Posts Tagged ‘blackjack basic strategy’

Don’t be afraid to bust

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

There are a lot of mistakes that new blackjack players make pretty regularly. It’s okay; that’s going to happen to people who are new to any game and it’s part of the reason this blog exists. The biggest mistake that new players make is not sticking to blackjack basic strategy, though they do that for various reasons. One reason is that they think they have a better strategy. Another reason is if they just don’t remember it but are playing anyway without a strategy card. One of the most common reasons, though, is out of timidity.

New players are often intimidated by the thought of busting and play a bad strategy because of it. It is a problem that some blackjack players call “bustophobia.” Here’s an example of how the problem manifests itself:

You have a hard 16 and the dealer has a 7 as his up card. You know that you have a stiff hand and have a good chance of busting if you hit, so you stand, afraid of going over 21.

That is the wrong strategy. In that case, the odds and basic strategy say that you have the best chance of winning the hand if you hit. It’s true that you have a good chance of busting, but if you stand, you have a better chance of being outdrawn by the dealer. Now, if the dealer had a 2-6 as an up card, standing is the right call, because he might also have a  stiff hand.

Against a dealer 7, though, the odds say to draw. That is because with your hand, you have a 5 in 13 chance of improving your hand by drawing an ace, 2, 3, 4 or 5. Those odds sound bad, but consider this. The dealer has a 7 as an up card, that means he has a 4 in 13 chance of already having your hand beat, a 1 in 13 chance of having the same hand, and a 1 in 13 chance of having a soft hand.

Blackjack basic strategy isn’t some arbitrary thing that some dude thought up one day and has never been tested. It has been tested repeatedly and statistically proven to give you the best odds of winning. Even when it looks like the move it recommends is too risky, you should trust the math and stick with basic strategy. Don’t be afraid to bust; it will happen sometimes anyway and it’s not that scary!

Blackjack Strategy: Don’t mimic the dealer

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

I think most blackjack players know that basic strategy gives you the best odds over the long run. There is no shortage of bad strategies out there, though. One of the most common mistakes that new players make is mimicking the dealer.

I understand why people would do that. They probably know that the dealer has a statistical advantage in blackjack – called the house edge. If not, they at least know that the dealer plays a lot more blackjack hands than they do, so if he knows what to do they should follow him! The problem is that they are wrong.

Dealers will always hit on a 16 or less and always stand on a 17 or more, unless they are at a table where the dealer hits a soft 17. The dealer also never splits or doubles down. If the player mimics that strategy, that results in a house edge of 5.48%. By comparison, basic strategy results in a house edge of 0.5%.

So why is mimicking the dealer bad strategy? It is not the hit or stand rules that the dealer follows that gives him an edge. It is other rules, such as the fact that the players play out their hand before the dealer draws a third card, giving you an opportunity to bust first.

If you mimic the dealer, you are giving up two of the biggest weapons in your arsenal: splitting and doubling down. Splitting pairs appropriately gives you the change to win two hands instead of one when you have good hands. Likewise, doubling appropriately gives you a chance to win double the money on a good hand. Giving up those pieces of basic strategy gives up the chance to make up for your losing hands. So stop trying to mimic the dealer when playing blackjack and be yourself, as long as “yourself” is someone who follows basic strategy!

IN Supreme Court rules against card counters

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

You probably remember the case from 2006 when the Grand Victoria Casino banned Thomas Donovan because he was caught counting cards. Donovan took the case to court, suing over what he said was discrimination against players practicing a legal strategy. Eventually the case made its way to the Indiana state Supreme Court. Last week, that court made a ruling in the case that favors the state’s casinos.

Last week, in a 3-1 ruling with one justice abstaining from the case, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a casino’s right to ban card counters from its blackjack tables. As the casino’s supporters – and even me – pointed out, businesses have a common-law right to exclude customers who they feel are detrimental to their business. The Court agreed with that assessment, stating that as long as civil rights are not violated, business (including casinos) have the right to refuse service whenever they deem it necessary.

Justice Frank Sullivan, Jr. wrote that the right of exclusion for “private property owners” includes any casino “that wishes to exclude a patron for employing strategies designed to give the patron a statistical advantage over the casino.”

Not everyone agreed, though. The lone dissenting vote was by Justice Brent Dickson. He feels that casinos, because they’re so highly regulated by the government, do not have the same rights and privileges as other private businesses. In essence, he argues that casinos should have to follow the rules of government or government-sponsored enterprises, which requires them to serve the “general public.”

