Posts Tagged ‘basic strategy chart’

Risk of Blackjack Variations

Friday, April 9th, 2010

One of the great things about the game of blackjack is its simplicity. Basic strategy is fairly simple to learn if you take the time to acquaint yourself with it. Because of its simplicity, however, there is plenty of room for variations in the rules. There are countless rule variations common to casinos, online casinos, cruises and friendly games. I have even covered some of the most common blackjack variations, such as pontoon and double exposure.

However, there is a risk to playing any of these blackjack variations that some people don’t think about. Most players will lose a lot more money playing blackjack variations than playing the traditional game. One reason for that is that most blackjack variations have a higher house edge than the standard game. However, there is more to it than that.

Blackjack is a rare casino game in that it requires skill and if you have enough skill and play using proper basic strategy, you can actually make money at the blackjack table. However, making money is contingent on sticking to strategy and making the correct decisions. Because the blackjack variations change the rules of play, they often require a different strategy than the traditional game. The strategy is often similar, but with subtle variations. If you play with the basic strategy for the traditional game, you could be victimized by the rule changes.

What’s worse, often players will abandon strategy entirely when playing the different blackjack variations. This is especially true if it’s their first time playing that variation. It makes sense. You see a new game and are excited to play blackjack in a different way. Therefore, you get caught up in the excitement and forget about basic strategy. Also, if there are many complex rule variations in that blackjack game, you may focus on remembering all of those and simply waiting for one of those unique situations to occur, forgetting about the rest of the game.

Luckily, if you play blackjack variations online, it is easier for you to combat those bad habits. One advantage of playing online blackjack is that you’re playing on your own. There are no other players at your table waiting for you and there is no dealer. It’s just you and the computer. For that reason, if you’re playing a blackjack variation online, I advise finding the correct basic strategy chart for that game, making sure you understand all of the rules, and playing at a pace that allows you to play mistake free. That way you can take advantage of the perks of the variations without all of the negative elements.

Blackjack Mistakes: Going With Your Gut

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Nothing will get you in bigger trouble at the blackjack table than your gut. And no, I don’t mean that eating or drinking too much will make your wife hate you. I don’t mean you won’t fit in the chair or anything like that. I’m talking about playing hunches.

Hunches are important and a lot of great things have come from playing them. Listening to your gut can give you the edge in sports like baseball, in creative activities like writing or painting, or when taking a test (remember that advice of going with your first guess?). However, it doesn’t work in blackjack.

Here’s how it plays out. You’re thinking, Okay, I have 16, which is pretty high, and the dealer is showing a 7. I don’t want to bust. I think I will if I hit, so I’ll stand. I have a feeling on this one. Blackjack isn’t a game of hunches. It’s a game of odds and percentages. In poker, for instance, you can play a hunch on whether or not your cards beat your opponent’s cards, because you’re basing your decision not only on your odds, but on the behavior of the other player. With blackjack, however, you are playing against nothing but the odds. You have to make a decision about whether to hit or stand before the dealer even draws any cards. You don’t know what hole card the dealer has and you don’t know what card is next in the deck. Therefore, playing a hunch can’t help you.

What card is next in line to be dealt is next regardless of whether or not you’re feeling lucky. Blackjack basic strategy, however, has been tested time and again my statisticians and other people a lot smarter than me. Those people have found that following basic strategy gives you the best odds of winning. Following the strategy may not help you win that hand, but in the long run it will give you the best chance for success.

Looking at the above example, the player’s gut said to stand because hitting a 16 gives you a good chance of busting. That’s true. However, standing gives you an even bigger chance of being outdrawn by the dealer if he shows a 7. Blackjack basic strategy takes into account that there are more cards with a value of 10 than any other value (4 out of 13). Because of that, the strategy recognizes that you or the dealer are more likely to draw a 10 card and the dealer’s hole card is most likely to be a 10. Now let’s go back to that example.

