21 Things to Avoid When Playing Blackjack—Part II

While the first seven tips from my last blog are a good place to start if you’re looking to improve your overall blackjack experience, there is more. Yes, I said more.

Think about the images you have of dressed-up players and how snazzy they look. If you look at movies and those images hard enough, you can see that there are subtle things that they do. These are the unspoken rules. If you are looking to have that snazzy casino feel about you, then start incorporating these things into how you play blackjack.

  1. One of the biggest things you can do to lower your standing with fellow players is to not use basic strategy. No joke here. Basic strategy is considered the correct way to play. It’s seen as foolish to now play by this strategy. It’s legal to use in casinos, both online and land based, and it’s the best statistical chances for every hand.
  2. This next one is merely a matter of form—remember that snazzy casino player image? Stack your chips from highest denomination to lowest chip. The dealer can then add up the total amount of your bet easily.
  3. You’ve heard about players who get upset when a new player sits down mid-shoe and starts playing? There are two things about sitting down at a table mid-shoe. 1. In some casinos it’s forbidden and a sign is posted saying so. 2. If it is allowed, respect the other players already playing and wait to start playing at that table.
  4. Advice on playing two or more spots at one table: in most casinos you will have to bet double the minimum on each hand that you play. Be aware of that before you spread to more hands. If you aren’t sure whether you have to bet double on each hand, then ask the dealer. And also, when playing more than one spot at a table, finish one hand before you even look at the next.
  5. If you’re the lucky player who gets to insert the cut card, be aware that the majority of casinos require the cut card to go at least a half-deck from either end. Just know this and remember it. If you don’t place it more than half-deck in you will get a rebuke from the dealer and have to cut again. It holds up the game and can make you appear to be a novice in front of other players.
  6. This one is a pretty big one in terms of respect for your fellow players: do not ever tell another player how to play his hand. If he asks then go ahead and give your advice. But if they don’t ask, don’t say anything—let them think and learn for themselves. Would you like it if you had a table full of people telling you how to play?
  7. Now, the last one for this post is a very big deal. If you don’t follow this unwritten rule, you will find the consequences could be more than you want. Never, ever, at all under any circumstances take your bad luck out on fellow players or the dealer. This is considered extremely bad form and very bad blackjack manners. And it will make other players think very little of you.

There. You now have seven more etiquette tips to work into your blackjack playing style. So start working them in and see how much more your gaming experience improves.

Keep an eye open for “21 Things to Avoid When Playing Blackjack—Part III

Blackjack: The Root of the Phobia & How to Overcome It!

Who’s afraid of blackjack?

Actually quite a lot of people.

So what do they do when at the casinos?

They play slots. They want to try playing strategic games, they want to try blackjack. But they’re afraid of it.

What are they afraid of?

They’re afraid of making mistakes when playing. I suppose this is understandable. We all know that there are die-hard blackjack players who are barely able to restrain themselves when a novice player doesn’t play exactly right. So it’s completely understandable that a novice blackjack player would be intimidated.

But, hey, everyone makes mistakes—even those die-hard blackjack players.

So how do you, slot player or not, gain the confidence to play blackjack?

Start at the beginning and learn the rules. The objective is to beat the dealer without going over 21.

You will be dealt two cards. Add up their value to get your hand total. The dealer will have also received two cards, one will be face up and the other face down.

At this point you have to choose how to play. If you want to try to increase your hand total, then hit for more cards. Once you are happy with your hand total you stand. You can also stand if you are happy with the first two cards you were dealt—you do not have to hit unless you wish to. You can also double down; you would double your original bet and receive one more card before having to stand. If you are dealt two cards with the same value, a pair, you can split them into two separate hands by adding another bet of the same amount as the your original. Each card will receive another card so that each hand will start with two cards. You then play each hand individually.

Learning the game is the easy part. The hard part, and this is what intimidates new players the most, which play to you make and when?

This is surprisingly easy too. Use a basic strategy chart. This is a chart with the best statistical play for every card total versus each dealer’s up card. A basic strategy chart will tell you how to play each hand. Just play how it tells you to and stick with it. You will win more hands in the long run than if you played without it.

This will give you a good start in learning blackjack. Try playing at low stakes table to start out with or practice playing for free online in a casino’s free play mode. Practice will help build your confidence and make you comfortable with the game.

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

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.

Blackjack Players Forced Into Hiding

As we all know games of chance are illegal in the US. But around the country—or at least in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and South Carolina—courts are ruling that poker is a game of skill rather than a game of chance. So what does this have to do with blackjack?

Everything! If poker can be deemed a game of skill, so can blackjack.

Let’s look at this. Poker is being considered a game of skill because it takes skill in knowing when and how to play the cards you’ve been dealt. It’s not like slots—put a coin in, push a button and cross your fingers. In poker you choose to keep your cards or to hit. A poker player isn’t stuck with the cards he was dealt with no decisions at his disposal.

And if poker was a game of chance then everyone would have an equal opportunity to win. And in poker that just isn’t the case. Let’s say that you get five people together to play. If poker was a game of chance then each one would win ten percent of the time. But realistically a skill hierarchy will form, with the most skilled player winning a greater percent of the time than the others.

So what does this have to do with blackjack? Blackjack is also a game of skill, and its players shouldn’t have to hide or feel unwelcome in a casino. Of course, an online casino can’t tell the difference in players since each player is playing a Random Number Generator (RNG), which makes online casinos a nice home for blackjack players. But the point is that blackjack players should feel just as welcome in a land based casino as any other player.