In Dickson’s dissenting vote, he wrote that allowing a casino to “restrict its patrons only to those customers who lack the skill and ability to play such games well intrudes upon the principles of fair and equal competition and provides unfair financial advantages” to the casinos.

Though the ruling has no direct impact on anyone outside of Indiana, it carries a message that I have been preaching to all blackjack players for some time: If you’re going to count cards, don’t get caught! The casinos frown upon it and will likely ban you. In the state of Indiana, that practice of banning has been upheld as constitutional. Meanwhile, adhering to blackjack basic strategy does not have to be a secret. You can even hold a strategy card while you play if you want.

Playing blackjack with soft hands

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Soft hands are great when it comes to women and blackjack. Aside from a pair of aces, which actually is also a soft hand, there is nothing I’d rather have in blackjack than a soft hand. Well, that’s not true, either. I’d rather have a blackjack or a 20. Still, soft hands are powerful hands that give you a lot of room to improve your hand without the risk of busting.

I have covered blackjack basic strategy for soft hands before, telling you what to do when you have a soft hand. This time, I want to go more into your mindset. In my mind, when you have a soft hand you are then the one with the advantage. You are the aggressor and should play accordingly. Too often I’ll see someone stand with a soft 17, probably because they think their hand is already pretty good, but it’s not. Since a dealer will draw to a 17, that hand will only win if the dealer busts. That means it’s not much better than standing on a soft 13 and no one would do that, right?

Still, from time to time you’ll see someone look at their soft 17, look at the dealer’s five up card and stand. And then the rest of the blackjack table groans and rolls their eyes. Not only should you not stand in that situation, but you should actually double down. Why? Because the dealer is likely to bust, so why not double your wager? After all, with a stiff hand you cannot bust.

Stiff hands allow you to be more aggressive in your play. If you have a good hand you can take a hit and try to make it into a great hand. If you draw a card too high, all that does is turn your ace into a 1 and you have a hard hand, but you can draw again.

In that situation, often times other players at the table and even the dealer will advise the player to hit. Usually they won’t listen. I can understand that, because the other players might not know basic strategy and the dealer, well, isn’t he the bad guy? The player is skeptical of the advice, much like I feel whenever a homeless person tells me a sob story about how his family was evicted and needs money for food yet rejects my idea to buy him a slice of pizza.

While it’s okay to listen to the advice of others, it’s best to know strategy yourself. That is why I always advise that players learn basic strategy before playing at any blackjack tables. If you don’t have it memorized, use a strategy chart while you play. The good thing about online blackjack is that you can take as much time as you need. You can look over a chart, look online and even call your friend the gambling expert and ask for advice. Just don’t do that in a Vegas casino.

Blackjack odds: How shuffle machines hurt your wallet

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

In the game of blackjack, there are a lot of things that can affect your bankroll. While the odds are the same as long as you stick to blackjack basic strategy, there are a number of things that can cause you to win or lose money faster. One such example is the shuffling machines.

Few dealers shuffle by hand today. Most use a shuffling machine, which can be a continuous shuffling machine or a non-continuous shuffling machine. In both cases, use of the machine results in you losing money faster, because it allows you to play more hands in the same period of time. Since, even with perfect strategy, the house has a slight edge, more hands means more money lost. There is also a difference between the two types of shuffling machines, though.

Continuous shuffling machines randomly shuffle the discards after every round is played. Compared to shuffling by hand, these machines allow you to play up to 20% more hands per hour, meaning you could lose 20% more money. With non-continuous automatic shufflers, an entire deck of cards is shuffled at a time once the deck is used up. Because the non-continuous machines require a stop in the action to shuffle cards, they do not allow as many hands to be played as with a continuous shuffling machine. However, it still moves the game faster than shuffling by hand. Therefore, a hand-shuffled game is the best to play, followed by a game with a non-continuous automatic shuffler. Your last choice should be a blackjack game with continuous shuffling machine.

The speed of play isn’t the only way the shuffling machines hurt your odds, though. If you are a card counter, those machines can really be a thorn in your side. For a card counter, the shuffling machine – especially the continuous shuffler – makes card counting much more difficult, because cards you counted as being used could suddenly be put back in play. Some players are able to use shuffle tracking with a continuous shuffler, though that can be combated with batch shufflers.

Blackjack odds: Will dealer bust with a 5 or 6 up card?

