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.

Are Card Counting Days Numbered?

Casinos the world over must thinking that their day is coming and are getting ready to celebrate. To my blackjack friends, I am sorry to say that a computer program is in the works that will be able to detect card counting.

Or so its programmer says. Kris Zutis, a final year student at Dundee, is claiming that he has developed a program that will be able to track a game as it progresses by monitoring the cards played and by tracking how a player bets. It is explained that a camera will watch a game of blackjack, collecting information about the game. It then somehow uses a complex system of algorithms to analyze how the game is being played. It will compare betting done by players to what cards have been played.

In other words, this card counting detection system is going to count cards to see if how a player is betting is reflected in how this detection system has counted the deck. I have to admit that this Zutis kid is pretty smart to think of this—what better way to detect card counting players than to have the casino count cards and compare it to how blackjack players are betting. Actually I’m surprised the casinos haven’t figured that idea out already. But this kid takes it the idea further by creating a program to compute that comparison. Nice way to make money, Zutis.

So not only will we blackjack players have to find a new system, but now we’ll have to be mindful of how we’re betting. Seems we won’t be able to bet how we wish anymore without upsetting these poor casinos. Seems Big Brother has finally tapped into the world of gambling—let’s tell them how they can and can’t gamble.

Zutis says his program isn’t ready to go on the market quite yet; he has to develop it further. Calling all investors—help develop a program that will do the counting that we will be forbidden to do. A bit hypocritical, no?

Zutis is a self-proclaimed poker enthusiast. Originally he said he wanted his project to be related to poker. He wanted to sully his own game. But after learning the system was better suited to crackdown on blackjack he went that route. More like he realized, ‘Oops, I don’t want to somehow limit the game that I play.’ And while he will most likely be rather disliked if his card counting program for detecting card counting is sold to casinos, I can’t imagine anyone liking a guy who sells out to the casinos’ side.

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.

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.

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.

Word on Blackjack Betting Strategies

I’m sure in your time online, while either searching for a good online casino or looking for blackjack tips (always abide by basic strategy, by the way), you’ve seen multiple theories on betting strategies. And, I’ll be honest, I’m not a fall really of them. I rather like my card counting. However, that’s pretty much useless when playing online blackjack. So what’s a blackjack player to do?

Well, there is a couple betting strategies that we can look over.

First, let’s look at the Martingale approach. In this betting strategy for every hand that you lose you increase your bet by a hundred percent. The only time you return to your original bet is when you’ve won a hand. In other words, this strategy is aimed at trying to beat losing streaks. Obviously you need a large bankroll to handle this one though, which could be a downside to using this strategy. Let’s say you are playing at a $10 table, and you’ve lost the first nine hands. That means on the tenth hand you would need to bet $5120. And there’s no guarantee that you would even win that hand. Seems to me that in using the Martingale approach you stand to lose a fair amount of money—more than I would personally be comfortable with. And if your bankroll isn’t outstanding to begin with, you could have a short night in playing blackjack. However, there is a definite benefit to winning back what you lost and making quite a gain too. Let’s say that you won that tenth hand with a natural blackjack—your payout would be $7680.

Now let’s look at the Paroli blackjack betting strategy. Whereas, Martingale seeks to overcome a losing streak, Paroli seeks to make the most of a winning streak. This is accomplished by doubling when you win a hand, but you return to your original amount once you lose a hand. This betting strategy doesn’t require a large bankroll, which is nice for those who don’t wish to risk a lot. Using the same scenario as above, after nine hands you will have only lost $90. But, despite this method being safer risk-wise, it doesn’t seem to me to have the high yield potential that the Martingale method does.

Mostly it comes down to your own personal thoughts towards blackjack and gambling in general. Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty sort of person? Me, I will admit that I’m the half empty sort. I approach blackjack with the mentality that I have a greater chance at losing. I’ve heard that this is smart, as players who believe that they can’t possibly lose tend to be over-confident and lose more.

It never hurts to try both methods in an online casino’s free play version. This way you can try both methods and see which one seems to suit you better. I believe that if you’re willing to risk and the bankroll, the Martingale has a better chance of giving you a larger payout, even though the Paroli is a safer methods. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

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 V

Hello again. Are there more blackjack “rules?” Yes, there are more blackjack rules! But you wanted to know, yes? Yes. Then we’ll continue.

  • You’re a cheater if you see the dealer’s hole card and don’t say a word.

– No, you aren’t a cheater so rest easy. You did nothing wrong. The dealer did. Seriously. This isn’t writing off a heck of a tip-off on how to play. If a dealer is sloppy it’s the casino’s fault for hiring a sloppy dealer, or the dealer’s fault for not being more cautious. You have no effect on the dealer at all (this includes the magical third base chair too). Remember, no effect.

If you want to think that real luck is involved with blackjack, then this is it. Seeing the dealer’s hole card because of their mistake is a lucky break for you. Otherwise there is no luck in blackjack. There’s chance in how the cards are dealt, but not luck. The only luck is when the dealer messes up. And it’s the casino’s responsibility to run herd on their dealers, not yours.

