Yet More Blackjack in Pennsylvania

Have you heard that phrase ‘When it rains, it pours?’

That could be said about blackjack in Pennsylvania. It is raining blackjack in Pennsylvania.

Already six casinos have received, set up, tested and opened blackjack tables. Those six casinos would be the Meadows, the Rivers, the Presque Isle Downs in western Pennsylvania and the Mohegan Sun, Mount Airy and Hollywood casinos in eastern Pennsylvania.

Now blackjack, and other table games like craps and roulette, will be coming to the Philadelphia area. Thankfully it is not another three casinos; this time it is only two: the Parx Casino and Harrah’s. Parx is located in Bensalem and Harrah’s in Chester.

Both casinos will be working their table games test today and hope to open said table games at 6 am on Sunday morning.

Ever since table games were approved earlier this year it seems that every brick and mortar casino in Pennsylvania is jumping up to install table games.

The funny thing about the sudden downpour of blackjack and other table games is that table games is not where the money is in casinos games of late. Vegas can attest that money comes from the slots machines. Popularity seems to be with the slots too.

So why the mad dash to install, staff and offer table games?

The only guess that I can offer is that casinos are hoping to draw more traffic, pulling it away from Atlantic City, by offering more gambling options to patrons. Yes, offering table games is could bring in more money but here is a little secret: with the offering of table games, these casinos have also been allowed to increase the number of slot machines to help accommodate an increased number of casino patrons.

So in short the table games were a means to an end. Not that blackjack players in Pennsylvania will care. They are just happy to not have to drive a long distance to play their favorite game.

Knowing When to Double Down on Soft Hands

Soft hands tend to throw some blackjack players off. Most tend to play them as if they were hard hands. Sometimes this works and other times players are not playing their blackjack hands to the greatest advantage.

And you should want the greatest advantage.

Even if a player is playing according to basic strategy the casino will still have the advantage. It does not matter if you are playing blackjack online or in a brick and mortar casino, the house will still have around a 0.5% advantage over you.

And because they will always have the advantage over the player (other than skilled card counting players) you should always want to play your hand to the greatest advantage in blackjack.

Stiff hands and soft hands are the hardest hands to play. There is nothing you can really do about stiff hands other than play them according to basic strategy. But soft hands do not have to be played like a hard hand—they have flexibility that other hands in blackjack do not.

Doubling down is one of the strongest plays a player can make in blackjack. It takes the most off the house’s edge out of all the plays and blackjack rules: 0.6% is knocked off.

But many players do not know when the best times to double down with a soft hand—they are on the tricky side after all. There is actually an easy rule to go by to know when to double down:

Add up your non-Ace card and the dealer’s up card. If the total is 9 or higher then go ahead and double down. But if the total of your non-Ace card and the dealer’s up card is less than 9 do not double down. Easy right?

Be Mindful

One of the fun things about playing blackjack in a brick and mortar casino is the free drinks. You will see waitresses going from table to table bringing drinks to players.

The casino’s surface intent of these free drinks is to make your playing experience all the more enjoyable with drinks brought right to you so that you do not have to leave your game, and on top of that your drinks are free! This would be one of the advantages blackjack in a brick and mortar casino has over online blackjack…if you like to drink while playing.

But the real reason that casinos like to offer their players free drinks is in hopes that players will become somewhat inebriated, but not fully intoxicated. For the most part when players become inebriated they lose their focus and do not usually stick with their blackjack strategies, tossing aside their basic strategy charts, and making foolish plays or wagers. Casinos make money here.

But they do not want players to be drunk as it ruins the experience for other players. That, and there is the possibility that a player will behave very badly.

I read this morning about a man who was playing blackjack at one of the Meadows’ new blackjack tables. Security was going table to table around 2:30 am telling the players ‘Last Call’ when this man became very angry and aggressive. He wound up being tasered by a state trooper who was called in and hauled off to jail. Not how you want to end a night of blackjack.

Not only should you want to avoid being tasered, your main reason for watching how many of those free drinks you have has more to do with your playing and your blackjack strategy.