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Anyone schooled on blackjack basic strategy breathes a sigh of relief when they see the dealer draw a five or six as an up card. They know those are the worst dealer hands and they feel they have a good chance of winning. Players who don’t understand the blackjack odds, though, might assume that the dealer will bust and they will win. The truth is, that will happen less than half of the time.

The correct strategy against a dealer five or six up card is to stand if you have a 12 or higher, but that doesn’t guarantee success. Players look at the dealer up card and assume that they have a 15 or 16, given the fact that there are more ten cards in a deck than any other. However, there are only 4/13 odds of the dealer having a ten in the hole.

If the dealer has a 5 as an up card, there is a 4/13 chance that he has a hand of 15 because four cards (ten, jack, queen, king) give him that total. The dealer has a 7/13 chance of having any kind of stiff hand, which is a hand of 12-16. All stiff hands have good chances of busting, but your odds might not be as good as you think.

If the dealer has a five as an up card, he has a 41.8% chance of busting. He has a 12.2% chance of finishing with a hand total of 17, an identical chance of drawing an 18, an 11.8% chance of drawing a hand of 19, an 11.2% chance of finishing with a hand of 20 and a 10.8% chance of finishing with a hand of 21.

If the dealer has a six as an up card, he has a 42.3% chance of busting. He has a 16.6% chance of drawing a 17, a 10.6% chance of drawing an 18 or 19, a 10.2% chance of drawing a 20 and a 9.7% chance of drawing a 21.

What that means is if you have a hand of 12 and stand against a dealer 5 up card, you only have a 41.8% chance of winning the hand, because if the dealer finishes with any of those other totals, you lose. However, standing in that situation is still the best strategy because the risk of you busting if you take a hit.

Understanding the odds leads to making better decisions and getting more enjoyment out of the game of blackjack. Too many players get upset when they lose against a dealer five or six because they take a win for granted in that situation. Though your odds are good, they aren’t as good as most people think.

Blackjack odds: Drawing a natural blackjack

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

A natural blackjack is the best hand in the game. Players search for those ace-ten combinations. They love the prospect of a 3:2 payout and a guaranteed win (unless the dealer also has a natural blackjack). It’s the reason card counters keep track of the number of tens that have been played. It’s the reason we get excited by getting dealt an ace and worried when the dealer shows an ace. But how likely are you to draw a natural blackjack?

The likelihood of drawing a natural blackjack depends on the number of decks in play. Assuming an infinite number of decks, you or the dealer have a 4.73% chance of drawing a natural blackjack, which is once every 21 hands. If you’re worried about your blackjack being spoiled by the dealer also drawing a blackjack, which would lead to a push, that only happens 0.22% of the time, or once out of 450 hands.

If you or the dealer already have an ace, there is a 30.77% chance – or four out of 13 – of turning it into a natural blackjack. If you or the dealer already have a ten, there is a 7.69% chance – one out of 13 – of turning it into a blackjack.

The chances of these events happening whether at an online casino or land-based differs depending on the number of decks. In an eight-deck game, which is the most common at casino blackjack tables, there is a slightly higher chance of drawing a natural blackjack: 4.745%. In a six-deck blackjack game, you have a 4.749% chance of drawing a natural blackjack. There is a 4.756% chance of getting a blackjack in a four-deck game and in a single-deck game, the odds are raised to 4.83%. As you might have noticed, the odds increase as the number of decks decrease.

It is good to keep in mind the odds of drawing a blackjack, particularly when either you or the dealer have an ace or a ten card. Knowing your odds is key to successfully executing blackjack basic strategy.

Blackjack: Early surrender v. late surrender

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Though the move should be done sparingly, in certain situations surrendering is a wise decision in the game of blackjack. Forfeiting half of your bet automatically is usually not the best option, but in certain circumstances, basic blackjack strategy says to cut your losses. It is important to keep separate the two types of surrender, though: early surrender and late surrender.

First of all, whether you’re playing at an online casino or at a brick and mortar casino, you need to know that not all blackjack tables offer surrender as an option. It is usually available because the house counts on players using the surrender option when they shouldn’t, which amounts to throwing money away. Sometimes you cannot surrender, though. When you can, the blackjack table is only going to offer one of the two types of surrender. Therefore, it’s important to know which type is allowed.

Some people think that with a late surrender, you can surrender late in the hand, like right before you get to that card that would bust you or right before the dealer draws his last card. That’s not the case. It’s really quite simple. If the blackjack table has an early surrender, you choose whether or not to surrender before the dealer checks his hole card. With a late surrender, you decide after he checks. Let’s put it into a scenario.

