The 6-5 Jive

Do you play blackjack? If you do, you need to realize that an old blackjack rule of thumb ain’t what it used to be.

For many years, the reliable assumption was the fewer the number of decks being dealt, the better the odds for the player. Following that rule led to single-deck blackjack’s reputation as the game to play for best results. But that’s no longer the case, due to a single rule change that showed up more than a decade ago and is now in place on almost every single-deck blackjack game in Las Vegas: paying 6-5 on a natural, as opposed to the standard 3-2.

Does it really make that much of a difference? Absolutely! This seemingly slight change has the effect of raising the casino advantage from less than a half-percent to about -1.5 percent—worse than baccarat, the pass line at craps and many video poker games. Would you care if a $9 movie ticket suddenly cost $12? Of course you would. But what if that ticket became $17? Then you’d care a lot, and that extra $8 is about what it costs a $10 bettor to play an hour and a half (the time it takes to see a movie) of 6-5 blackjack as opposed to 3-2. The fact is, you’re better off playing 2-, 4-, 6- or even 8-deck blackjack games with traditional rules than the 6-5 single-deck game.

So why does anyone play 6-5 at all? Chalk it up to the public’s lack of math skills. People don’t understand fractions, and 6-5 just looks bigger than 3-2, or at least close enough not to matter. But do a little fifth-grade algebra and you’ll get it. Don’t worry: I’ll make it quick and painless. To make a valid comparison, you first have to convert to the lowest common denominator, which in this case is 10. So, a 6-5 payoff is the same as 12-10 and 3-2 is the same as 15-10. Assuming a $10 bet again, a blackjack dealt on a 3-2 game pays $15, while a blackjack at 6-5 pays only $12. It adds up. (Or rather, it doesn’t.)

Is there even a reason to play blackjack anymore? Sure there is—if you find the deal. A handful of casinos still offer single decks with a 3-2 payoff. Some of them have other compensating changes (such as restricted double downs), but their negative effects are trivial in comparison to getting that 3-2. You can still find the “classic” 1-deck blackjack game at the Riviera, Binion’s, the Four Queens, El Cortez, Silverton, Club Fortune on Boulder Highway and the Hacienda on Interstate 93 in Boulder City. They may deal it at one table only, but at least they deal it. Give ’em credit.