21 Things to Avoid When Playing Blackjack—Part I

Recently I came across some blackjack tips that can help to not only improve your game, but to also make the gaming experience more enjoyable. Some of these tips can be applied to both land based casinos and online casinos; others might only apply to land based.

Take the wisdom from this, blackjack players.

  1. Don’t play with your chips once the cards are dealt. If you do, the dealer and casino staff might think that you’re padding your bet. Besides, it makes you look like you’re nervous, like you’re not sure how to play or that you’re trying to be sneaky. Or the dealer could think you were dealt an awesome hand, and are trying to increase your bet on the sly. Best bet—fingers off the chips.
  2. Cash is not to connect your hand with the dealer’s. In other words, don’t hand money to the dealer directly. You can lay it out on the table outside of your betting space, then tell the dealer what denomination you want your chips in. This is to protect both you and the dealer so that the transaction is caught by a camera. If there are questions later as to how a cash-to-chips exchange happened, the casino can review the video.
  3. Do NOT tell the dealer that you want a ‘hit.’ For one thing, the casino cameras need to see what play you are making—they can’t pick up what you say. Hand gestures are readable on the video. And second, your meaning might be misconstrued to mean something else.
  4. Face up cards are not for touching. In games with four or more decks in play, the cards are dealt face up. Since face up cards can’t be touched, sneaky players can’t add or remove cards. This protects you from cheaters. A “hands free” game will also speed up the game, allowing for you to play more.
  5. No setting things on the table. Ladies, this includes you and your purses. Purses belong on your lap. Leave your wallets and such in your pockets. If you have bags that are not purses, place them next to you or by your feet. You can have a drink on the table in the drink holders, but nothing else. This protects your property from being out in the open where someone could take it. It also keeps cheaters from using non-necessary objects on the table to help them cheat. And, it helps to keep the table from being damaged by drinks not being where they’re supposed to be.
  6. No holding the cards with both hands. They aren’t that big or that heavy. You don’t need to use both hands. This is just etiquette—one hand please.
  7. Cards do not belong in your lap. Keep them on the table or in one hand where the dealer can see them. Cards must remain in full view of the dealer. This prevents you from being accused of cheating.

Start working with these while out and about in the casinos this holiday season.

And keep an eye open for “21 Things to Avoid When Playing Blackjack—Part II

Card Counting and Insurance

Okay, in my last post I pretty much spelled put why taking in Insurance is not a good thing to do. In fact, I showed you how you will lose money if you take insurance.

Now I’m going to tell you when it’s okay to take insurance.

No, this is not a contradictory post. I will not take back what I said in my last post either.

However, there are times when taking insurance can be a smart thing to do. And this applies to players who count cards.

First, let’s look at two of the winning situations.

Let’s say you are playing at a $10 table. You’ve made your bet, and have received your cards. And you have been dealt a natural blackjack. But the dealer’s up card is an Ace. You are, of course, offered insurance. In this instance, you take it. And here’s why:

You have been counting the deck as the rounds have progressed. You know that the deck is rich in ten value cards. The chances of the dealer having blackjack are also pretty good considering the deck is ten card rich. So you take insurance.

Now one of two things can happen. You already have your blackjack, so don’t worry about your hand.

The dealer’s hole card could be a ten value card. You both have blackjack. You win the insurance bet because the dealer does have a natural—remember, taking insurance is just another name for a side bet on whether or not the dealer has blackjack. Since he does, you win the 2-1 payout: $10. But since you both have hands of equivalent value, the actual round is a push, so your original bet is returned to you. You’ve made a net gain of $10.

The other outcome could be that the dealer doesn’t have blackjack. You lose the insurance bet, but you collect $15 on the 3-2 payout of having a natural blackjack. Again, your net gain is $10.

The lesson here is that it can be advantageous to take insurance. But the only time to do so when you have met two criteria:

You’ve been counting cards and know that the deck is rich in ten value cards, and you have been dealt a natural blackjack. It is recommended that you only take insurance when you’ve met those two criteria.

Still, on the whole, insurance is not a good bet, unless you have that natural blackjack and are facing a ten value rich deck.

The Mystery that is Insurance in Blackjack

When playing blackjack online or in a casino, at some point in time you have most likely been offered insurance. There are a lot of notions out there as to whether insurance is a good bet or a waste. So which is it? Or is it both?

First, let’s take a look at what insurance is.

The way that it is explained to you, is that an insurance bet is to protect you from losing all your money in case the dealer has a natural blackjack. Insurance is only offered when the dealer’s up card is an Ace—one of the cards that is required to have a natural. The reason insurance is offered on Aces and not on ten value cards is because Aces are smaller in number than the ten value cards and less likely to appear.

Now, insurance is really a side bet on whether or not the dealer’s hole card is a ten value card. You are making a 2-1 bet on what that card is. If it is a ten value then you get the 2-1 payout. And if the hole card isn’t worth 10 then you lose your insurance bet.

