To Switch or Not to Switch

The game of Blackjack Switch sounds quite easy to play on the surface. Especially since it allows you the option of switching your second cards. Because this blackjack variation gives you that option it seems like playing Switch would be a pretty easy thing to do.

Not always.

How do you know if your original hands are better or if the switched hands are better? There is no basic strategy for Blackjack Switch, just your own brain and logic.

Take a look at this example to get what I mean:

We are going to say that the dealer has a 7 showing. When the beginning dealing is down you have an Ace/7 on one hand and a 10/9 on the other. You have a soft 18 and a hard 19.

If you were to switch them, you would strengthen one hand to soft 20 (Ace/9) and weaken the other to a hard 17 (10/7)?

This sort of situation is what makes Blackjack Switch not as easy as it seems.

So which is better: to have two reasonably strong hands, or one really strong and one that is one the weak side?

For your answer look at how I summed up the situation in the last sentence.

Still do not see it? Here it is:

When facing a dealer who is holding a fairly strong card and you have the option of two reasonably strong hands versus one really strong and one fairly weak, it is best to go with the two reasonably strong hands.

If you were to switch to the soft 20 and hard 17, you run the risk of winning one hand and losing with the other. That sort of winning will only cause you to break even and you will not walk away from the round any better off than when you started. True, it is better than losing both hands, but what if you could win both hands and make a profit?

Which is exactly what you can do by having two reasonably strong hands. While they are not guaranteed to win, they still put you in a better position to win both hands, which is your goal when playing Blackjack Switch.

This is why Blackjack Switch requires some brain work and logic when choosing to switch the second cards or not. This is not a blackjack game in which you just have the cards switched just for the sake of switching them.

Strategy for Pairs in Blackjack

Pairs are another type of hand in blackjack that are played differently than the more basic hard hands. Or at least they should be played differently. However, a good many blackjack players will play them like hard hands. And while some pairs should be played like hard hands, some need to take advantage of a pair’s option for splitting.

A pair is any hand in blackjack in which the two starting cards are worth the same amount. Because each card has the same value, the player has the option in blackjack to put forth another wager that is equal to their original wager and split the pair. The two cards are separated and each one receives a new second card.

Some casinos and some blackjack variations will allow for continued pair splitting on top of other pair splitting.

I mentioned that for some pairs it is okay to play them like a hard hand in blackjack. A pair of 10s is one such pair. However, some players will get caught up in the notion that they can split pairs, and will split a pair of 10s just because they can.

A pair of 10s should not be split, and here is why. You have to look at their value as number, rather than the fact that they are a pair: 10 + 10 = 20. A pair of 10s is another way of saying hard 20. And the only thing that can beat a hard 20 is a dealer with a natural blackjack or a dealer who hits to 21. There is no reason to throw away a perfectly good hard 20 just because it is a pair.

On the other side a pair of 8s should always be split. Again, look at the value of each card added together: 8 + 8 = 16. So a pair of 8s that are not split are in fact a hard 16, one of the hardest hands to play in blackjack. It is too high to really hit because you stand a pretty good chances of busting. But it is also low enough that it is not likely to beat the dealer unless the dealer busts.

So why hang on to a hard 16 when you can double your wager and start over with two mostly new hands? At least with splitting you stand the shot of building up one if not both of the new hands.

The easiest way to tell what the best statistical play for a pair in blackjack is to play according to a basic strategy card. Basic strategy will tell you whether you should split a pair in blackjack or leave the pair together, unsplit.

Using Basic Strategy with Blackjack

Blackjack players are the best off when it comes to casino games. For one thing they have a lower house edge to begin with. On top of that they can actually use strategy to influence the outcome of a round of blackjack. Players are also lucky because they have the easiest to use and most effective strategy tool: basic strategy.

Basic strategy is a chart that player can use to determine what the best play to make is. And when I say ‘best’ I mean the best statistical play to make. Players are not going to win every single hand, but they will win more hands with it than without.

The reason for this is that the chart features a column for every possible dealer up card. It also features rows for every possible starting hand for the player. Where the columns and rows meet the best statistical play for that starting hand against that dealer’s up card. All the player needs to do is make that play.

Because basic strategy is made up of the best statistical plays for every starting hand, if the blackjack player plays each hand according to basic strategy, he can lower the house’s edge to 0.5%.

The lowered edge happens because those best statistical plays that make up basic strategy are there to minimize losses in times of being dealt difficult hands, and to take the most advantage of times that present money making opportunities.

Such as double downs. A successful double down can take 1.6% off of the house’s edge. But you of course need to know when those times are. And that is exactly what basic strategy is for—to tell you when to make the most opportune plays, like when to double down.