If the dealer shows a 7 and his hole card is most likely to be a 10, then the odds say his hand is a hard 17. The dealer would stand on a hard 17, so he wouldn’t draw another card and risk busting. Since you stood on a 16, you would lose by being outdrawn. Of course, if you hit you are also most likely to draw a 10 card, which would cause you to bust, but the odds say you are more likely to draw a card of 5 or more than to outdraw a dealer who shows a 7.

In that particular example, there is no good choice. Any hand of 12-16 is a stiff hand, and the odds are against you whether you hit or stand. However, in the long run, hitting in that situation will cause you to win more often than when you stand.

Another problem with playing a hunch is that you can get caught up in streaks. If you are winning a lot then you might play more aggressive and if you’re losing you might be more cautious. However, the game of blackjack doesn’t care what kind of a streak you’re on. The cards are dealt at random, so each hand is unique. Deviating from basic strategy because you’re on a winning streak is the easiest way to put that streak to an end. Instead of letting emotions dictate your decisions, you should always play the odds, which means to stick to basic strategy.

The only exception to that rule is if you’re counting cards. If you are counting cards and feel that there is either an exceptionally large or small amount of 10 cards remaining in the deck, then you may want to deviate from basic strategy. Card counters employ a strategy that takes the odds of basic strategy and alters them by adjusting the likelihood of a 10 card being drawn.

Your gut may be good for a lot of things, such as telling whether a movie starring Adam Sandler will be any good (it won’t), whether you should wear a suit to that job interview even though the workplace is business casual (you should), and deciding whether it’s worth it to get 3 tacos from Taco Bell for only $0.99 (it’s not). However, your gut does you no good in blackjack. Stick to the chart.

Blackjack Strategy: Soft 15-16

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

As I wrote in an earlier post, soft hands are valuable to the players because there is no possibility of going bust. A soft hand is a hand in which an ace is given a value of eleven. However, if you draw a card that would make that hand bust, the ace is then given a value of 1. The adaptable value of a soft hand makes them a good hand to have. Yesterday, I wrote what to do if you have a soft 13 or soft 14. Here is what to do if you have a soft 15 or 16. The strategy for these soft hands, like all soft hands, can be found on any blackjack basic strategy chart.

If you have a soft 15 or 16 and the dealer’s upcard is a 4, 5 or 6, then you should double down. If the dealer shows any other card, you should take a hit.

Like a soft 13 or 14, you would never stand on this hand because it’s a weak total that is easy for the dealer to beat and you can’t bust by taking another card. By taking away the possibility of busting, you are removing the risk of drawing another card, so there is no reason to not attempt to improve your hand. If when you take another card it causes you to make the ace a 1, then you now have a hard hand and should play that hand according to the proper basic strategy.

If the dealer shows a 4, 5 or 6, he probably has a stiff hand with a good chance of busting. That is because basic strategy recognizes that the dealer has a good chance of getting a 10 when taking a hit. If the dealer shows a 4, 5 or 6, he either has a total that will bust if he draws a 10 or will bring him to another stiff hand, which again would bust if he is dealt a 10. Therefore, since you have a good chance of winning anyway even if you don’t improve your hand, doubling your bet is a good move. If you’re going to win, you might as well win more.

Blackjack Strategy: Soft 13-14

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

In blackjack, an ace can have a value of 1 or 11, at the player’s choice. If the player uses the ace as an 11, it is called a “soft hand.” Though you are dealt “hard hands” more often, being a good blackjack player requires knowing the correct strategy for both. The strategy for soft hands is contained in any blackjack basic strategy chart, but here is more information.

The most important thing to remember is that you can never bust with a soft hand. If you draw a hand that could cause your soft hand to bust, that simply gives your ace a value of 1 and gives you a hard hand. You would then play according to the correct hard hand strategy. Since soft hands have an 11-value for the ace, the soft hands range from 13 (ace and a 2 card) to 21 (ace and 10-value card). Here is what to do if you have a soft 13 or soft 14 (more soft hand strategy will be revealed later):

Strategy is the same for a soft 13 and a soft 14. For both, you should double down if the dealer has a 5 or 6 as his upcard. If the dealer shows anything else, you should hit.

