I received an e-mail in early January from a blackjack player who was having a crisis of conscience.
“There’s a dealer at my regular hangout who tips his hole card,” the player wrote. “He doesn’t do it on every hand, but he does often enough to make a real difference. You can’t see it at the middle of the table, but if I sit at third base, I get a pretty good look.
“I adjust my play, but I feel kind of funny about it. Do I tell him, ‘I can see your card’? Do I say nothing, but try to play my hand by basic strategy as usual? Do I take advantage and adjust my strategy? If I do adjust, what changes should I make?”
My position on dealers who tip the cards has always been that game security is the casino’s responsibility. Making sure hole cards aren’t revealed during the deal is up to the dealer, the pit supervisor and the observers in the surveillance room.
I’ve never spotted a dealer who was consistently revealing his cards over multiple sessions. When I have seen a dealer tip a few hands in one session, I’ve used the information. If I have 16 and the dealer has a 10 up and 6 down, do I hit, following basic strategy for 16 vs. 10, or stand, the better play for 16 vs. 16. Easy. I’ll stand, and let the dealer risk busting.
Just to make sure I wasn’t far off base, I asked a few acquaintances who are high-level blackjack players what they would do. I also asked a former casino table games manager. None wanted to be identified, but all had opinions:
Player 1: “Use the information, and keep quiet. The dealer or his supervisors will figure it out. That’s their job. Meantime, if the dealer gives you extra information, figure it’s evening out a game where the rules are tilted against you from the start.”
Player 2: “The dealer is just tipping the cards, the player’s not doing anything extraordinary, right? The player isn’t getting into any unusual position to try to peek, or using a partner who’s not playing to stand in position to see? Then no problem. If the dealer is just showing you what he has, you’d be foolish not to use that.”
Player 3: “Are you kidding me? I’d be all over that. His shift would be my play time.”
Former table games manager: “What I’d have liked to see on my watch was for players to alert us that the hole cards were visible. Realistically, you don’t expect that. Players are going to take what you give them, and I don’t blame them. I don’t think we ever had a dealer who did that repeatedly. We had to be vigilant about game security, and I think we were.”
Using the information does not mean making every conceivable play that could help you. If you hit hard 19 because you can see the dealer has 20, you’re as good as telling the pit that something odd is going on. The dealer and supervisors will note the unusual hit and be extra vigilant.
If you’re going to use the info, it’s far better to stick to borderline decisions, the kinds of plays those who don’t know basic strategy every day. If you stand on 16 when the dealer has 10 up and 6 down, you just look like a run-of-the-mill, below average player who’s afraid of busting. If you hit 19 vs. a dealer’s 10 when the dealer has 10 down, you look like a player who’s up to something.
At his wizardofodds.com website -- one of my favorites -- Michael Shackelford has a strategy table for blackjack games where the dealer exposes both cards and ties push. That’s to distinguish the game from Double Exposure Blackjack, where the dealer intentionally turns all cards face up, but the house wins ties.
The table lists basic strategy for all possible hands. It tells you that in such a game, the mathematically best play is to hit 18 against a dealer’s 19 or 20, and to double down on hard 5 if the dealer has 14, 15 or 16, along with a host of other unusual plays. In practice, either of those plays would raise red flags from the pit to the surveillance room.
A few to consider include hitting 11 instead of doubling down if the dealer’s two-card total is 10, 11 and 17 or higher, as well as against a dealer’s Ace-6; standing on 12 through 16 against a dealer’s 12 through 16, and also standing on 16 against a dealer’s 11, even if the dealer’s up card is 7 or higher; and splitting a pair of 10s -- usually a dead giveaway of a weak player -- if the dealer has 13 through 16.
By making believable plays, you get a little extra from the game. Make the truly outlandish plays, and that little extra will disappear in a hurry.
Look for John Grochowski at www.casinoanswerman.com, on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
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