Because of its ease of use and what it brings the house edge down to, basic strategy is the best strategy tool to use when playing blackjack.

Soft Hands in Blackjack

Recently I talked a bit about the different types of hands players are going to find when playing blackjack. Most specifically I talked about hard hands and how best to play them. Today we are going to look at soft hands.

What sets soft hands aside from other hands in blackjack is their Aces. In order to be a soft hand the player must be holding an Ace. However the big misconception is that just because you have an Ace it means your hand is soft.

Not true.

A hand is only said to be soft in blackjack when the Ace is being valued at 11 and the possibility still exists to reduce that 11 to 1. It is the flexibility of the Ace’s value that makes the hand soft because it can change the value of, says, an Ace/5 from 16 to 6.

If the value of an Ace has already been reduced to 1 it is no longer considered a soft hand. This is because an Ace is usually reduced because the player hit and had to reduce the Ace to keep from busting. Obviously the player cannot increase the Ace back from 1 to 11 because they would bust. So since the Ace is no longer flexible in its value it is no longer a soft hand and is then considered a hard hand.

Because of the ability to change the Ace’s value, the blackjack strategy for soft hands differs from hard hands. There are some totals that players would stand on if it were a hard hand, but should hit if it is a soft hand.

For example, you would stand on a hard 18 against a dealer 9. But a soft 18 against a dealer 9 should be hit. And if your new card would take the soft 18 over 21, reduce the Ace to 1 and try rebuilding.

The trick to soft hand strategy in blackjack is to remember that Aces are flexible and to not be afraid to hit a soft total that you would normally stand on if it were a hard total. It takes a bit of getting used to, but if you practice blackjack and practice your basic strategy you will become comfortable with it.

Hard Hands in Blackjack

In the game of blackjack there are three types of hands: hard hands, soft hands and pairs. Each of these types of blackjack hands has a different type of strategy. This is because each type of hand has something about it that makes it different.

Hence, different types.

Moving on, we are going to look at hard hands and blackjack strategy for hard hands today.

In blackjack, hard hands are the most basic of hands. The two cards that make them up are not worth the same value each and neither card has a flexible value. Because of those simple little facts, hard hands are the easiest hands to play…most of the time.

They are easy to play and are often the first hands novice players learn strategy for because there are no special tricks available for them. You can hit, stand of double down on them. All you need to do as the player is decide if your hand total is low enough to hit or high enough to stand.

As a rule of thumb, a hard hand of 17 or higher and players will stand. It is too high to hit safely, and other than the hard 17, stand a fair chance of beating the dealer.

Some of hard 9s, hard 10s and hard 11s can be doubled down on. This allows players to make twice the amount in winnings off of one hand than they would without doubling down.

While many new blackjack players who are just starting out will not bother overly much with strategy, these hands thankfully are not too hard to play. The majority of them can be played with common sense.

However for the player who wants to get the most out of his hard hands and to begin building his blackjack strategy and skills, the best recourse is to check out basic strategy. This is a chart that gives the best statistical play to make for each hand against each dealer’s up card. Playing each hand according to basic strategy can lower the house edge to 0.5%. This takes the guess work out of deciding how to play your hard hands in blackjack.

Oh, and one more benefit—it is legal to use in casinos. Now take it to the blackjack table and use it for your hard hands.

Easiest Ways to Hit the House’s Edge

Being successful at blackjack is about strategy. You have to have one. The whole purpose of strategy in blackjack is to lower the house’s edge. Lowering the house’s edge decreases their chances of winning money from you; and the lower the house edge goes, the more your own blackjack odds go up.

Odds in blackjack are about opportunities to make money. If you have more opportunities to win money or opportunities to win more money than normal, your blackjack odds will increase. Strategy is supposed to decrease the house’s odds and increase your own.

The game of blackjack actually has a couple of parts built into the rules that can increase your blackjack odds and hit the house’s edge: doubling down and splitting pairs.

Doubling down is when you double the amount of your wager and only take one more card. This play can usually only be made at the beginning of your turn. If you win the round, you receive double what you would have made normally off of winning one hand.

Doubling down hits the house edge for 1.6%. This is because this play opens up the opportunity for you to make more money off of the house in one turn than normal.

Another play built into blackjack that will hit the house’s edge is pair splitting. This can happen when you are dealt two of the same card, such as two 3s. You can double your wager and the two cards will be split and each will receive a new second card. This gives you two hands to play in one round.

While not as advantageous—because you can win one hand and lose the other causing a draw—as doubling down, pair splitting can hit the house edge for 0.06%.

Both plays are useful when playing blackjack because of the increase in your chances to win money from the casino. Using them when playing blackjack is important to your blackjack strategy because of the opportunities they give you in terms of decreasing the houses edge.

