Category Archives: FAQ

What are the top play variations that yield the greatest gain for card counters?

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 12: Originally published in Volume 7 Issue 1 of Blackjack Review Magazine
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The top play variations for card counters are knowing when to take insurance and stand on 16 versus a dealer’s 10. The top 18 plays, known as the Illustrious 18 are show in the table below in order of importance1) The gains cited are associated with a player spreading bets from 1 to two hands of 6. These are the average gains for flat betting multiplied by the average bet one has out when he makes the departure. :

FAQ12_2These top plays were recommended by Donald Schlesinger in an important study published in the September 1986 issue of Blackjack Forum. The study suggested that players might just as well forget all of the other play variations and stick to the top 18 plays since this is where most of your profitable gain is going to come from. In December 1995, Schlesinger continued his study to include the top surrender plays which have become known as the Fab 4:

FAQ12_1The analysis and discussion that presented the above conclusions can also be found in Donald Schlesinger’s book Blackjack Attack, which was first published in 1997. This book includes some of the most important technical insights into the game of blackjack ever published.

Play variations (variations you make from basic strategy) are what card counting index numbers are all about. They can be very important in single deck and become less important as decks are added to the game. Each card counting system assigns unique index numbers for these plays. For example, in the Hi-Lo system the Insurance index for a 6-deck game is 3.0. This means that the player’s best technical move is to take insurance if the “true” count is 3 or higher. If the player has a 16 versus a dealer 10 the Hi-Lo index number is 0. This means that the player should “stand” if the count is greater than or equal to 0 and “hit” otherwise.

Although these top play variations are technically correct you may have difficulty implementing some of the plays from a camouflage point-of-view. For example, the casino pit will often watch players who correctly take insurance on bad hands and decline insurance on good hands. Splitting ten valued cards is another give-away that you may be counting cards. The saying is that only two types of players split tens — idiots and card counters. If you don’t look like an idiot at the table they may just suspect that you are counting cards. Many counters have given up splitting tens for this very reason. However, insurance is too valuable a play variation to ignore. If you need to mix-up your play I would suggest you consider taking even money on small bets occasionally when the count does not justify it.

When you are ready to add more play variations to your repertoire you may want to consult Peter Griffin’s book, The Theory of Blackjack and the article “The Most Important Plays in Blackjack” published in the Summer 1992 issue of Blackjack Review.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The gains cited are associated with a player spreading bets from 1 to two hands of 6. These are the average gains for flat betting multiplied by the average bet one has out when he makes the departure.

What is the best card counting system?

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 11: Originally published in Volume 6 Issue 4 of Blackjack Review Magazine
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There is no such thing as a “best” card counting system unless you are a robot, in which case you would be keeping track of each and every card. Humans, on the other hand, have limitations. For shoe dealt games, all card counting systems perform within a tenth of a percent (or so) of each other. For single deck games, a balanced multi-level count with an ace side-count can show a significant theoretical improvement over unbalanced and single-level counts, however, the player runs the risk of mental fatigue and errors. The bottom line for most players is that “simple is best!” I recommend the Hi-Lo, Red Seven, K-O or Zen for shoe games and the Hi-Opt I, Zen or Omega II for single-deck. What is the best all around count? I like the Hi-Lo because it allows me to concentrate on more important things… like convincing the pit boss that I am a loser!

Obviously, the answer to this question is not as easy as it appears. Several approaches have been used in the past to evaluate card counting systems. One analytical approach is the calculation of several performance parameters (e.g., playing, betting, and insurance efficiencies). The results are then used to approximate the potential of one system over another. Another approach that is used is to simulate each system against typical game conditions on a high speed computer. Simulations can provide an accurate real-world estimate of the advantages and win-rates that are possible in playing a particular system.

However, the problem with coming up with a ‘best’ card counting system is that you can always come up with a ‘better’ card counting system. Instead of a single-level 1) A single-level count assigns point values in such a manner that the non-zero point values are the same in absolute value, namely +1 or -1. The single-level Hi-Lo count, for example, assigns 2 – 6 as +1, 7 – 9 as 0, and Tens and Aces as -1.  ‘unbalanced’ count you could assign more accurate point values to each card and determine true counts by the exact number of decks or cards remaining. You could improve ‘playing’ efficiency by assigning a ‘zero’ to the Ace and side counting each of them. You could also side count other cards such as 7s, 8s, and 9s thus improving your play against specific hands. You could also incorporate play variations (changes to basic strategy) based on specific counts by remembering ‘every’ index number for ‘every’ play possible. To improve the accuracy of your insurance decisions you could also keep a separate count of all the tens in the deck or shoe. Of course, you don’t won’t to forget all the ‘practical’ advice each system offers in regard to betting, playing, camouflage, and other tips and tricks of the trade.

