Good Luck Charms at

Single Deck Blackjack

Dear Mark,
Having just returned from a recent gambling trip (Las Vegas), I was surprised to see many casinos offering single deck blackjack. I thought single deck was very rare because it affords a player the lowest house advantage and is a card counter's delight.

Well, my surprise soon turned to disappointment when I approached a table and read the fine print. They only pay 6 to 5 on a blackjack! What's up with that? Isn't 3-to-2 the proper payout? How much does that tactic improve the house's edge? Is this game worth playing? Michael H.

Many casinos are now offering single deck blackjack games that pay a natural blackjack 6-to-5 instead of the traditional 3-to-2. One word, Michael, can best describe this subtle rule change many players have not even noticed. As the school marm says, "YUCK!" (I know you've got a better word so spit it out.)

Here's some arithmetic to analyze this pickpocket variation of single deck blackjack being offered to the inattentive in Las Vegas and elsewhere.

Theoretically, single deck blackjack games do offer the best odds for skilled players, with a house edge of only about 18% for every $100 wagered. When a casino offers single-deck games that reduce the payoff on a player's blackjack from "7.5 to 5" down to "6 to 5," meaning instead of winning $7.50 for your hard-earned snapper, you win $6, that payoff slash increases the house edge from .18% to 1.45%, which, Michael, is a colossal 800% increase in the house edge.

YUCKS! (or better) loud and clear, please.

Dear Mark,
Where I play, they just introduced single deck blackjack. As a trade-off, you do not get a full payoff for a blackjack. The dealer said you make up for it with the single deck. Was he right? Jim B.

The dealer dealt you erroneous information, a bad deal, one might say. On these single deck games, blackjacks are paid at 6 to 5 odds ($6 for $5 bet) instead of the usual 3 to 2 odds ($7.50 for $5 wagered). This one rule change, making for a 12-to-ten payoff in place of the customary 15-to-ten, raises the casino edge around 1.5 percent. Two thumbs down!

Dear Mark,
When is the best time to double down for less in blackjack? Dick H.

I'll ask you, Dick, why do you double down in the first place? Answer: you double down because you are more likely to win the hand than lose it. For that reason, you always want to wager the maximum amount. Never shortchange yourself when it comes to doubling down. It is the double downs, splits and blackjacks that shove blackjack play from the red into the black.