Blackjack Bob doesn’t usually have random number generators on is mind. Almost all of his playing time is spent at live blackjack tables, though he has dabbled in online slots during the healthcare crisis.
Nonetheless, when I contacted him in mid-September, he wanted to talk RNG.
“I finally went back to play,” he told me. “It was eerie. Admission was limited, so the crowd was small. Everyone was wearing masks, and there was no beverage service.
“They were only letting three people play at a blackjack table, and when I got there, every spot was taken.”
That had to cramp Bob’s style. I’ve played with him, and I know that he immediately heads for blackjack and favors tables with three or four other players. In part, that’s because he likes to talk, and in part, he’s said playing head-to-head with the dealer feels too much like serious business.
I asked what he did instead. Did his newfound liking for online slots carry into the casino? Did he shoot some craps? Maybe try his hand at video poker?
“None of the above,” he said. “I tried a blackjack machine. The rules were surprisingly good. It said it was dealt from a single 52-card deck. Blackjacks paid 3-2 – if I don’t see that, I’m not playing regardless of whether it’s a machine or table. The dealer hit soft 17, but I could double after splits.
“Those were better rules than at the live tables, and the minimum bet was only $5. I figured there had to be a catch. Does the RNG do something funny at those tables? Are there more random numbers for 6s than Aces or something that would screw up the odds?”
Bob knows how RNGs work, and he takes the games seriously. He was just missing one key piece of information. Most of the nation follows Nevada’s lead on randomness requirements, and Nevada requires any electronic game that uses representations of playing cards to offer fair odds.
An Ace of spades must have a 1 in 52 chance of being dealt. So must a 9 of clubs or any other card.
The result is electronic games where the odds are the same as you’d get with random shuffles of physical decks. That holds in video blackjack just as it does in video poker.
“What about slot machines that use A, K, Q, J and 10 symbols?” Bob asked. “There are a lot of those, and they can’t be offering 1-in-52 odds.”
They’re different, I explained. They are not representations of playing cards. There’s no representation of the King of spades, sword in hand, nor is the King of diamonds the man with the axe. The slot symbols are just letters and numbers.
“So the house edge on blackjack machine is the same as on a table game with the same rules?”
“Can the games be counted?”
Electronic blackjack games dealt from a single deck, such as Bob played, are reshuffled after every hand, so there is no advantage in sizing your bets according to a count.
Questions of randomness aside, I asked how Bob enjoyed his experience.
“It was OK, but a little weird,” he said. “It had a video dealer, and her eyes were always on me. It was as if she was talking directly to me. I wanted to say something rude, but kept my inner fifth-grader under control.
“The other noticeable thing was that it was really, really slow. Playing heads-up with the dealer, I expect the game to zoom along, but this didn’t. Still, it was a reasonable facsimile, I guess.”
Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
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