Tale of four deuces offers lesson for blackjack players

The hand started innocently enough, with a \$15 blackjack bet.

Before it ended, I found myself with almost all of my session money at risk as I silently pleaded for mercy from the fickle card gods.

The hand offered three lessons for blackjack aficionados:

• A small bet can turn into a monster when the cards come out just so.

• A session's profit or loss often rests on one or two hands — what I call the “crucial double-down.”

• Win or lose, some hands stay with you for years.

Here's the scene: Last week, my wife and I were among four players at a double-deck blackjack table in Tunica, Miss., a favorite casino destination. I was at third base, the seat that acts immediately before the dealer.

The minimum bet was \$10, but I was ahead by \$30 and feeling flush. I bet \$15 and felt smug when the dealer turned up a six, his weakest card. I felt even better when I saw my hand was a pair of deuces.

The proper basic-strategy move is to split deuces when the dealer's up-card is two through seven. When splitting, you put out a second bet equal to your original one and play two hands; in this case, each hand would start with a value of two.

Splitting pairs is the blackjack equivalent of a triple in baseball or a kick return in football. You don't know what will happen, but action and excitement are inevitable.

My first draw was another deuce. If it was right to split the first pair, it was right to split the second. Another three red chips went into action, and I had three hands, each with a starting value of two.

The card dealt to Hand A was an eight, giving me a total of 10. Basic strategy says to double-down with 10 when the dealer shows a nine or less. I put another \$15 out, and the dealer placed the card face down.

On to Hand B. The dealer gave me a nine, for a total of 11. You always double on 11. I put another \$15 out, noting that my action now totaled \$60. This was turning into more than I'd bargained for. The dealer placed Hand B's third card face down.

On to Hand C. I was dealt a fourth deuce. If it was right to split the first two pairs, it was right to split the third (most Mississippi casinos allow splitting to a total of four hands, even with Aces, while Pennsylvania casinos typically set the maximum at three hands and don't allow resplitting Aces). Another \$15 went out, and we started again on Hand C. I was dealt another nine, for another 11 and a third double-down.

On Hand D, I drew an eight, for another 10 and a fourth double-down.

After starting with one \$15 bet, I now had four hands with \$30 on each. While I was ahead for the session when the deal started, it was conceivable I'd have enough for only one minimum bet when it was over.

But that couldn't happen, could it? Not with the dealer showing a six. He had to bust. He just had to … didn't he?

The dealer flipped up his hole card. It was an ace, giving him Soft 17. Under Pennsylvania's player-friendly rules, he would have had to stand. But not in Mississippi. He took a hit and drew a two. Five of the eight deuces had come out in a span of about 15 cards. Several reactions, some of them printable, went through my mind.

The dealer had 19, but I still had a prayer as he slowly exposed my four double-down cards. Hand D had a face card, so I didn't lose them all. Hand C also drew a face card, so, at least, I would break even. Hand B's was another 10, giving me three winners. Hand A drew a seven, so there was no sweep.

But winning six bets and losing two is a positive outcome. The \$60 profit from that hand accounted for almost all my winnings in a 90-minute session. With a couple of unlucky cards, however, that hand could have wiped me out.

Players who like to raise their bets on a whim or double up after a win should remember that lesson: A bet at the edge of your comfort level can multiply quickly and put all your money at risk.

Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or players@tribweb.com.

Columbus casino opens

Ohio's third casino, the Hollywood in Columbus, opened Oct. 8. The state's largest, it has more than 3,000 slots and 70 table games plus a 30-table poker room. It's owned by Penn National Gaming, which operates Hollywood Penn National in Grantville, Dauphin County.

The \$400 million casino, which covers 475,000 square feet, is off Interstate 270 near Westland Mall. Ohio has two other casinos, in Toledo and Cleveland, with a fourth scheduled to open next year in Cincinnati.

Money trail

Slot players lost \$46.1 million at Pennsylvania's 11 casinos during the week ended Oct. 7, the Gaming Control Board reported. That's up from \$41.8 million in the comparable week last year, which was before Valley Forge resort casino opened.

The state gets 55 percent of that gross-slot revenue, or what's left of players' bets after jackpots are paid.

Statewide, the slot payout rate is 89.94 percent since the fiscal year started July 1. For every \$100 bet, the machines return an average of \$89.94. Highest payout rate: 90.63 percent at Parx in Philadelphia; lowest payout rate: 89.29 percent at Harrah's Philadelphia.

Figures for Western Pennsylvania casinos:

89.94%

Rivers; weekly slot revenue of \$4.98 million, up from \$4.88 million last year.

89.8%

Meadows; weekly slot revenue of \$4.52 million, up from \$4.5 million last year.

89.95%

Presque Isle in Erie; weekly slot revenue of \$2.59 million, down from \$3.26 million last year.

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