Odds on Insurance

Insurance is a common debate in blackjack regardless of whether you play online blackjack or blackjack in a brick and mortar casino. There are some that say insurance is a sure thing and to take it when offered. Then there are those who say insurance is the devil, that it will hurt your odds and to avoid taking it. Then there are so who are uncertain because they are not really sure what insurance truly is.

So we will start there. Insurance is offered when the dealer is showing an Ace, one of the cards that is key to having a natural blackjack and beating all other hands. Players can take insurance for half the cost of their original wager. If the dealer’s hole card creates a blackjack for the dealer, the player receives a 2-1 payout on their insurance wager, which is equal to their original wager which they just lost to that natural blackjack.

Insurance is really a side wager on whether or not the dealer’s hole card is a 10. If it is you lose your original wager but are paid insurance for a total negative net. Because the player is putting himself in a position to lose more money, it increases the house’s edge and lowers the players blackjack odds.

But really the odds on the dealer having a 10 are small. There are thirteen cards that the hole card could be. Of those thirteen, only four are worth 10. So there is only a 30% chance that the hole card is worth 10. The other 70% of the odds are on it not being worth 10.

Knowing that that odds are against the hole card being worth 10 and knowing that insurance decreases your blackjack odds because of the opportunity to lose money faster should be enough to keep you away from insurance.

West Virginia Blackjack a Success

August saw the first full month that the Chares Town Hollywood Casino had their blackjack and other table game set up.

While the debate on whether or not to allow blackjack and other table games in the state, the hope was that the addition of table games would boost revenue for the state who is in need of the money.

For those that were supportive of the table games’ addition, you were so very right.

In its first full month of operation, Charles Town Hollywood pulled $9.75 million from their table games. And of that $9.75 million, $2.23 million was from blackjack alone. Of the total $5.88 million that West Virginia received in “privileged taxes” from the five casinos, $3.4 million came from the Charles Town Hollywood.

How is that for generating revenue?

As for the other three casinos in West Virginia, their table game revenue looked like this:

$3 million at the Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino
$1.8 million at Nitro’s Mardi Gras Casino
$1.46 million at Wheeling Island
$776,318 at the Greenbrier Resort Casino

Even with the other four casino revenues combined, the Charles Town Hollywood still pulled in 58% of the August’s table game revenue. And that was with only half of their tables open.

There seems to be a shortage of licensed dealers in the West Virginia area, and as a result, the Charles Town Hollywood cannot open all 85 of their blackjack and other table games. Which is a shame considering how much revenue they generated with only half of their tables open. Imagine how much West Virginia could make if all 85 tables were open. So the table game additions were a definite positive idea.

Blackjack Things That Do Not Work with Card Counting

Since we seem to be on a bit of a card counting trend this week, I feel that it is fair to not only discuss the good things that card counting can do for your blackjack strategy and blackjack odds, but to also discuss the things that do not work with card counting.

The biggest thing about card counting that does not work is combining it with online blackjack. It is like trying to combine oil and water—no matter how hard you try, the two will always separate.

The reason card counting does not work with online blackjack is because of how the actual game functioning of online blackjack works. When software developers create a game of online blackjack, they take all possible combinations of starting hands and dealer up cards and feed them into the game Random Number Generator (RNG).

When playing a round of online blackjack, as soon as you click Deal, the game’s RNG pulls one of those combinations. When the next round begins it pulls from all possible combinations again. And again. In online blackjack the RNG will always pull from all possibilities. Because of this, the effect is similar to when playing at a table with a Continuous Shuffle Machine (CSM) since it is like no cards are ever discarded.

And speaking of CSMs, let’s talk about those.

CSMs are a shuffling device that dealers feed all the cards from the round that just finished into. The CSM then proceeds to shuffle all of the decks before the dealer is allowed to deal the next round. This means that not only are all the cards for that table still in play, but there the order from the previous round is gone. Even if you tried counting and the count from one hand said that the cards were moving to be in your favor, the shuffle between rounds would completely throw it off.

So card counting is only effective when played at a table without a CSM and when not playing online blackjack.

Beating the Edge Using Blackjack Strategy

Blackjack players, you are in luck. You are the players of the one casino game in which players have the best shot at meeting, it not over-coming, the house edge.

Congratulations to you and your blackjack strategy.

The reason for this is because this is the one casino game whose strategy can truly fight the house edge. In fact, there are two main pieces of strategy that players can use to bring that house edge down: basic strategy and card counting.

Basic strategy can be used in casino blackjack and online blackjack. This piece of strategy comes to players in the form of a chart with the all of the dealer’s up card possibilities across the top, and all possible player hands running down the left side. All a player needs to do is find his hand and then follow that line across the chart until it intersects with the line of the up card the dealer is showing. Where those lines intersect players will find the most advantageous play for that situation, including for stiff hands.

Basic strategy took four men a couple of years of calculating to figure out what the best statistical play to make for each hand against each dealer up card. While players will not win every single round, basic strategy gives them the best possible play.

