On an early September evening, I’d just settled in to watch a baseball game when I received a text.
It was Blackjack Bob: “You won’t believe what I saw today.”
I muted the TV and dialed up Bob. His stories needed voice, not just text.
“When’s the last time you saw a mimic the dealer player?” Bob asked.
It had been some time. I see players all the time who are weak on basic strategy or who refuse to hit 15 or 16. But outright mimic the dealer, always hitting 16 or less and always standing on 17 or above no matter what the dealer has? We might be talking decades since I last saw that.
“I saw it today in the extreme,” Bob said. “This guy was making terrible play after terrible play, and he was aggressively deriding better players. It was amazing.”
Was he hitting soft 17?
“The dealer hit soft 17, so he did, too. Pretty basic game. Six decks, blackjacks paid 3-2, double on any first two cards, including after splits, split pairs three times except split Aces only once.
“I saw him make a couple of strange plays, like hitting 12 against a 5, but there are lots of bad players.
“He moved into nutjob territory when I doubled down on 11 against a 4. He said, ‘You’re falling into their little trap.’”
I laughed. Doubling down in a favorable situation is a little trap?
“So he claimed. He believed if it was an option the dealer didn’t have, it was just a trap to get you to bet more money. Double down? It’s a trap. Split pairs? It’s a trap.”
I asked Bob to help me get this straight. He not only hit when he should stand and stood when he should hit, he didn’t split pairs or double down?
“Right. He wasn’t going to fall into their traps. To him, it was clear that the dealer way was the best way, or the casinos wouldn’t have the dealer make those plays.
“I usually keep quiet, but I tried to get him to see the dealer and player faced different conditions. No soap.”
I didn’t need to say this to Bob, but the biggest difference between dealer and player conditions is players have the chance to bust first. If both the dealer and player bust, the house wins. That happens about 8 percent of the time.
If there were no makeup rules, the house edge would be about 8 percent. The house gives 2.3 percent of that back by paying 3-2 on blackjacks. Basic strategy players can diminish the edge to 0.7 percent in the game Bob described and even less in games with better rules with proper strategy for hitting, standing, doubling down and splitting pairs.
“I’d have kept silent and let him go his merry way if he was just taking his losses and not making a show of how dumb he thought everyone else was. The lady a couple of seats away split 8s against a 7. He said, ‘When you see a trap, you should walk away from it.’
“I stood on hard 16 vs. 6. He said, ‘Boy, they really have you brainwashed. You can buy strategy cards in the gift shop. Do you really think they’d do that if the strategy worked? They devised it as a trap.’”