On a lazy Tuesday morning, it was time for one of my regular conversations with Blackjack Bob.
Bob had seen my column explaining that the house had an advantage on baccarat bank bets and bought craps bets by charging a commission. It looks like Bob had his own recent conversation about the source of a house edge.
“I guess blackjack is a little more subtle than most games,” he said. “I was talking with a guy who doesn’t play as much as I do, but he’s been playing on and off for 20 years or more.
“He told me that it was not obvious to him why the house wins. Cards come out of the same deck with the same frequency, so why should the house win more than the player? »
Because the player comes first, I replied, knowing that Bob had understood that for decades.
“Exactly,” Bob said. “Players get the chance to pop first, and if they do, they lose no matter what the dealer does. If both go bust, the house wins.
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I elaborated. If both the player and the dealer make their hit/stand decisions according to the dealer’s rules, each will fail about 28% of the time. On about 8% of the hands, the player and the dealer are eliminated. The dealer wins these hands. This is the house advantage.
Bob picked it up from there. “Hardly anyone would play a game with such a huge house edge. They might not understand why they were losing so much so fast, but they would understand their dwindling chip stacks.
I told Bob that this took us back to a discussion we had a few months ago when he met a player who insisted that dealer strategy was the way to go and that the rules of double betting and splitting pairs were traps.
In reality, giving players options to hit, stand, split, and double down, as well as paying extra on blackjacks, is how the house gives players enough to make blackjack playable.
“Good,” Bob said. “We don’t need to go down that rabbit hole again. What interested me this time was the source of the house edge and that someone who played long didn’t understand where it came from.
“In other games it’s usually more obvious. Take roulette. With double zero, there are 38 numbers, so the odds against a single winning number are 37-1. The win is only 35-1. The difference between 37-1 and 35-1 is the house advantage.
I added that the house edge comes from paying less than true odds on any game, including blackjack. You have a less than equal chance of winning a hand, but with the exception of two-card 21s, the winnings are just even money.
Bob asked, “What other games are more subtle in how they manage to pay less than real odds? I know craps and roulette from having played them for a long time, but I don’t play everything. You know I stick to blackjack.
Some players might think that the source of the advantage is not obvious on poker-based games such as Three Card Poker or Caribbean Stud. In the ante game against the dealer portions of these games, the edge comes from the concept of a qualifying hand. If the dealer does not have a designated minimum hand, only antes are paid and play bets are pushes. Not all winners get paid, which leads to the house edge.
“I can see why some players wouldn’t notice it right away, although having a winner who gets a partial payout seems like a big clue,” Bob said.
“But you know what? When I explained the advantage of blackjack, my friend said, ‘You’ve always been overthinking it. Heck, I’m just thinking about it.