Category Archives: Blackjack

How much money can I expect to win if I count cards?

By Michael Dalton

Money in the HandTo be perfectly honest, you stand a fair chance of losing money in this game! It all depends on your skill level, bankroll, the level of risk you are willing to take, and the quality of games you play. Assuming you balance all of these factors, the theoretical long-run advantage a skilled card counter can obtain is between 0.5% and 1.5%. This is not to say a player can not have a greater advantage on any individual bet or circumstance, however, in the long run a player can expect to win about 1% of the total sum of his “action”. Therefore, if your average bet is about $25 and you play 75 hands an hour you might expect to make about $19 an hour. But be forewarned… your mileage will vary!

I generally tell players that they can expect a winning streak as often as a losing streak in this game. You will often go for days, if not weeks and possibly even months questioning your ability playing blackjack because of losses. But you will also go through periods where you will feel invincible and unable to lose. During both of these periods your discipline will be severely tested. In the long run, if you are a good player, are not being cheated, and can get away with it, you should show a profit.

Basic card counting is not the only legal way to make money at this game. You can milk the comp system. You can use casino coupons. You can shuffle track. You can join a team. You can take advantage of dealer errors and mistakes. You can exploit casino promotions and new variations. I would estimate that it is possible to achieve at least a 2% win-rate in blackjack if you are an advanced player and use some of the above tricks and methods.

Milking the comp system is a true art form. It is getting tougher these days due to computers, however, it is still possible to achieve more than your fair share of comps. According to Max Rubin, author of Comp City, more than half a million dollars worth of complimentaries (free drinks, food, rooms, shows, limo rides, airfare, golf, and more) are handed out every day in Las Vegas. On weekends and holidays, comps climb into the millions.

Casino coupons are also wonderful! From those simple lucky buck coupons and free meals to discounts off your room — if you use them often I guarantee they will become like extra cash in your wallet. You can often find good coupons in local newspapers and magazines and through publications such as the monthly Las Vegas Advisor.

Shuffle tracking 1) Shuffle tracking is an advanced form of card counting.   A complete tutorial and expose of shuffle tracking can be found in Arnold Snyder’s 3-issue Shuffle Tracking Series from Blackjack Forum Magazine.   is an advanced area of card counting and if mastered you can expect to easily double or triple your expectation. That is assuming you find “trackable” games of course. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder to find these games.

Some players join teams to allow them to reduce monetary fluctuation and play with a bigger bankroll. Also, non-counters can be used effectively on a team. Theoretically, you can make more money by playing on a team, assuming you trust everyone to accurately report wins and losses.

Dealer errors and mistakes happen occasionally and I would estimate they add a small percentage to my overall win-rate. It may not be much but I will take every edge I can get.

Your greatest expectation can come from exploiting casino promotions and new games and variations. Casinos have offered 2 to 1 on blackjack, early surrender, single deck with an edge, bonuses, jokers in the deck, etc. If you are sharp these games can be a short-time gold-mine.

But most important to how much money you can make in this game is the element of time. If you don’t play they don’t pay! Put in the time and everything else will take care of itself.


Copyright © 1994 – 2020 All Rights Reserved

FAQ 9: Originally published in Volume 6 Issue 2 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Shuffle tracking is an advanced form of card counting.   A complete tutorial and expose of shuffle tracking can be found in Arnold Snyder’s 3-issue Shuffle Tracking Series from Blackjack Forum Magazine.  

If blackjack is really “beatable”…?

… then why aren’t you out there making millions of dollars instead of writing about it?

By Michael Dalton

Money in the HandThe fact that a game is beatable does not imply that someone can get rich at it. If you look at blackjack as an investment opportunity you have three factors to consider – Knowledge and skill, Bankroll, and Risk. All of these factors must be considered before you place your first bet. The bottom line is that a highly skilled player with a small bankroll (e.g., $1000) can only hope to make a few dollars per hour playing this game or run the risk of financial ruin.

I enjoy playing this game recreationally and beating the casinos when I do play. But beating the casinos does not mean taking them for everything they’ve got. There are practical limits to how much an individual card counter can win at this game. Each player will have different optimal betting guidelines based on his or her bankroll. Today, accomplished card counters are making anywhere from a few dollars an hour to several hundred dollars an hour playing this game. That is far from winning a million dollars but if you play long enough and can get away with it long enough anything is possible.

Card counting for long hours at a time is not very much fun! If you do it for a living it can become very much a grind. To be perfectly honest, I can make more money, have greater financial security, and enjoy my life better by limiting my blackjack play to weekends and vacations, writing about my exploits, and publishing information about the game I love.

If I had a large bankroll (i.e., greater than $100,000), I know that I could probably earn a living by playing blackjack, but I would be giving up a lot by doing so. My quality of life would definitely not be better. I wouldn’t have a retirement plan and I would have to pay for my own health insurance. Expenses would be high because I would have to travel a lot to keep the casinos guessing. And eventually, I would get my name in the book — and I would have new problems to consider. Life as a professional card-counter is anything but glamorous.

