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Ask the Wizard #32

Love your site. I've even taken your blackjack data and made it into a full-color pocket-sized page that I carry in my briefcase for those unexpected trips to Vegas. I've memorized and follow your rules and generally do well (but of course there are times when I lose.) Two questions, you said in a previous answer that you don't cap your winnings. How do you determine when to stop? When have you "won enough" so you avoid regression toward the mean and lose it back?

Second question, does the number of hits one takes effect the outcome? For example, if I have five cards that total 15 against a dealer's 10, am I pressing my luck by taking a sixth card? In other words, are the odds of busting on a 5-card 15 the same as busting on a 2-card 15?

Chris from Gaithersburg, USA

Thank for the compliment and I'm happy to help your bankroll last longer. When I gamble for fun I keep playing until it isn't fun any longer. Usually the fun ends when I have lost too much or have played too long. With the ups and downs of blackjack it takes hundreds of hours before regression toward the mean will cause actual results to look like expected results. Furthermore, the player who puts a conservative cap on their winnings is never going to experience the fun of a long hot winning streak. Keep in mind this is just what works for me. You should do what you are comfortable with. Everything I have to say about money management can be summarized by the following two rules (1) don't gamble with money you can't afford to lose, and (2) don't gamble if it isn't fun.

Regarding your second question, there is something to be said about the composition of a hand. The fewer the decks the more this is true. My blackjack appendix 3A and appendix 3B show the exceptions to single- and double-deck blackjack, based on the composition of the hand. These appendices show that the more cards that are in your hand the more inclined you should be to stand. Regarding your 15 against a 10 example, there are two situations in single deck blackjack where you should stand when the 15 is composed of 5 cards, A+A+A+6+6 and A+A+3+5+5. Note that in both of these situations either two fives or two sixes have left the deck which are the two most helpful cards for the player. The two situations where you should be the most inclined to stand if you have a multiple card hand are 16 against a 10 and a 12 against a 3.

I just got to your site and like it a lot. Is there a table for hits and splits when playing European blackjack? It seems like there should be some remedy for the house taking all the doubles and splits on blackjack.

Jim from Widdleton, Wisconsin

Since you asked I added a blackjack strategy for European blackjack to my site. I also discussed this topic in one of my recent newsletters.

When playing online blackjack, how do you tell when the deck is shuffled? I play Microgaming casinos (which you report as using 1 deck), but I do not know if each time I play if it is a new deck, and there are no signs of knowing when the deck is shuffled.

Brian from State College, USA

Most online casinos shuffle after every hand. Others shuffle at random times but do not indicate exactly when to the player. I have noticed Microgaming casinos flash the word "shuffling" about one hand in four.

However, if you track the cards between these announcements you will sometimes see the same card twice, which is impossible in a single-deck game, assuming you believe them about when they shuffle. As far as I know, they actually shuffle after every hand, but for reasons I do not understand, only indicate a shuffle occasionally. If I remember correctly, Cryptologic casinos do indeed indicate when they are shuffling their eight-deck shoe.

Is there a way of combining bets in roulette to maximize one's odds? For example, a dozen bet pays out 2 to 1. If I place two dozen bets, say the first and second set of 12, I have a 63.16% chance of having it pay off. These are better odds then a simple red/black, even/odd, or high/low bet. Although I really only gain 1 to 1 rather than 2 to 1(if I win, since part of my bet has to lose since the winning number cannot be in both the first and second set of twelves), the odds have been slightly shifted in my favor by combining two bets. Have the odds on these sorts of combinations been determined? If they have been, where might I be able to find them?

K from USA

As long as you stay away from the 0-00-1-2-3 combination, the house edge on any combination of bets is always exactly 1/19, or 5.26%. There are ways to increase your probability of winning, but at the cost of winning less relative to your total wager.

In a six-deck shoe, what is the percentage of times that a blackjack (ace face card or ten) will come up?

Ed from Lynnwood, USA

Let n be the number of decks. The probability of a blackjack is 2*(4/13)*(4n/(52*n-1)). If n=6 the probability is 192/4043 = 4.75%.

Enjoy your site more than any other gambling site. I am curious about how realistic the randomness of your Java baccarat game is. I've played it for many hours and have been using a strategy that appears to win every time now. I am fearful to try my strategy at a casino though, because I'm unsure of how random your game is. The strategy is to begin with a $5 bet on Banker and with each loss bet one more unit and with every win subtract one more unit. I've only been down about $300 at the most, but usually will get to $1,100 or $1,500 within about 200 hands. What are your thoughts?

Michael from Fort Worth, Texas

My Java games are based on the random number generator that comes with Visual J++. For personal play, it should be quite fair. I speculate that any bias would only show up over millions of hands. Your results are not the result of a biased random number generator but of both luck and a progressive betting system.