Hard 17s Not All They Are Cracked Up to Be

Novice players in blackjack feel a sense of relief when they are dealt a hard 17. For them this is a hand that means no strategy to worry about. This comes from a preconceived notion that since players stand on a 17 and higher that this must be a strong hand.

But experienced players know better. Standing on a hard 17 is not too much better than standing on a hard 16. The difference is that there is a slightly greater chance of winning. A hard 17 only wins if the dealer busts since dealer’s stand on hard 17s. So for a blackjack player to not lose their wager, the dealer has to either tie for a push or bust.

And it is for that reason that a player will stand on a hard 17. After all the rules of blackjack have the dealer standing on a 17 and higher because the chances of busting then are very high. Hence players will also stand on a 17 or higher.

So why hit a hard 16 for some up cards but hit a hard 17 against nothing? It is a matter of loss. With the dealer busting against a player hard 16 only 28.2%, players can expect to lose, on average, $71.80 per $100. But thanks to the pushes that happen with hard 17s from both player and dealer standing, the potential average loss is only $57.30.

Granted that is better than the hard 16, but it is not impressive by any means. It is making the best of a mediocre situation. And that is exactly what a hard 17 is in blackjack a mediocre situation.

Live Dealer Online Blackjack Now in More Languages

While so much of what is made on the software end of online casino games is in English. Not everyone in the world who gambles speaks it or understands it. Sure, blackjack players in the UK, Australia and the US (who are not supposed to be playing) speak English; and sure, a good portion of European citizens speak and understand some English. But English is not the language of the world—that goes to math I believe.

In light of that fact, one online casino is now offering its live dealer online blackjack in more languages than just English.

Fairway Casino is licensed and regulated out of Costa Rica. While not a big player in the online casino industry, it is beginning to make its presence known. Adding seven new languages to its live dealer online blackjack platform is just one of those ways.

The new language additions are Spanish, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Russian, Dutch and Korean.

While this may not seem like a big deal to many online blackjack players, I have two things to say about it:

1. The US online gambling market is huge. The conservatives who loathe online gambling with every fiber of their misinformed beliefs are huge too. Online regulation is going to be a battle of who is bigger. By making online blackjack and other online casinos and games more easily accessible to others in the world, it will allow the rest of the gambling market to grow to a size that could eventually overpower the conservatives. As in ‘We are bigger and we want into the US market.’ Or ‘We took the time to grow and get more money to lobby with.’

2. Online blackjack should be available to anyone who wants to play whether they speak English or not. Opening up live dealer online blackjack to the wider language world is a good move to bring in more players who have an interest in the game. Online blackjack for everyone!

Dealer’s Advantage in Blackjack

Dealers in blackjack have a built in advantage. There is no way around it either; it is just how the game is structured. In other words, no blackjack strategy can overcome this. And a lot of blackjack players do not always see how this built-in aspect gives the dealer a bit of an edge over the player in blackjack.

I am talking about how a dealer plays last in a round of blackjack. Do you see the advantage the dealer has? No? Well, here it is:

Players still lose even when the dealer busts.

In a round of blackjack, each player takes their turn. And if a player busts then he busts and he is out of the round. Then after everyone has played it is the dealer’s turn. We are going to say he busts in this particular round. So he loses and players who did not bust receive their payouts for beating the dealer. But the players who did bust do not get anything.

On the surface that is just how the game goes. But here is how the house benefits. When a player busts, the house gets the money regardless of whether the dealer busts or not. So no matter if the dealer wins or loses, if the player busts the money is the house’s. In other words, the house collects money for losing when the player does not collect so much as a single $1 chip if the dealer loses.

That is the long and the short of it. And it sucks to be the player because this is rule of blackjack—the dealer plays last, which allows players to bust ahead of him and the player forfeits their money if they lose. End of story. There is no strategy around this, except to not lose.

Rate of Play in Blackjack

There is one aspect of the house edge that players have direct control over. I know you are thinking, what could that possibly be? After all the house has a built in advantage from playing last, which the player cannot control. And even though a player can control how they play out their hand—something the majority of casino games lack—players in blackjack cannot control what cards they are dealt. So what is left that is in the player’s hands in blackjack that they can control?

Their rate of play. Quite simply put, the rate at which plays through rounds of blackjack. If you play at a fast rate, making quick decisions and hurrying through the execution of your plays, you are playing more hands compared to someone who slows down their play, playing at a relaxing pace without all the haste.

At first you might think, ‘So what? What is the big deal? So what if I play faster than someone else?’ but think about this: the more hands you play in an hour the more money you stand to lose. Check it out.