Remember that part where I mentioned that getting drunk at the blackjack tables will cause players to play recklessly, and that casinos like when this happens? You do not want to play recklessly because it will cause you to lose your money faster. You might as well hand it over to the cashier and be done with it if you want to be drunk and throw your money away.

Blackjack offers players the chance to make money. Getting tipsy and reckless with your playing will not only reduce your chances of making money, it will increase your chances of paying out through your nose.

Another Name for Insurance

Insurance has an alias, did you know that?

I am willing to bet that you are a smart blackjack player, be you an online blackjack player or one who plays in a brick and mortar casino. You most likely know what the alias of Insurance is.

Well this deceptive little choice that gives edge to the house also goes by the name of Even Money. And you will only be offered a shot at even money when you have been dealt a natural blackjack and the dealer has an Ace showing.

And that is exactly how the dealer will put it to you, making even money sound like something special that you have earned for being dealt a blackjack.

The truth of the matter is that even money does not earn you anything since you are actually giving part of your odds over to the house if you accept.

You know you are offered insurance when the dealer has an Ace showing, but with a natural blackjack you really do not need to insure it. So the casinos thought they would be smart and offer players the same thing with a different name. Hence even money.

Even money is when you receive a 1-1 payout. And that is exactly what you get if you accept even money. They want to scare you into taking a 1-1 payout so that there will be no risk to the house to pay you a 3-2 payout should the dealer not have a natural blackjack.

And that is the trouble with even money—players accept a lower payout and reduce their own blackjack odds when the dealer may not even have a blackjack. He is showing an Ace while you have one of the ten value cards he needs in his hand. That is already one shot at a blackjack that he does not have.

Just because the dealer is showing an Ace does not mean he has a blackjack. That is what you have to remember. Being scared and accepting even money only hurts you in the long run. Remember your blackjack odds increase as your opportunities to make money increase; and they decrease when your opportunities decrease.

So if you accept a payout that reduces your chance of making money, you are reducing you blackjack odds as well.

The point is to know what even money is and what it does to your odds so that you know why to decline even money. Even if the dealer has blackjack too you will only have to push, which is not as bad for you odds. Do not be afraid of a dealer’s Ace. Just decline even money and hold out—you just might get that 3-2 payout.

More Blackjack for Pennsylvania

On Thursday of last week three brick and mortar casinos in western Pennsylvania opened the blackjack tables, drawing patrons away from the long haul drive to Atlantic City to enjoy some blackjack.

Unfortunately for Atlantic City the run of Pennsylvania casinos is not at an end yet. This past Tuesday, July 13th, saw the opening of blackjack tables in three eastern Pennsylvania casinos.

Blackjack players all over Pennsylvania are very excited with the addition of their favorite casino game in six casinos. This follows months of back and forth political arguments earlier this year about whether or not the State would allow table games like blackjack, roulette and craps to be added to their game offerings. But the demand was there and the income to the State in gaming taxes was needed. Everyone wins. Well, except for Atlantic City.

For decades Atlantic City was the mecca of East Coast gambling in the United States. But with the down turn in the economy and a lack of funds trickling down the government hill, states began looking at other ways to bring in money.

Pennsylvania is not the only state to look to gambling. Florida recently settled a long standing dispute with the Seminole tribe about blackjack there. Florida will be making $1.5 billion over the next five years from their deal with the Seminoles.

But with the addition of blackjack to the casino games at the Rivers, Meadows and Presque Isle Downs casinos in western Pennsylvania and the Mohegan Sun, Mount Airy and Hollywood casinos in eastern Pennsylvania could spell even more trouble for Atlantic City.

Not only will the time-honored East Coast gambling destination be competing with these six improved casinos next door, they might also be competing against online gambling. New Jersey is looking at legalizing online gambling for New Jersey residents that would make the competition even greater for Atlantic City.

While Pennsylvania blackjack players are quite happy with the new table games in six of their casinos, we shall have to see how Atlantic City fares over the next few years. Will it be able to keep itself afloat or will it sink in the ocean that is the gambling industry.

