In the last few weeks, while I was focused on new slot games, a number of blackjack questions piled up. Let's try to answer a few.

What do you think of the side bet that pays 10-1 if you push the dealer?

This one pops up from time to time under different names. The reader who asked mentioned seeing it at Palace Station as Push Your Luck.

It's different from most blackjack side bets in that it's integrated into the main game and strategy does affect the outcome. Instead of listing a separate house edge for the bet, "Wizard of Odds" Michael Shackelford lists a 0.24 percent edge for the blackjack/side bet combo. That assumes a six-deck game in which the dealer hits soft 17, you may double down after any first two cards, double after split is permitted and blackjacks pay 3-2.

The side bet wager may be no more than half your bet on the main game. If you split pairs, you must make additional bets on both the main game and the side bet. If you double down, you may not double the side bet.

That makes Push Your Luck a good addition to the game. Getting the most out of it requires adapting basic strategy to account for tie possibilities. For example, without the tie bet, you'd split 6s against dealer up cards from 2 through 6. With a Push Your Luck bet, the better strategy is to split 6s only against a dealer 6.

Shackelford has a full strategy chart at

Why do some casinos ban mid-shoe entry?

This didn't come via email. It came up in conversation at a casino that didn't bar mid-shoe entry. I was a few hands into a shoe, head-to-head vs. the dealer, and another player asked, "Can I join in, or do you have something going?"

I told him the more to merrier, and he said he'd been at a casino the previous week where they wouldn't let him in even after the other players agreed.

"I always thought that rule was a courtesy to players, but the players were OK with it," he said.

In addition to courtesy to players, some casinos bar mid-shoe entry to prevent a card-counting technique called "back counting" or "Wonging." Back counters watch a game, then sit down to play only if the count is favorable to players. That's not possible if they can't enter a game until a shuffle.

What is "penetration" in blackjack, and why does it matter?

Penetration is the percentage of cards in a shoe dealt before a shuffle. The greater the penetration, the greater the number of cards dealt.

That matters to card counters. They want to see more cards to get a more accurate count. Casinos wary of counters might decrease penetration, but in doing so they increase the number of shuffles and decrease hands per hour, bringing less profit from average players.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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