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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Should You Play One Hand or Two at Blackjack?

11 October 2004

Most blackjack buffs play a single hand or spot per round. Some, however, enjoy the game more and believe they fare better on two spots. Putting aside solid citizens who switch back and forth hoping that doing so will alter the flow of the cards, presumably turning a cold shoe into gangbusters, does the game differ fundamentally for those who bet on two hands rather than one?

The answer depends on betting strategy. How much is at risk? Are bets constant or varying? And, with two hands, are wagers equal on each side? When time is a constraint, the total number of spots in action at the table will also be a factor. So there's no single rule that covers all the ways you might choose to play.

You can gain insights to help develop your own guidelines, however, by considering three alternatives. a) Bets of an amount with which you're comfortable on one spot. b) The same total, divided evenly between two hands. c) The original amount on each of two hands, doubling the gross at risk per round. In each instance, assume your bets remain constant during the session.

To obtain representative figures for comparison, pretend that you follow strict Basic Strategy, giving the house 0.4 percent edge. Also, that you plan to stay for three hours at a table with four spots in action overall, three others when you're betting on one hand and two when you're on two. This will give you about 250 hands working one spot and 500 working two during the session.

Criteria by which you might judge the options include where you're likely to be after three hours by continuing this long regardless of down- or upswings, the possibility of exhausting various size stakes before the clock runs out, and the likelihood of hitting some target before depleting your assets irrespective of how long it might take to get to one or the other extreme. As points of reference, these benchmarks will be evaluated for $20 on one spot, $10 on each of two, and $20 on each of two.

$20 on one spot: After three hours, the probability is 50 percent you'll be from $260 behind to $220 ahead, with 25 percent chances each of finishing lower or higher; the prospect of ending over $500 in the hole is 10 percent, while that of netting at least this much is 7 percent. The chances you'll crash and burn before completing three hours are 50 and 17 percent on budgets of $250 and $500, respectively. And, if you abandon the three-hour plan and play until you go broke or double your money, you have 48 and 46 percent shots at success, respectively, with these stakes.

$10 on each of two spots: After three hours, the probability is 50 percent that you'll be between $220 down and $180 up; you've only about 6 percent prospect of finding yourself worse than $500 down and 5 percent of being this much up. Starting with $250 and $500, you're facing 40 and 9 percent outlooks, respectively, for going kablooie before three hours elapses. And the promises are 47 and 44 percent of doubling these respective bankrolls, if you play until you either get there or bite the dust trying.

$20 on each of two spots: When three hours of blackjack have passed, you have 50 percent probability of being in the range of a $445 loss to a $365 win; you're facing 21 percent chance of dropping more than $500 and 18 percent of earning over this much. On a $250 or $500 poke, you've about 68 or 40 percent chances of busting out before the end of three hours. And, with these wads in your fanny pack, the likelihood you'll double your dough before scraping bottom is 48 or 47 percent, respectively.

Ultimately, by spreading specie from one spot to two, you give the house the edge on the total while reducing the associated volatility. For any specified amount at risk, this diminishes the peaks and valleys your fortune is apt to exhibit. Betting more increases the magnitude of the fluctuations but centers them around lower averages. Select combinations of these phenomena to suit your own temperament and casino goals. Sumner A Ingmark, the lauded laureate of the wagering world, said this about that:

True gamblers perceive they can't have it all,
The higher the rise, the deeper the fall.

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.