Bob Blackjack enjoying confusion on the edge of the house

Bob Blackjack enjoying confusion on the edge of the house

John Grouchowski

On a lazy Tuesday morning, it was time to have one of my usual conversations with Black Jack Bob.

Bob had seen my column showing that the house was getting an advantage on bank bets on baccarat and buying bets in craps by charging a commission. Looks like Bob had his last talk about where the house feature came from.

“I think blackjack is more accurate than most games,” he said. “I was talking to a guy who doesn’t play as much as I do, but has been playing consistently for 20 years or more.

“He told me it wasn’t clear to him why the house would win. The cards come out of the same suit with the same frequency, so why does the house win more than the player?”

Because the player acts first, I replied, knowing that Bob had understood this for decades.

“Exactly,” Bob said. “Players get a chance to go bankrupt first, and if they do, they lose no matter what the dealer does. If they both go bankrupt, the house wins.”

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I have explained. If both the player and the dealer make their hit/stop decisions according to the dealer’s rules, they each lose about 28 percent of the time. On about 8 percent of hands, both the player and the dealer are spoiled. The dealer wins with those hands. This is the advantage of the casino.

Bob picked it up from there. “Hardly anyone can play a game with a house advantage of this size. They may not understand why they are losing so quickly, but they will understand their dwindling stacks of chips.”

I told Bob that this brings us straight to a discussion we had two months ago when he faced a player who insisted that mimicking dealer strategy was the way to go and that the rules of doubling up and splitting the pair were traps.

In fact, giving players the options to hit, stand, split and double down, along with paying more on blackjack, is how the house gives back enough for players to make blackjack playable.

“Right,” Bob said. “We don’t need to dive again into that rabbit hole. What intrigued me this time was the source of the house advantage and that someone who had played for so long didn’t understand where it came from.

“In other games, it’s usually more straightforward. Take roulette. With a double zero, there are 38 numbers, so the odds against an odd number winning are 37-1. The payoff is only 35-1. The gap is 37-1 and 35.” -1 is the casino’s advantage.

She stated that the house advantage derives from paying less than the real odds in any game, including blackjack. You have less chance of winning a hand, but except for two 21 cards, the rewards are nothing but cash.

Bob asked, “What other games are more accurate in how they get to pay less than real odds? I know craps and roulette have been played a long time, but I don’t play everything. You know I stick with blackjack.”

Some players may think that the source of the edge is not clear in poker-based games such as Three Card Poker or Caribbean Stud. In pre-playing against the dealer’s portions of those games, the edge comes from the concept of a qualifying hand. If the dealer does not have a certain minimum hand, only the ante bets are paid, and the bets are paid. Not all winners are paid, which leads to the casino’s advantage.

“I can see why some players don’t accept it right away, although having a winner who gets a partial payment seems like a big hint,” Bob said.

“But you know what? When I explained the feature of blackjack, my friend said to me, ‘You’ve always been thinking about it.’ Heck, I just think about it.”

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