QUESTION: Another blackjack player at my table was playing so that he never busted. He’d split pairs and double down according to basic strategy. He’d even play soft hands according to basic strategy, until they became hard hands. But he wouldn’t bust. He stood on every hard 12 or higher, no matter what the dealer had.
Other players were giving him a hard time, but he said, “At least this way I have a chance. If I hit and go bust, I’m done before the dealer even plays. Give her the chance to go bust.”
The dealer nodded and went on dealing without saying anything, as if that all made sense to her. So it got me wondering. Does it make any sense?
ANSWER: It makes sense only if your goal is to delay knowing whether you’ve lost as long as possible.
If you stand with a 16 or less, then you’re conceding losses 74 percent of the time when the dealer has a 7 face up, 76 percent vs. an 8, 77 percent vs. 9 or 10, and 83 percent vs. an Ace. That’s how often the dealer makes a hand of 17 or better without busting starting with those up cards.
When you have a hard 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16, you’re not in a great position. If you hit hard 16, for instance, you’re going to bust about 62 percent of the time. But you’re better off taking the 38 percent chance of improving the hand than just conceding that you’ll lose 74 percent of the time to a dealer who shows a 7 up.
Let’s say you have 9-7, and the dealer has a 7 up. If you stand, like your never-bust friend, you’ll average 48 cents in losses for every $1 wagered. If you hit, you cut the average loss to 40 cents per $1.
That’s why basic strategy tells us to hit those stiff hands when the dealer has a 7 or higher. Playing never-bust is self-defeating.
QUESTION: My wife and I went to the casino with her sister and brother-in-law. The women went to the slots, and I was going to play blackjack, but he asked if I wanted to try some roulette with him. I play roulette sometimes, so I said OK.
I’m pretty boring. I stick to red or black, odd or even, maybe the dozens or columns. He likes to bet the inside numbers. He plays corners and splits, with some single numbers. But he got into a pattern where he was betting six single numbers and nothing else.
He did it once, just as a change of pace, he said, and one of his numbers won. So he did it again, and another number won. He had some more numbers hit, and he doubled his bets, and pretty soon he had won several hundred dollars. He started off betting only $2 on each of the six numbers, because it was a $10 minimum table. He moved up to $4, and stopped there.
We laughed about his system on the way home, but I was wondering, does a system like that actually do anything to the house edge?
ANSWER: The house edge at double-zero roulette stays at 5.26 percent as long as you avoid the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3. The house edge on that one is 7.89 percent, so any system that includes it would have a higher house edge than others.
The difference in roulette bets is mainly in volatility. If on each spin you bet $12 on red and he bets $2 on each of six numbers, then over a very long time you’d each lose something close to 5.26 percent of your total wagers. However, since the red bet gives you 18 of the 38 numbers, you’ll win three times as often as he will with six numbers. That’s offset by the larger payoffs on his winners -- single-number bets pay 35-1 odds, while red/black pays even money.
Your brother-in-law’s system makes possible much larger wins than yours does, but it also can lead to long losing streaks that will put him out of action fast. Happily for him that night, he experienced the upside of higher volatility. Congrats to him.
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