Category Archives: Blackjack

Who has the biggest blackjack book collection?

I’ve been collecting blackjack books since the early 1980s.  It’s pretty intensive but I am sure it is not the largest.  If your collection is larger I would love to hear your comments.  I recently did some organizing in my office and found a few duplicate books – which you can check out on the BJRnet Amazon Marketplace account.  The photo below is just the corner of my office.  It doesn’t include poker books, blackjack software and my other collections.

Dalton's Book Collection 2020
Dalton’s Book Collection 2020

What is the worst play in blackjack?

By Michael Dalton

Ignoring abnormal plays such as hitting a 19 or 20 or standing on Ace-Ace, the worst play, expectation wise, is standing on 8,8 versus 7, rather than splitting them! You will lose about 70 cents on the dollar each time you make this play. If you stick to basic strategy you won’t have to worry about questions like this!

David Sklansky presented a short chapter on this very subject in his book Getting the Best of It 1)Getting the Best of It is an outstanding expose on the mathematics of gambling, general gambling concepts, sports and horse betting, poker, blackjack, and the other casino games. It is highly recommended. Sklansky writes, “Picking the worst play is not just a trivial exercise. This is because in order to reach the right answer it is necessary that one understand the underlying concepts used in determining the correct basic strategy. These concepts really all come down to one thing: mathematical expectation.

In my book Blackjack: A Professional Reference, I define the term “expectation” to mean the amount (expressed in dollars or percent) that a player should win (or lose) based on the player’s statistical advantage (disadvantage). If you flip a coin and bet $100 on heads your expectation is exactly zero dollars. This is because you have an even (50%) chance of winning each bet. In the long run your expectation is to break even. If the coin was rigged to positively come up heads once every 100 flips your expectation would now be $1 (or 1%) each time the coin was tossed.

“…you have the wonderful appendices to the latest edition of Wong’s Professional Blackjack, in which every expectation is catalogued. For me, this has become the definitive source for this kind of study.”

One easy way to figure out how much of a mistake you would be making by deviating from basic strategy is to use Stanford Wong’s Blackjack Count Analyzer (BJCA) software. All you have to do is set up the game rules, turn basic strategy on and enter the game simulator. The software allows you to set up any hand you want. All you have to do is play the hand differently from basic strategy and you will be alerted that you have made a mistake along with the severity (in percent). In the example given above (8,8 vs 7) BJCA reports a 66.2% error in single deck and 64.4% error in multideck.

But what about plays that are very close? Could these plays be used for camouflage by an experienced card counter? The answer is, of course, yes. A good source for this information (at the time) was in Bill Brown’s 190,000,000 Hands of Blackjack2) After originally writing this article for Blackjack Review Magazine, renowned expert Don Schlesinger, author of Blackjack Attack, questioned my choice of Bill Brown’s book as a source of information. Schlesinger commented, “I was a bit surprised to see you quote, of all people, Bill Brown’s 190 Million Hands of Blackjack as a source for your 8,8 v. 7 study. There are so many other places you might have gone. The first person to print this kind of comparison was Braun, in his How to Play Winning Blackjack. Next, you have the wonderful appendices to the latest edition of Wong’s Professional Blackjack, in which every expectation is catalogued. For me, this has become the definitive source for this kind of study. Finally, I hope you haven’t forgotten my ‘Basic Strategy Camouflage: How ‘Dumb‘ Can You Afford to Appear’ article in the September 1993 Blackjack Forum. Ironically, on page 13, you will find a detailed analysis of the exact play you were discussing. But I consider splitting versus the next logical choice of hitting, not standing. Yours is somewhat of a “reach,” in that you compare the optimal play to the *third* best choice, instead of the usual second.” I commented as follows: You are right, Stanford Wong’s appendix in Professional Blackjack is a much better source for determining camouflage plays. which was published in 1990. Brown ran simulations on just about every hand possibility and reports the difference if you deviate from basic strategy. The only problem with the book is that the resulting percentages are not always accurate due to the limited number of trials for each hand possibility. But the close plays do stand out! Here’s an example: 16 vs 10. Always hitting this hand resulted in a -78131 loss versus a loss of -78755 for standing. The difference was +624 by following basic strategy or put another way, standing on 16 vs 10 is about a 0.8% error. As a comparison, BJCA reports an error of 0.2%. It doesn’t matter what the exact number is. All we are interested in is that the play is not a gross error (i.e., greater than 5% or so).

