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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Should You Play Multiple Spots at Blackjack?

6 December 1999

Blackjack buffs generally have the option of covering multiple spots at the same table -- that is, playing two or more hands per round. Some bettors use this opportunity to vary the number of positions played during the course of a shoe. Others utilize it uniformly, always betting on two or more spots.

The most common reasons for changing numbers of spots in action are in the realm of superstition. Swarms of solid citizens, sure it "changes the flow of the cards," add or remove spots to break dry spells. Packs of players are equally positive that probability of success is greatest if the number of positions dealt is in synch with the pattern of the cards. Faith in such fancies is fortified when more or fewer hands are dealt and the table improves. But the converse isn't true; if a change brings no improvement -- or worsens the situation -- the devout just mutter that the dealer was so hot nothing could help.

Less frequently, aggressive bettors increase the number of spots they have in action to wager above the posted maximum for the table. For instance, in a game with limits from $10 to $500, a player who's progressed to $500 and is still going strong can get up to $500 more on the layout by adding a position. Likewise, players who think the cards remaining to be dealt are rich in high values, and therefore favorable to the good guys, add spots as a way to grab a larger fraction of the potentially profitable hands for themselves. These motivations achieve the direct objectives -- bigger bucks in action and a higher proportion of the total hands; the effect on bankroll is somewhat more obtuse.

Choosing between single and multiple spots for the same overall exposure, as a uniform strategy, is another issue altogether. Players typically have an intuitive notion that it boosts income when the game is hot and moderates losses when it's cold. The logic for two hands involves winning both if strong cards are coming their way and the dealer is busting, and raising the chance of pushing by picking up one and dropping the other rather than losing outright if the table is in the doldrums.

Consistently betting on multiple spots does make a predictable difference. It mitigates the inherent volatility or fluctuation to which a player is subject. For the same total bet, the range of bankroll swings expected during a normal session accordingly decreases. This may be good or bad. Players typically go less deeply into the hole when fortune is frowning, but won't earn as much when it's smiling.

I'll give you some figures to show what I mean. Say you play blackjack with rules and a strategy such that the house edge is 0.75 percent, you bet a total of $60 per round, your bankroll is $1,000, and you'll walk away happy with a $500 profit. Here's what you can expect: (a) Betting $60 all on one spot carries a 33 percent chance of running through $1,000 before completing 200 rounds, offset by a 27 percent probability of netting over $500. (b) Playing two spots at $30 each cuts the risk of ruin to 24 percent, but trims the likelihood of clearing over $500 to 23 percent. (c) Going all the way to six spots at $10 each shaves the likelihood you'll go home in a barrel to 17 percent, but also reduces your chance of earning $500 to 19 percent.

As is often the case, gamblers having express goals can adopt a corresponding strategy. For the same total bet per round, going for broke in pursuit of a big score suggests a single spot. Reducing exposure while settling for smaller wins suggests spreading across several hands. The greatest change occurs in going from one to two hands, and gradually tapers off as more spots are added. There's no right or wrong, but there may be an approach that's ideal for you. As the trade-off troubadour, Sumner A Ingmark, once intoned:

The search for what's the very best,
Is not what works for all the rest,
But object of a private quest.
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.