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.

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.

Misplayed Blackjack Hands—Part I

I see it often enough that I can’t avoid commenting on it anymore. I feel so frustrated when I see players—both new and old misplaying a hand. Deviating from basic strategy. And I feel so bad for them.

But on the other hand, I can understand. Sometimes the right play just seems so wrong to our brains. But you will be better off sticking with basic strategy.

Let’s take a look at a couple of those hands.

Pair of 8s vs. a dealer’s 10

Basic strategy says to split here. And so you should. I know, it’s hard. But two hands of eight are a much better place to start than a hard 16. Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re going to play this as a hard sixteen—and I know you most certainly are not going to play that hand as a hard 16—basic strategy says to hit.

And you stand a greater chance of busting a hard 16 than two hands that start with an 8. Do both have a chance of busting? Sure they do. But this is blackjack not solitaire. Yes, you are going to lose hands—that’s part of playing at a casino.

In the long run, the 8s will lose less money than a hard sixteen will. So. Take a deep breath and split those 8s!

So while we’re on the topic of hard 16s…

16 vs. a dealer’s 7

You know what’s funny?

You will have a player who will hit a hard 16 (a real hard 16, not a pair of 8s that someone isn’t splitting when they should be) against a dealer’s 10, but will not hit against a dealer’s 7. Why? Both have a high risk of busting. However, hitting against a dealer’s 7 has a smaller loser percentage than hitting against a dealer’s 10: 40% as compared to 52%.

Man up and hit!

Blackjack is not a game in which you can guarantee yourself that you will win every hand. Get that notion out of your head. And while you’re at it, get rid of the notion that you don’t have to risk. Sometimes in this game you have to risk in order to win.

And really it may not statistically be a risk, but it just feels like it because your brain is telling you that the right move is the wrong one. Tell your brain to shut up, and stick with basic strategy. Get it in your head that there is risk in casino games and gambling, and that you must stick with basic strategy—it’s your best chance of winning.

Keep an eye open for Misplayed Blackjack Hands—Part II

Sweet Sixteen

I find a lot of people are not quite sure what to do when they are dealt a sixteen in blackjack, be it a hard sixteen or a soft sixteen. I can kind of understand this. We all know to stand on hard seventeen and to hit on a soft seventeen. But sixteen…

A soft sixteen is easy to deal with. You hit with that one. Unless you can double down. If doubling down is allowed then double down when the dealer’s up card is a 4, 5 or 6. You can always reduce the total of your hand if you draw what would normally be a bust card.

Let’s say that you have a soft sixteen, and you draw a 6 or higher. Normally you would bust, but with a soft sixteen you can change the value of the Ace from eleven to one. So say you draw an 8. That would normally give you a hand of 24. But you can bring that Ace down to 1 to make your hand worth 14. Depending on what the dealer’s up card is, you can either stand or hit. Hitting on a soft hand is almost like having a second chance. And that applies to both land based casino blackjack and online blackjack.

But a hard sixteen, that one is harder to deal with it seems. And I agree that it can be tough especially if you’ve been on a winning streak with blackjack. You get dealt that hard sixteen and in your head you go ‘Oh, no.’ Because you want to keep on winning. And it’s so close to seventeen and standing that you just want to stand. But you know you shouldn’t because basic strategy says hit. But if you hit you feel that there’s a good chance that you will bust. What should you do?

As hard as it is, and as much as you want to stand, you need to follow basic strategy. In blackjack basic strategy gives you the best possible statistical chance in the game. Remember that it doesn’t guarantee a win for every hand, but it does lower the house edge over time. So this might be one of the hands you lose, but it doesn’t mean that you will walk away a loser overall. Just stick with basic strategy.

And it’s not all dark in the tunnel that is a hard sixteen. You don’t stand on every single hard sixteen. You only stand on a hard sixteen if the dealer’s up card is a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. If the dealer’s up card is a 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King or Ace by all means, hit!

So while a hard sixteen can be a bit hard to swallow, always follow your basic strategy chart. Always keep it in the back of your mind that it holds the best statistical plays for you, and that following it can lower the house edge in blackjack to 0.5%.

Perfect Basic Strategy

Does such a thing exist? Yes, in fact it does.

So why haven’t casinos banned this too?

Simple. People can’t seem to play it right or stick with it.

It’s true. I don’t know how often I hear about how there is no way to beat casinos. That there’s nothing that can be done about the odds. And maybe this is because today is a Monday, but I finally decided to put in my own thoughts on this.