Blackjack is a game of skill because you as a player have a decision to make in how to play your hand. Do you stand? Or do you hit? Should you double down or not? If blackjack was a game of chance you would be dealt your cards and that would be the end of it. But it’s not.

So like the example of sitting a five people down to play poker, let’s change the game to blackjack. If blackjack were a game of chance, then like the example above, each player would statistically win ten percent of the time. But as we all know, through mastery of basic strategy and card counting, a skill hierarchy will develop in this playing group as well.

So why should poker only be ruled as a game of skill and not blackjack? It could only be that poker is a better known game. But blackjack should be recognized as such too. It is by far a game of skill.

What determines the difference between a game of skill and a game of chance? It’s in how the game is played. If a player can do nothing to alter his odds then it’s a game of chance. But if the player can alter his odds through strategy or practiced methods then it’s a game of skill.

Skilled blackjack players shouldn’t have to skulk around casinos feeling that as soon as they sit down the pit boss’s eyes will be on him. The casino will make their money without a doubt. They have slots, craps, roulette and more to bring in their money. And not every single blackjack player is going to beat the casino. Some don’t even play with basic strategy, let alone card count. A skilled player shouldn’t be rewarded for being skilled by being unwelcome to play the game. And besides, casinos should remember that even professional blackjack player isn’t going to win every single hand.

Respect to the Dealer’s 7 Up Card

The dealer’s 7 up card isn’t given its due. Often underestimated, this card should be treated with more respect than most players give it. It’s just a card, right? No. So many times have I seen a player play their hand out the wrong way when facing down a dealer’s 7. When faced with a dealer’s 7, here’s some things to keep in mind and work into your blackjack strategy.

Doubling Down with a 9: Okay, this one might qualify as a smart play. But there is a smarter move that can be made. Don’t double down when you have a 9. Yes, I said don’t double down. Double down only gives you a 53% chance of winning that hand. What if I told you there was a better play to make with better odds of winning? Just hit it. Forget doubling down this time. Hitting with a 9 when faced with a 7 actually gives you a 59% chance of winning. Go with the 59% and hit your hand.

Splitting two 6s: While we all play to win, how you play this hand should be factored into the part of your blackjack strategy of “What’s the best and cheapest way to lose.” This is pair is best left together. You have a greater chance of losing two hands built of those 6s than you do if you just hit. If you split and lose both hands, you’ve just lost twice the money you would have lost if you had only just hit your 12. Just accept that the chances aren’t that great with this hand, hit it, play it out and hope for better cards in the next round.

Standing with an Ace/6: Statistically your soft 17 is going to lose more than it will win. Don’t play for a push, be aggressive with this hand, be fearless. Hit it. Yes, the chances of a hit turning your soft 17 into a stiff hand is pretty good, but you know what? Hit that too. This goes back to being fearless and remembering that you aren’t going to win every hand. Standing with a soft seventeen already has a greater chance at losing than winning, so why not try to improve your hand by hitting. You never know, you just might. Yes, you might lose if you hit, but the chances weren’t stacked for you to win with a soft 17 anyway. So go ahead and hit.

Doubling Down with an Ace/6: Okay, I know I said play aggressive, to be fearless, but there are limits to that. Be smart. While I would hit on this hand, I wouldn’t double down on it either. That I would say is too fearless. There’s a difference between being fearless and stupid. You know that if you double down you’ll only receive one more card. Chances are when–not if—you hit, your first two cards will turn from a soft 17 to a 7, in which case you’ve 14 more points to play with. That means you’ll probably have to hit a second time, which is impossible when doubling down. The smartest thing to do with an Ace/6 when faced with a dealer’s 7 is to hit as much as basic strategy keeps telling you to, but do not double down.

Now that you can see how a dealer’s 7 is a bit trickier to navigate than you might have originally thought. Take those tips and work them into your blackjack strategy—you could think of it as your strategy for how to cope with a 7 up card.

Good Blackjack Strategy

What makes for a good Blackjack strategy?

Basic strategy is a good place to start, but is it enough to win?

Realistically, you’re going to need a combination of basic strategy and card counting. Initially you need to be comfortable enough with basic strategy so as not to need to constantly reference a chart—that’s that first thing for an effective blackjack game. Once you’ve got that down, throw a little card counting into your blackjack strategy.

No, that doesn’t mean memorizing the whole deck and the odds of a single deck versus multiple decks. Although you certainly can learn and employ a card counting strategy and, with enough practice, increase the power of your overall Blackjack strategy. Honestly, when you’re first beginning to play, that’s a lot of math and numbers to keep straight on top of remembering which basic strategy option to use for which card combinations. Keep the card counting portion of your strategy simple when first beginning to play Balckjack . This plays into your betting strategy as well

You know you want ten cards and aces. Think of how many tens and aces are in play based on how many decks your playing with. How many have already played? And how many are left? If there’s not a lot of tens and aces left keep your bets down. If you there’s still a decent amount left then your chances of receiving one is better, so raise your bet. That’s how to use simplistic card counting to guide your Blackjack betting strategy.

So at this point your Blackjack strategy is comprised of having the basic strategy charts memorized and using simple card counting to influence your betting strategy. This makes for a good Blackjack strategy for the average player. Keeping those in mind should help decrease the house’s favor, which should increase your chances of winning.