When looking at all the outcomes of making an insurance bet, you will find that there are three winning situations, two losing and one push. You will win money if you and the dealer both have naturals, if you have blackjack and the dealer doesn’t, and if neither of you have blackjack and you win the hand. You lose if neither of you have blackjack and you lose the hand, and if neither of you have naturals and you tie the hand. The only push outcome happens when you don’t have blackjack and the dealer does.

So three winning chances and one push versus two loses sounds pretty good right?


Let’s look at this from a statistical point of view, because, let’s face it, we are dealing with numbers and probability. Let’s say we’re talking about an infinite shoe, and since most tables use six to eight decks and online casinos have RNGs, we might as well think of them as infinite. With that number of decks or an RNG, there is a nine-to-four odds against the hole card being worth 10; this is because for every four ten value cards there are nine others.

Now we’ll combine math with statistics. Let’s say that in one year you make a $5 insurance bet 1300 times (considering how often a dealer has an Ace up card that’s a lot of blackjack). Going off of the nine-to-four statistic, you’d win 400 times and lose 900 times.

Translate that into money now. Winning a $5 insurance would give you $10. So if you won 400 times you would have made $4,000. For every time you lost a $5 insurance bet you would lose that $5. So losing 900 insurance bets means that you have lost $4,500. Add $4,000 and a negative $4,500 and you are left with a loss of $500.

And that is why, for the most part, you do not take insurance in both online blackjack and land based blackjack.

However, if you’re a card counter, there is an instance when taking insurance can be profitable.

Keep an eye open for Card Counting and Insurance.

Blackjack: The Root of the Phobia & How to Overcome It!

Who’s afraid of blackjack?

Actually quite a lot of people.

So what do they do when at the casinos?

They play slots. They want to try playing strategic games, they want to try blackjack. But they’re afraid of it.

What are they afraid of?

They’re afraid of making mistakes when playing. I suppose this is understandable. We all know that there are die-hard blackjack players who are barely able to restrain themselves when a novice player doesn’t play exactly right. So it’s completely understandable that a novice blackjack player would be intimidated.

But, hey, everyone makes mistakes—even those die-hard blackjack players.

So how do you, slot player or not, gain the confidence to play blackjack?

Start at the beginning and learn the rules. The objective is to beat the dealer without going over 21.

You will be dealt two cards. Add up their value to get your hand total. The dealer will have also received two cards, one will be face up and the other face down.

At this point you have to choose how to play. If you want to try to increase your hand total, then hit for more cards. Once you are happy with your hand total you stand. You can also stand if you are happy with the first two cards you were dealt—you do not have to hit unless you wish to. You can also double down; you would double your original bet and receive one more card before having to stand. If you are dealt two cards with the same value, a pair, you can split them into two separate hands by adding another bet of the same amount as the your original. Each card will receive another card so that each hand will start with two cards. You then play each hand individually.

Learning the game is the easy part. The hard part, and this is what intimidates new players the most, which play to you make and when?

This is surprisingly easy too. Use a basic strategy chart. This is a chart with the best statistical play for every card total versus each dealer’s up card. A basic strategy chart will tell you how to play each hand. Just play how it tells you to and stick with it. You will win more hands in the long run than if you played without it.

This will give you a good start in learning blackjack. Try playing at low stakes table to start out with or practice playing for free online in a casino’s free play mode. Practice will help build your confidence and make you comfortable with the game.

Even Money is a Drain

We have all at one point or another been offered even money.

Even money is only offered under certain conditions. First, you have to have been dealt a natural 21. Second, the dealer’s up card must be an Ace. At that point the dealer will offer you even money.

Even money means that you are betting the same amount that you stand to lose. For example, an even money bet is when you are betting $10 to potentially win $10.

Under the circumstances that even money is offered, you can pretty much think of it as a type of “insurance” bet. With your natural and his Ace up card he will offer you even money. What this even money does is give you an immediate one to one payout.

Normally when you and the dealer both have naturals it’s a push and you win nothing, but you lose nothing also. Even money gets you a one to one payout.

But if you do this you’re sacrificing the additional 50% payout that you would bet if the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack.

So while even money might feel a bit safer you will in fact lose more money in the long run than if you avoided even money. How much are you losing? About 4% of your profit potential.

My advice is to not take even money. True you’re thinking that you’re giving up that one to one payout, but you’re not really gaining anything. Let’s say the dealer also has a natural blackjack and you have to push—you haven’t lost any money! Your profit potential hasn’t been hurt.

Since you aren’t standing to lose any money, even if you come face to face with a dealer’s natural, go ahead and decline the even money. If you have a higher hand value than the dealer or the dealer busts, you will win the three to two payout. And if the dealer has a natural too, so what? You haven’t lost any money.

Misplayed Blackjack Hands—Part III

Last round of misplayed blackjack hands…for now. Who knows, I may discover some more that need light dumped on them.

You’ve heard me say this before, and here it is—basic strategy is the best thing you can do for yourself. So stick with it. You want the best odds, yes? Yes. And they don’t get much better than 0.5%. But that’ll only happen if you stick with The Chart. So do it.