An interesting camouflage play in multideck might be to hit a 12 versus a dealer 4 when the count is neutral and you have a medium sized bet on the table. Both BJCA and Brown suggest this is less than a 1% error. Of course, if the count was negative you would be hitting this hand anyway but your bet would most likely be minimum.

Just remember, anything can happen in the short run. If you make too many errors you will assuredly go broke. Likewise, card counters who use too many camouflage plays run the risk of giving up their edge entirely!

Copyright © 1994 – 2020 All Rights Reserved
FAQ 6: Originally published in Volume 5 Issue 3 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1.Getting the Best of It is an outstanding expose on the mathematics of gambling, general gambling concepts, sports and horse betting, poker, blackjack, and the other casino games. It is highly recommended.
2. After originally writing this article for Blackjack Review Magazine, renowned expert Don Schlesinger, author of Blackjack Attack, questioned my choice of Bill Brown’s book as a source of information. Schlesinger commented, “I was a bit surprised to see you quote, of all people, Bill Brown’s 190 Million Hands of Blackjack as a source for your 8,8 v. 7 study. There are so many other places you might have gone. The first person to print this kind of comparison was Braun, in his How to Play Winning Blackjack. Next, you have the wonderful appendices to the latest edition of Wong’s Professional Blackjack, in which every expectation is catalogued. For me, this has become the definitive source for this kind of study. Finally, I hope you haven’t forgotten my ‘Basic Strategy Camouflage: How ‘Dumb‘ Can You Afford to Appear’ article in the September 1993 Blackjack Forum. Ironically, on page 13, you will find a detailed analysis of the exact play you were discussing. But I consider splitting versus the next logical choice of hitting, not standing. Yours is somewhat of a “reach,” in that you compare the optimal play to the *third* best choice, instead of the usual second.” I commented as follows: You are right, Stanford Wong’s appendix in Professional Blackjack is a much better source for determining camouflage plays.

When would I ever want to take insurance (or even money)?

By Michael Dalton

Insurance Pays 2 to 1

A basic strategy player should never take insurance. Only a card counter knows when this bet is profitable. If you are dealt a blackjack and the dealer shows an “Ace” simply reply “No, I’ll take my chances!”, when you are asked if you would like “even money”. You are better off winning 3 to 2 most of the time than winning even money for sure.1)Of course, if you are stupid enough to be playing at a 6:5 game and they offer you “even money”… then take it! But don’t take insurance in any other case.

When the dealer has an ace up most casinos allow a side-bet called “insurance”. Players may bet up to one half of their original wager on whether or not the dealer has a blackjack. If a full insurance bet is made and the dealer reveals a blackjack, the player loses his (or her) main bet and is paid 2 to 1 on the insurance bet. In many locations, hands will be played out entirely before the dealer checks to see if he has a blackjack.

If the player has a blackjack this side-bet is called “even money” because of the net effect of the payoff. Many so-called “experts” will advise players to always take “even money” because it is the only bet in blackjack that guarantees a win! This is true, unfortunately, the amount you give up will virtually “guarantee” that you end up a loser in the long run. As mentioned before, insurance is not advised unless you have knowledge of the dealer’s hole-card or are tracking the cards.

In single-deck the probability of the dealer having a ten as his hole card is 16/51 or 0.3137. The insurance bet is profitable only if this probability is greater than 0.3333. In other words, you should buy insurance only if more than one-third of the unseen cards are 10-valued cards.

Insurance is the most important play variation that is possible for card counters 2)From studies by Donald Schlesinger and originally published in Blackjack Forum, September 1986. Also, see Blackjack Review Magazine, Summer 1992 for more information on the most important plays in blackjack. . Alone it is worth over 30% of all the gain possible to card counters. Unfortunately, this bet can also be the single most important tip-off to the casino that you are an expert player. My advice is that you can not afford to ignore this play variation. In other words, when your system recommends insurance you should take it while ignoring the bet otherwise. On the other hand, if you are playing high stakes and there is a concern that demands “some camouflage” you might consider taking “even money” occasionally on medium dollar bets and neutral counts.

“Insurance is the most important
play variation that is
possible for card counters.”

