Posts Tagged ‘basic strategy’

Open Letter to Dr. Kevin Whitburn

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Dear Dr. Kevin Whitburn:

Last week I, like many blackjack writers, expressed skepticism about your new MOST Strategy and its claims to lead to a player edge of 1-6% without the involvement of card counting. In response, you replied with a condescending message that basically states that just because I don’t understand the strategy doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

You, of course, are right. Many things work that I don’t understand, which is why I am offering you the chance to prove to me that it does work. I am sure you are aware that there are a lot of scam artists out there and betting systems are a big gambling scam on the internet. While I’m not saying that you fall into that category, I am cautious about anyone who charges $150 to share their “secret.” I’m sure you understand.

If the MOST Strategy truly works as well as advertised, then it is a groundbreaking achievement in the world of blackjack and of course I would be happy to tell everyone to use it. Of course, I don’t want to spend $150 of my money to find out.

I guess what gives me the most pause concerning your system is that, by your own admission, you cannot prove that it works in a casino setting. You admit that “to demonstrate a clear winner in the untidy realm of games-of-chance is tougher than you might think” and you admit that you can’t “reliably separate out the underlying win-signal from the random luck it’s buried in.” And that seems to be the problem with your mathematical system that has not been tested in a casino: It doesn’t take into account the luck of the draw.

You also claim that the MOST Strategy “produces accelerated returns far exceeding those of aggressive growth investments in financial markets, but without the market uncertainties.” Oh, so your strategy is a better investment than the stock market? That’s a pretty bold statement considering the high element of chance in the game of blackjack, especially considering that MOST, at its core, is just a complex table-exiting strategy.

Your strategy is a math-based strategy that doesn’t require the player to be good at math, yet is better than basic strategy with card counting and even the stock market. You claim all of this despite not testing it in a casino by stating that “the math can actually cross-check itself.” Dr. Whitburn, since you are a scientist, I am sure you are aware that, generally speaking, scientists don’t go around professing that something is fact because of mathematical equations. The math is important, of course, but the theory also has to be tested. I remember learning about the Scientific Method in school. Of course, I also remember that it is necessary to eliminate variables (such as luck) in the experiment. Good luck with that.

Dr. Whitburn, I hope you do not see this letter as a personal attack. On the contrary, I hope you will see this as an opportunity to prove to me and to the world that the MOST Strategy does deliver on its promises. If you are willing to provide me with a complete free copy of your e-book, I would be happy to test your strategy in a casino environment and then let everybody know the results. As I said, if your strategy works then this is a monumental achievement in blackjack and I would be happy to admit that I was wrong to be skeptical. I look forward to hearing from you.

A Word on Counting Cards

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Your average person learned everything they know about blackjack from watching Rain Man. They learned that you can make money at a casino by hitting the blackjack table and counting cards. They learned that you need to be a math wiz or a savant to count cards. And finally, they learned that if you count cards properly you can get rich quick and walk out of the casino overflowing with cash.

Of course, none of that is true. I don’t blame Rain Man. That scene played out like most card-counting scenes in the movies and like most movies, the drama of the scene is more important than realism. Real card counting, however, doesn’t take a genius, but it takes considerably more time to make money. Instead of making millions in one night, it would be more realistic for that to happen in a year or a few years of consistent play.

Before I explain card counting, let me say this: I do not endorse card counting. Though it is not illegal, the casinos don’t appreciate it and if you are caught counting cards you will be asked to leave and may even be banned from that chain of casinos. In the old days of Vegas, worse things happened to you than that. Counting cards isn’t cheating, but it’s still frowned upon by the casinos, who don’t like the advantage it gives players. You should also note that it is not possible to count cards online, due to the random number generator acting as if the deck is shuffled after each card is dealt.

So what is card counting? Card counting, when done, should be done in conjunction with blackjack basic strategy. Where the counting comes in is in determining how many 10-value cards are remaining in the decks. Tens are more advantageous for the players than lower cards because more tens produce more blackjacks (which usually pay out 3:2). Therefore, a deck (or decks) rich in tens is good for the player and one that is low on tens is bad for the player. A card counter will usually bet high when there are a lot of tens in play and bet low when there are not.

That sounds complicated, right? So why don’t you need to be a math genius? For one thing, you’re not really keeping an accurate count of the cards that are played. That would require a math wiz. Instead of keeping track of all of the cards that are played and comparing that to the cards in the deck to determine which cards have not been played, card counters usually use a simple plus/minus system.