Let’s say you are playing in a game of blackjack with a flat 2% house edge. Based on the meaning of house edge, you will lose $2 out of every $10 you play. Let’s now say you play sixty hands in an hour; you have an expected loss of $120 in an hour. You may lose it, you may not. But based on house edge, that is your expected loss.

Now let’s say you only play forty hands of blackjack in an hour. Your expected loss based on the house edge in blackjack is only $80. That is a $40 difference for slowing down each hand from one minute to one and a half minutes. A thirty second increase per hand and you will have cut your expected loss by 33%.

Slowing down you rate of play lessens your expected losses in blackjack, which does not leave as many opportunities for the house to win and take your money. Blackjack strategy tidbit for today is to slow your rate of play down.

Frequency of Stiff Hands in Blackjack

Stiff hands are the worst hands to get in blackjack. They are not automatic losses; players still have a chance to win the round, but the odds are not with the player, they are with the dealer. But how often do blackjack players really have to contend with stiff hands?

Stiff hands, for the record, are hard 12s through hard 17s. I include hard 17 in this because even though players always stand on it for being too high to hit, it does not have the odds that blackjack players believe. As for how often players should expect to be dealt a stiff hand, it is about 43% of the time.

I know, that is a lot. But stop and remember that blackjack players will lose to the house 52% of the time; most of those losses are wrapped up in that 52% of total losses. Around 83% of your money that goes to the house happens with those stiff hands. And all you can really do is make you play and hope for the best because the odds are not on your side with those hands.

So what do you do when you are dealt one of those stiff hands, knowing that you are looking at odds stacked against you?

The best option blackjack players have in the instance of stiff hands is to play the best statistical play; and we all know that those plays are found on a basic strategy chart. That chart will tell you if it is better for you to hit, stand or even surrender (if the casino gives blackjack players that option).

Getting a Blackjack and Payouts

Being dealt a natural blackjack is the best feeling in the game. The awesome feeling comes from receiving the best payout in the game without doing a thing. The only thing second to it is winning with an underdog hand because you go from disappointment at being dealt a crappy hand to elation at winning.

Anyway. Blackjacks.

How often can you expect to be dealt a natural blackjack?

The funny thing about this is that the answer is about once in every twenty one hands. Ironic, yes? But that is the average, once in twenty one hands. Granted there will be times that a player is dealt more blackjacks in twenty one hands, or it might be more than twenty one hands until a blackjack is dealt. The statistic is just the average.

But are you really getting the best payout for that blackjack?

Well, that depends. What blackjack game are you playing in? Is it a traditional game of blackjack or is it one of those new-fad single deck games? If you said it was a traditional game, then you fine, keep on playing. But if you answered that you have been playing with those hip and trendy single deck games let me tell you something—you are paying to play in those games.

The reason is all in the payout. These in-the-now single deck blackjack games come with a payout of 6-5 for a natural blackjack.

Let’s say that you are playing $10 a hand and are playing 100 hands per hour. In two hours of play, which is pretty average, you would have been dealt about ten blackjacks based on our aforementioned stat. And based on that stat, you would have only won $120 at that single deck table whereas you would have won $150 at traditional table. You just paid $30 to play in a single deck blackjack game. Was less money worth it?

Dealing with Consecutive Blackjack Losses and Basic Strategy

Basic strategy is one of the few set-down blackjack strategies that casinos are pretty cool with allowing players to use. But there is a reason behind that. Casino staff will allow the myth to perpetuate that basic strategy guarantees wins. Then, after a few consecutive losses, they can watch as players toss aside their basic strategy cards and return to playing haphazardly without strategy.

I am going to say this: Basic strategy does not guarantee players a win every single time.

Read it. Understand it. Remember it.

Let me ask you something, what is the percentage of losing three hands in a row?

That answer is 14%. You have a 14% chance of losing three hands in a row, even when playing according to basic strategy. That is because basic strategy gives you the best statistical play for any given hand against any dealer up card.

But no hand and dealer up card combination is 100% in favor of the player, unless it is a natural blackjack but then there is no need to tell a player what to do then. And since no hand and dealer up card combination is 100% in the player’s favor, players have to expect to lose a few hands. It happens. Not even players who are skilled in card counting will win every single hand.

Even though you can expect to lose some hands when playing blackjack, it does not mean abandoning basic strategy. It is still your best blackjack took against the casino; playing it perfectly—meaning no deviation, players—can lower the house edge to 0.5%, giving it the best edge of all the casino games.

Splitting Aces in Blackjack

Splitting is a sometimes tricky play in blackjack. Many players do not execute it at the right times, but that can be reversed with practice and by applying strategy. But perhaps the trickiest to logic out is splitting Aces.