You should never stand on this hand because it’s a weak hand that is easy to beat and you can’t bust by drawing another card. Therefore, there is no risk to taking a hit. If you are dealt a 10-value card, you have the same hand (except it is now a hard hand) and almost everything else you can be improves your hand.

I said almost everything else. If you have a soft 13, being dealt a 9 does not improve your hand, because that would leave you with a hard 12. If you have a soft 14, being dealt an 8 or 9 would not improve your hand, because that would leave you with a hard 12 or hard 13 respectively. Still, due to the odds of improving your hand, taking another card is the high-percentage play.

If the dealer shows a 5 or 6, he has a stiff hand and has a good chance of busting. Therefore, doubling your bet is the percentage play there. Even if you don’t improve your hand, the dealer busting would cause you to win, because you can’t bust on a soft hand.

If you follow the above strategy along with blackjack basic strategy, you have better odds of winning. Coming soon: Strategy for a soft 15 and 16.

Blackjack Etiquette

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

If you are reading this blog, you most likely either want to learn how to play blackjack or you want to become a better player. Some of you may only want to play online blackjack, but many will eventually take their skills to a brick and mortar casino. If you do, you need to be able to sit at the table and play your game of choice without being “that guy.”

You know who I mean. That player that makes everyone roll their eyes and mutter obscenities under their breath. That guy always sits near me at football games and often finds his way to my blackjack table as well. That guy can completely ruin your experience. If you don’t know what I’m talking about and have never experienced this phenomenon, then congratulations! You’re that guy.

One thing that you need to know is the hand signal for each decision. These signals were covered in an earlier blog post. The important thing to remember is that the hand signals make it clear to the “eye in the sky” what decision you made, thus minimizing any disputes.

Another thing to remember is that it’s your job to know blackjack basic strategy, not the dealer’s. Yes, the dealer knows what you should do, but why should he tell you? And why should all of the other players wait around while you get advice? Don’t bother the dealer by asking for advice. Make your own decisions based on your understanding of basic strategy.

That brings me to another thing. If you don’t have basic strategy memorized, it’s okay to bring a basic strategy chart with you. Some casinos even hand them out. However, just because you have a chart to look out doesn’t mean it’s okay to spend all day staring at it while trying to make a decision. The chart shouldn’t be consulted before every decision. You should glance at it if you need help every now and then. If your knowledge of blackjack strategy is so weak that you need to look at the chart more often than that, then you need to pick a table where you’re by yourself or practice at home.

As a common courtesy, if you are just watching other people play, give them space. Don’t look over their shoulder or crowd them. Players don’t like having people too close to them or distracting them in any other way. For the same reason, keep your talking to a minimum. A blackjack table isn’t like a barbershop, or even a poker table, where there is more chitchat. Players at a blackjack table are there to play and don’t want to be distracted.

At some blackjack tables, your cards are dealt face up, whereas at others they are dealt face down. If your cards are dealt face up, you are not allowed touch the cards. Leave them on the table and don’t touch them. If the cards are dealt face down, you are allowed to touch the cards to look at them. It is never acceptable to touch chips that are not yours or to touch other players, unless of course they’re on fire or something.

And one final thing that many novices don’t think of is tipping the dealer. It is expected that if you play at a table for long enough you should tip the dealer, especially if you’re winning. It’s understandable to not want to give the dealer extra money if he’s taking all of it from you anyway. To tip the dealer, simply place a chip above the betting circle (closer to the dealer) after your hand. Or if you want to be cool, you can place a bet on the dealer’s behalf by placing an additional bet outside your betting circle, toward the dealer.

If you listen to all of these suggestions, everyone at your table will appreciate it. Maybe you’ll even make some new friends at the table, rather than having people cursing your name after you leave. I know I like it better that way.