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Should You Play Multiple Spots at Blackjack?19 May 2000
Some blackjack buffs play two or more hands per round -- all the time or when they think conditions warrant. Reasons range from the subtle if not sublime to the irrational if not ridiculous.
Gambling gurus agree on three effects of playing multiple spots. Other aspects of this practice are, well, more controversial.
The most obvious point of accord is the number of decisions a player will get during a particular time span. As a rule of thumb, when "n" positions are in action at a table with an experienced dealer and proficient players, each spot should average about 420/(n+1) decisions per hour. A solid citizen camped on one spot, playing heads-up against the dealer, therefore gets 420/2 or 210 decisions per hour. Two players on one spot apiece each get 420/3 or 140 decisions per hour.
So, say you're in a game with three other players. You're all betting one spot each. You should be averaging 420/4 or 105 decisions per hour. If you switch to two spots and the others stay at one, each position will get 420/5 or 84 decisions per hour. Since you're on two positions, you can expect to increase the action you see from 105 to 2x84 or 168 decisions per hour.
Another generally acknowledged effect is that playing multiple spots moderates bankroll swings for the same total wager. Intuitively, this results from instances in which one bet wins and the other loses. The phenomenon can be described precisely in terms of the characteristic bankroll fluctuation per round -- a quantity the statistics crowd calls "standard deviation."
Starting a round with $30 on one position yields an average gain or loss of $33.90. Fluctuation drops to $28.28 with $15 on each of two spots, and $26.14 with $10 on each of three. After 500 rounds, roughly half of all players will be from $590 behind to $430 ahead betting $30 on one spot, $500 down to $350 up with $15 on two spots, and $470 poorer to $320 richer at $10 on three spots. For the same total, spreading the bets narrows the range.
The third area of consensus on multiple spots concerns players who "count cards" and raise their bets when they have a temporary edge. Adding positions gets more money on the table without necessarily hitting the upper limit on wagers the casino will accept. It also avoids attracting attention from the pit bosses.
But, ask bettors who change numbers of positions during the course of a game why they do it. You're unlikely to get any of the above answers. You're more apt to hear that adding a hand "changes the flow of the cards" when everyone is doing badly. The implication is that the change will be beneficial. Within this theory, by the way, are divergent corollaries as to playing one round with the extra hand then dropping back immediately, keeping the new spot active, or something in between. As for explanation, don't expect math or science. This is more like astrology and alchemy. It has to do with cards clumping or forming patterns that favor some number of spots over others.
You can't totally discredit astrology and alchemy. They got civilization through the middle ages when nobody even thought about algebra and calculus, let alone probability. So the more controversial reasons for playing multiple spots may actually be tenable, just not subject to verification using the limited knowledge of the 20th century. Maybe the numero-noodniks simply haven't figured out the right way to apply the emerging theory of chaos to the way cards are shuffled by blackjack dealers. It's also possible, of course, that the idea may be absurd. That it's accepted by players who rely on anecdotal evidence rather than data, or who remember when it works and forget when it fails.
Nobody knows for sure. Personally, I tend to reject strategies that involve patterns in the cards being drawn. But, I'll admit occasionally switching from one spot to two after a series of losing rounds, sometimes to the good and others not. It's as Sumner A Ingmark, the muse of misgivings, once wrote:
Many remedies, I assert,
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