Yes, it is completely true that you can not beat the casinos—online or otherwise. There is no absolutely guaranteed way to win every single time. This is why it’s called gambling, folks. You aren’t supposed to know whether or not you’ll win. That’s where the thrill comes from. If you want to know that you will win every single time go play Monopoly—you can buy your win there.

Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t even the odds a bit though. That’s what strategy is for. No, there is no strategy for games of chance like roulette, craps or slots. But not every single game in a casino is a game of chance; blackjack and poker are both games of skill. This means that with work and practice and patience, the odds of the game can be changed.

I know, I know, I said that changing the odds means putting in some effort. But anything that is worth achieving requires effort. And the money you win will feel better because you know you will have earned it rather than knowing that it just fell into your lap. You can hold those chips, look at the people around you and know that you are the better player, not them.

So how can you change the odds in blackjack? Easy. Play perfect basic strategy. Don’t look at that and think, “Wow, perfect, that might take a lot of time,” or “That sounds hard.” Trust me it’s not hard.

You’ve seen a basic strategy chart. All you need to do is print one and take it with you to a casino. Or pull it up in a window so that you can reference it when playing online. Now comes the hard part—and I can’t believe that this is thought to be hard—do exactly as it says to do. That chart tells you the best statistical play that you can make based on the hand that you have versus the dealer’s up card. Do what that chart says every time and you will, over time, lower the house odds from 2%-5% to 0.5%.

The biggest misconception, and why casinos haven’t banned basic strategy, is that people think that they will win every single hand that they play when using basic strategy. This is not true. You will not win every single hand. However, you will win more hands playing with basic strategy than you will if you don’t. Casinos will play that misconception against you. They will allow you to keep thinking that you will win every hand using basic strategy. And then they will watch you throw the chart away after you lose three or four hands, thinking that you have been lied to.

The hard part in playing perfect basic strategy is sticking with it. This tends to be hardest when faced with a stiff hand, better known as a hard 12 through a hard 16. When holding those hands versus a dealer’s up card of 2 through 6 basic strategy dictates for you to stand. It will be so hard not to hit. But the dealer has a better statistical chance of busting than of winning. And you also have a better statistical chance of busting with those stiff hands and dealer up cards than you have of winning. So logically the best option for you is to stand, which offers you better odds, while the dealer keeps hitting and hopefully busts—which he has a better chance of doing.

If you can do what that chart says every single time then you will be playing perfect basic strategy. That’s all there is to perfect basic strategy—do exactly what the chart tells you to every time. If you do so, the house edge will be lowered to 0.5% over time.

So put in the effort and patience and, while you will not flat out beat the casino, you can at least come as close to even odds that you can. And doing what that chart says is not a hard thing to do either.

Zen and Blackjack Strategy

Blackjack is an exciting game. Very exciting. I was at a family function and after dinner my mother, brothers and I sat around playing blackjack. Granted we were only playing for fun, but you wouldn’t have thought that watching my mother play. She’d bounce up and down in her car when she won and pout when she lost a hand. You’d have thought we were playing for real rather than playing for animal crackers. But novice players can actually learn something from my mother.

Shh, calm. Be Zen.

Yes, I said Zen.

Okay, I don’t mean Zen in the Buddhist nature of the term. I mean the calm that being Zen is. So how does this Buddhist idea of contemplation apply to blackjack?

Let’s start with just the feeling of Zen. Calm. Remain calm when playing. As evidenced by my mother, blackjack can be rather excitable. And while you should enjoy the game, don’t let your excitement ruin your game. Work some Zen into your blackjack strategy. Stay calm. Breathe. Do not sacrifice good judgment—better known as sticking with basic strategy—for an adventurous fling with Lady Luck. It will not end well. My mother lost all but two of her animal crackers by the time we called it a night.

In all seriousness, getting caught up in the game, becoming over emotional, can cause you to throw better judgment out the window. And that’s the same as throwing money out the window. Yes, winning is great. A winning streak is very exciting. But remember to stay centered on yourself, you blackjack strategy and your discipline. Keeping a calm clear mind will help you focus on how to bet and how to play. This is the best state of mind to play in. Work being calm and focused into your blackjack strategy.

Now, onto contemplation. You’d think that following basic strategy requires no thought at all. Wrong. It takes thought and discipline. Especially when you are dealt a stiff hand.