Strategies for Online Blackjack

As the gaming industry continues to grow and the gaming technology continues to improve, more and more people will begin to play their favorite online casino games online. And with how people are turning more and more to the Internet for their entertainment—TV shows, music—it really is not surprising that blackjack players are making the switch to online.

But while online blackjack is similar to blackjack in a brick and mortar casino, it is not exactly the same. Do not worry, the rules are the same. I was talking about blackjack strategy.

Not all blackjack strategy is good for playing online. Card counting, while useful in a brick and mortar casino does not help players in the least when playing online.

The way the actual game of online blackjack functions is that each round is dealt from the Random Number Generator. The RNG is programmed with every possible dealing for that game. At the beginning of each round of online blackjack the RNG pulls a combination at random to be dealt. And it pulls from all the cards. This means that cards are never out of play. With no cards being discarded card counting is useless.

So what is an online blackjack player to do?

The answer is actually quite simple: play according to basic strategy. On every hand. Every time. No deviating.

Without card counting to lend a helping hand to your blackjack odds, it is even more important to stick to the plays recommended by basic strategy since those are the best statistical plays in the game. While it will not even up the odds, basic strategy will bring you within 0.5% of the house edge.

Since that is the best that you can play for in online blackjack it makes sense to keep your blackjack strategy close and your basic strategy closer.

Time is Money, Friend

I am sure we have all heard this phrase before, and generally its source is one of two places: the business world or a movie. Actually I have also heard that goblins in massive multiplayer online games say the phrase too. But this actually relates to blackjack—not the goblins but the idea of time being money.

In any casino game time is your enemy when playing as long as the house has the edge. Here is how it works when you are playing blackjack.

When the edge is stacked up against you every hand of blackjack that you play has more potential to cost you money than to gain you money.

As an example let’s say that you lose six of every ten hands played and you are wagering $10 per hand. If you only play ten hands in one hour, out of the $100 you had wagered you would have only lost $60. But if you had played at a faster pace and played twenty hands in one hour, it means that of the $200 you had wagered you would have lost $120.

Keep going with the math and you can see how the faster you play the more money you stand to lose. This is why casinos dislike card counting blackjack players—the players can turn the edge to favor themselves which means the casino has the potential to lose more per hour than the player does.

If you are not a skilled card counter or if you are playing online blackjack where card counting is useless what can you do to overcome the time is money principle in a casino?

If you are playing blackjack in a brick and mortar casino play at full tables. The more players there are at a table the slower the rate of play is. It will take longer to play through a round if seven players have to decide how to play than if only two players have to choose how to play.

Also look for hand shuffled blackjack tables as it takes longer to shuffle by hand than if shuffle machine is being used.

If you are playing online blackjack you are playing one-on-one with the dealer. Shuffling is automatic in online blackjack. But the round depends on you meaning you set the pace. The longer you take to play out a round the less rounds of online blackjack there are per hour. Slow yourself down!

Time very much is money in blackjack. Understanding that and working that principle into your blackjack strategy can help you to exert a little more influence on your own blackjack odds. Remember odds are about your potential to make money. And if you can slow the game down so that the house has fewer opportunities per hour to take your money you will have successful put a little bit of a change in your odds.

It is like time and money in business. The more control you can exert the better your own odds. And forget the goblins. There are no goblins in blackjack unless you have a really nasty dealer.

On Card Counting and Blackjack

While basic strategy offers players a wonderful, easy and legal way to lower the house edge it only takes you so far. As far as 0.5% still being in the house’s favor. And while that house edge is not as great at the 8% to 12% that players are up against at a slots machine, the casino is accepting for two reasons:

1. Not every single blackjack player will play according to basic strategy, nor will they play every hand according to it, deviating and thus keeping the house edge above 0.5%.

2. And the house still has the edge. As long as they have some kind of an edge they are a happy casino.

But then along comes those wily card counting blackjack players.

Casinos very much do not like card counting blackjack players. This is more about money than anything. On the surface card counting evens out the house edge and can even, for the skilled card counter, tip the edge in favor of the player.

If these card counting blackjack players were playing for fun or for fake money the casino would not care at all if the house edge slipped in favor of the player. But when money is involved, well that is another story.

