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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

A question of blackjack ethics

15 June 2007

Some time ago in a past column, I asked your opinion of whether it was morally right to keep a mistaken payoff from the blackjack dealer on a hand you actually lost. Many of you e-mailed back, saying it was the casino's responsibility to collect all losing bets, and you felt justified in keeping any errant payoffs.

Personally, I oppose that point of view and always point out any mistake I notice on my hand, whether it went for me or against me. But that's not what this article is about.

There's another entire facet of the game that I'm also not too sure about the ethics of – and it's worth more money than just keeping a mistaken payoff every once in a great while. Yet, I willfully take part in this strategic, though morally debatable, practice on a regular basis. What is it?

Here's an example. A good blackjack player should know that whenever he's dealt a pair of 2s, 3s, 6s or 7s against a dealer's 2 or 3 up, he's an underdog whether he hits, stands or splits. Basic blackjack strategy says to split all those hands simply because that happens to be the play that loses the least. Nevertheless, those hands are statistical losers no matter how you play them.

So when I'm dealt one of those hands, I usually ask the table what they think I ought to do with it. Somebody practically always knows you should split, and is usually eager to offer that sage advice. That same somebody, however, never seems to realize that even the correct move is still a "moneyloser" rather than a "moneymaker". Then I'll ask that very person if he wants to go partners on my split.

After flaunting his blackjack prowess about a hand that looks pretty decent on the surface, he usually can't resist taking me up on my offer. Now, what I've done is relieve myself of half my financial liability on an overall losing hand.

I normally experience no guilt over "snookering" somebody this way, win or lose. It's well within the rules of the game and usually saves me money – albeit at another player's expense. After all, I rationalize, he would've never taken me up on my offer if he didn't think he was about to make money on my hand. Besides, these players are often the belligerent types who are constantly pointing out how they would've won their hand if I'd played mine according to their standards.

But the other night was different. I was playing with a well-dressed, businesslike woman who seemed to know her basic strategy cold. It didn't bother her one bit when I hit my 12 against a 3 – because she did too. She also hit her soft 18 against a 9 – both textbook plays. When I stood with 4/5/7 against a 10 and the dealer made 20 out of his 15 to beat us both, she didn't say boo. She was a real lady.

Soon, I was dealt 6/6 against the dealer's 3. "Are you supposed to split these?" I asked her quizzically. Without hesitation she nodded in the affirmative, murmuring, "Split against 2 through 6". So I popped the standard question, "You wanna' go partners on them?" She amiably slid me the chips and we did just that. One of the 6s turned into a double down and we proceeded to lose all three bets.

I was initially gratified that I'd saved myself one-and-a-half units on the hand, but this time I left the table feeling a little guilty. This nice lady wasn't criticizing people, she wasn't "quarterbacking" my hands after we saw how they turned out and I just didn't feel she should've been taken advantage of like that.

Since that "moral epiphany", I've toned down the "pawning off" of my losing pairs somewhat. Now, I'll usually just say to somebody, "Geez, I hate this hand. Would you split these?" After they reply in the affirmative, I'll pause and say something like, "Naw, I dunno. I usually lose my butt with these".

It's surprising how often this person will grab some chips and say, "Here, I'll split them with you." At that point, I'll assume he's trying to take advantage of my blackjack ignorance, and I'll share my underdog pair with him.

What's your take on the ethics of this play? E-mail me at Blackjack Ethics. I'll post some of your responses next month.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey