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Blackjack words of wisdom: Do your homework

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While Pennsylvania blackjack fans have a dozen casinos offering some of the most player-friendly rules in the country, gamblers elsewhere are not as fortunate, a noted strategist and author says.

Many casino operators, wanting to squeeze more money from their most popular table game, have monkeyed with blackjack rules so much that their games are not worth a player’s time.

When playing a game with poor rules, players “simply lose their money too quickly,” blackjack guru Henry Tamburin tells Player’s Advantage.

“Nowadays, players have to spend a little time, do a little homework and make sure that the casino is offering a good blackjack game,” he advises.

Tamburin, who has played, taught and lectured about blackjack for decades, operates Blackjack Insider, bjinsider.com, a monthly newsletter devoted to blackjack and gambling strategies. His most recent opus is “The Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide,” available free at 888casino.com/blog/blackjack-strategy-guide. The blog is operated by 888 casino, the world’s largest online gaming venue.

Tamburin emphasizes that even just-for-fun blackjack players should take time to learn what’s known as “basic strategy,” the mathematically proven approach to playing every conceivable hand.

“For some reason, people bet their hard-earned money and they don’t take the time to understand the principles and the concepts, what works and what doesn’t work,” he says. “That’s unfortunate.” The easily learned strategy is readily available from numerous books, apps, videos and websites.

Tamburin lauds Pennsylvania’s blackjack rules, which apply to all betting levels at each state-licensed casino. Those include:

• All player blackjacks must be paid 3-to-2 ($15 for a $10 bet). That keeps casinos from instituting the insidious 6-to-5 payout (only $12 for a $10 bet) common in other jurisdictions.

• Dealer must stand on Soft 17 (Ace-6).

• Players may double on any two cards, including after splitting a pair.

• Players may “surrender,” or give up half their bet instead of hitting or standing. This option is seldom available in other jurisdictions.

“I hope other casino locations take note of the fact that Pennsylvania is doing quite well with their blackjack games,” Tamburin says. “The blackjack games are very player-friendly.”

Table game revenue totaled more than $853 million in 2016 at the state’s 12 casinos, the most since table games were approved in 2010.

In addition to learning basic strategy, players should understand which rule variations help and hurt them, Tamburin says. The goal is to find a game where the house edge over a basic strategy player is no more than 0.5 percent. With Pennsylvania rules, the edge is less than 0.4 percent.

The worst rule change from a player’s perspective is getting paid only 6-to-5 on a blackjack. Other player-unfriendly rules include: Dealer hits Soft 17; player may double only on specified hands, such as a two-card total of 10 or 11; and player may not double after splitting.

Even players who track down a good game and follow basic strategy can hurt themselves, Tamburin says. He specifically warns against progressive betting systems, in which a player increases her bet based on the outcome of the previous hand.

“A progressive betting system isn’t going to change the fact that you have a half-percent edge against you,” he explains. “The more you bet, and you’re facing a half-percent house edge, the more you’re going to lose.”

Overbetting your bankroll is another common mistake, he says. He suggests that setting aside money specifically for gambling and not playing in a casino until you’ve amassed 100 times your base bet, or $1,000 for a $10 player.

What if your local casino has rotten blackjack rules?

“Don’t play the game,” Tamburin says. “Save your money and take a trip to a casino location where they offer much fairer blackjack games.” In a sense, blackjack fans should celebrate that the game is so popular that casinos are unlikely to eliminate it.

“If it was today’s environment and somebody came up with the game of blackjack as we know it,” Tamburin says, “the casinos would never introduce that.”

Mark Gruetze is the Tribune-Review’s gambling columnist. He also writes occasionally for Blackjack Insider and the 888 Casino blog, both cited in this article. Reach him at [email protected]

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