John Grochowski

John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. Can I join in with my own blackjack hand that makes me queasy? It’s when I have Ace-7 and the dealer has a 10.

The basic strategy card says to hit that hand, but I always seem to make it worse. Sometimes I get a 7 or 8, and then I have a 15 or 16 and have to hit again, and when I hit again there’s a good chance I bust.

Why should I take the chance on busting when I have a nice, safe 18 when I stand?

A. That soft 18 might feel like a nice, safe hand, but the dealer makes 19 or better to beat you more than half the time when starting with 10.

Assume a common six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17. When starting with 10, the dealer busts on 21.25 percent of hands, makes 17 on 11.19, 18 on 11.17, 19 on 11.19, 20 on 34.00, 21 with three or more cards on 3.48 and blackjack on 7.71.

So if you stand, you win on 32.44 percent (dealer busts and 17s), push on 11.19, lose to non-blackjack dealer hands on 48.67 and lose to blackjacks on 7.71.

You have no opportunity to hit when the dealer has blackjack, but you can try to improve your hand to beat dealer 18s, win against a smaller portion of dealer 19s and 20s and occasionally push a dealer 21.

To put it in dollars and cents, if you stand on Ace-7 against a dealer 10, you lose an average of 18 cents per $1 wagered. If you hit, you’ll improve the hand often enough that you trim the losses to 14.3 cents per $1 wagered.

You can’t turn this losing hand into an overall winner, but you can cut your losses a bit.

Similarly, if you have Ace-7 and the dealer’s up card is an Ace, your losses average 22.5 cents per $1 if you stand, and drop to 16 cents per $1 if you hit, If the dealer shows a 9 against your Ace-7, your losses per dollar average 18.3 cents if you stand and are cut to 9.8 cents if you hit.

That’s why the basic strategy card calls for you to hit soft 18 if the dealer shows a 9, 10 or Ace.

Q. Why is it that in games like Three Card Poker, the dealer has to have a qualifying hand for all your bets to win? I mean, can’t they just fix the game to pay all winners?

A. The “qualifying hand” provision, which began with Caribbean Stud in the 1990s, is there to give the house an edge.

In Three Card Poker, you start with an ante and then may make an equal bet if you like your cards. If the dealer has a qualifying hand of Queen or better and you have the higher-ranking hand, you win even money on both the ante and bet. If the dealer does not qualify, then you win even money only on the ante and you just keep your bet. There also are ante bonus payoffs if you have a straight or better.

What if there was no qualifying hand and both the ante and bet were paid at even money any time you bet the dealer? There is nothing in the way the cards are dealt that would make the dealer’s hands better than yours. You’re as likely to as the dealer is. So the house takes an edge by paying some of your winners at less than the full total of your wagers.

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