The dealer gives you your cards and then deals himself a hole card and a ten card. If early surrender is allowed, you would then be asked if you want to surrender. If you do, it doesn’t matter what he has as a hole card. Even if it turns out he has a natural blackjack, you still only lose half of your bet. If the blackjack table has a late surrender, though, the dealer will check his hole card to see if he has a blackjack first. If he does, you lose. If he does not have a natural blackjack, he will then ask if you want to surrender.

For that reason, an early surrender is more beneficial to players. An early surrender allows players to save themselves from a natural blackjack whereas with a late surrender, the dealer checks for one first. For that reason, proper usage (according to basic strategy) of a late surrender only trims 0.08% off of the house edge. However, proper usage of early surrender reduces the house edge by 0.6%.

Blackjack Tips: Cards Face Up or Face Down?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

If you have been to enough casinos, you have noticed that the tables have cards dealt in one of two ways. They are either dealt face up or face down. In this blog, I will give you blackjack tips on which table to use.

First, you need to know that blackjack is a game of etiquette and there are different rules depending on how the cards are dealt. If the cards are dealt to players face up, you’re not allowed to touch the cards, including your own. Since they are facing up, there is no need to touch them. You can see them just fine already. By not letting the players touch the cards, the casino protects themselves against players marking the cards, swapping cards or engaging in other forms of cheating.

In blackjack games where the cards are dealt face down, it is a handheld game. In these games, you pick up the cards and hold them, but there are also specific rules for the handling of those cards. For one thing, you are only allowed to touch the cards with one hand. Again, this is to minimize the possibility of sleight of hand tricks. The cards must also be held over the table at all times. This is to avoid you hiding the cards below the table and making a switch.

You might be wondering which version of the blackjack game is better to play. If you are a card counter, my blackjack tip is to play at a game where the cards are dealt face up. That way, you can see what cards the other players have and it makes it easier to count cards and determine how many tens are in play. If the cards are dealt face down, you can only track your own cards and the dealer’s cards, making card counting more difficult.

If you are not a card counter and rely solely on blackjack basic strategy, it really doesn’t matter which game you play. I prefer face up games but that is only my personal preference. They also are more traditional. In both forms of blackjack, basic strategy can reduce the house edge to as low as 0.5%.

Blackjack strategy: playing the dealer

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Today I read a blackjack “tip” from a supposed gambling expert. That expert said that you should “aim to get closer to 21, not to beat the dealer.” I was shocked, since this is exactly the opposite of what I advise.

In the game of blackjack, the goal is not to get as close as you can to 21, though that is sometimes what people say. The goal is to beat the dealer. Whether you beat the dealer with a hand of 20 or a hand of 4, you get the same reward. Sure, most of the time you want to get close to 21 because the dealer is going to hit until he gets to 17 or better. However, people who follow a strategy of trying to get close to 21 often play too aggressively and hit when they should stand.

Playing to get closer to 21 ignores the chance of the dealer busting. If the dealer busts, you win with any hand, as long as you don’t bust as well. For example, if you have a hand of 12, that’s not very close to 21. Therefore, people following a “get as close to 21 as possible” strategy would take a hit regardless of the dealer’s hand. However, if the dealer has a hand of 4, 5 or 6, blackjack basic strategy says to stand.

You would stand on those hands because the dealer is likely to have a stiff hand, which is a hand between 12 and 16. With those hands, the person is likely to bust if taking a hit. Since you also have a stiff hand, taking a hit is risky. In this case, it’s best to stand and hope that the dealer busts. How likely is he to bust? Let’s break them down.

If the dealer has a hand of 14, there are five cards (3, 4, 5, 6, 7) he can draw that would beat your hand. The dealer can draw two cards (ace, 2) that would leave him with another stiff hand. There are six cards (8, 9, 10, J, Q, K) that would bust his hand. Therefore, if the dealer has a 14, there is a 8/13 chance that the card he draws will be bad for him and good for you.

Now let’s look at if the dealer has a hand of 16. Here your odds are even worse. There are only five cards (ace, 2, 3, 4, 5) that will help his hand and the other eight cards (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K) will bust him. Combine that with the fact that, with a 12, you have a stiff hand, you can see that the odds are best to stand and hope the dealer busts.

For that reason, you should ignore any advise that says you should get as close to 21 as possible. While that is part of the strategy, it is secondary to beating the dealer. Often, getting as close to 21 as you can gives you the best chance of beating the dealer, but that is not always the case.

As always, this strategy works in online casinos as well as in the brick and mortar variety.