For the player who plays every hand according to basic strategy, he can lower the house edge to 0.5%.

Unfortunately basic strategy is the best that online blackjack players can do in terms of strategy. But those who are playing in casinos there is another skill that can break even with the house edge and sometimes even get a 0.5% to 1.5% gain over the house edge. That skill is card counting.

Card counting is a system that players use to track the cards that have been played. The counting system tells them if a majority of low cards have already been played, meaning that the remaining unplayed cards are richer in high cards that favor the player. When a count reveals that the remaining cards are in the players’ favor, they will begin to raise their wagers to take advantage of the opportunity to win more.

Both basic strategy and card counting are skills, and both require practice. But with practice players can use those to make up their blackjack strategy and work towards beating the house edge.

Congratulations indeed.

Table Manners for Blackjack: Cards and Touching

Yes, blackjack has table manners. It is played at a table after all. Actually that is a more relaxed term for blackjack etiquette, and the things that make up blackjack etiquette are kind of like the unwritten rules for blackjack.

Fist off we are going to talk about the cards and touching.

In a face up game the cards are obviously dealt face up on the table by the dealer. He will then quickly calculate the totals. Player then make hand signals to show what play they would like to make: a two finger scratch on the felt for a hit; a palm-down wave over the cards to stand; doubling your amount of chips to signal a double down or a split depending on what cards you have. Hand signals are a part of blackjack etiquette and a tradition of the game. Oh, and they also can back you up if there is some discrepancy on what play you wanted to make since there is a camera above the table.

But above all in a face up blackjack game do NOT touch the cards.

Not touching cards in a face up game prevents players from cheating or marking the cards.

The only type of blackjack game in which you can touch the cards is a face down game. The dealer deals the cards face down and the player picks them up with one hand. Signals in a face down game are a bit different: to hit scrap the cards towards you on the felt to hit; to stand scoot your cards under your wagered chips; to double down or split, turn the cards face up and add the appropriate amount of chips to your wager.

Do NOT use more than one hand to handle your cards.

Handling the cards with one hand helps to cut down on switching or adding cards or marking them for cheating purposes.

You have the etiquette for how to handle your cards down now, and are all set to grab your clip-on tie and head to your favorite casino.

How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Card counting is one of the many skills that blackjack players want. Whether because they saw it in a movie and thought it looked cool is beside the point. Card counting is one of the pieces of blackjack strategy that can increase players’ blackjack odds.

Players who are determined to beat the house are the ones who turn to card counting and who take the time to learn it and practice it so that they can take full advantage of it.

It also pays to practice your card counting skills as you also to not want the casino staff to throw you out of the casino.

Card counting is actually pretty easy to learn. The problem many aspiring counters have is that they actually have to practice this skill and keep practicing it. Those who take the time to learn and practice card counting can get the edge on the house by 0.5% up to 1.5% for those who are truly skilled.

One of the easiest counting systems to start with is the Hi-Lo system. In this system the cards are assigned the following counting values:

+1 = 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
0 = 7, 8 and 9
-1 = 10, Jack, Queen, King and Aces

Starting at 0, players then add the positive or negative values of the cards that are played. When the count has a high positive number it means that a good number of low cards have been played and that the remaining deck is rich in high cards that favor the player. This is when card counting blackjack players begin to raise their wager.

But when the count turns strongly negative it means that a number of high cards have been played and that the remaining cards in the deck are low, which favor the dealer. As I am sure you can figure, this is when player begin lowering their wagers.

To practice card counting, sit down with a deck of cards and silently add the positive and negative values, starting from 0, as you look through the deck. You have to keep practicing this until it becomes easy and you hardly have to think about the math—so that you are at ease with counting silently in your head without any outward appearances that you are counting.

Once you are comfortable with that, turn some music and the TV on to provide some distractions like you would find in a casino. Now keep practicing until you can count through the deck with ease with the distractions around you.

Sure card counting can have a good impact on your blackjack odds when playing in a casino, but those odds are not achievable if you are unwilling to take the time to practice. So take the time, practice and then go try your hand at card counting at a blackjack table in a casino.

Dealer Hitting Soft 17 is Not Good

Some players think that working in games that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17 is good for their blackjack strategy.

They would be mistaken.

Sure, on the surface a dealer hitting a soft 17 sounds like a good thing. Players might think that the dealer has a better shot of busting because he is so close to 21. But what these players are forgetting is that Ace. The Ace that makes that soft 17 soft can be reduced to a 1 if the dealer hits and receives a card that would cause him to bust.

Because of that Ace, dealers can actually reduce that 17 to an 8 and hit to rebuild a stronger hand. He might then wind up with a hard 17 or higher that stands a shot of beating the player. Just like how an Ace can benefit a player, so too can it benefit the dealer. A soft 17 can be rebuilt whereas a hard 17 has a better shot of being beat by the player.

With that ability to rebuild his soft 17, the house’s edge goes up by 0.2%.

