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Using Final Jeopardy Tactics at Blackjack

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: A few weeks ago I got into the final round of a blackjack tournament. When we got to the final hand, the three remaining players with chips, me being one, had nearly an equal amount of chips remaining. It seemed as if we were on the game show Jeopardy, and it was the final question. Both players A and B bet all their remaining chips, so I decided to go along and bet all of my chips. The dealer ended up having a blackjack, and we all lost. The rules stated that in the event of a tie, the remaining players are each given $200 worth of chips, and four added hands were dealt to determine the place winner. Naturally, my luck (cards) went downhill from there, and I ended up in third place. Getting back to that final round before the “playoff,” what should have been my correct move? I blame myself for my loss. Nate S.

Instead of blaming yourself, Nate, how about what Jean de la Fontaine once said: “Luck's always to blame.”

One crucial thing you need to remember when playing in a blackjack tournament is that every player is competing against the same dealer. The importance of this is that players tend to have comparable outcomes on any given hand. In your example, if the dealer draws a blackjack, the entire table ends up with the same result, a loss.

One way to gain ground is by playing every hand correctly and having better cards than your opponents have. However, it is a lot simpler to gain ground by wagering and playing your hand differently than the others that are at the table.

I once was in that same Final Jeopardy position as you, Nate, and here is the move that I made.

Unlike you, I pushed in all my chips on the last hand except for one $5 chip. The others on the table chucked in all their chips on the last hand, only to be wiped out by the dealer having a blackjack. My remaining red chip was enough to win the tournament.

Dear Mark: Now that football season is over I can say that I had a decent year. Total net loss: just over $100. I consider this one of my best years. Typically, I will bet against the spread, betting $11 to win $10. Who actually pays the 10% commission, the winner or the loser? Michael S.

With most all point-spread bets, Michael, the Lords of Chance make their money by a commission, or vigorish (aka vig) on every bet. When betting a typical football game, you wager $11 to win $10. When you cash in your winning ticket, you get back $21.

Assuming a 50% likely hood of winning, I can justify both the winner and loser paying the commission that creates the 4.54% house edge.

From the loser’s point of view, if you make an $11 wager, you get a refundable fee of $1 if it wins. Otherwise, the loser is paying the $1 commission.

From the winner’s view of that same $11 to win $10 wager, if the bet wins, you only get a return of $10. That missing dollar is viewed as the vig.

Gambling wisdom of the Week: Gambling in my neighborhood was widespread and wide open. Crap games were liable to spring up almost instantly in any hallway and disappear just as fast. I was eighteen before I learned gambling was illegal. – Darwin Ortiz, Gambling Scams (1984)