  • You are a cheater if you accept a winning blackjack bet that you actually lost.

– Again, no, you’re not a cheater. This one also falls under “Dealer Sloppiness.” It’s the dealer’s responsibility to pay attention to whether you won or he won. If you didn’t and he gives you the payout anyway, you again, have done nothing wrong. You didn’t tell the dealer to pay you when you didn’t win. For whatever reason, the dealer is paying you anyway despite losing that round of blackjack. You do not run herd on the dealers, the casino does. And  a dealer who can’t pay attention enough to payout only when he is supposed to won’t be a dealer for long.

Now. Whether you accept the payout or not is up to you. This one isn’t like seeing the dealer’s hole card; once you see it, you can’t un-see it. A payout you didn’t win may be accidentally awarded to you, but you don’t have to take it. This one depends on your ethics. If you’re are comfortable in your heart by taking it, then take it—it was the dealer and casino’s mistake. If you aren’t comfortable with taking the payout, speak up, tell the dealer that, hey, he made a mistake. There is nothing that says you have to take the wrongly given payout. Accepting it is up to you and your ethics and your conscience.

  • Progressive betting systems will overcome the house edge.

– No. No, no, no. This one has nothing to do with the dealer or casino either. This one is all you. No, there isn’t a progressive betting system that will overcome the house edge in blackjack. It’s true that you might win more, but you can also lose more too.

Other than basic strategy and card counting, there isn’t a system that will change the odds. Progressive betting can cause small fluctuations in your bankroll but that’s about it. With an unlimited bankroll on their side, casinos don’t think twice about system players—other than card counters, they really don’t like them. The problem with a progressive betting system is that once you think you’ve found one that works, greed will rear it’s ugly head. You will think your system is unbeatable. Math will catch up with you and you will lose and lose big. And that’s how casinos have an unlimited bankroll.

You can’t overcome the house edge in blackjack. The best you can do is whittle it away to give you the best odds. Do so with basic strategy and card counting—but don’t get caught counting cards!

What is Real and Imaginary in Blackjack? Part IV

Welcome back. Yes, there’s more to discuss. It seems that while the rules in blackjack aren’t extensive, the myths and “rules” are. And you have to wade through them, whittle away at them to get down to what is actually relevant to playing blackjack. Let’s continue.

  • As the third base player you have to take the dealer’s bust card and change the way their outcome.

– This one is a no. Let’s say that the player at third base doesn’t take a card, then the previous player was the one that took the dealer’s bust card. Or maybe the player before that one. You can see where I’m going with this. In other words, the player at third base doesn’t effect the dealer specifically because any player who hits changes the outcome of the round. And if it were true that the third base player could cause the dealer to win or lose, the casinos would have already hired players to make sure the dealer won.

  • A new player entering the game mid-shoe will disrupt the flow of the cards, causing everyone to lose.

– I think that you can take card games so seriously to the point that superstitions become fact in some minds. That’s a beyond serious hobby then. Back to the “rule” at hand. No. No, a new player will not cause everyone to lose. Okay, yes, it’s true that the cards could flow differently. And even then, that’s not entirely solid. Say one person leaves the table at the end of a round and someone else joins the game before the next round is dealt. Is the flow of the cards really changing? It’s the same number of people. The new person is sitting in the same place as the old one. You haven’t moved. So in theory, you’re going to receive the same cards that you would have whether the first player left or not.

The other thing about this “rule” is that the flow of cards is random. Let’s say the this new player didn’t replace an old one. Let’s say that he or she sat down at a different seat or took an unoccupied seat. Yes, you are not going to receive the cards that you would have received had that new player never joined. This doesn’t mean you’re going to lose. There is nothing that says the cards will flow better or worse. Remember, the cards are random. Who knows, rather than make the flow worse, this new player could make them flow better for you. Because of the seriousness with which some players believe these sorts of “rules,” maybe they should take vows to the blackjack table:

I take you, blackjack, to play always from this day forward, for better card flow or worse, for losing bets and winning, for busting or not busting, to love  and to damn; from this day forward until through my lost money we part.

Okay, that was a little mean. I mean no ill will against marriage, truly. It’s just the seriousness that people apply to blackjack. Yes, you can take it seriously and strive to be the best player that you can be. But we you take these “rules” that can be broken apart with simple logic, well, that’s where I’m astounded. Or perhaps I’m too logical.

  • It matters how the casino or online software shuffles the cards.

– I’m going to re-title this blog “What is Real or Imaginary in Blackjack: Part IV, the Extreme Superstitions. That being said, no, in no way does it effect what cards you are going to be dealt. In online casinos, cards are dealt by a random number generator (RNG), in which the word “random” says enough. In land based casinos, especially at tables that are using six or eight decks, they are going to be using a shuffling machine, which eliminates a human dealer from not shuffling them properly. If anything, using a shuffling machine will cause a deck to be used faster, allowing for more rounds. Casinos like this as it gives you more opportunities to lose. So of course they are going to use shuffling machines. If it gives them more opportunities to take your money, they will do it.

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