Best Hands to Double Down On

Blackjack is usually played from a defensive position. You make your playing decisions based on what the dealer’s up card is. Think about it. When you’re looking at your basic strategy chart you are seeing what to do in the situation that the dealer is showing X card.

However, there are some instances when we blackjack players get to go on the offensive. And those times are when we are dealt a starting hand total of 9, 10 or 11.

When we have one of those three starting hand totals, usually our best move is to double down. And doubling down is an offensive stance. When you are doubling down you are telling the dealer that you have a better chance of out-drawing the dealer—that your hand is stronger than his.

Having a starting hand of 11 you have the most opportunities to double down. Basically it’s best to double down if the dealer is showing a 2 through 10. The only time you don’t is when the dealer has an Ace showing.

If you have 10, double down against a dealer’s 2 through 9. And if you have a 9, double down 3 through 6.

When you double down you only receive one more card. If that last card is a 10 you know have 19, 20 or 21—all of which are strong hands.

And because you doubled down on a hand in which you have a better chance of out drawing the dealer, you have a better chance of doubling your winnings.

If you can’t have a natural blackjack or a hard 20 or 19, an 11 would be the hand to wish for next.

Super Fun 21 Isn’t That Fun for Blackjack Players

Attention blackjack players: avoid Super Fun 21, also known as just Super21.

There, now that my warning is out there, I’ll share with you why it’s in your best interest—and your bankroll’s interest—to stay away from this game. And this applies to all blackjack players, online and regular casino players.

Let’s take a look at what they’re offering.

Casinos will try to lure you in to play this blackjack variation by telling you it’s a single deck game. That should have great odds. But, wait it gets better.

Super 21 rules allow you to double down on any number of cards. Great, blackjack player odds just got better. I know you just can’t believe that. But, wait, there’s more.

Yes, more. You can surrender after doubling down if you like. I know, the odds just keep getting better and better.

Have you ever heard that phrase, ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is?’

Guess what? That applies to Super Fun 21, or Super 21 if you’d rather call it that.

Traditional blackjack, online or not, pays out 3-2 for a natural blackjack. In Super Fun 21, the payout for a natural blackjack is even money. Yes, even money. There is one natural blackjack that pays more but it must be made up of diamonds. All other natural blackjacks receive even money.

This even money payout not only wipes out the advantages from this variation’s player-favorable rules, it actually increases the house edge…an 85% increase actually. That translates in a raise of 0.95% on top of their 2% to 5%.

Does sound like much fun anymore does it, blackjack players?

No, I didn’t think so. Super Fun 21, masquerading as Super 21 at times, should be avoided by all blackjack players, online and in casinos, for its even money payouts and increased house edge.

How to Play with Soft Hands–Soft 17

Soft hands can be tricky to play with real success. It’s all because of that Ace. Some players will look for the easy way out when they have been dealt a soft hand.

Take, for example, being dealt a 6 and an Ace. Soft 17.

Many players will play this hand as they would a hard 17. That’s because they are so focused on that 17. And in some cases that’s an acceptable thing to do. But in many cases it isn’t the most advantageous play to make. ‘Isn’t the most advantageous’ as in you are going to lose more money in the long run if you always stand on soft 17.

Let’s go back to the basic principle of blackjack strategy, and that is assuming that the dealer’s hole card is worth ten. Once you assume that you can assume what the dealer’s total is versus what your total is.

Pretend that you have been dealt a soft 17 and the dealer has an upcard of either an 8, 9, 10 or Ace. If the dealer has any one of those for an upcard, and you assume that his hole card is a ten, then you need to play a defensive strategy.

And having a soft 17 gives you the ability to play defensively. You can turn that soft 17 into a hard seven and hit, which is what basic strategy tells you to do with a hard 7. This is giving your hand another chance at winning.

You can take even more advantage of a soft 17 by doubling down. It’s best to double down when the dealer is showing a 3, 4, 5 or 6. This is because the dealer has the best chances of busting against a soft 17, making you the winner.