Recreational card counters, on the other hand, don’t generally have these problems. Indeed, recreational card counters have the best of it because the casinos don’t see them as often. If you are a half decent player, barrings should be infrequent, although you will probably receive some heat at times. Recreational players generally enjoy their time in the casino because it is a break from a regular job or profession.

“There are practical limits to how much an individual card counter can win at this game.”

As I have stated many times before in Blackjack Review Magazine, knowledge about the game and the skill to implement a valid counting system go hand in hand. Both take time to master. But even after you have mastered the game the rewards are dependent on the number of hours you are willing to put in playing, the bankroll at your disposal, the amount of risk you are willing to take, and any unique opportunities that may come your way.

Your bankroll is what determines your theoretical win-rate. It is also your bankroll that determines how much you can safely bet without chancing going bust. Severe losing sessions will occur whether you have an advantage or not! As a player, I am content on winning enough (in the long run) to help pay for my major trip expenses and to add a few more dollars to my bankroll every trip.


Copyright © 1994 – 2020 All Rights Reserved

FAQ 8: Originally published in Volume 6 Issue 1 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Are single-deck games better than multi-deck games?

By Michael Dalton

WARNING: This article assumes blackjacks pay 3 to 2.  Most, if not all, single deck blackjack games currently offered pay only 6 to 5 on a natural.  This makes the game unplayable.   For more information check the Numbers of 21 section.

The Theory of Blackjack by Peter GriffinYes… and no! A multi-deck game has an inherent 0.5% – 0.6% 1) According to Peter Griffin’s Theory of Blackjack, the player’s basic strategy expectations in a standard Las Vegas Strip rule game are as follows: 1 deck = +.02%, 4 deck = -.48% and an infinite number of decks = -.65%.  disadvantage over a single deck game with the same rules. Much of this difference is due to the effect of removal of cards (i.e., removing one card in single deck has a big effect, whereas its removal in a shoe game is negligible). On the other hand, it is much easier to find good rules and conditions in shoe games. The bottom line is that although single- and double-deck games are inherently better than shoe games they are also easier to manipulate in the casino’s behalf.

Almost half of the 0.5% difference mentioned above is due to the reduced favor-ability of doubling down in more than one deck. Additional decks, however, make busts less likely, since you can draw to hands like 2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2 (for 18) which are impossible in single and double deck. Busting less often helps the dealer’s hand more than yours, since the dealer is forced by the rigid rules to hit more often than you. Blackjacks are also less frequent, which is bad since you get paid 3 to 2 for those. The 0.5% cost to the basic strategy player is more than all but the very best package of favorable extra rules will give you. 2) This paragraph summarizes part of Michael Hall’s explanation on the subject found in rec.gambling’s FAQ file available at Blackjack Review’s Internet Web site.

Many of today’s card-counters have avoided the single-deck game. Although beatable single-deckers may still exist in the world it is hard to find games that will tolerate heavy action (i.e., bets of several hundred dollars and up) for very long. Low stakes players, however, can often find good games in places such as Reno and Las Vegas but players have to be careful and understand what a beatable single deck game is! Single deck penetration is directly related to the number of other players in the game and the rounds being dealt.3) See the Winter 1996 issue of Blackjack Review, page 7 for a chart outlining the minimum requirements for beating the single deck game.  Also, it is much easier for the dealer to cheat in a hand dealt game.

Beatable two deck games can be a lot easier to find. Casinos are usually not as paranoid about the double decker and you will often find yourself in a position to get money on the table without being shuffled up on.

“I will take a good cut and lousy rules any day!”

Of course, the shoe game can be found everywhere and given the right conditions these games can be beat as well. Many of the shoe games are better suited for team play and some can even be beaten with shuffle tracking.

The most important criteria to beating any game are the penetration level and rules, however, I will take a good cut and lousy rules any day! Each of these games must be approached differently and they require unique skills if you want to have any chance of bringing home the money.


Yes, the player probably should have hit that A7
 

Copyright © 1994 – 2020 All Rights Reserved
FAQ 7: Originally published in Volume 5 Issue 4 of Blackjack Review Magazine

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1 According to Peter Griffin’s Theory of Blackjack, the player’s basic strategy expectations in a standard Las Vegas Strip rule game are as follows: 1 deck = +.02%, 4 deck = -.48% and an infinite number of decks = -.65%. 
2 This paragraph summarizes part of Michael Hall’s explanation on the subject found in rec.gambling’s FAQ file available at Blackjack Review’s Internet Web site.
3 See the Winter 1996 issue of Blackjack Review, page 7 for a chart outlining the minimum requirements for beating the single deck game. 

Who has the biggest blackjack book collection?

By Michael Dalton

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 Ebay and my 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.

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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

Footnotes
1Getting 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 1A 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.


The 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

Footnotes
1Of 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.
2From 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.
3Of 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).