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Best of Henry Tamburin

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Scouting the blackjack tables

8 June 2012

I'm amazed at how many players I see enter a casino and plop themselves down at the first empty seat at any blackjack table. What they should be doing instead is scouting the blackjack tables. The reason is the blackjack playing rules, the number of decks of cards, the payoffs for a blackjack, the table limits, and even how the dealer shuffles the cards, are not always the same from one table to the next. What follows are some tips on what you should be looking for when you scout the tables so that you can play the best blackjack game available in whichever casino you visit.

Let's first focus on the number of decks of cards. On some tables, you might find the dealer dealing with six or eight decks of cards. Other tables may be using fewer decks. You can always tell when the dealer is dealing a one- or two-deck game because she will be holding the cards in her hand and "pitching" them to the players, usually face down. If the dealer is dealing a six-or eight-deck game, the stack of cards is placed in a dealing shoe and she will deal the cards to the players from the shoe, usually face up. If you are not sure how many decks of cards are being used, just ask the dealer.

Generally, the house edge decreases as the number of decks of cards decreases. Therefore, in theory a single-deck game is better for a player than, say, a six-deck game. However, this is not always the case because the casinos can fiddle with the playing rules or payoffs that can significantly alter the house edge of any game.

Here are some rules and payoffs to keep in mind when you scout.

6-5 payoff for blackjack
Always make sure that the table pays 3-2 for a blackjack, not 6-5. In some casinos, the cloth layout will specify if blackjack pays 3-2 or 6-5 or there may be a sign on the table that specifies what the payoff is. Here is something to keep in mind: You do NOT want to play any blackjack game, even a single-deck game, if a blackjack pays 6-5. (Reason: The house edge increases by 1.4 percent when the casino pays 6-5 instead of 3-2. This is a rip-off and you should avoid playing all 6-5 games.) If you are not sure what the payoff is for a blackjack, ask the dealer before you sit down and play.

Dealer Hit or Stand on Soft 17
Most players know that the dealer must hit her hand if it totals 16 or lower and stand if it totals 17 through 21. However, on some tables, the rules may specify that the dealer must hit soft 17, and on other tables, stand on soft 17. You are better off (by roughly 0.2 percent) playing on a table where the dealer stands on soft 17. Check the layout or table signage for the soft 17 rule and if you have a choice, play on a table where the dealer stands on soft 17. (Again, if you are not sure if the rule is stand or hit soft 17, ask the dealer.)

Continuous Shuffling Machine
In the old days, the dealer hand shuffled the cards or automatic shufflers would shuffle multiple decks of cards after the dealer dealt roughly 70 percent of them. Nowadays many casinos are using Continuous Shuffling Machines (CSM).

The CSM is a combination auto shuffler and dealing device. After every round (or two), the dealer will place the discards back into the CSM, where they will be automatically shuffled with the unplayed cards in the CSM (usually a CSM holds 4 to 6 decks of cards). You can tell if a table is using a CSM by watching what the dealer does with the discards after each round. If she isn't stacking them in the discard tray, she probably is placing them into the CSM. And that's not good for players. Why? Because when a casino uses a CSM, there is never a pause in the action and, therefore, the casino can deal roughly 20 percent more hands per hour. That increases the number of hands during which a player's bankroll is exposed to the house edge. You are much better off avoiding all CSMs and instead playing on tables where the dealer manually shuffles the cards or uses a traditional auto-shuffler to shuffle them.

Betting Limits
If you are a low roller, you shouldn't be betting $25 a hand. Every table has a sign that specifies what the table minimum and maximum betting limits are. Check out the tables to find betting limits you feel comfortable playing. If all the low-limit tables are crowded, it is best to wait until a seat opens rather than take a seat at a $25 minimum table.

Below is a table with some guidelines to help you select the best blackjack game. Ideally, you should confine your play to games listed in the Excellent Game column. Your second choice is the Good Game column, followed by the Marginal Game and lastly, the Forget It games. Use your scouting skills and the information in the table to locate the good and excellent games the next time you play blackjack.

Abbreviations:

6-5
... Untied blackjack pays 6-5
S17
... Dealer stands on soft 17
H17
... Dealer hits soft 17
DAS
... Double down after pair splitting
LS
... Late surrender allowed
RSA
... Aces can be replit

Note: Blackjack pays 3-2 unless otherwise indicated.

# Decks

Excellent Game

Good Game

Marginal Game

Forget It

Single

s17, das

s17, rsa

and

h17, das

h17

Any 6-5 game

Double deck

s17, das, rsa

and

s17, das

 

h17, das, rsa

 

 

h17, das

h-17 (alone)

and

Any 6-5 game

Six Decks

s17, das, rsa, ls

s17, das, rsa (or ls)

h17, das, rsa (or ls)

h17, das

and

Any 6-5 and CSM game

Eight Decks

s17, das, rsa, ls

s17, ds, ls (or rsa)

 

s17, das

and

h17, das, rsa

h17, das

and

Any 6-5 and CSM game

Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin