I receive many questions from blackjack players. Below are a few of them with tips on how to tip a dealer, what to do if a dealer makes a mistake and what you should do if a casino oversteps the legal rights of a player.
I receive many questions from blackjack players. Below are a few of them with tips on how to tip a dealer, what to do if a dealer makes a mistake and what you should do if a casino oversteps the legal rights of a player.
To encourage more players to visit the blackjack tables and also to improve their margins, many casinos have added side bets.
These innocent-sounding gambles usually require a rather small wager (typically a dollar) and generally return better than the customary even-money blackjack payoffs.
It’s a competitive market for side bets. Each year at Global Gaming Expo, the casino industry’s premier trade show (Global Gaming Expo), you will find a countless number of enthusiastic vendors pitching their side bets to casino officials.The reality, however, is many of them never make it to the casino floor, and the few that do die quickly because of lack of player interest.
A FRIEND OF MINE WAS watching me play blackjack in a casino. I was playing heads-up against the dealer in a double-deck game. He didn’t say much to me while I was playing, other than giving me an “atta boy” when I beat the dealer, or offering condolences when the dealer pulled a miracle draw to beat me.
After about 45 minutes of playing we broke for lunch. My friend is a typical, casual blackjack player and he queried me about some of the insurance bets I made. “How come you sometimes insured your 20’s and other times you didn’t? And why in hell did you insure your 7? I always thought you’re supposed to insure your good hands and not your bad hands?”
I proceeded to explain to him the following:
We all know what to do when you get pocket Aces or eights at the blackjack table…split!
But, what is the right play when you take your first hit and there is a decision to take another card…or not?
We’ll show you!
Sometimes you will see a blackjack player playing two hands instead of one. Other times, you might see a player who has been playing one hand suddenly spread to two hands in the middle of the shoe because he has the misconception that, by “changing the flow of cards,” he will change the luck of the table. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as you are just as likely to keep losing as you are to start winning, so switching to playing two (or more) hands will not guarantee your luck will change.
The one question I am asked most often is “What can I do to win more when I play blackjack?” What follows are some simple steps you can take to do just that.
Learn the “Wizard’s Simple Strategy”
If you don’t have the time or the energy to memorize the complete basic playing strategy, then learn the “Wizard’s Simple Strategy.” Michael (“Wizard of Odds”) Shackleford developed the strategy, and it appeared in issue No. 116 of my Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com). The strategy is easy to learn and increases the house edge by 0.14 percent above the traditional basic playing strategy. It’s an ideal strategy for beginners and casual players, and it sure beats guessing when it come to deciding how to play your hand.
You sometimes see blackjack players splitting a pair of 10s, especially when the dealer is showing a 5 or 6 upcard. They figure, “Why not split the 10s to get more money on the table when the dealer has a good chance of busting with the 5 or 6.” Sounds logical, but is it really the best play? Let’s see.
So what makes a blackjack game awful, you ask? For average players (i.e., players who are not card counting), it is all about the house edge. Your best games have a house edge of half a percent or less (assuming you are using the basic playing strategy), and the awful games have house edges that exceed half a percent.
Let’s start with the really bad games (and then work backwards). (more…)
There are three main myths about the game of blackjack that I would like to set the record straight about once and for all. These myths baffle the people who are seasoned to the game. So, if you believe that blackjack is luck or other people’s behaviors cause you to loose, you should read this column and learn the truth.
1. Blackjack is a game of luck.
On any one hand or session, luck plays a major role on whether you win or lose. But during your lifetime, luck will even out when you play blackjack. Sometimes, you will get that picture card to go with your Ace and other times you won’t. But over time, you will have just as many lucky hits as you will unlucky hits. Ditto for the dealer who is, after all, only human. The only factor that remains to impact your result is skill. Since the dealer has no skill, the only person that can use skill to their benefit is you, the player. In other words, by being a skillful blackjack player, meaning knowing when to hit, stand, double down and split, as well as knowing when to bet more, you can significantly impact your result at blackjack above and beyond the luck factor.
But perhaps you are still not convinced blackjack is not all luck. In all the other games of chance that you come across in a casino, the results of the previous coup (be it a spin or dice throw) has no bearing on the result of the next coup. Each spin or dice throw is an independent event that does not influence future spins or dice throws. But blackjack is different. The odds of winning any hand are dependent on what happens in previous hands. Not whether the hands won or lost, but specifically what cards were played in the previous hands.
