Money on Splitting vs. Standing with a Pair of 10s

When being dealt a pair of 10s in blackjack there are really only two options for plays: splitting or standing. You cannot hit, not with a hand total of 20. The rule of thumb with a pair of 10s in a game of blackjack is to stand—no splitting! This is because a pat 20 is a strong hand.

But you will find that some blackjack players would rather split a pair of 10s when faced with a dealer 5 or 6. They are the two cards with the highest probability of ending in a bust for the dealer. The thought process is that if the dealer is more likely to bust with those two up cards, why not split the pair of 10s and try to make the most off of the round.

Odds on winning when splitting a pair of 10s against a 5 or 6 is not too shabby: 63% and 64% respectively. Best case scenario, meaning splitting against a 6, you stand to win $56. And that is $56 total; each hand would have a profit of $28, and together that is $56. All in all, the odds and profit are not too shabby.

But I think you might change your mind when you look at the odds and potential profit for standing on a pair of 10s against a dealer’s 5 or 6.

The odds of winning against a dealer’s 5 or 6 when standing on a pair of 10s is 84% and 85%, respectively of course. Already the money bells in your head should be beginning to go off. Again, looking at the best case scenario of facing a dealer’s 6, 85% is a better odd than 64%. That also means that the potential profit is higher too.

Now I know the money bells are going off.

So if you stand to win 85% of the time by standing on a pair of 10s in blackjack, that means you stand to lose only 15% of the time. Subtract 15 from 85 and you get 70, and $70 is the profit per $100 if you stand on a pair of 10s in blackjack against a dealer’s 6; profit on standing against a dealer’s 5 with a pair of 10s is $68 per $100. Still not bad. And certainly more profitable.

And profit is the point behind strategy in blackjack. Strategy is there to improve your odds at winning in blackjack, and winning means more opportunities to make a profit. Knowing the difference in odds between plays helps. In this case, you know that standing on a pair of 10s against a 5 or 6 will give you around $14 more per $100.

70% Off of Blackjack Insurance

Before you get all excited, this is not a sale. If you are in a blackjack game where you are wagering $20 per hand and an insurance wager costs you $10, this does not mean that for a limited time insurance will only cost $3. Sorry, if casinos are going to try to hang on to their house edge they are not about to put a sale on insurance.

When I say 70% off of insurance I am talking about the odds of a dealer’s hole card being worth ten when the dealer has an Ace showing.

Start with 100%, then you look at the probability of that hole card being worth ten. There are thirteen cards in a suit and only four are worth ten. That gives you a roughly 30% chance that the hole card is worth ten. This also means that there is a 70% chance that the hole card will not be worth ten.

So take that 100% chance that a blackjack player has of hoping that insurance will work out in his favor and that he will at least receive that payout if the dealer does in fact have a natural blackjack, and subtract 70%. This gives you a roughly 30% chance of making anything off of an insurance wager.

Now if you knew that you had less than a 50% chance of a bet working out in your favor, would you wager on it? If you knew that a lizard almost always ran to the left, would you wager on it running to the right? No, you would not because you are smart enough to know that the odds are on the lizard running to the left, and that wagering on it running right would be most unwise.

So why would you wager on insurance when you know that the odds are against you? The house likes and encourages blackjack players to feel as if the dealer showing an Ace is more threatening than it really is. They are hoping that you will take the insurance wager even though there is only a 30% chance of you making anything off it.

While insurance will never have an actual discount, the blackjack odds on insurance panning out for a blackjack play are always 70%. While supplies last.

Dealer Standing on Soft 17 Better than a Dealer Who Hits a Soft 17

The astute blackjack player pays attention to the house rules set by the casino or online casino for their blackjack games. This is why you do not see professional blackjack players playing variations of the game or at blackjack tables with poor house rules.

One such house rule that is of poor quality is allowing a dealer to hit a soft 17.

While on the surface this house rule does not like it would be all that damaging to a player’s blackjack odds. Many players assume that the dealer will just hit to busting. They make the mistake of assuming the dealer will still bust because he is starting at 17.

But what these unknowing players forget is that an Ace is just as flexible to a dealer as it is to a player. This means that if the dealer hits his soft 17 and receives a card that would normally bust a hard 17, he can reduce that Ace from being worth 11 to being worth 1, just as would happen for a player. Reducing the value of the Ace makes what was a soft 17 into a hard 6, which the dealer can then safely hit again and again with the possibility of stringing out a multi-card strong hand.

Because of that possibility, a dealer who is allowed under house rules to hit a soft 17 decreases a player’s blackjack odds. The hit to the player’s odd is for 0.22%, which is about half the value that basic strategy reduces the house edge to. So even with basic strategy reducing the house edge to 0.5%, a dealer hitting a soft 17 alone can raises the house’s edge back up to 0.77%–half the work of basic strategy is undone!