Peter Griffin, author of the classic text The Theory of Blackjack, wrote “If one’s ambition is to raise overall strategic efficiency beyond the 70% level, perhaps as high as 90%, it is imperative that the primary system be quite simple and hence allow great flexibility for incorporating several auxiliary, independent sources of information.”

I believe the above comment was one of the most important suggestions ever made about card counting. Griffin suggested that it may be better to keep your base count simple to allow your brain the ability to perform other tasks and to utilize other sources of information. These other sources of information can often improve the potential of a single-level count over an advanced 2- or 3-level count that doesn’t use this information. This information includes side counts, shuffle tracking, ace location strategies, key card techniques, and dealer errors. My own experience at card counting has shown that Griffin was probably right.

Human error is another reason to keep it simple. The most advanced card counting system in the world is not going to do you any good if you can’t play it accurately. Thus, the best card counting system may be one that perfectly balances theoretical power and your human ability to execute it accurately.

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. A single-level count assigns point values in such a manner that the non-zero point values are the same in absolute value, namely +1 or -1. The single-level Hi-Lo count, for example, assigns 2 – 6 as +1, 7 – 9 as 0, and Tens and Aces as -1. 

Isn’t card counting illegal?

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 10: Originally published in Volume 6 Issue 3 of Blackjack Review Magazine
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No! It’s no more illegal than using your brain to add up how much money you have in your wallet. But that doesn’t mean they won’t kick you out for trying! In most casinos in this country casino management has the right to bar players for any reason they want. Most casinos are considered private clubs and if they don’t like you they can ask you to leave. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos cannot bar you but they are allowed to implement specific countermeasures that will reduce if not eliminate any profit potential you previously might have had.

If casino management suspects a player is a threat to its bankroll they will usually implement several countermeasures, which include reduced deck or shoe penetration and shuffling up. Psychological tactics are also often attempted to distract the player and to convince him or her to leave. Some less than reputable casinos may even implement cheating countermeasures — such as preferential shuffling. If all else fails, a suspected card counter may be asked to leave and/or to refrain from playing blackjack any further.

In Nevada, the courts have made it clear that card counting is legal. During a cheating case in 1983, which involved a player who was crimping cards to gain an advantage (definitely cheating), the court made an interesting statement: “By way of contrast, a card counter — one who uses a point system to keep track of the cards that have been played — does not alter any of the basic features of the game. He merely uses his mental skills to take advantage of the same information that is available to all players.” As I. Nelson Rose, author of the book Gambling and the Law*, states — “The card counter is playing by the rules of the games, as set up by the casino regulators and the casinos themselves.”

When I play blackjack I sit there and watch the cards. I use my brain to make decisions. I risk hard earned money on individual outcomes that are far from certain. If card counting were considered cheating then casinos would probably have little signs stating, “Thinking in this casino is forbidden! Players found using their brain to make decisions will be asked to leave.”

In a similar vein… if a dealer unintentionally flashes his hole card and a player sees the card, would it be considered cheating for the player to make use of this information? Of course not! The player is still playing by the rules of the house and is simply using all the information that is presented to him. Of course, if the dealer is intentionally flashing his hole card then that would definitely be considered cheating in every court in this country and both player and dealer could be charged with an illegal act. [If the dealer were intentionally flashing it to a third part confederate, an innocent bystander who didn’t know he was flashing intentionally wouldn’t be guilty of anything; but, he might have a hard time proving he wasn’t in on the caper!]

Although card counting is not illegal from a technical point of view, in some countries you still might find yourself behind bars, forced to return monies won, or worse! You are on your own in some of these third world countries where the law is often undefined.

Professional players are at the greatest risk because of the betting level they play at and because of reporting agencies such as Griffin. The Griffin Detective Agency of Las Vegas, Nevada publishes a monthly list of blacklisted players to casinos around the world. This list includes suspected cheats, con artists, card counters, and even card counting team members. If you are in a foreign country and they notice that you are on this list they may just throw you in jail… not bothering to make the distinction between being labeled a cheat and someone who uses legal card counting techniques.