You can use this blackjack strategy for a soft 17 both in casinos and online casinos.

Blackjack Strategy—Splitting 8s

Why do you split 8s? Why is it a standard in blackjack strategy to do so?

Look at what blackjack strategy is first. In the first place you have a strategy so that you can improve your odds of winning. But what do you do when you find yourself in a situation that you know you are most likely going to lose?

This is the other part of your blackjack strategy: finding the least costly way out of a non-winning situation.

Now let’s look at being dealt a pair of 8s and the dealer has an upcard that is a 9, 10, or Ace.

If you were to stand on a hard 16, you are then playing with a stiff hand and will most likely lose. Interesting side note: you will be dealt a stiff hand about 43% of the time; and we all know that it’s easiest to lose with those hands.

Thankfully you can split those 8s. A pessimistic person might say that this is unwise blackjack strategy because you’re probably going to lose anyway. And this is why we don’t listen to pessimistic people.

Think of splitting those 8s as a second chance for you on this round. You can build two new hands, each starting with an 8 card. Yes, you do have to double your bet.

And, yes, you could lose all of that, but this is blackjack, this is gambling—you are going to lose sometimes. The trick here is to try to lose the least amount of money to get out of this round and on to the next.

By splitting your 8s and creating two new hands, you have the possibility of turning what could have been a pretty good shot at losing into one in which you have the possibility of winning with one hand, maybe even both.

The point to remember about pair splitting strategy is that this move is in place, for those who know how to use it, to lose less and win more in the long run. By only hitting or standing you are limiting your strategy and your odds at blackjack.

You can use this strategy for online blackjack or when playing at a casino.

Stressed? Prescribe Yourself Some Online Blackjack!

Feeling out of control? Feeling like you’re at your wit’s end?

Try some online blackjack. Seriously.

Online blackjack has actually seen to reduce stress.

A study at Oxford University in the UK found that online gaming can reduce stress and its side effects. A similar study done at McGill University in Canada also found such results. The reason they found for this is that playing games, including blackjack, online serves as an escape mechanism.

When playing, the person’s mind is diverted from its worries and other such things that induce cortisol, the stress hormone. Researchers at Oxford found that cortisol dropped by an average of seventeen percent after people were done playing online.

Another study, conducted over a course of six months with 134 subjects, at an Eastern Carolina University in the US found that those who played could reduce their stress through playing, and were a little happier overall.

And then an online casino did its own independent survey. The online casino said that 74% of their players who played online blackjack felt that, through playing blackjack, they were lowering their stress and making themselves happier.

However, there was a group of blackjack players whose stress wasn’t reduced. But the majority of those players were playing in high stakes games. No surprise there. You’re going to up your stress when you’ve got a large amount of your money on the line.

So what does this mean to you? It means that playing some low stakes online blackjack games can actually lower your stress, improve your health and make you feel happier. And I’ll bet you feel happier when you win a bit of money too.

Stress has been cited to create destructive behavior in people, such as excessive drinking and over eating, along with social instability. But there are other health problems linked to stress: heart problems, reduced abilities in your immune system, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and even cancer.

If you’re feeling stressed, go play a few rounds of low stakes blackjack and get that stress out!

21 Things to Avoid When Playing Blackjack—Part III

This will be the last in this little series. And while it seems most of these can be applied to land based casino blackjack, a fair amount of them can be applied to online blackjack as well.

While you aren’t dealing with other players online, there are player forums on non-casinos sites, and you will want to treat those posting as you would other players in a casino. Be snazzy and knowledgeable, but be respectful above all else.

