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How’d He Do Dat?

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I was a witness to something interesting once while I was playing blackjack. The dealer, every 15 minutes or so, would yell out a card, and low and behold, that exact card would appear. I am not joking. He must have done it three times in an hour. Once it was a seven of diamonds, later the three of clubs, and I cannot remember what the third card was, but he picked it right. What do you think was happening here? Any chance the deck was prearranged so he could call out a specific card. Neil K.

What you witnessed, Neil, was a bored dealer, with an imaginary belief that he can call up a card at will. I was at one time, delusional that is, with my go-to card being, Athena, the queen of spades, the Greek goddess of war. I would astonish players, but their selective memory only recalled when I called out a card that helped or hurt their hands, and not the 98% of the time that I was dead wrong. So, Neil, no Carnac the Magnificent here, nor with your visionary dealer.

Regardless, any dealer shuffling a deck of cards has to make sure the cards get as mixed up as possible. Even if it were a careless shuffle, you would be surprised to know the astounding number of ways a deck of 52 cards can be aligned.

There are 800,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (67 zeros) ways to arrange a deck of 52 cards. Shuffle any deck of cards at the kitchen table, Neil, and you now have an arrangement that possibly has never existed previously, anywhere.

The casino will do any and everything to avoid a dealer imperiling game security. At the top of that list is avoiding having a dealer who can actually pull out a particular card at will, or even thinks he can.

Dear Mark: What do you think of Free Bet Blackjack? Stephen S.

Free Bet Blackjack, Stephen, is sort-of what it sounds like, since, after your first wager, you are allowed to split pairs and bet your double-downs, for FREE!

Played with a standard deck of cards from a six-deck shoe, traditional blackjack rules apply, along with table minimums and maximums, and a blackjack pays 3:2.

So, Stephen, what constitutes FREE? Well, anytime you have either a pair, or a hard total of 9, 10 or 11, you are allowed to split or double-down on the house's money. If you end up winning your hand, you are paid as if you had made a traditional split or double, even though you did not put any of your hard-earned money at risk.

Free Bet Blackjack plays much like conventional blackjack, with the following standard rules:
  • Played with 6 decks
  • Dealer hits soft 17's
  • Blackjacks pay 3:2
  • Double on two cards only
  • Double after split allowed
  • Re-split pairs up to four hands
  • Re-split aces allowed (one card only)
Yes, Stephen, as is to be expected, there is a small catch to playing FREE. All dealer hands that total a 22 become a push instead of a win for the player. Even so, the house edge is approximately 0.8%, which is relatively small for a 6-deck shoe game, making this game endorsed play from Yours Truly.

Note also, Stephen, that with this FREE wager chance there comes a fluctuation in strategy. I recommend doubling down on any 9, 10 or 11, in addition, you will also want to split any pair except 4's, 5’s and 10’s. If you have 4’s, split only against a 5 or 6 up-card. With 5’s, double instead of splitting. Lastly, never split your 10’s.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Mathematics... are a good servant to the poker player but a bad master.” – Hubert Phillips, Profitable Poker (1960)