Two Hands in Blackjack, the Upside

This morning I talked about why playing two hands at the same time was bad for your blackjack strategy and for your bankroll.

This is because you are simply wagering twice as much per round. No, it is not like doubling down. Doubling down is done when it is advantageous to do so—not every single hand. So, no, nothing like doubling down.

But there is a way to play two hands at once in blackjack. It is quite simple actually. Split your wager between your two hands. If you are wagering $10 per round and want to play two hands, wager $5 on each hand. This way you are not putting your bankroll anymore at risk than you would if you were playing a single hand.

The trick here is that both hands can take advantage of a dealer’s hand that gives the player a good chance of winning, making it possible to win with two hands rather than just one.

There is also the added benefit that if the dealer has a hand that favors him and he wins, you are not losing twice the amount.

The upside to this style of playing is that it can extend the time that you can play, or how long your bankroll will last. This is because the fluctuation in your bankroll is lessened. Say for example you win with one hand and lose the other. In this situation, you will have broken even in terms of money. The only time you really lose money is if you lose both hands.

Because of this fluctuation your can make your bankroll last longer at the blackjack table. It gives you an 86% chance that you can make your bankroll hang in there simply because you have more opportunities to lose less thanks to the possibility of breaking even in some rounds.

While I do not recommend playing two hands in this manner all of the time, it can be useful if you are looking to make your bankroll last and intend to just enjoy playing some blackjack. In other words, this is not a good blackjack strategy to make money, but it is good for bankroll playing.

More Betting System for Blackjack

 

This morning I wrote about the Labouchere negative progression betting system that unknowing blackjack players will use in place of a good betting strategy.

The use it because they come across one of those article-generating sites in which the people writing the articles do not always understand the finer points of their subjects. In the case of the article I saw today, it said that the best way to bet in blackjack was to use a betting system.

This is simply not true. Betting systems limit how a player makes their wagers in a game of blackjack. These systems are also based on principles that go against the essence of blackjack.

Now we are going to look at the Paroli betting system.

This is a positive progression system, meaning that it works based on wins. If you win a hand, you would double your wager on the next round. You would keep doubling until you lose a round and then return to the amount of your original wager. Take a look:

If you were to wager $20 and win, you would wager $40 on the next round. If you win that round you would wager $80. But if you lost, you would return to the original amount of $20.

The Paroli betting system is said to make the most of a winning streak. Unfortunately there is no way to predict how long a winning streak will continue. This can result in a very heavy loss if you lose a round after several successful wins. Imagine in the above example winning five rounds and wagering $320 only to lose that $320.

The problem with the Paroli betting system is that it is based on winning, and is meant to be used in a casino game in which the house has the advantage. Players can only expect to win around 48% of their blackjack games.

So if you have less than a 50% to win why would you use a betting system based on winning?

Exactly—you should not!

Betting systems should not be used in blackjack—especially those that are based on winning streaks in casino games that do not have an edge over the house.

Betting Systems for Blackjack

I saw a posting from one of those article-generating sites that pertained to what the author was calling blackjack betting strategies; he was talking about the Labouchere and Paroli methods.

I am going to say this right now. The Labouchere and Paroli methods are not blackjack betting strategies—they are only betting systems. And those systems can cost you more money in the long run than what they claim you could win.

And I will show this.

First up, the Labouchere. The Labouchere is a negative progression betting system. The way it works is that the player will make his wager and double it every time in the next round if he lost the previous round; he will keep doing this until he wins. The Labouchere’s claim is to beat a losing streak.

Look at a sample of a few rounds of Labouchere: you start out wagering $20 and lose; the next round has you wagering $40 and you lose; the next round is $80 and you lose; the next is $160 and another loss and you are up to $320 in five rounds.

The Labouchere’s claim to fame is to beat a losing streak by winning back all the money you lost in previous rounds and then some extra. It plays on the fact that for the majority of players, the house has the edge and the player’s blackjack odds are 52% for losing. Logically this betting system makes sense.

Does it sound too good to be true? Yes? That is because it is.

First off the Labouchere requires an infinite betting limit, meaning there is no limit on how high you could bet. Unfortunately casinos do not allow this and tables have betting maxes on them to protect themselves from paying out too much in one payout to high rollers.

The other downside to this betting system is that it implies that the player will eventually win. There is no guarantee in blackjack that a player will win. So you could go rounds and keep doubling your wager until you have lost almost if not all of your bankroll.

So there are your reasons for not using the Labouchere betting system as a blackjack betting strategy. It is not a strategy. It is based on a principle of blackjack that is not true, and it can wipe out your bankroll.

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.