Q When I play blackjack
for $10 or $15 per hand, I always double down
as you recommend. But comps are nearly zero at the $15 level. So lately I've been betting $25 per hand. TheBasil Nestor is the author of the new Playboy Complete Guide to Casino Gambling. This wonderful book teaches players how to avoid sucker bets and win more when playing gambling games. He is also the author of The Smarter Bet Guide series for video poker, slots, craps, and many other books about gambling. Basil's website is www.smarterbet.com
problem is that doubling and splitting can get expensive when I'm risking green chips. So I tend to play conservatively, and I only hit or stand. Overall, I'm betting about the same amount of money, but getting a better comp rating. It seems to work. Your thoughts?
A You've been lucky. Congratulations. Nevertheless, it is always better to follow basic strategy
rather than playing on-the-fly hunches, no matter how conservative the variances may seem to be. When you deviate from basic strategy, it will eventually cost you money.
Keep in mind that doubling situations (11 vs. a dealer's 5, 10 vs. a dealer's 6, and so forth) are positive-expectation wagers. You could earn a living making those bets if blackjack rules
allowed you to bet them exclusively. Ditto for most splitting situations. Unfortunately, casinos require you to bet first and then take whatever cards that come, including stiff hands. This gives the house an edge, but it's usually less than 1% when you use basic strategy. The house edge balloons to nearly 3% if you don't double down and split when you should.
Let's say you play blackjack for four hours (about 240 hands). The cost of following basic strategy at $15 per hand will be about $18 on average. Just a little luck can tip you into the plus column. But if you deviate from basic strategy at $25 per hand (hitting instead of doubling or splitting), your average loss will be $180. You'll need much more luck to finish with a net win.
So whatever comps you get at the higher-limit table should be worth at least an extra $162 (180 - 18 = 162), or about $40 per hour. Keep in mind that comps at a rate of $40 per hour normally would go to a player who is betting about $125 per hand. If you're ever comped $40 per hour for $25-per-hand action, please drop me a line and tell me where.
In any case, the $15 table is the better value. Stick with basic strategy and don't chase the comps.