Casino Answer Man: Advice on Blackjack odds

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. You’ve often advised blackjack players not to play if blackjacks pay 6-5 instead of 3-2. My question is, just how bad does that make the game? Isn’t blackjack still a better game with the lower payoff than almost anything else in the casino?

A. Let’s first look at the difference between a blackjack game with 3-2 payoffs vs. 6-5 payoffs. In a six-deck game where blackjacks pay 3-2 the dealer hits soft 17, you’re allowed to double down on any first-two cards, may double down after splitting pairs, may split any pair except Aces up to three times for a total of four hands, but may split Aces only once, the house edge against a basic strategy player is 0.64 percent.

If the only rule changed is to pay 6-5 on blackjacks, the house edge against a basic strategy player soars to 2.00 percent.

At that level, there are several better bets at craps. Pass and come have house edges of 1.41 percent that drop to 0.8 percent if you back them with single odds, 0.4 percent at 3x-4x-5x odds and 0.2 percent at 10x odds. Don’t pass and don’t come have house edges of 1.36 percent that drop to 0.7 percent at single odds, 0.3 percent at 3x-4x-5 odds and 0.1 percent at 10x odds. Place bets on 6 and 8 have house edges of 1.52 percent

House edges at baccarat are 1.06 percent if you bet on banker and 1.24 percent of you bet on players. Many video poker games have house edges of less than 2 percent if you know the game strategies. Among them are 9-6 Jacks or Better (house edge: 0.5 percent), 8-5 Bonus Poker (0.8 percent), 9-7-5 Double Bonus Poker (0.9 percent) and 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker (1 percent), and that doesn’t even get into the rare games such as full-pay Deuces Wild where players can get a mathematical edge.

Those are just games that assume the blackjack player knows basic strategy. For an average player, 6-5 blackjack payoffs take the house edge into the 3-to-3.5 percent realm. That takes it into the territory of the ante-bet portion of Three Card Poker, (3.4 to 4.3 percent of the ante, or 2 to 2.6 percent of total action, depending on ante bonus pay tables), Caribbean Stud (5.2 percent of the ante, 2.6 percent of total action), and Mississippi Stud (4.9 percent of the ante, 1.4 percent of total action).

With a 6-5 payoff on two-card 21s, blackjack is just a run-of-the-mill game instead of the best game in the house.

Q. On Multi-Strike Poker, do the big hands ever come up on the top hand? It seems like every time I get four of a kind, it’s on the first hand or second hand, so I only get 1x or 2x pay, never the 8x for the top hand.

A. The odds are the same on the top hand as they are on any of the others. However, there’s some selection bias. You eight times as many 1x hands as you do 8x hands, so most of your big winners will come at the lower levels.

For those unfamiliar with Multi-Strike, you pay for four hands, but might only get one, leaving a highly volatile game. If you win the first hand, you get paid by a normal pay table, and advance to a second. Win there, and you get paid double, and you advances to a third, worth 4x pay, where a win takes you to a fourth, worth 8x pay. You also can advance up the ladder via randomly occurring free rides. The frequency of wins plus the frequency of free rides makes it a 50-50 shot that you’ll move up to the next level.

Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski’s weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (; Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and Casino Answer Man runs every week.

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