11 vs. a dealer’s 10

As any good blackjack player knows it’s a pretty good idea to double down on an 11. And most of the time it’s easy to do—“Excuse me, sir, doubling down here, thank you.”

But for some reason there are more nerves involved with doubling down against a dealer’s 10. This is like standing on a stiff hand. It doesn’t feel good and your brain is trying to say that doubling down just isn’t the smart thing to do. You usually figure that the dealer’s hole card is a 10, so that would give him a pat 20.

But check this out: the dealer actually has less of a chance of making 20 than you do of making 20 or 21.

And to top this off look at it this way: if you hit you’ll win 56% of the time on one bet. But when you double you have two betting units out there, and you’ll win 54% of the time. So when your brain starts sowing seeds of doubt ask yourself which you’d rather have: win $5 56% of the time or $10 54% of the time.

The bottom line is that The Chart offers you the best chances of winning, and that’s not something to turn your nose up at. I know that it can be hard to go against what your brain is telling you. So perhaps the thing to do is work your brain around to understanding that basic strategy is your best chance at winning in the long run.

Card Counting For the Win!

Card counters out there, rejoice! We have scored a legal victory! Well, we have in Indiana, but you have to start somewhere.

I’m sorry to interrupt The Misplayed Blackjack Hands series that I was doing, but I came across this news piece, and as it made me happy, I wanted to share.

With the recent news about Kris Zutis’s blackjack card counting detection program, card counters have needed a boost to their morale. And that boost comes with the name of Tom Donovan.

Donovan favors the Grand Victoria riverboat casino’s blackjack tables in Rising Sun, Indiana. And he’s a card counter. His skills came to the attention of the then blackjack pit boss Patrick Banefield. Banefield told Donovan to limit his betting to $25 a hand and he would continue to let him play.

Nice to know there’s a cool pit boss.

But this all changed in June of 2006 when Sonny Duquette replaced Banefield. Here ends the happy part of the story.

Duquette barred Donovan from the Grand Victoria’s blackjack tables. Then he threw him out of the casino. In return, Donovan sued for breach of implied contract, which he says he had with Banefield.

Last Friday the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Donovan…sort of.

They upheld the dismissal of Donovan’s claim of implied contract. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals also rejected the Grand Victoria’s argument. See, the Grand Victorian said they had a common law right to exclude any patron for any reason or no reason at all.

The Indiana Court of Appeals said, “Grand Victoria may not simply take refuge in the common law right of exclusion, inasmuch as it is the public policy of this State that gambling is subject to ‘strict regulation,’ and the [Indiana Casino Control] Commission has been given exclusive authority to set rules of riverboat casino games.”

In other words, the Indiana Casino Control Commission makes the rules, not the Grand Victoria. The court ruled that he was thrown out of the casino for his mental prowess during a Commission-regulated game, so the Grand Victoria’s decision to throw him out is not protected by the common law.

We may find over the next several months or couple years more and more consumer-friendly decisions being made since more and more states are legalizing casino gambling. The States want us to play because they get a portion of the casinos’ profits in the form of gambling taxes. And with the U.S. economy being in the state that it’s in, more and more states are looking to other sources for funding their budgets—take Florida and the Seminole Tribe casinos. The taxes from the Seminole Tribe casinos help fund education in Florida.

Misplayed Blackjack Hands—Part II

And on we go for another round of how to play some commonly misplayed blackjack hands.

Remember that the best thing that you can do for yourself and your odds is to stick with basic strategy. Even when your brain is saying, “No! No! No, don’t do that! It just feels so wrong!” Don’t listen to your brain. Of teach your brain to say, “Just follow the basic strategy chart.”

This will benefit you in the long run. You can lower the house edge from 2%-5% down to 0.5%. But. It only works when you play perfect basic strategy.

12 vs. a dealer’s 2

Now this is one of those blackjack hands that makes you grind your teeth and wish you were playing poker so that you could fold. In your mind, you just know that if you hit you’ll wind up with a 10 and bust. And busting with a 22 is the worst feeling, because you were this close to making it.

But stop a moment. Let’s look at this.

Think about the cards. And when you do you’ll see that you have a better chance of not busting than of busting. The only cards that can bust you are 10-value cards. Everything else—Ace through 9—will not bust you. And there are more of those cards than there are of 10-value cards. It actually comes down to a nine in thirteen chance of not busting. So take the risk, and hit.

Ace,7 vs. a dealer’s 9

How many of you have stood on this hand?

If you do, stop. Right now, stop. That Ace gives you flexibility. If you hit and the value of the hit card is too high, where you would normally bust on a hard 18, you can always reduce the value of that Ace down to 1.

Blackjack is about being flexible. So be flexible.

Doing so will give you a 9 out of 20 chance at winning. When you stand on a soft 18, you only have an 8 out of 20 chances at winning. Take advantage of that flexibility and hit.

Keep an eye out for Misplayed Blackjack Hands Part III.