That being said, here are the last seven:

  1. Do not use a progressive betting system. Remember past postings? The ones in which I said there is no way to predict what cards will be dealt? The odds of each round are independent of each other. There is no law or rule that says that if you lose X number of hands, you will win the next. A progressive betting system relies on the idea that you will win again…eventually. But there is no telling when, and how much money you’ll have bet, that win will come.
  2. Are you a regular blackjack player? These people are there to help you. Casino hosts are the links between you and the casino. They want you to be happy and help you with whatever you need—in fact, they seem reluctant to say no if it means that you’ll keep playing. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to follow every single suggestion they give you. If you’re a blackjack player and don’t want to play keno, then don’t play keno if they suggest it. But it pays to make friends with them—they give out comps.
  3. And speaking of comps, never be rude when asking for a comp. Rudeness never pays off. Comps are not rights, they are rewards for playing. So ask what the casino’s rules for comps are first, play to them, and then ask nicely once you’ve met some requirements.
  4. Get comps you need to get rated, don’t avoid it. Easiest way to get rated is to see your casino host and ask. You do want your comps, right?
  5. A sign of a good player is tipping the dealer. No, it’s not required of you, but think of it this way: they are providing you with a service just like how a waiter would. And you tip a waiter, right? So you should be tipping your dealers too. Also think of it this way: floor supervisors also approve comps, and when they see their dealers being treated nicely they’re more inclined to be give you comps.
  6. Never play a 6-5 game. The payout is smaller over time. On top of what is actually a worse payout, the odds increase with this payout version by as much as seven times. Without basic strategy, the odds are 2-5%. With a 6-5 game the odds become 14-35%. Always avoid 6-5 payout games.
  7. Lastly, never play at a table with a Continuous Shuffling Machine (CSM). A regular shuffling machine is fine. But a CSM is bad news. This is because the used cards are shuffled back in to the deck between each round. Online players, this is the land-based version of the RNG. And it makes card counting impossible since the cards that have just been played are added back into the deck.

And there you have it, 21 things to avoid. Work these into playing, even those that can be applied online, and see how much better your overall blackjack experience is.

The Mystery that is Insurance in Blackjack

When playing blackjack online or in a casino, at some point in time you have most likely been offered insurance. There are a lot of notions out there as to whether insurance is a good bet or a waste. So which is it? Or is it both?

First, let’s take a look at what insurance is.

The way that it is explained to you, is that an insurance bet is to protect you from losing all your money in case the dealer has a natural blackjack. Insurance is only offered when the dealer’s up card is an Ace—one of the cards that is required to have a natural. The reason insurance is offered on Aces and not on ten value cards is because Aces are smaller in number than the ten value cards and less likely to appear.

Now, insurance is really a side bet on whether or not the dealer’s hole card is a ten value card. You are making a 2-1 bet on what that card is. If it is a ten value then you get the 2-1 payout. And if the hole card isn’t worth 10 then you lose your insurance bet.

When looking at all the outcomes of making an insurance bet, you will find that there are three winning situations, two losing and one push. You will win money if you and the dealer both have naturals, if you have blackjack and the dealer doesn’t, and if neither of you have blackjack and you win the hand. You lose if neither of you have blackjack and you lose the hand, and if neither of you have naturals and you tie the hand. The only push outcome happens when you don’t have blackjack and the dealer does.

So three winning chances and one push versus two loses sounds pretty good right?

Wrong.

Let’s look at this from a statistical point of view, because, let’s face it, we are dealing with numbers and probability. Let’s say we’re talking about an infinite shoe, and since most tables use six to eight decks and online casinos have RNGs, we might as well think of them as infinite. With that number of decks or an RNG, there is a nine-to-four odds against the hole card being worth 10; this is because for every four ten value cards there are nine others.

Now we’ll combine math with statistics. Let’s say that in one year you make a $5 insurance bet 1300 times (considering how often a dealer has an Ace up card that’s a lot of blackjack). Going off of the nine-to-four statistic, you’d win 400 times and lose 900 times.

Translate that into money now. Winning a $5 insurance would give you $10. So if you won 400 times you would have made $4,000. For every time you lost a $5 insurance bet you would lose that $5. So losing 900 insurance bets means that you have lost $4,500. Add $4,000 and a negative $4,500 and you are left with a loss of $500.

And that is why, for the most part, you do not take insurance in both online blackjack and land based blackjack.

However, if you’re a card counter, there is an instance when taking insurance can be profitable.

Keep an eye open for Card Counting and Insurance.

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.

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