For example, if I see four Aces dealt in the first round, my odds of getting a blackjack in the next round is zero because I know that there are not anymore Aces left in the deck. Likewise, if you didn’t see any Aces played in the first round, your chance of getting a blackjack in the next round increases, and now would be a good time to bet more money. The point is that blackjack is a game of dependent trials, and because of this, skillful players who know how to play their hands and know what cards appeared in previous rounds can significantly reduce the house edge and can actually gain the edge over the house.
To be a skillful player is not all that difficult. First, you should learn the basic playing strategy. If learning the complete basic strategy is too daunting, try learning the simplified basic strategy that was recently developed by Michael Shackleford (“The Wizard of Odds”). This simple strategy appeared in the November issue on my Blackjack Insider Newsletter.
Secondly, you need a toll that will tell you when the mix of unplayed cards are in your favor so you can bet more chips. There are plenty of simple card-counting systems available that you can learn quick. The three that I would recommend is Speed Book (“Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution”), Ace/Ten Front Count (“Blackjack Bluebook”) and Rookie K-O count (“Knock-Out Blackjack”).
2. Dumb players cause me to lose.
I hear this all time from players who blame their losses on the dimwit third-base player. It is true that when a player misplays his hand, it will affect what cards the dealer will get and the results of the round. But … pay attention to this … you cannot predict whether the misplayed hand will hurt or help you. The fact is that it will all even out in the wash. Unfortunately, blackjack players always remember the times they lose a hand when another player misplays and grumble about it, yet they never seem to heap praise on this same player when his misplay causes the dealer to break and everyone wins. (I call this selective memory, and most blackjack players have it.) The fact of the matter is this: It does not make one bit of difference in the long run how well or poorly your fellow players play their hands.
3. Players entering a game will lead to bad luck.
The table is hot and players are winning like crazy. Along comes a new player who sits down and makes a bet. What is this nerd doing!? He’s going to change the order of the cards, and we are doomed to lose. Don’t laugh because many players believe this nonsense and go berserk when someone enters a game in the middle of a shoe. They honestly believe it will end their hot streak! Many casino managers pacify these misinformed players by posting rules that state a player can’t enter in mid-shoe.
Here are the facts: The cards were shuffled and placed in the shoe in a certain random order. Suppose you ask for a hit and the dealer asks you, “Do you want the next card from the shoe or the following card?” What would you do? Of course it doesn’t make a difference because you don’t know what the next is. So, it is the same when a player enters mid-shoe and changes the order of the cards being dealt in subsequent rounds. Sometimes the next round will continue to be “hot” for the players and sometimes it won’t. But in the long run it is all a wash, and the fact that a player enters in mid-shoe will have no long-term effect on your odds of winning.
For more Blackjack tips, visit www.SouthernGaming.com/blackjack
Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), lead instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com), and host of www.smartgaming.com. For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/free. To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.
“If the remaining cards are rich in 10s and Aces, doesn’t the dealer have as much chance to get them as the players? So how does the player have the edge in this situation?”
The reader was referring to the playing technique known as card counting where players can track the ratio of small (2 through 6) to big cards (10, J, Q, K, Ace) from one round to the next so they would know if the remaining cards to be played are richer in big or small cards. The reader specifically mentions the situation where the remaining cards are rich in 10s and Aces. And what he says is true. The dealer has the same chance of getting those 10s and picture cards as the player. However, the playing rules for the player are not the same as the dealer, and this is what causes the player to have the advantage when the unplayed cards are 10/Ace rich. Let me explain.
Let’s first look at the dealer and player’s chance to get a blackjack. You’ll agree that when the unplayed cards are rich in 10s/Aces, the chance that the dealer or player will get a blackjack increases. But they both have the same chance of getting the 10 and Ace. When the dealer blackjacks (and assume the player does not a have a blackjack), the dealer collects the player’s losing bet. (Essentially, the house has won even money from the player.) But when the player blackjacks, he doesn’t win even money, he wins three chips for every two wagered. So a dealer blackjack doesn’t cancel, if you wish, a player blackjack; the player still has an extra chip. The payoff rules for a blackjack, therefore, favor the player.
Look also at the scenario of doubling down. Obviously, dealers are not permitted to double down, but players can. And when a player doubles down with, say, a 9, 10 or 11, he is hoping to draw a big card to wind up with 19 to 21. His chance of drawing a big card increases when the unplayed cards are richer in 10s/Aces. The edge here definitely is in the player’s favor.
Let’s look at the differences between a dealer getting a stiff hand and the player getting the same (by stiff I mean a hand that could bust with a one card draw, such as hard 12 through 16). Suppose the dealer has a 16; the rules specify that the dealer must draw, and if the unplayed cards are rich in 10s, his chance of busting increase. The player holding a 16, on the other hand, doesn’t have to hit. He could stand when he knows the deck is richer in 10s. In fact, card counters will deviate from the basic playing strategy based on whether the unplayed cards are rich or poor in 10s. The rules for hitting and standing definitely favor the player in a 10-rich deck.