When the house edge is in favor of the house, they stand a greater chance of making money off of the players. But when the edge goes to the player, the casino winds up paying more money to the player—something that they do not want to do on a regular basis. A slots jackpot here, and an honest 3-2 payout on a high-end wager to a non-card counting player, sure they are okay with. But a player who is taking regular advantage, no.

That is why if you are going to be a regular card counting blackjack player there is another skill you need to acquire: appearing that you are not counting cards.

Pit bosses, when they suspect that a player is counting cards or that something funny is going on, will come over to the table and strike up conversation with players. And often players will talk with the other players at the table or even with the dealer.

It is the player who with the bets going form $5 up to $50 suddenly that is not talking that will catch their attention. So the other skill you need to teach yourself to go hand-in-hand with card counting is the ability to keep an eye on the cards, keep your count and still interact with the other players, the dealer and even the pit boss if he stops by.

The point here is to be social and to appear that you are not counting cards when you really are. If you can interact with the others while playing blackjack the casino staff will not think that your mind is focused on counting. But then they assume that card counting blackjack players are not smart enough to do two things at once.

Blackjack is ‘Transformational’

Last week blackjack tables in three western Pennsylvania casinos opened:Rivers, Meadows and Presque. They ran the blackjack table test on July 6th and then opened completely on July 8th, much to the pleasure of local residents.

The addition of blackjack tables and other table game such as roulette, craps and mini baccarat are now pulling patrons away from the slot machines in favor of casino games they feel more in control of, especially blackjack.

Staff noticed a difference in the noise, energy and excitement of the casinos’ patrons when the table games were opened. They truly feel that the addition of blackjack and other casino table games is the reason.

“Primarily, they [table games] are the most exciting part of the gaming floor – the noise and action there dominates the rest of the casino,” said gaming expert David G. Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz is the director of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas’ Center for Gaming Research.

So what makes for the change in the dynamic at these western Pennsylvania casinos? Can the addition of blackjack and other table games really have that big of an impact? And can they really push slot machines off to the side?

Yes, table games can change the dynamic of a casino floor, but this is because table games, like blackjack, offer a different playing experience. Table games offer players more camaraderie while playing. Even though blackjack is a player vs. dealer sort of game, having other players at the same table boosts the feeling of ‘we are in this together,’ whereas slots are a more individual game.

Because of the single player feeling and the actual design of the machines themselves, slots can literally be pushed off to the sides of a casino, against the walls and to line walkways.

Patrons seem to be quite happy with the addition of blackjack. Bill Shuba, who is a blackjack player, says that he probably will not be back to the casino in West Virginia he patronized before the addition of the blackjack tables to the western Pennsylvania casinos. In his words, “[They] probably won’t see me anymore.” This was said before he sat down at a $25 minimum blackjack table at the Meadows on the blackjack tables’ debut.

Online Blackjack and Stiff Hands

While there are some things that are different between online blackjack and blackjack in a brick and mortar casino, there are still some things that are not any different. When it comes to online blackjack one of the similarities is stiff hands.

Just a quick recap a stiff hands are another name for certain hard hands. Those hard hands are hard 12 through hard 16. They are considered stiff hands because they are on the hard side to play with. These are typically underdog hands that are, truthfully, hard to win with. Your playing options are stiff, hence stiff hands.

How often are you likely to be dealt a stiff hand in online blackjack? You stand about a 43% of being dealt one of the stiff hands when you are playing online blackjack.

Now if you were playing blackjack in a brick and mortar casino you also stand about a 43% chance of being dealt a stiff hand.

So when you are playing online blackjack your playing strategy for stiff hands is not any different: abide by basic strategy.

Basic strategy not only is the key to the best statistical plays for every hand in blackjack, it is also the best strategy for online blackjack. The reason basic strategy is the best strategy tool for online is not only because it is the best play for every hand, it is essentially the only strong strategy tool since card counting is not possible in online blackjack.

Since card counting is not possible in online blackjack the best thing that you can do when you have a stiff hand is to play according to basic strategy. Since stiff hands are underdog hands regardless of whether you are playing online blackjack or not, basic strategy is your best bet.