When my old blackjack-playing buddy Bob and I get together, the talk doesn't always center on the game of 21. We've known each other long enough that talking blackjack usually means rehashing oft-told tales.
But when we met at a casino buffet recently, Bob had a new topic.
"What do you think the effect on the game would be if dealers could use basic strategy?" he asked.
My immediate response: I don't think anybody would play such a game.
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Bob nodded and said, "That was the conclusion I had, too. I was just thinking about it one night, and since playing dealer strategy is such a bad deal for players, I wondered why the casinos don't have the dealers play the better strategy."
I told Bob that would be hopelessly complex, maybe even impossible with multiple players at the table.
"Agreed," Bob said. "You'd have to adapt the method of dealing so that players had only one card face up. Dealers would have to get used to that. Then for hitting and standing, the best strategy against a player who has a 6 up might be different than the strategy against another player who has a 10."
That just scratches the surface, I replied. Players are allowed to double down and split pairs. You can't really give the dealer those options. You can't force players to bet extra money when the dealer has a favorable hand.
"I guess surrender would fall into that category, too," Bob added. "Not that you see surrender offered that much anymore. I'd hate to be the player when the dealer decides, "Oops, your hand is better than mine. I'm only going to pay you half."
You also don't want to force players to understand and keep track of too many dealer options, I told him. Table games are designed to encourage customers to play. There can be enough player options to make the game interesting, but it still has to be playable for those who haven't learned or don't yet understand all the options.
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"Certainly, a trained dealer can cope with all the player options better than a new player could cope with dealer plays being optional," Bob said. "But set hit or stand rules for players would make the game easier still. Not that I'd want that to happen."
Sure, I replied. Then you'd have the 21 version of baccarat, where all plays are made according to rule instead of players having choices.
But you and I both know why blackjack isn't played that way.
"Yes we do," Bob said. "The house edge would be too big."
The only edge the house has in blackjack is that players have the chance to bust before the dealer, and the house wins if a player and the dealer bust on the same hand.
That's such a big edge that player options had to be added to even things up a bit. If players had to hit and stand by dealer rules, with no option to double down or split pairs, and if blackjacks paid only even money, then the house would have an 8 percent edge.
Players would lose their money so fast in such a game that few would play.
"And if you started giving dealers those options, then added complexity of play aside, the house edge would zoom back up," Bob said.
I agreed. Without the player options, blackjack would be unplayable. With the dealer having those options, blackjack would be unplayable.
"Thank goodness for balance," Bob said. "Basic strategy-playing dealers is something we don't need at all."
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