The same can be said for splitting opportunities; an abundance of high cards is usually beneficial to the player, especially when splitting 7s, 8s, 9s and Aces. Dealers, of course, can’t split. The edge again favors the player in a 10-rich deck.
A bet that is available to the blackjack player, and not the dealer, is the insurance bet. Here a player can bet that the dealer’s downcard will give him a blackjack. When the ratio of small and high cards is balanced, the house has the edge on the insurance bet (because they pay less than the true odds on a winning insurance bet). However, when the deck is richer in 10s/Aces, the dealer has a greater chance of having a blackjack and the insurance bet becomes a profitable bet for the player. The edge here is clearly in the player’s favor.
Let’s look briefly at who has the edge when the undealt cards are richer in small cards. Certainly small cards are of no help to a player when he doubles down and in most splits. And for sure you wouldn’t want to make the insurance bet if you knew the unplayed cards were rich in small cards. So, small cards don’t do a whole lot for players. However, they are very beneficial to the dealer. Why? Because the dealer must always hit his stiff hands, and if the unplayed cards are rich in small cards, he will wind up with a pat 17 though 21, and most likely beat the players. The edge here is definitely in the dealer’s favor.
So, I hope you better understand how 10/Ace-rich decks can favor the player, even though the dealer has just as much chance of getting them. Card counters, in fact, will always bet more money when the unplayed cards are rich in 10s/Aces for the above reasons. This doesn’t mean they always win every hand. Sometimes the dealer or other players will get the 10s/Aces from the shoe and the counter will wind up with a stiff hand (been there, done that many times). It happens, and the counter will take his lumps. But over time, he will win many of those hands in 10s/Ace-rich decks which will more than cancel the losses and he will end up with a profit (I personally have 30 years of playing experience to back this up).
Knowing when the unplayed cards are 10/Ace rich or poor is obviously the goal of card counting. Many average players, unfortunately, shy away from learning card counting because they think it is too difficult to learn. That may have been the case many years ago, but nowadays there are simple card systems that average players can learn in the same amount of time it takes to learn the basic playing strategy (Speed Count is the easiest, in my opinion — others include K-O, Red Seven, Key Card). There is really no excuse why average players can’t play with the edge when they play blackjack.
I got an interesting question from a blackjack player on the merits of doubling down on 11 against a dealer’s Ace. It read:
“If I’m holding an 11 and the dealer shows an Ace and she peeks and doesn’t have a blackjack, then isn’t doubling down the better play since you have eliminated the possibility that she has a blackjack, and my 11 has to be stronger than her Ace?”
The answer to his question is: It depends on the number of decks of cards and the rules. Let me explain.
Let’s assume you are playing a typical six-deck game where the dealer must stand on soft 17 (s17). In this game, your 11 is not stronger than her Ace. Sure, her Ace counts as 11, which is equal to your hand total of 11, but there is one big difference. If the dealer goes over 21 while drawing cards to her hand, she can count the Ace as a 1. Because of this, her chance of busting with an Ace upcard, assuming she has checked her hole card and doesn’t have blackjack, is relatively low (in fact, she’ll bust only 17 percent of the time). The chart below shows the dealer probabilities for the final hands that she will wind up with when she has an Ace upcard (and doesn’t have a blackjack).
The probabilities below clearly show that the dealer is not vulnerable when she shows an Ace upcard.
Now let’s look at what happens when you double down on your 11. The fact that you are doubling means you get only one draw card. Of course, you are hoping for a 10-value card that will give you 21. But suppose instead you get dealt a small card, like a 3, for a 14. Unfortunately, you are stuck with a 14 because you can’t draw again. And that’s the big advantage that the dealer has: If she has an Ace-3 for 14, she can draw again, and during the process of drawing more cards to her hand she goes over 21, she has another chance to make good because she can count her Ace as 1 and continue to draw. You, on the other hand, have no options if you doubled down and have a 7-4-3. By the rules of the game, you must stand with your 14. And that’s why your 11 is not nearly as strong as her Ace in this game.
So here’s the best strategy for playing an 11 against a dealer’s Ace in a six-deck game with s17: You should hit 11 against a dealer’s Ace upcard until you get to a count of at least 17. This means if you hit and draw a 3 for 14, hit again. If your next draw card is a 2, giving you 16, hit again. Just remember to keep drawing cards until the total of your hand is 17 or more.