Now you see why blackjack professionals will avoid playing in blackjack variations and at tables that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17—they value their blackjack odds too much to throw away 0.22% of them.

What are your Odds of Winning in Blackjack?

Do you know? Are you sure you know?

Yes, blackjack offers some good odds when compared to other casino games. But really, what are your chances of winning?

Excluding pushes (the times that you and the dealer have the same total), you have a 48% shot of winning while the dealer has a 52% shot of beating you.

Realistically those are high odds for players. And they are much better than what you odds would be of winning roulette or slots. But, yes, the house still has the edge. Even when you are using basic strategy.

Depending on what house rules are in play, the house will start out with a 2% to 5% edge over you. But playing all of your hands—hard hands, soft hands and pairs—according to basic strategy can lower the house edge to 0.5%. And that by far the lowest house edge of any of the casino games.

But, even with basic strategy the house still has the edge. This is because more than a single deck is used in blackjack nowadays. Also because you are playing only knowing one of the dealer’s cards. Granted in a face down game the dealer will not know your hand, but you still do not know what he has in the hole, and that is where the house’s edge comes in.

The dealer knows what cards you have. Even in a face down game your cards are all turned over by the time the dealer’s turn comes. He plays last and that is where the edge comes from. And unfortunately there is no way around this portion of the house’s edge. It is like you are playing halfway blind.

And because you are playing halfway blind it is all the more important to learn and use some blackjack strategy. Even if you only use basic strategy, 0.5% is better than the 2% to 5% range that blackjack has without it. Basic strategy can always help your blackjack odds. And increasing your blackjack odds helps you to win more money.

Blackjack Odds and Blackjack Payouts

This morning I discussed Atlantic City Blackjack and why just its payouts alone make it a bad blackjack variation. The payouts that it carries hurt a player’s blackjack odds. But, one, a good many blackjack players do not know that payout ratios impact their blackjack odds, and, two, they do not know how those payout rations impact their odds—the how and why is not known.

So, one, yes, payout rations impact your blackjack odds.

That was simple enough. But to really understand why you should avoid blackjack games with 6-5 payouts on natural blackjacks you need to see just how payout impacts odds first.

Odds in blackjack—or any casino game for that matter—are based on the player’s opportunity to make money on the game. This is why rules that allow you more opportunities to double down increase your odds while rules that limit your opportunities, such as limiting double downs to hard 9s and hard 10s, decrease your odds.

Following that line of logic, payout ratios that increase the amount of money won off of a natural blackjack will increase your blackjack odds, while those that decrease the amount you win will decease your odds.

A 3-2 payout ratio is normal for blackjack. It is the good old payout that has been a part of the game for as long as anyone can remember.

But there are now 6-5 and 1-1 payout ratios that are becoming increasingly common. Usually these ratios are found only in blackjack variations, but there are some regular, yet single deck blackjack games with a 6-5 payout. That 6-5 payout decreases your blackjack odds by 1.39% and that 1-1 payout will drop your blackjack odds by an alarming 2.27%.

The drops in your blackjack odds come about because you make less money off of the natural blackjacks you receive. There is less opportunity to make money. And with less opportunity your blackjack odds suffer. And payout ratios are not the only way hits to your odds—insurance is also a biggie that can hurt your money making odds. This is why some variations of blackjack should be avoided simply because of the hit you take to your blackjack odds.

Sneaky, Sneaky Blackjack Insurance

Imagine that there is a way to protect your blackjack wager. A sort of insurance that will cover your wager so that you do not lose it in case the dealer turns up that natural blackjack.

Such a thing exists. And it is called insurance in blackjack. But it is not as rosy of a picture as casinos would like for you to believe.

Insurance is offered when the dealer has an Ace for an up card. It is offered because an Ace is required for a natural blackjack, and is the less common of the two cards needed. So the feeling is that if the less common required card is present, there is a good chance that the hole card will have a value of 10.

This is what casinos would like for you to think. But let’s look at the statistics of that hole card being worth 10.

In blackjack there are only four cards worth 10: the 10 itself, the Jack, the Queen and the King. There are thirteen cards per suit and four suits per deck, so there are sixteen cards in a single deck that are worth 10. Of the possibilities that the hole card is worth 10, only sixteen out of the theoretical fifty one remaining cards will be worth 10. That means that there is only a 31% chance that the dealer’s whole card will be worth 10, giving him a natural blackjack. Therefore there is a 69% chance that the dealer will not have a natural blackjack.

Insurance is a side bet in which you wager half the amount of your original bet. If the dealer’s hole card is in fact worth 10 and he has a natural blackjack, you would lose your original wager, but collect on the side bet.

But you are a smart blackjack player, so why would you place a side bet for an outcome that the odds do not favor?