Insurance is much more valuable to card counters in single deck than it is in multi-deck games. In single deck, the house has a 5.88% edge where as in 8-decks their edge grows to 7.47%. Most card counting systems advise players to take insurance at some index number (e.g., the Hi-Lo system indices are 1.4 for single-deck and 3.0 for multi-deck games). One of the best methods, however, to make better insurance decisions is with a 10-count 3)Of course, the best method is to have a peek at the dealer’s hole-card! Details on a simple 10-count can be found in Stanford Wong’s book Professional Blackjack (pp 54-56). , which relates 10s to non-10s. Such a count is less accurate for estimating advantage so players must maintain it as a second count or have another player provide the information.


American Casino Guide and Henry Tamburin Present
Why you should NEVER make the blackjack insurance bet
 

Copyright © 1994 – 2020 All Rights Reserved
FAQ 5: Originally published in Volume 5 Issue 2 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1.Of course, if you are stupid enough to be playing at a 6:5 game and they offer you “even money”… then take it! But don’t take insurance in any other case.
2.From studies by Donald Schlesinger and originally published in Blackjack Forum, September 1986. Also, see Blackjack Review Magazine, Summer 1992 for more information on the most important plays in blackjack.
3.Of course, the best method is to have a peek at the dealer’s hole-card! Details on a simple 10-count can be found in Stanford Wong’s book Professional Blackjack (pp 54-56).

Do other players affect your long term expectation?

By Michael Dalton

Players at Blackjack TableNo! You should ignore how other players play. Simply put, a bad player’s action will “help” you just as often as “hurt” you in this game.

There is nothing mysterious about this at all! Every serious player will eventually come to this conclusion. A fellow player who hits his stiff when the dealer shows a small up-card and causes the entire table to lose is only affecting the long term expectation of one person… himself. Yes, he is playing like an idiot. Yes, he will lose in the long run. But no, his action at the table will not affect any other player’s expectation or win-rate. Backing up this logical conclusion are millions of hands of computer simulation which irrefutably prove this fact.

So, whenever another player makes a stupid play that causes you to lose your bet smile and remember that this game would not exist if it were not for the likes of him (or her)!

Now that I have convinced you to ignore your fellow player you should be aware that there are some situations where just their “presence” can affect your game. If you count cards other players can affect your long term expectation in two specific ways.

The number one effect of “additional” players in a game is a lower win-rate. Most serious card counters like to play heads up with the dealer for this very reason. The more players in a game the slower the game. If you count cards and have a long run advantage your goal should be to play as fast as possible. The theory is the faster you play the more you can make!

“…there are some situations where just
their ‘presence’ can affect your game.”

The other effect additional players have in a game is related to single deck penetration. Single deck must be played heads up or at worst with one or two other players. If the rules are good and the table is full you can also play single deck profitably at third base. The reason you don’t want to play single deck with 4 or more players is because the dealer will typically be forced to shuffle up after only two rounds. Here are my “minimum” requirements for single deck:

SINGLE DECK PLAY REQUIREMENTS

PLAYERS# ROUNDS% DEALT
1662%
2462%
3362%
6 w/great rules275%
7 w/good rules285%


Copyright © 1994 – 2020 All Rights Reserved

FAQ 4: Originally published in Volume 5 Issue 1 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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What is meant by the term “Las Vegas rules”?

By Michael Dalton

Welcome to Las Vegas

This term was often used as the standard to compare one blackjack game with another. Las Vegas rules used to refer to games that were typical of Downtown Las Vegas – double down allowed on any initial two cards, dealer hits soft-17, re-splits and insurance allowed. Las Vegas rules also implied that re-splitting of aces and double after splitting were not allowed. Good former examples of Las Vegas casinos with standard Las Vegas rules were the Fremont and Fitzgeralds.

Las Vegas “Strip” rules improved the player’s odds slightly requiring the dealer to stand on all 17s. The Las Vegas Strip has traditionally implied those casinos found between the old Hacienda and the old Vegas World, however, not all casinos know what the term means. A good example of a Las Vegas Strip casino offering Las Vegas Strip rules used to be the Imperial Palace.

Reno rules were considerably less favorable to the basic strategy player where doubling was restricted to 10 and 11 only and the dealer hits soft-17. These rules could also be found in the Lake Tahoe region. A good example of a Reno casino offering Reno rules was Circus Circus.

Atlantic City is another region that has coined its own term due to a unique combination of rule options. Atlantic City rules allowed players to double on any 2 cards, dealer stands on soft-17, double after splitting allowed, and no resplits allowed. The Taj Mahal and Showboat were good examples of casinos offering typical Atlantic City rules.