Imagine you’ve been dealt a stiff 13 and you’re against a dealer’s five. You want to hit so bad. You are so tempted. You can visualize a third card sliding into your hand. Stop a moment. Take a breath. Basic strategy says to stand. Why? Because the dealer has a better chance of busting than you have of coming in under 21. Now if you played that hand like my mother, were all excited and worked up over the game, you would hit. And then you would bust and lose your animal crackers. Or money.

This is where the Zen and the calm come into play with your blackjack strategy. Stop for a moment and breathe. Think about why you want to hit. Is it because you’re over-excited? Think about why basic strategy says to stand. It says to stand because you have a better chance at busting if you hit. Stop, breathe, and remember that. Then make the best play.

While I whole-heartedly agree that blackjack should be fun, and that you should be excited about it, it’s also very wise to remain in control of yourself. Being over-excited is as bad as playing drunk. So work a little Zen into your blackjack strategy and hang onto your money…or your animal crackers.

You and Blackjack Software—Be Wary, Be Very Wary

How many times when cruising the internet, have you seen advertisements and entries on websites boasting the superb advantages of blackjack software? Too many times to count.

I recently visited a site for blackjack software that makes such claims. And I was blown away with the used car salesman pitch. And I sincerely hope that none actually purchases such software in the belief that they will bet the casino or get rich quick.

It’s one thing to advertise practice or training software, but another to try to rip off players who are trying to learn to play and those who are trying to get better at it. So what do you keep in mind when you are looking at blackjack software?

What type of software is it? While I still maintain you and practice are your best trainers for blackjack, we are in the computer age and some players—new and old—will be tempted by blackjack software. But before making any purchases check what it’s labeled for and compare it to what it actually does. Is it really training software or is it a great rich quick scheme? Read through all the information provided about the software you are considering.

Avoid the get rich quick advertising. General rule of thumb here is that if it sounds too good to be true, it is. If you read the disclaimer (and for the site-that-shall-not-be-named, I did read the entire disclaimer) you will see that they make no actual guarantee that you will not only make what their advertisement says, but they don’t guarantee that you will make anything. In other words, they aren’t guaranteeing that you haven’t thrown your money away if you purchase their software.

Beware the ‘Beat the House Every Time’ advertising. You cannot beat the house every single time. Do not for a second think you can. The site-that-shall-not-be-named above actually makes the claim that their software is undetectable in online casinos, but it tells you when to ‘change tables’ so that you don’t get detected. Sound a bit fishy? Don’t worry, it’s thoroughly fishy. You don’t want to get involved with software that can get you into trouble, whether it’s trouble that will simple get you booted from the online casino or trouble that will get you into a legal tangle.

Roll your eyes at claims that software can count cards. This one thoroughly makes me angry. This one is a downright lie. You cannot count cards online. I don’t care if the casino tells you how many decks their blackjack games use. Many players make the mistake of thinking that if they know how many decks are being used that they can count cards. But what is forgotten here is the Random Number Generator. The RNG is what makes card counting in online blackjack impossible as there is no way to predict what cards haven’t been dealt. The RNG in online blackjack can be likened to this: imagine at the end of a round all the played cards are gathered up and shuffled back into the deck. This is exactly what the RNG does, and it doesn’t matter how many decks are being used since the RNG “shuffles” all the cards before each round. So. Any software that claims that it will count cards for you is a definite rip off. You’re a smart player, and smart players know that you can’t count cards online.

Keeping all of that in mind, this is why I’m all for using practice as my trainer, pulling a basic strategy chart up in another window when playing online blackjack. But if you really want to use software be careful of what’s out there—you don’t want to get ripped off and lose money you never had to.

Blackjack Fallacy! Or Why Card Counting is Not Already a Part of Basic Strategy

After finishing up, for now, the ‘What’s Real and Imaginary in Blackjack’ series, I was going to focus on some other blackjack related aspect. However. That was before I came across this “strategy” that just dropped my jaw.

I can hear you asking, then why not make a sixth Real or Imaginary entry? Easy. Because this so-called strategy shouldn’t be mistaken as a “rule” on how to play blackjack. This is just downright inaccurate and silly. And no new-comer to blackjack should think that this so-called “strategy” is worth anything.

So what is this so-called “strategy?” That the only way to learn to count cards is to have basic strategy memorized.

