House edge, casino hold money are different casino language

Dear Mark,

While noting that everyone on our blackjack table was losing, in casual conversation with a pit boss I asked how he thought the casino was doing that evening. He replied; "We're probably going to hold about 50 percent." Seems high, especially since you have stated that blackjack is one of the best games in the casino to play.

Harry S.

Don't confuse, Harry, the "house edge," which is nil against a perfect basic strategy player and approximately 5 percent against the Average Joe who plays by the seat of his pants, with what the pit boss referred to as the "casino hold."

The "hold" percentage is nothing more than the ratio of chips the casino keeps to the total amount of chips sold, generally measured over an eight-hour period, which in your case, was probably swing shift.

For example, if the blackjack table you were on sold $10,000 in chips and dropped the currency in the box, and the table ended up keeping $5,000 of those chips (players cashing in the other $5,000), then that particular table game would hold 50 percent for the evening. If players were to lose their entire purchase of chips they bought off the game, then the hold would be 100 percent. (It can even exceed 100 percent, Harry, if players purchase chips from one table and lose them on another, like the table you were on).

Dear Mark,

My brother-in-law seems to think that by mimicking the dealer in blackjack, the house has no advantage, even on a shoe game in Atlantic City. For instance, he always hits up to 16, and always stands on a soft 17 or more. What do you think of his system?

Clark B.

Listen up, brother-in-law of Clark B.: The only advantage the dealer has over you in blackjack is that you must act on your hand before the dealer takes action on his. Rule variations have some effect on the player's expected return, but not on the casino's sole advantage of having players whack away and bust before the dealer exposes the hole card. The one advantage most players have over the casino is the ability to quit while ahead, though that probably would exclude your b-in-l when making use of the foolhardy system of mimicking the dealer.

Your question, Clark, was a bit vague in that you didn't specify just how far your brother-in-law travels in mimicking the dealer. You state that in mimicking the dealer, your brother-in-law would always hit 16 or less and stand on 17 or more, but I'm also guessing on thin ice, I know, that your brother-in-law, true to his mimicry regime, never doubles or splits pairs, since the dealer is not allowed to do so.

Therefore, using Atlantic City rules: 8 decks, and the dealer standing on soft 17, if bro were to totally mimic the dealer, the house edge on him would be about 5.5 percent, slightly worse than that enjoyed by the Average Joe, seat-of-his-pants player.

Gambling quote of the week: "The table was bulging with players while a crowd formed from nowhere. I swear, people must have come in off the street. It was as if someone changed the Dune's famous sign from All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet after 4 p.m. to All-You-Can-Win Craps Table Going On Right Now."

-John Gollehon,

"A Gambler's Bedside Reader" (1998)

n Contact Mark Pilarski at pilarski@mark or http://mark


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