Players and blackjack authors have promoted the above terminology since the early days of advantage play. However, not all casinos in a specific region will necessarily offer the rules depicted above.  As an example, on the Las Vegas Strip, you will find most large casino shoe games now have dealers hit soft-17 but double after splitting may be allowed. In Mississippi and Louisiana, you will also find casinos with similar rules.

These terms are for historical significance only.  It appears that the trend is for rules that are worse for the player.  Good examples of this are that most casinos are now hitting soft-17 and blackjack payoffs are often only 6:5.  We can live with dealers hitting soft-17 but we should all protest and not play games with 6:5 rules.

To round out the rules and to add some spice to the game you will also find some casinos offering late surrender, bonuses, jokers, sidebets, the ability to resplit aces, and a variety of blackjack variations such as Heads Up Blackjack, Multi-Action, Triple-Chance, Players Choice, and Double Exposure to name a few.

Las Vegas in 1965 – Shot by a French Filmmaker [ FootageForPro.com ]

Copyright © 1994 – 2020 All Rights Reserved
FAQ 2: Originally published in Volume 4 Issue 3 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Does blackjack have the “best” odds for the player?

By Michael Dalton

Yes! Actually, it depends on the rules of the game and the skill of the player. A single deck game with Las Vegas Strip (LVS) rules and double after splitting (DAS) allowed actually gives the player a 0.1% advantage. This assumes, of course, that the player uses the “correct” basic strategy.

You probably won’t find a casino today offering the above great rules but they were once available. In the 1990s, the Las Vegas Frontier casino offered this game while they were on strike — and that lasted several years. The games were always busy and they earned a reputation as being the local card counter’s hang-out.  Sharp players are always looking for games with great rules.

Even today, the game of blackjack still offers the player the best odds in the house. Compared with the next best gamble, the craps pass line (and don’t pass line) offer players a 1.4% casino advantage. Blackjack players would have to look long and hard to find a blackjack game with a casino edge as high as this. If you ignore your typical “double exposure” type games and other high casino edge blackjack variations, the worst blackjack game that a player might run into would be an 8-deck game with double on 10 and 11 only, dealer hits soft-17 and no resplits. Casino advantage? … only about 1%! Generally, as long as naturals are paid at 3 to 2, this game is probably better than any other in the casino.

But unlike craps, which requires only a knowledge of where to place your bet, blackjack requires skill. Players must have memorized basic strategy and be willing to place more money on the table when called for in double down and split situations. It is no wonder that casinos continue to offer this game. The continuous flow of inexperienced new players and players who refuse to follow basic strategy increase the casino’s advantage upwards of 5% or so. And, if you believe in published “win rate” figures casinos are winning over 10% of all money wagered at blackjack tables across the country.

CASINO ADVANTAGE (HOUSE EDGE)
VS BASIC STRATEGY PLAY

1-dk LVS & DAS -.14%
1-dk LVS +.00%
1-dk LVS & H17+.05%
1-dk D10 & H17 +.47%
2-dk LVS & DAS +.19%
2-dk LVS +.34%
2-dk LVS & H17
+.54%
2-dk D10 & H17 +.75%
4-dk LVS & DAS +.35%
4-dk LVS +.49%
4-dk LVS& H17
+.71%
4-dk D10 & H17 +.90%
6 -dk LVS & DAS +.41%
6 -dk LVS +.55%
6 -dk LVS& H17
+.76%
6 -dk D10 & H17 +.94%
8-dk LVS & DAS+.43%
8-dk LVS+.57%
8-dk LVS& H17+.79%
8-dk D10 & H17 +.97%
Double Exposure (Typical) +1.1%

  LVS = Las Vegas Strip rules where you can double on any two cards and the dealer stands on Soft-17
  DAS = Double After Splits allowed.
  D10 = Double on 10 and 11 only
  H17 = Dealer hits on Soft-17

Example: 1-dk LVS & DAS shows a -.14% casino advantage, which means the player has a .14% advantage using perfect total dependent basic strategy.  All other games show the player with a disadvantage using only basic strategy.

[ Blackjack Rule Variations Chart ] [ Blackjack Calculator from the Wizard of Odds ]


Copyright © 1994 – 2020 All Rights Reserved

FAQ 1: Originally published in Volume 4 Issue 2 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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