When dealt a pair of Aces, you have the choice of playing it as a 22, which is just silly, or of playing it as a 12, making it a stiff hand. Or you can split the pair of Aces and wind up with two individual hands each starting with 11. This is a much stronger way of starting a hand than with a 12.

The only downside to splitting a pair of Aces is that most casinos will only allow a player to receive one card on each Ace once they are split. The same rule often applies in online blackjack games as well. That is how good the odds are on split Aces—the casinos must insert a rule that limits what a blackjack player can do with their split Aces. There are some blackjack games and blackjack variations that will not limit a player to one card per Ace, however.

But even with the one card per Ace rule, splitting Aces still carries good odds on winning. Players have a 60% chance of winning when they split a pair of Aces, leaving only a 40% chance for a loss. In fact there is no dealer up card that a player goes against in which the odds are below 50%. Staring down a face card with a split pair of Aces still has players with a 54% chance of winning.

The reason behind this is that the Ace is the strongest card in the deck. Add to that the fact that there are more ten value cards in the game; those ten values cards, while not giving a split Ace a winning blackjack, they do give the player the next highest hand: 21.

Bear in mind that while the odds are in favor of the player when it comes to splitting Aces in blackjack, the odds are not 100%–bear in mind that there will be losses. You cannot win every time, but splitting Aces have a better shot of winning than if you were to not split them.

After Site Seizure is Online Blackjack Legal or Illegal?

That is a question that many online blackjack players are asking themselves. With three major US-facing online poker sites being seized by the FBI and Department of Justice this past Friday, many who play their favorite casino games online are concerned if they will be next.

Unfortunately, my little blackjack players, there is no way of knowing if an online casino is going to be targeted by the FBI and DoJ next. The online poker sites were taken down, I think, as a scare tactic. Conservatives are very against online gambling of any kind, and with DC becoming the first jurisdiction to pass a bill to regulate online poker, those conservatives are bound to be up in arms. Think it is a coincidence that it was online poker that DC passed their bill on and online poker only sites that were seized? I think not. This is the vulture-esque conservatives trying to scare Americans away from playing their favorite online casino games in their own homes.

That being said, is online blackjack legal or illegal?

Yes, back in 2006 the UIGEA was signed into law; and, yes, it went into effect last June. But the UIGEA is a way for the federal government to bar financial institutions from knowingly making transactions to and from online casinos. Naturally online gambling operators and players found a way around it. But the UIGEA is not a player-based ban. Nowhere in it does it say that US citizens cannot play blackjack online. So, on an individual to individual basis, no, online blackjack is not technically illegal.

But does that mean that where you play online blackjack could be targeted next? There is no way of knowing. And with the legal loop-de-loops that the New York branch of the FBI will doing to round up and prosecute the eleven people indicted with the three online poker sites, I think their attention will be occupied for the next little while. But to be on the safe side, be very mindful of how much money you are keeping in your player accounts; if a site is seized there is little chance that you will get your money back. Play smart.

Why Hitting a Hard 12 Against a 2 or 3 is the Way to Go

Basic strategy is often abused. Players think they are adhering to it when they are not. And when you do not play basic strategy perfectly, the house edge cannot be lowered to 0.5%. Two of the most commonly misplayed scenarios are a hard 12 against a dealer 2 or 3.

Hard 12 is one of the stiff hands, meaning it is one of those hands with a high shot of losing but still has a shot at winning. In other words they are underdog hands. Basic strategy for those hands was calculated to give the play that would do the least amount of damage should the player lose. And, let’s face it, those hands do have a larger chance of losing than winning.

Most hard hands are played like this: if the dealer has a 6 or less, then stand; but if he has a 7 or greater, then go ahead and hit. The only stiff hand that is the exception to that rule is the hard 12; for that hand players are advised to hit against a dealer’s 2 or 3 rather than stand. This is because the average amount of money lost when hitting is less than average amount lost when standing. Check it out (figured from a $100 wager):

Average amount lost when hitting against a 2: $25
Average amount lost when standing against a 2: $29

Average amount lost when hitting against a 3: $23
Average amount lost when standing against a 3: $25

When put into money terms it is easy to understand. However, many blackjack players, experienced ones too, will stand against a 2 or 3. I think players make the mistake because all of the other stiff hands are advised to stand against a dealer 2 or 3; so they play a hard 12 in the same way even though a hard 12 is better off being hit against a 2 or 3. All it takes is sticking to what the basic strategy chart says. The good thing about basic strategy is it can be used in online casinos like Online Vegas without it being illegal or frowned upon by the online casino.