Instead of keeping track of every card that is played (2, 3, 4, etc.), card counters only track whether a card was high or low. High cards are tens and low cards are everything else. Though I’m not going to go into detail here about how to count cards, the basics are this: Simple card counting systems use a plus and minus one ratio. In this system, high cards are given a value of -1 and low cards are given a value of +1. As cards are dealt to the players and the dealer, the player adds or subtracts from the count accordingly. When the count gets high, there are a lot of tens left to play and the players will bet higher. When the count is low, they bet lower because there aren’t many tens left.

Sorry if I ruined that iconic scene from Rain Man for you. If it helps, the movie was right about one thing: K-Mart sucks.

Blackjack Strategy: Hard 17-21

Monday, February 1st, 2010

At long last, we are at the conclusion of my step-by-step strategy guide for hard hands. The right decisions to make in these situations is contingent on the odds. Certain cards are more likely to be dealt than others and you also have to play the percentages for what card the dealer has in the hole and what cards he will be dealt. To make things easier, math wizards who are a lot smarter than you or me have come up with the answers a long time ago. It’s called blackjack basic strategy and a chart of it can be found here. Memorizing that strategy will go a long way toward lowering the house edge and will cause you to win a lot more money (or lose less). Here is what to do when you have a hard 17, 18, 19, 20 or 21.

The strategy for these hands is simple. Stand. Always. No matter what the dealer has. Got it? Good.

First, let’s look at the obvious. A hard 17-21 is a good hand. There are only a few hands that can beat you. However, because your hand is so high, if you were to hit you would have a good chance at busting. Take a hard 17 for instance. There are only four cards that can help your hand if you hit: an ace, a two, a three or a four. If you receive any other card when hitting, you will bust and lose the hand. Not only that, but the card you are statistically the most likely to be dealt (a 10) is one of the cards that would bust you.

For that reason, it is best to stand on a hard 17. In doing so, you’re basically hoping that the dealer will bust. That is because a dealer will draw to a 17, so they will never stand on any hand lower than yours. If you have a hard 17, you need the dealer to bust (or you can have a push if you both have 17). Your odds are still better than trying to improve your hand, though.

The likelihood of hurting your hand rather than helping it only increases as your hand gets higher. A hard 18 can only be improved with an ace, two or three. Everything else would cause you to bust. It is also a difficult hand for the dealer to beat, since they would stand on a 17. You have a good chance of either beating a dealer 17 or having the dealer bust. In any case, your odds are significantly better to stand on the 18 than to try to improve your hand.

A hard 19 is an even better hand than an 18 and it can only be helped by an ace or a two. A hard 20 can only be helped by an ace. Both hands will bust if you draw anything else. They’re also very difficult for the dealer to beat without busting. A 21, of course, is impossible to beat (the best the dealer can do is tie with a 21 of his own).

For that reason, if you have a hard hand from 17 to 21, you should always stand.

Blackjack Strategy: Soft 19-21

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Welcome to the final segment in our ongoing series on blackjack strategy for soft hands. It’s been a fun journey, but all things must come to an end. Once you’re done learning this strategy, you will be ready to go out into the world with your newfound knowledge and make some money at a casino. Just make sure you have the rest of blackjack basic strategy memorized as well.

If you have a soft 19, 20 or 21, the strategy is very simple. Always stand. Stand if the dealer shows an ace. Stand if the dealer shows a 2-9. Stand if the dealer shows a 10. You should even stand if the dealer shows a 12. I realize that there is no card that has a value of 12, but if there was, you should stand then as well. Always stand.

Why should you stand? Well, because your cards are already pretty darn good. If you have a 21, there is no way to improve the hand and you cannot lose. At worst, you push, but you have a great chance of winning.

If you have a soft 20, then the only way you can improve your hand is by drawing a 1, and the odds are stacked against that happening. Anything else would make you turn the ace into a 1 and go with a hard hand that has a lower value than your 20.

If you have a soft 19, there are only two cards that can improve your hand: an ace or a 2. Your odds of drawing either of those cards is slim, so you have a better chance of winning if you stand and hope that you either beat the dealer’s hand or the dealer busts.