That is the case with the insurance side bet. You are wagering that the dealer’s hole card will be worth 10 when there is only a 31% chance of that happening.

The casino is glossing insurance over as something that will help you, when the odds of insurance actually helping you are a little less than a third of a reality. This is why experienced blackjack players will tell novices to decline insurance in blackjack—the odds truly are against the outcome favoring the player.

Blackjack with a Shoe vs. a CSM

A CSM is a Continuous Shuffle Machine. This is a device typically found in casinos on blackjack tables. And the purpose of this moderately sized device? To shuffle the cards after each round of blackjack.

On the surface a CSM may not seem all that bad, but it is a sneaky moderately sized device and does do something to your bankroll that is not pleasing.

What CSMs really do is speed up the rate of play, meaning that you will play more hands per hour at a blackjack table with a CSM than you would at a blackjack table with just an ordinary shoe.

A shoe is a small device, as compared to the moderately sized device that is a CSM, that shuffles multiple decks, usually six or more, before the first round. The dealer will then draw from the shoe until near the end of the deck when the cards must all be reshuffled and placed back in the shoe.

On average there will be 20% more hands per hour when playing at blackjack table with a CSM than when playing at a table with a shoe.

Now in blackjack, even when played with basic strategy, the house will still have the edge. On average players will only win 48% of the time and lose 52%.

Follow the theory and you will see that players stand to lose more hands than they win. So the more hands you play per hour increases the number of hands you lose per hour, and increase the amount of money the casino will make off of your blackjack game.

While casinos adore their moderately sized CSMs, it is better for a player’s blackjack odds to play at a table with a shoe. The sole reason for playing in a shoe game is because you are playing fewer rounds of blackjack per hour, which means you stand to lose less in an hour than you would at a table with a moderately sized CSM.

Missing Queens from Blackjack

The majority of the time casinos will offer an honest blackjack game, meaning they are not trying to pull anything sneaky. Just the standard blackjack rules that might scoot the edge more in favor of the house, such as hitting soft 17s. But sometimes you cannot help thinking that the casino is pulling a fast one when you are on a bad losing streak.

Again, majority of the time you will find honest blackjack games. But sometimes shoes malfunction or a really seedy casino might with hold cards. What does such a thing do to your blackjack odds?

Well if the missing cards are queens or another of the cards worth 10 it can hurt your odds badly. And thinking realistically, a card worth 10 would be the most likely card to be removed from the deck, not just because it favors the player, but because there are more 10 value cards in a deck and is less likely to immediately be noticed.

Tricky, yes?

So what does a missing 10 value card do to your blackjack odds?

Quite a bit actually. Ten value cards are one of the cards that favor players, the other being Aces. The hit to your blackjack odds is 0.49, just shy of half of a percent. Keep in mind all the rounds of playing perfect basic strategy to lower the house edge to that 0.5% and you can be hit with the same amount from having just one card removed.

The reason for the hit is that with less ten cards, such as a single queen being removed, cuts down on the chances of a player being dealt a natural blackjack and on being paid that 3-2 payout. It also cuts down on the number of strong hands, such as 20s from double downs, pairs of 10s, and three or more cards adding up to 21.

So since removing a single 10 value card from a deck cuts down on the number of player blackjacks and strong hands, the player’s blackjack odds are hit hard. Thankfully the large majority of casinos offer honest blackjack games.

Surrendering to Blackjack

Okay, this is more about a play used in blackjack rather than some romantical notion of giving in to desires hidden beneath the surface.

Players in blackjack have one of the most awesome ways to exit a round of blackjack in which the odds are just too high against them to win: surrender. Sometimes the underdog stays under. And if it looks like a round is just not in your favor, you need to get out.

With this blackjack rule, players can give up half of their original wager, keep the other half and exit the round. There is no other cost for exiting a round other than that half of your original wager.

Not too bad considering blackjack and poker are the only casino games that give players a way out of an unfavorable round—and poker players have to give up all of their wager. So, blackjack players, we have it pretty nice.

Surrender comes in two varieties: late and early.

Late surrender allows the player to surrender after the dealer has checked for blackjack. Only after he has checked can surrender be chosen. So if the dealer does have a natural blackjack you are just out of luck. But if you are able to make the play, it can increase your edge by 0.08%.

And while that 0.08% is not too bad, early surrender fives you an even bigger boost: 0.24%. The reason for the larger boost is because players can surrender before the dealer checks for blackjack. Once you surrender, even if the dealer does have a natural blackjack, you still have only lost half of your wager.

But there are only a few times in which surrender is meant to be used. This is not a play to be used like a petulant child does a temper tantrum. A basic strategy chart can tell you when the best times to surrender are.

In fact, that is your homework—find out when the best times to surrender are. The answers will be posted tomorrow morning.

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.