Parts of a Blackjack Strategy—The First Half

In light of my post from yesterday on a betting strategy that works, I got to thinking about blackjack strategy. I’ve gone over what could be used as part of strategy, and do’s and don’ts, and just blackjack tips. But I don’t think I’ve ever really written about what makes up a blackjack strategy.

So what does make up a blackjacks strategy?

Really it’s not too complex. You can think of it as having two parts: one that you use to impact the odds in your favor, and the other to control your betting.

Let’s take a look at impacting the odds. Blackjack is a game of skill, meaning that you how you choose to play can have an impact on your odds of winning. You can play poorly or you can play with some smarts. Serious blackjack players will opt for playing with smarts.

One of the smartest things you can do in terms of playing this game of skill smartly is to utilize basic strategy. This is the easiest strategy that you can use. While many serious players will work to memorize the chart, it is possible to have the chart with you and refer to it while playing.

Basic strategy is a statistical compilation of every possible hand in blackjack versus each and every dealer up card. This statistical compilation gives you the best play to make. Each play has been tested to have the best odds versus another play that you could make. This is why basic strategy is the only real tip in how to play blackjack to your best ability.

So you can use basic strategy to affect the odds of blackjack. While basic strategy will not win every single hand for you, it is the best play to make odds-wise even if you do lose the round. So what does it do? If you play blackjack according to basic strategy, you can lower the house edge to 0.05%. That percent is the best percent of all casino games—but only if you are playing basic strategy exactly as it tells you to.

This covers the first half of your blackjack strategy, the part that covers how you play.

Keep an eye out for Parts of a Blackjack Strategy—The Second Half

Plus One, Minus One—Card Counting Explained Part II

Well now that you know that the basic aspect of card counting is only adding one or subtracting one.

But what is the point of card counting and what does it do to your blackjack strategy?

While basic strategy, when played perfectly, can lower the house edge to 0.5%, card counting can even out the blackjack odds and even give you the edge. How does that work?

The whole reason to card count is to know whether the remainder of the unplayed deck is rich in high cards or low cards. High cards are 10s, face cards and Aces. Low cards are 2 through 6.

When you are counting and you count goes positive it tells you that more small value cards were played and have been discarded. And because more small value cards have been played, it reasons to say that the unplayed cards have more high cards.

Your card is positive because you have counted more low cards. Your count is based on the cards that have been played so that you can get an idea of what is still left to play. A positive count means more low cards have been played, and that the remaining deck has a higher ratio of high cards left. A negative count means that more high cards have been played, leaving more low cards left to be played.

This is where card counting affects the betting portion of your betting strategy. When your blackjack count is positive, reasoning that the remaining deck is rich in high cards, you want to increase your bet. With a remaining deck rich in high cards you stand a better chance of being dealt a high hand value or even a natural blackjack.

Conversely, when you blackjack count goes negative you know that more high cards have been played and the remaining deck is rich in low cards. At this point it will be easier to hit to bust than to be dealt a strong hand. When your count goes negative you will want to decrease you bets.

Think of it this way: when you count is positive you need to add to your bets, whereas if your count is negative you need to decrease your bets. Make your betting action reflect the positive or negativness of your count.

Plus One, Minus One—Card Counting Explained

There are many myths associated with card counting and blackjack. Some are associated with cad counting in casinos. Others are associated with learning this blackjack strategy:

You have to have a photographic memory.
You can’t count into a six deck shoe.
You have to be highly intelligent to count.

The truth is that these are all false.

You do not have to have a photographic memory.
You can count into a six deck shoe.
You don’t have to be highly intelligent to count.

Basic card counting is a simple skill to learn. It does take a lot of practice to get to the point that you don’t alert casino employees that you’re counting. But first you have to learn. And so many players are intimidated by this skill—perhaps after hearing of the legendary MIT blackjack team or seeing Dustin Hoffman in ‘Rain Man.’

About those two: 1. The MIT students were not operating as individuals, hence ‘team,’ and 2. Dustin Hoffman was playing an autistic man whose mind didn’t operate like yours and mine does. Because of those and other media representations, cad counting has taken on this reputation as a difficult skill to learn.

But don’t worry. There are many seasoned blackjack players out there. Think about it, if this skill could only be used by a handful of blackjack players casinos wouldn’t feel threatened by it.

The point is that card counting is as easy as elementary arithmetic.

Card counters assign values, sometimes called tags, to cards. In the most basic and easiest system to learn, tags are assigned as such: 2-6 are plus 1, 7-9 are neutral and have no value, and 10-Ace are minus 1.

Now for the basic math:

You have been dealt a 6 and a 4. Both of those are plus 1, so you add +1 to +1 to equal +2. You hit and are dealt a 10. A 10 has a tag of -1. Add that to your +2 to equal +1. It looks like this:

6, 4 and 10 becomes +1, +1, -1 = +1

It’s like the basic adding and subtracting of positive and negative numbers you did in elementary school. Card counting is that easy. You simply add or subtract the tags of your cards, other players’ cards and the dealer’s cards.

But then what do you do?

Keep an eye out for Plus One, Minus One—Card Counting Explained Part II

Casinos Pouting About Card Counting Players

If you follow gambling news then you’ve probably already heard of this Thomas P. Donovan and the Grand Victoria Casino. If you haven’t, let me give you a quick recap:

In 2006 the Grand Victoria threw Donovan out of their casino in Rising Sun, Indiana for card counting. He sued and lost. So he went to the Indiana Court of Appeals where he won, the appeals court saying that it wasn’t a good enough reason to kick Donovan out.

This comes down to casinos not liking card counters. Online casino operators are thankful that they don’t have to deal with this issue since you can’t count card online. But for land based casinos this, according to them, is a major thorn in their sides. Why? Because they might lose.

Oh my, oh my, a casino might lose a fraction of their money to a player.

And that, blackjack fans, is the problem. Casinos basically expect players to walk in the door and give over their money; they also expect that they shouldn’t have to pay them back…except for the occasional big win that looks good for business and will draw players.

If we wanted to give our money away without the chance of any monetary return, we could just as easily donate our money to the church. The reason this is gambling is because we are putting our money out there on the chance that we can win money back. It’s a chance. A gamble.

And casinos need to except that their business is a gamble. If you’re going to go into business where players are putting their money on the line, then they need to except that they will have to pay players who win.

While most of the games in casinos are games of chance, blackjack is a game of skill. Like with any game, players are going to try to find a strategy, try to win. This is the case with card counting. All card counting is is a strategy that blackjack players use to try to even up the odds.

Casinos start with the edge already. And they think that it’s unfair for players to use mental processes, such as remembering what cards have been played out of the decks and calculating an approximate chance that they’ll hit for a high card—card counting. They feel that it’s unfair for players to try to do something to win.

If that’s how they feel, they should be lobbying for a ban on mental processes or, if they’re that afraid of losing to players, then they should stick to slots, roulette and keno, and stop fussing about card counting blackjack players.

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.