Now what happens if you find yourself in a six-deck game where the rules specify that the dealer must hit soft 17 (h17), or you are playing a double-deck game? It turns out the probabilities change just enough to make doubling 11 the better play than standing in some situations. I don’t have the space to go into the math, so I’ll just summarize what the best strategy is.
If you are playing in a six-deck game and dealer must hit soft 17, then you should double down 11 against the Ace (not hit).
If you are playing a double-deck game … hold onto to your hats for this one … the right way to play it depends whether the game is s17 or h17, and sometimes the make-up of the cards in your hand. For example, in a double-deck game with s17 or h17, always double down with this exception: If you hold a 9-2 or 8-3 in an s17 game, you should hit (with 7-4 or 6-5, you should double down).
If you find remembering this strategy change based on the rules and number of decks of cards a little daunting, I’d suggest you bring a set of strategy cards with you when you play blackjack. The ones I recommend are the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Cards by Don Schlesinger, and the Basic Strategy Cards by Ken Smith (they are both in my gambling catalog at smartgaming.com). Schlesinger’s strategy cards consist of a set of three covering single-, double- and multiple-deck games with s17 and h17 (they also contain the strategy that depends upon the composition of your hand). Smith’s strategy cards consist of a set of six cards that also cover the h17 and s17 games for single-, double- and multiple-deck games (they are smaller cards that easily fit in a shirt pocket or wallet).
If you are planning a trip to a casino and you know, for example, that they offer double-deck as well as six-deck blackjack games but you are not sure of the rules, just bring along the appropriate strategy card with you, and no matter what the rules are when you sit down and play, you’ll have the right strategy card handy to make all the right plays.
Probability of dealer’s final hand when showing an Ace upcard:
17 or More: 83%
18 or More: 65%
19 or More: 46%
20 or More: 27%
For more Free Blackjack tips…Southern Gaming’s Got it! Visit www.SouthernGaming.com/blackjack
Henry Tamburin is the author of “Blackjack Take The Money & Run,” editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com and lead instructor for Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com). For a FREE three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/free. To receive his FREE Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.
We all know that the dealer’s play in blackjack is purely mechanical and quite straightforward: Draw a card on 16 or lower, and stand on 17 through 21. Most players will pick up this simple fact about the game pretty quickly as it remains constant just about anywhere you play. There is, however, one dealer rule that could differ from one casino to another, and even amongst blackjack tables within the same casino, and it is this: The dealer can either stand or hit on soft 17.
A soft hand in blackjack is any hand that contains an ace that is counted as an 11. For example, an ace-6 is a soft 17. So is ace-3-3 and 2-2-ace-2. Casinos decide whether to allow their dealers to hit soft 17 (known as h17), or stand on soft 17 (s17), and let players know by printing it on the felt layout, and usually on a sign located on the table to avoid any confusion or controversy.
You might think that the soft 17 rule seems trivial. I mean, come on, what’s the big deal if the dealer hits or stands on one lousy hand? Well this might shock you, but it is a big deal, and if your local casino hasn’t switched from s17 to h17 yet, it is only a matter of time before it will.
When a casino changes its rule from s17 to h17, guess who gets the short end of the stick? Of course it is going to be the players. The h17 rule increases the house edge by about 0.2 percent (rule dependent). In dollars and cents, it costs a player about 2 cents for every 10 bucks wagered.
Now you are probably thinking that two measly cents a hand is not a big deal. Oh, really? Think again my friend. Over the course of a year you will be donating nearly $200 to the casinos’ bottom line if you are a $10 bettor, or about $500 if you’re a $25 bettor. This is based on a player who averages two four-hour sessions a month … if you play more, you donate more.
It turns out the dealer will bust about 0.3 percent more often when she hits a soft 17, rather than stands (assuming all other rules are equal). So, then, why does the house edge increase by 0.2 percent? Because when she doesn’t bust, the dealer winds up with a total that is greater than 17, which, more often than not, beats the players. The latter more than compensates for the increased bust frequency resulting in the 0.2 percent increase in house edge.
Years ago, all six-deck games were s17. To generate more revenue, casinos gradually began to implement the h17 rule on their tables. But they didn’t make this change all at once because they were concerned that players would revolt. So, over the past several years, you would often find some tables with the s17 rule, and others with h17 in the same casino. It was up to the player to decide which game to play, and unfortunately, many players didn’t understand the difference between s17 and h17, so they often chose the latter (to the delight of the casinos, I might add).
However, if you have no choice and your local casino only offers the h17 six- or eight-deck game, you should make the following changes to the basic playing strategy (assuming you are allowed to double down after pair splitting).