That is quite an increase. Think about it. Basic strategy can lower the house edge to around 0.5%. But if one of the house rules allows the dealer to hit a soft 17 and the house gains 0.2% on their edge, that puts the house’s edge at 0.7%.

In short, playing in a game of blackjack that allows a dealer to hit a soft 17 undoes just under half of what basic strategy works to accomplish. That is a big impact to a player’s blackjack odds and to a player’s opportunities to make a profit from blackjack.

Hence trying to play in games that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17 are not just bad for blackjack strategy—they are very bad and should be avoided.

Blackjack Strategy for Hard 12 vs. a 2

Sure a 2 does not seem like that big of a threat. It is a tiny card, the tiniest card in a game of blackjack. But when facing down a dealer’s 2 with a hard 12 that little tiny 2 suddenly seems like a much bigger problem than its value begets.

When a player finds himself in such a situation he is, according to basic strategy, supposed to hit his 12 against the dealer’s 2. But many players do not do this out of fear that they will be dealt a 10 or a face card and bust.

But here is the truth—those four cards are the only four cards that can bust a hard 12. Otherwise, the other nine cards will not bust a hard 12, not even an Ace since it would be reduced immediately to a 1.

It comes down to the fact that there are only two choices for a player here: stand or hit

Of the two standing is the worst choice to make in terms of blackjack odds. I know that players’ inclinations in when holding a 12 and faced with a 2 is to play it safe and stand. But standing only gives you a 35% chance of winning and a 65% chance of losing.

On the other hand a player can—and should—hit. Hitting, while going against a player’s instincts to preserve their wager and hand, offers better odds: 37% odds of winning and 63% odds of losing.

Okay, I know, that is only a 2% decrease in the odds of losing, but lowering the losing odds does increase the winning odds. And while it may not be a huge difference it still is a difference.

In terms of money, which is perhaps more easily understood, standing will on average cause a player to lose $30 in an hour when making $1 wager; but hitting reduces that loss to $26 per hour. Me? I would rather have odds of losing $26 per hour than $30. That is how to preserve your bankroll.

Now it is true that with a two showing the dealer only has a 35% chance of busting. Sad to say it, but this is an underdog hand. The best that a player can do is make the best possible—also known as the most advantageous play—possible.

Single Deck Blackjack Games

Would you believe that there are still single deck blackjack games out there?

I am not talking about blackjack variations that use a single deck or about single deck games that offer a 6-5 payout. I am talking about good old fashioned single deck blackjack.

It is true, such games are not easy to find since they are not a common occurrence. But they are out there.

Casinos will use classic single deck blackjack games as a way to compete with their neighbors to try to steal blackjack players from a competitor and bring them into their casino. Sometimes they will offer single deck games as part of a special promotion.

It is a rule of thumb that the fewer decks being used in a game of blackjack that better the player’s odds are. So obviously a blackjack game that uses the maximum of eight decks offers no benefit for players. This is probably why eight decks are commonly used.

Next up are six deck games. They increase a player’s blackjack odds by only 0.02%. And five decks only increase blackjack odds by 0.03%. And four decks? The odds increase is only 0.06%.

It is not until we get down to two decks that there is a decent increase to a player’s blackjack odds as a result of the number decks. A two deck game will give player’s odds an increase of 0.19%.

But we are concerned with the single deck classic blackjack game. If you can find a single deck game of blackjack that offers standard house rules and a payout of 3-2 (no 6-5 payouts now) you had better sit down and play because the player’s blackjack odds increase by 0.48%.

So with that nice 0.48% boost to your blackjack odds, you can see how single deck classic blackjack games are worth playing in.

Online Blackjack Variation to Avoid: 5 Diamond Blackjack

Recently I came across an online blackjack variation that I had not looked into before. I wish I had so that I could have passed onto players that this is not a good blackjack variation to play. But really there is no variation of online blackjack that is good to play.

The variation I found is called 5 Diamond Blackjack.

A round begins with the player placing a wager of $1, $2, $5 or $10. It is always in increments like that or similar to that since this is an online game. The player then clicks Play. Five two card hands and one dealer hand appear on the screen. The player can then click on a hand one at a time or click Scratch All to reveal the total of each hand.

The objective of this game is to beat the dealer with one of those five hands without going over 21. Without doing anything more than ‘scratching’ each hand to reveal its total.

That is it. There is no hitting or standing or any other play for that matter.

Players will win if one hand beats the dealer’s total. Revealing a blackjack causes the prize to be doubled.

This is not a true blackjack game. This is actually a scratch card online game and is a game of chance since the player has no control over the outcome of the game.

A true game of blackjack or online blackjack allows a player to hit, stand or make other plays. It allows the player to have some degree of control over the outcome of the round.

But this scratch card game masquerading as an online blackjack variation does not allow players to make any playing decisions. Because of that fact this is one so-called online blackjack variation that should be avoided.

While I do not recommend any variations with side bets or the like, at least those other variations allow players to choose how to play out their hands.