Casino Answer Man: Advice on blackjack strategy


Q. A friend of a friend said he used to just hit 11 when the dealer showed an ace, and now he doubles down almost all the time. We didn’t have time for a long conversation, but my friend said his friend is a good blackjack player who knows all that basic strategy stuff.

So my question is, why the change? Has basic strategy changed? My friend didn’t know, either. We were guessing it might have something to do with advanced simulations now that everyone has computers.

A. It’s not basic strategy that’s changed. It’s the game.

In a game with four or more decks, basic strategy has always called for us to double down on 11 vs. a dealer’s Ace if the dealer hits soft 17, but to hit if the dealer stands on all 17s. In one- and two-deck games, doubling on 11 vs. ace is standard, regardless of whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17.

For many years, the more common set of house rules had the dealer standing on all 17s in multiple-deck games. Today, such games are rare, and almost non-existent at tables with low minimum wagers. So at today’s multiple-deck games, your friend’s friend doubles on 11 vs. Ace, where in years past he’d have hit.

When the dealer hits soft 17, it adds about two-tenths of a percent to the house edge. For years, I avoided casinos where the dealer hit soft 17. Today, such avoidance would leave few places to play.

Q. I know you collect stories about big casino wins and unusual happenings. I have one I think you’ll like.

My friends and I were on a bus trip with the park district to a casino about a three-hour drive away. There’s a casino half an hour from my house, but I like the bus trip. We pay $10, and we get our lunch at the buffet and get $10 in free play. It’s a nice day out.

We were trying to decide what to do with the free play, and one of the ladies said, “I’m just going to play for pennies.” I took the machine next to her. It was Black Knight. It had 30 lines, and I was betting 60 cents a spin.

On my very first spin, I got the three special symbols and got seven free spins. On the first spin, I got the knight wild symbol on the second reel. It expands up and down and is held in place for the rest of the spins. On the third spin, I got another one on the third reel, and the on the fourth spin I got one on the fourth spin.

So now all the symbols on the middle three reels were wild and for the remaining spins I was going to get at least four of a kind with any of the first reel symbols, and five of a kind if something on the first and fifth reels matched.

I never got any of the big symbols, the king, the queen or the jester, but I did get the crown on the first reel, and that was a good payer. I got five of a kind with sceptors, and that was great! The credits just kept rolling up and rolling up.

When it was over, I’d won 10,800 credits. That’s $108 with my first 60 cents of free play on a penny machine. I played the rest of my free play and got another $7. Then I told my friend, “I’ll never beat that,” and I cashed out and looked for another game.

The rest of the day, I lost a little, but I still had $92, all from free on this bus trip.

A. Thank you for the story. I always love hearing these.

Moments like that are what make the penny slots fun, inexpensive entertainment. The games I play most often are blackjack and video poker, but when my wife and I are in a casino together, we spend some time side-by-side, playing pennies and enjoying each other’s bonus rounds.

One of my favorite penny slots moments came on a Catch a Wave slot. It was the first time I’d seen the game, and I wanted to find out how it worked. I didn’t have a first spin winner like yours, but within my first 10 spins, I’d launched the free spins. I had a couple of good-sized winners, then retriggered the freebies, and retriggered them again. By the time the bonus ended and the Beach Boys had finished singing, I had $65 in winnings. Surf’s up!

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

Original article available at