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Blackjack players improving

Q. Do you think average blackjack players are improving? It seems to me that I see fewer really terrible players than I used to. There are some, of course, but more seem to play a reasonable approximation of basic strategy, even if they miss some plays.

A. Yes, I do think blackjack players are better, on average, than they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago and certainly better than when I started playing nearly 30 years ago.


I think the Internet has had a huge impact on the quality of play. Players who never would have considered plunking down $10 for a blackjack book a generation ago now can type “blackjack strategy” into Google and come up with basic strategy charts and explanations galore.

Don’t think casinos haven’t noticed. When I sat in on a crash course on casino operations in the early 1990s, a casino consultant told us the house edge in blackjack was about 2 to 2.5 percent. At the beginning of the 2000s, a table games director told me he assumed 1.5 percent. Today, when rating players for comps, it’s common for casinos to assume a house edge of less than 1 percent in blackjack.

That narrowing of the house edge is happening even as games are getting tougher. Twenty years ago, single-deck and double-deck games usually had the dealer hitting soft 17, but six-deck games almost always had the dealer stand on all 17s.

Today, one and two-deck games are less common, and many of those in operation pay only 6-5 on blackjacks, adding 1.4 percent to the house edge. Most six-deck games still pay 3-2 on blackjacks, but have the dealer hit soft 17, adding 0.2 percent to the edge.

Even so, the level of play has risen enough that casinos assume a smaller edge when they rate players for comps.

Q. My wife and I play at a casino that had a big promotion where if you built enough points, you could collect a full set of pots and pans without deducting the points. You’d get the cookware, but still have the points.

I thought we should play video poker, which is what we both usually play. She thought it should be slots, because you get the points twice as fast. You have to bet $8 for a point on video poker, but only $4 on slots. What do you think?

A. If I were taking part in that promotion, I’d play video poker. The house edges are lower on video poker, so with average results you’d lose less money accumulating the required points than if you played slots.

Let’s choose a good round number: 100 points. Accumulating 100 points would require $800 in wagers on video poker or $400 on slots.

We’ll assume 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker (98.98 percent with expert play), because that’s one high-level game available in most of the country. For slots, we’ll assume a 94 percent return on dollar games, 92 percent on quarters or 87 percent on pennies.

At those levels, accumulating 100 points on video poker would cost an average of $8.16 in losses. On slots, the average losses would be $24 on dollars, $32 on quarters or $52 on pennies.

What if the best video poker game at your casino is lower tier, such as 8-5 Jacks or Better? If you do your homework and play well, it returns 97.3 percent and your average losses are $21.60.

For experienced video poker players who know optimal strategy, it’s less costly to accumulate points on video poker machines than on slots.

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