Bad Alternative Blackjack Strategies

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

People are always looking for ways to increase their odds in the casino. That’s why there are so many playing strategies out there and for each one, there is someone who knows someone it worked for. This goes for betting strategies and playing strategies. If these strategies are necessary for any game (and they’re usually not), they are definitely not good for blackjack.

The thing is, blackjack already has an accepted strategy that has been shown time and again to be the best way to reduce the house edge. It is the strategy usually referred to as “basic blackjack strategy.” Using this strategy and sticking to it over the long run will reduce the house edge to 0.5%. No other casino game has odds that good. To make matters better, players who can count cards effectively in addition to using basic strategy can actually tip the odds in their favor. For now, though, let’s look at the most popular alternative blackjack strategies and why you should avoid them.

The most common alternative strategy is the “never bust” strategy. This is the ultimate conservative strategy, where the plan is to make sure you never bust, thereby (in theory) increasing your chances of winning. While being conservative is a good idea in many things, it is not when it comes to blackjack. With this strategy, you won’t bust, but you will often have a lower hand total than the dealer.

In the “never bust” strategy, players never hit on a hand of 12 or more. The thinking is that you want to stop on a number where a 10-value card can cause you to bust. The problem is that if you stand on a 12, you’re only going to win if the dealer happens to bust. This conservative strategy of always standing on a 12 or more increases the house edge to approximately 4%.

There is another bad strategy where the player always assumes that the dealer has a 10 in the hole. It seems to make sense, since there are more 10-value cards than cards of any other value. The problem is that, though there are more cards with a value of 10 than with any other value, there are still 9 cards out of 13 that have a value other than 10. That means there is a 69% chance the hole card has a value other than 10. Add to that the fact that if the dealer has an ace up, in most casinos he will peek at his hole card to see if he has a blackjack. If he doesn’t, that means his hole card can’t have a value of 10. This strategy of assuming a 10 in the hole increases the house edge to approximately 10%, way higher than when following basic blackjack strategy.

The other common alternative blackjack strategy is to mimic the dealer. It makes sense, because the dealer usually wins, so it seems like a good idea to do what they do. However, the dealer wins because the rules are set in their favor (i.e. if both of you bust, you lose). Mimicking the dealer means the player would always hit on a 16 or less and stand on a 17 or more. Whether or not they hit a soft 17 depends on the casino rules. In any case, this strategy deprives the player of options that the dealer doesn’t have, such as doubling and splitting. Eliminating those options hurts the player. Playing this strategy increases the house edge to approximately 5.5%.

As you can see by the house edges, basic blackjack strategy (0.5%) has much better odds. Instead of looking for a way to beat the system or an alternative strategy that will beat basic strategy, it is a good idea to memorize basic strategy and use it every time, regardless of any streak you’re on.

Blackjack Strategy Cards

Monday, January 4th, 2010

If you’re a fan of blackjack and are reading up on the game to increase your odds, chances are you’ve seen a blackjack basic strategy chart. If not, then seriously, stop what you’re doing right now and study this chart.

Okay, now that we’re moving on, if you’re new to blackjack that chart may be a little intimidating. It’s a lot to remember, though it can certainly be done if you put in the effort. What if you want to play but don’t have it memorized yet, though? Do you have to just go by memory and do the best you can?

Fortunately, the answer is no. If you have not yet memorized the basic strategy cards, you can use them while you play. This is probably obvious when playing online blackjack. After all, when playing online you are going up against a computer rather than a human dealer and there are no other players at the table, so you can take as long as you want to make a decision. If you want to, you can look at the chart before every decision and no one will care. But what about in a casino?

Some people think that you are not allowed to use a basic strategy chart when playing blackjack in a casino. Other people think that while they are allowed, they are discouraged. Neither is true. The casinos have no problem with you using a basic strategy chart. In fact, some casino even hand them out to customers. Why would they do that when following the chart is to your benefit? Most players don’t have the discipline to stick to basic strategy even when they have the chart in front of them. As soon as they have a losing streak, most players will abandon the chart and go with their gut, which is often wrong.

Though you are allowed to use the charts, you should still be courteous. That means having the card easily accessible, look at it quickly and make a decision quickly. The other players don’t want to stand around all day waiting for you to make a decision.  So while there is no rule against using a strategy card, you should only use it if it doesn’t slow you down too much. That is why it’s a good idea to memorize it, which you should be able to do over time.