John Grochowski

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Among all the casino players I’ve met, Ray is unique. He plays about twice a month, mainly at blackjack, but says he hates to gamble.

“I’d rather stay home and watch TV, mow the lawn, do chores — anything,” he said when I met him at a party. “But Joan (his wife) and her sister and parents like to play, so I play. Twice a month, month after month, year after year.”

Ray also doesn’t believe basic strategy is good for players. But then, he doesn’t believe any playing options casinos are willing to give can help players.

“The best way is the dealer’s way,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. “The house lets you make other plays because they know you’ll make mistakes. You can double down or split pairs because they casino welcomes you giving them more money. They don’t have any other purpose.”

I tried to explain that there are other purposes, with the end goal of making more money over a longer period. If the house didn’t allow you to split, double down and to make plays other than those required of the dealer, the house edge would be so large nobody would play. Casinos make no money if no one plays.

“Nonsense,” Ray said. “If they offer you an option, it’s because they can make money from it. If you have 15, the right play is to hit or the dealer wouldn’t be hitting.”

There was no convincing Ray, and I eased myself away to talk with others. But for the record, let’s talk about 10-2, 10-3, 10-4, 10-5 and 10-6 – hard 12 through hard 16, all hands Ray would hit no matter what the dealer showed.

We’ll assume a six-deck game and evaluate each against a dealer’s 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

10-2: If the dealer has a 2 face up, the better play is to hit — Ray would have this one right. By hitting, your average loss per $1 wagered is 25.2 cents if you hit and 28.9 cents if you stand. That’s also true by a smaller margin – 23.2 cents to 24.9 cents – when the dealer shows a 3.

However, the situation turns when the dealer has a 4 up. Then average losses are 20.6 cents when you stand and 21.1 cents when you hit, and the margin increases to 16.1 vs. 18.9 in favor of standing when the dealer shows 5 and 12.7-17.1 vs. 6.

10-3: From here on out, Ray has it wrong vs. all dealer upcards from 2 through 6. Margins in favor of standing on 10-3 are 28.8 vs. 30.8 when the dealer shows a 24.9 vs. 29.1 against a 3; 20.4-27.3 vs. 4; 16.1-25.4 vs. 5; and 12.1-23.9 vs. 6.

10-4: Margins in favor of standing are 28.9-36.4 vs. 2; 24.5-35.1 vs. 3; 20.3-33.6 vs. 4; 16.0-32.1 vs. 5; and 12.1-30.9 vs. 6.

10-5: Margins in favor of standing are 28.1-42.7 vs 2; 24.6-41.1 vs. 3; 20.3 vs. 40.1 vs. 4; 16.0-38.8 vs. 5; and 12.1 vs. 37.9 vs. 6.

10-6: Margins in favor of standing are 28.7-47.2 vs. 2; 24.6-46.5 vs. 3; 20.3-45.8 vs. 4; 16.1 vs. 45.0 vs. 5; and 12.5-43.8 vs. 6.

Numbers would be slightly different but the patterns would similar with other hand compositions such as hard 15 consisting of 9-6 or 8-6. We’d have to consider pair splitting for 6-6, 7-7 and 8-8, but other strategies would be the same: hit hard 12 vs. 2 or 3, but stand on hard 12 vs. 4, 5 and 6 and hard 13 through 16 vs. through 6.

Sorry, Ray, but the dealer way isn’t always best.

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