Yes. Apparently someone somewhere believes this and is trying to spread it. According to him or her, card counting can only be effective if you have already mastered basic strategy. And this is most defiantly not true. It is true that in order to have a sound playing strategy that covers how to play and how to bet, a player must know basic strategy and how to count cards. But the one is not dependent on the other.

In other words, it’s completely possible to count cards but not use basic strategy. It’s not a wise way to play. But not knowing basic strategy will not determine whether or not you can count cards. Both strategies are independent of each other. It isn’t necessary to know how to count cards in order to know basic strategy. Both of these can be used independently of each other or together. I advise that they be used together, but that is up to you as a player. Card counting is extremely hard to do online so all a player has at their disposal is basic strategy.

Do not ever think that you absolutely must have basic strategy memorized in order learn card counting. If you’re just starting out and are still learning basic strategy, go ahead and teach yourself to card count. There isn’t anything stopping you. You could even teach yourself card counting first and then basic strategy. Remember that while both can be used independently of each other, they do not determine whether or not you can learn the other.

What is Real and Imaginary in Blackjack? Part II

Welcome back for Round 2. I hope you’ve given my last post’s “rules” some thoughts and started incorporating that information into your playing Blackjack strategies. And if not that, then at least tucked it back in your mind for later use. You never know when you’ll be at a table or online and something in the back of your mind will help you beat the dealer. I’m still looking for ways to expand my blackjack knowledge—you can never have too much knowledge, especially in a game where you can change the odds, bring the house’s edge down. It’s a mental game, use your knowledge. That being said, let’s move on.

  • The only way to be a good card counter is to be a genius.

– Nope. Nowhere near true. You do not need to be a genius to count cards in blackjack. That’s what the casinos want you to believe though. Yes, I know I made that sound something like a conspiracy. What it comes down to is the casinos know that any blackjack player who counts cards will have a better chance at winning. And casinos lose money when players win. So they would have you believe that you must posses Einstein-ian intellect in order to count cards. All you really need, at least to start out, is a basic system, such as a Hi-Lo counting system, and the patience to learn it and practice it.

  • Checking your basic strategy card is legal when playing blackjack.

– Now this is true. And not only is it true, but I recommend it. If you are new to blackjack then I highly highly advise it. A casino will not stop you from playing if you choose to have a basic strategy chart with you. It takes awhile have memorized with confidence the entire chart. Do yourself a favor and take a chart with you. If you want to try to play without it, keep it handy in a pocket or a handbag.

  • Losing five hands mine you will win the sixth.

– I’m laughing. Yes, I am. This is most defiantly not true. There is nothing in the blackjack universe that dictates that if you lose five hands, or any number of hands for that matter, you will win the next. Never has a mathematical study shown any such evidence. But I do wonder, why six hands? I’ve heard of lucky seven, and that for some thirteen is lucky rather than unlucky. But six? Never heard of six being associated with luck.

Keep an eye out for: What is Real and Imaginary in Blackjack? Part III

House Rules to Look Out for Part I: Dealer Hits on Soft Seventeen

Whether you’re playing blackjack online or are out there in a casino, there are some house rules that are not player friendly. Yes, I know you expect that when playing blackjack. But there are some, especially if you’re just starting out, that you will want to keep an eye out for—and avoid.

When learning to play blackjack the first strategy you learn is basic strategy. These are the ‘moves’ for blackjack players. This is how we choose how to play our hands—to hit or stand, or split, or double. And the casinos—both online and off—know this. So if a half of a percent house edge wasn’t enough, the casinos will try to take any advantage from us that they can. And in some places blackjack’s basic strategy can be used against you.
Take for example that the dealer has an Ace-6. Dealers always stand on a soft seventeen—they stand on all seventeens, hard or soft. However. There are some casinos who’s house rules allow for the dealer to hit on a soft seventeen. That’s a two-tenths of a percent increase in favor of the house.

Doesn’t sound like much right? Think again. Add that two-tenths of a percent to the regular half of a percent. See the difference now? Yeah, a blackjack game in which a dealer can hit on a soft seventeen is not your friend. You do not want to give the house anymore favor over you.

You like your money, yes? And you want to win more money, yes? Bearing in mind that you won’t win every single time, why lower your odds of winning even more? Avoid blackjack games in which the dealer can hit on a soft seventeen. Look for blackjack games in which the dealer has to stand on all seventeens.

Keep an Eye Out for: House Rules to Look Out for Part II: Restrictions on Doubling Down