If surrender is available, you should also surrender Hard 15 against dealer ace; Hard 17 against dealer ace; and a pair of 8s against dealer ace.
Unfortunately, the trend is going to h17 games. But if players stop playing the h17 games, and instead play only s17 games, perhaps casino managers will think twice about switching to the less player-friendly h17 games.
A soft hand in blackjack is any hand that contains an ace that is counted as an 11.
Hard 17 Basic Strategy Changes
Double down on 11 against dealer ace.
Double down on ace-7 against dealer 2.
Double down ace-8 against dealer 6.
Henry Tamburin is the author of “Blackjack Take The Money & Run,” editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com) and lead instructor for Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com). For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.
In an effort to encourage more players to play blackjack, and also to improve their margins, many casinos have added side bets on their tables. These innocent-looking bets usually require a rather small wager (typically only $1) and generally have payoffs greater than the customary even-money blackjack payoffs.
One of the least understood playing options in blackjack is taking “even money.” Most players will gladly take even money when offered, and most dealers, fellow players and even pit bosses will encourage players to take it because “it’s a sure win.”
It’s no secret that the basic playing strategy is the optimal way to play your hand when the only information you consider is your hand total and the dealer’s upcard. This scientifically accurate strategy will cut the house edge to a measly half a percent or so, depending upon the precise rules. But, you can do even better than this by employing some advanced basic strategy plays.
Suppose you are a dealt a 16 against a dealer’s 10 (and surrender is not available). The traditional basic playing strategy (often referred to as “total-dependent” strategy) states to HIT your 16, because in the long run, you will lose less money compared to standing. However, what the traditional basic strategy doesn’t consider is the make-up of the hand. It turns out that there is a difference between a hand that totals 16 consisting of a two-card 10-6, or 9-7, and another containing, for example, a three-card 4-5-7. Yes, both hands total 16, but with the three-card 16, you are better off STANDING, whereas with the two-card 16, you should HIT.
The reason you should stand on a 16 when your hand contains three or more cards is because your hand contains one (or more) small-value cards that are no longer available in the pack of unplayed cards. These small cards are exactly what you need to make a pat hand when you hit your 16. The fact that a few of them are not available (remember, they are already in your hand) is just enough to shift the odds toward standing rather than hitting.
Another hand where your strategy is dependent upon the make-up of the cards is a starting total of 12 against a dealer’s 4 upcard. Total-dependent basic strategy states to stand on 12 against a dealer 4. However, there are, in fact, four different ways to be dealt a 12: 10-2, 9-3, 8-4 and 7-5 (6-6 would be considered separately, as a pair to be split), and in the specific case of 10-2, you are slightly better off HITTING against the dealer’s 4, whereas with 9-3, 8-4, and 7-5, you are better off STANDING.
Here’s another advanced playing technique advocated by author and playing expert Fred Renzey (who contributes to my Blackjack Insider e-newsletter) that can further reduce the house edge: Make a bet on another player’s hand. You might think this is a strange play, but it is perfectly legal (as long as the player allows you to make a bet on his hand). Why would you want to bet on another player’s hand? Because with some hands, a player might have a big edge and not realize it, allowing you the opportunity to take advantage of the situation. Here’s an example.
Suppose the player next to you bets $20 and is dealt a 7-4 against a dealer’s 10. The player might know that the basic strategy for this play is to double down, but he may be reluctant to push out another $20 with the dealer showing a 10, so instead he shoves out $10 worth of chips and doubles for less. According to Renzey, “This is when you should spring into action, toss $10 in chips to him, and tell him, I’ll go with you on this one partner.”
Essentially, your $10 is riding on the outcome of your fellow player’s hand. But according to Renzey, “You are a 9-percent favorite, so if the player doesn’t know enough to take the whole advantage to himself, go ahead and take the rest.” Renzey adds, “Getting in one extra double-down per half hour for the same amount as your own bets, will reduce the house edge by about 0.15 percent.”
Here’s another example involving pair splitting. Suppose a fellow player splits a pair of 7s against a dealer 6 and draws another 7. The player should re-split, but suppose he hesitates to put out more money. According to Renzey, “Since a 7 against a dealer 6 is an outright moneymaker, you should quickly toss a bet to him and offer to absorb the cost of splitting that third 7. You are a 3-percent favorite, and if doubling after pair splitting is allowed, you’ll have a solid 10 percent edge on the hand.”
By adding some or all of these advanced strategies to your playing arsenal, you will be improving your chances of winning. Why not give them a try on your next visit to the green felt?
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book “Blackjack: Take The Money and Run,” editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter and lead instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866-WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring more than 50 products, call 888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.