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Sneaky Rule Changes

by Sam Braids

Recently at a local casino, I scouted blackjack tables in order to find a spot at a busy time. A table that met my criteria – betting limits, shoe game that I can count – had several openings which surprised me given how all the other tables were crowded. Without first thinking about why this particular table was an exception, I slid into a seat, bought chips and began to play. Several hands later, another player at the table received a blackjack and the dealer appeared to miscount the payoff but the winner didn’t object. I asked about the payoff amount and the dealer swept his hand along the writing on the felt in front of him. In the space that normally reads "Blackjack Pays 3 to 2" the large decorative lettering spelled out "Blackjack Pays 6 to 5".

"Since when does blackjack pay 6 to 5 here?"" I asked.

The dealer explained that the felt on this table had been installed by mistake. However, because the casino was so busy they decided to open this table anyway. The bright colors of the felt indicated that it was obviously new, but I didn't believe the "mistake" explanation. Regardless of the reason, I picked up my chips and left. Changing the blackjack payout to 6 to 5 increases the house edge in an 8-deck game by 1.8%, which is a significant change. Never play in such a game.

Blackjack has many rule variations that add and subtract in subtle ways to the house edge. There are rules that benefit the player – double on any two cards, re-split Aces, early surrender – and rules that benefit the house – dealer hits soft-17, no doubling after splitting, blackjack pays 6 to 5. Paying attention to the rules is essential because you only want to risk your money under the most favorable conditions.

However, just knowing the standard house rules isn't enough anymore because casinos can change their rules according to the time of day, and in this case from table to table. Each table in the casino can have its own set of rules and players need to pay attention as they move about the casino. If your preferred casinos are online, players can read up on some of the top UK casinos in order to stay current on playing conditions and rules.

Make no mistake, rule changes and variations within a casino are not mistakes. A few weeks after inadvertently sitting down at a 6 to 5 game, I returned to the same casino and saw that half the tables had new felt on them stating that "Blackjack Pays 6 to 5". Half the tables still dealt 3 to 2 games, which made scouting tables more complicated. I don't know if this casino plans to replace all their tables with 6 to 5 payouts, which would render blackjack unplayable in this venue from my point of view. I do know that I need to pay close attention every time I sit down at a table and not assume that rules in the past apply to the present or even that the rules at a neighboring table apply to the one I'm sitting at.

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