the landscape has changed since the last time I investigated this topic. Let's begin.


I want to start this discussion by mentioning the contributions of Edward O. Thorp. As a mathematics professor at the University of California at Irvine, Thorp was a pioneer in introducing the concept that the house edge in blackjack could be overcome by card counting. He also published what became known as "the Basic Strategy" for playing blackjack. Thorp published his strategy in 1962 in a book titled, Beat the Dealer. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

I mention Thorp because his work sent shockwaves through the casino world. For a time after Beat the Dealer was published, Las Vegas casinos stopped dealing blackjack for fear that everyone would beat the game and put the casinos out of business. Players clamored for the game to be brought back and eventually casino decision-makers realized that blackjack was more popular than ever. This was especially true now that people thought they had a chance to win. Instead of going out of business, casinos managed to increase their profits from blackjack at a prolific rate! Subsequent data has shown that blackjack is still very popular and a consistent money-maker for the house; despite what some higher ups might have us believe.

When Professor Thorp and many other blackjack pioneers were studying the mathematics of the game and publishing works on the subject, blackjack was played with a single deck of cards. Different house rules affect the casino's advantage, positively or negatively. Variations of house rules and the introduction of more decks to the game are responses to the work of Thorp and other blackjack pioneers. Single-deck blackjack is essentially "ground zero" when it comes to learning blackjack strategy. Most of us already know that all single-deck blackjack is not created equal. Many casinos like to advertise they deal single-deck blackjack, but what they don't tell you is that they also short-pay player blackjacks. Because too many players have failed to do their homework to realize the impact of not being paid 3:2 on their winning blackjacks, these "faux blackjack" games continue to exist and their presence on the casino floor has increased.

In case you would like a review, or have never thought about the importance of being paid 3 chips for every two bet when the dealer gives you a blackjack, I provide the following synopsis. 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. Let's assume you bet $10 per hand. A blackjack will return $15 at 3 to 2 payoff odds. 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 limits, the cost is even greater.


I mentioned in the introduction that a few playable single-deck games still exist in Las Vegas. One of these is in a place that reminds me of the "Lost World"...

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