*Editor note:  Since this article was originally written, I. Nelson Rose and Robert A. Loeb had collaborated on the excellent book Blackjack and the Law.  Also, Robert Nersesian’s book The Law for Gamblers is a must read.  Another good article on whether card counting is legal or not is on Norm Wattenberger’s site IsCardCountingIllegal.com.

 

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

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 9: Originally published in Volume 6 Issue 2 of Blackjack Review Magazine
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moneyinhand.gif (10331 bytes)To 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 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.

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?

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 8: Originally published in Volume 6 Issue 1 of Blackjack Review Magazine
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moneyinhand.gif (10331 bytes)The 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 pay for my major trip expenses and to add a few more dollars to my bankroll every trip.

 

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

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 7: Originally published in Volume 5 Issue 4 of Blackjack Review Magazine
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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 favorability 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 this country 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.

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. 

What is the worst common play in blackjack?

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 6: Originally published in Volume 5 Issue 3 of Blackjack Review Magazine
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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 presents a short chapter on this very subject in his book Getting the Best of It 1)This book 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 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 is in Bill Brown’s 190,000,000 Hands of Blackjack2) After originally writing this article for Blackjack Review, 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!

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.This book 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, 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)?

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 5: Originally published in Volume 5 Issue 2 of Blackjack Review Magazine
RETURN TO THE BLACKJACK FAQ

layout.jpg (3158 bytes)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.

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 counters1) From studies by Donald Schlesinger and originally published in Blackjack Forum, September 1986. Also, see Blackjack Review, 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 otherwords, 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-count2) 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.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. From studies by Donald Schlesinger and originally published in Blackjack Forum, September 1986. Also, see Blackjack Review, Summer 1992 for more information on the most important plays in blackjack.
2. 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?

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 4: Originally published in Volume 5 Issue 1 of Blackjack Review Magazine
RETURN TO THE BLACKJACK FAQ

No! 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:

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

What is the “correct” basic strategy for blackjack?

Copyright © 1994 – 2017By Michael Dalton All Rights Reserved
FAQ 3: Originally published in Volume 4 Issue 4 of Blackjack Review Magazine
RETURN TO THE BLACKJACK FAQ

Example Basic Strategy ChartThere is only one “correct” basic strategy for this game given a set of established rules. However, since all casinos don’t offer the same rules the basic strategy can be slightly different from game to game. Also, the number of decks used affects the basic strategy slightly. Peter Griffin’s Theory of Blackjack and Stanford Wong’s Basic Blackjack are the player’s best resources for the “correct” basic strategy for any number of decks and rules. Basic strategy charts can also be found in Michael Dalton’s book Blackjack: A Professional Reference which is now online as The Encyclopedia of Casino Twenty-One.

The card shown on the right reflects a correct basic strategy for multi-deck games with double after splits not allowed

Basic strategy is a proven winning system for the game of twenty-one. It is a strategy which maximizes the player’s expectation given only knowledge of the player’s hand and the dealer’s up-card. In the good old days when single deck was plentiful and rules were great basic strategy could actually give the player a small advantage. Today, casino managers are aware of the power of basic strategy and generally do not offer games that can be beaten off the top of the deck. However, players should keep their eyes open for promotional games which do surface from time to time!

Basic strategy is powerful! All card counters must master it before moving on to the fine art of card counting. Basic strategy is not difficult! A person with average intelligence can memorize it in just a few hours. Basic strategy is the way to play! Every time you make a play on a hunch or intuition and ignore the “correct” basic strategy play you increase the casino advantage against you.

For example, a pit boss witnessing a player standing on an A-7 versus a ten valued dealer up-card would generally consider this player a novice or an idiot. If you stand on this hand you will win it about 41% of the time. If you hit the hand you increase your chances to 43%. Why would anyone not hit this hand? You can’t bust (at least not initially) and you stand a good chance of improving it. But every time I play this game I witness players standing on A-7 vs 10 with the hope that the dealer doesn’t have a nine or ten in the hole. Don’t be an idiot! Trust in basic strategy and play it perfectly. Your bankroll will thank you for it.

For more information read Michael Dalton’s complete article on “Basic Strategy” in the Summer 1995 issue of Blackjack Review magazine.