Category Archives: Poker

The Mind in Card Games

Why Blackjack and Poker are More Similar Than You Know


by Sam Williams

Stu Ungar 1997 WSOPWhile blackjack and poker may look like two completely different games, there are many similarities between the two. Not only are both games grounded in mathematics and odds, but they also require players to learn on the job through experience. They can both be highly exhilarating, and some players would even attest that the attributes picked up in either game can be transferred to the other.

A number of famous blackjack players, including members of the MIT team from Bringing Down the House, have gone on to achieve success in poker. Well known poker players, such as Stu Ungar and Andy Bloch, have also been renowned for their blackjack skills.


Hossein Ensan played his pocket Kings well to win the 2019 WSOP Main Event

High Level of Competition

To succeed in either blackjack or poker, players need to have a competitive edge and a strong desire to win. In blackjack, players only face off against a dealer. But when the stakes are high and the casino employee is the one person standing in the way of victory, players need to use their will and determination to bring that person down. This could be compared to heads-up play in poker, which comes about at the end of a tournament when everyone else has been eliminated.

In a huge poker competition like the World Series of Poker, a player would have to get the better of hundreds of others to make it to the final table against the remaining survivors. In 2019 when Hossein Ensan won the Main Event, there were 8,569 entrants to start with. Obviously, the Iranian-German player didn’t need to beat every single one of these people, but he did need to stay in the game while the numbers were whittled down.

When it got to the final stages of the competition, Ensan’s experience became more like a blackjack game. The tournament, which tests players’ endurance as well as their poker skills, came down to Ensan against Dario Sammartino in the final stages. This type of heads-up game will appeal to blackjack players who are used to taking on a single opponent in a battle of wits.

There are some differences, however. In blackjack, players must get the best hand in order to win. But in heads-up poker, players usually try to bet big and steal the huge blinds in each hand, regardless of what cards they are holding. Indeed, in this type of play, it rarely comes down to a flop. In the final hand, Sammartino admitted that his bluff didn’t pay off and that Ensan had outplayed him. The 2019 champion had a pair of kings while the Italian was left with a busted straight. Sammartino took a chance and failed, similar to a blackjack player opting to hit and then going bust.

Basic Skills are the same in Both Games

When you think about poker and blackjack on a basic level, a lot of the same skills are required in both games. To be able to play either, at least a rudimentary knowledge of numeracy is essential. In blackjack, it is crucial as players are constantly calculating their hand’s total value and working out which card would bust them. In poker, advanced players need to calculate their pot odds to determine whether to call or bet. They can also use mathematics to count their outs. This refers to the cards they need to potentially make a winning hand.

Interpersonal skills are quite important in blackjack, as players need to interact with dealers regularly. They are even more essential in poker, as conversation can often be used as a way to garner information about someone’s hand. Players need to be expert socializers who can spot small psychological cues such as a slight change in the tone of an opponent’s voice. Daniel Negreanu is well known for being highly adept at this.

Another common attribute for poker and blackjack players is discipline. They need to be able to endure runs of bad luck without changing their strategy. For example, a blackjack player may be sweating as they play a Martingale technique or keep losing in a high plus count and keep losing. The stakes are getting higher each time, but they need to remember that if they do eventually win, their losses will be cancelled out. In poker, bad beats often cause players to go on tilt. Less experienced players can let this sort of emotion lead them into bad decisions going forward.

Stu Ungar was highly gifted at poker, blackjack, and gin rummy

Players can Train for Both Games by Limiting Active Learning

In both blackjack and poker, there is a vast difference between a beginner player and an expert. The best players in the business possess a number of abilities that they have refined over time in order to maximize their chances of winning. If the games were simply about luck, how could you explain why Ungar was considered to be among the best in the world during his time as a player? In addition to being highly capable in those card games, the three-time WSOP winner was also the greatest gin-rummy player in the world.

It is true that players can train their brains in order to be better than average at card games. But, according to poker psychologist Jared Tendler, Texas Hold’em and Omaha players shouldn’t act as though they are cramming for a test by filling their heads with more information that they can use. Poker mental strategy is about reviewing hands and concepts that you already know and being clear about what you want to improve on. This is referred to as limiting active learning, making sure that you work directly on the essentials. This advice can also be applied to blackjack.

In blackjack and poker, players are able to learn from the mistakes they have made in the past. By failing in one game, they can assess what went wrong and work on ways to do it differently in the next game. So, training for games shouldn’t be about cramming with as much knowledge as possible, but about reviewing and analyzing past experiences.

Blackjack players who want to improve their skills and get beyond basic strategy could try their hand at poker and may find that they are already quite good at it. The endurance and competitiveness that dominates Texas Hold’em could then be transferable to the blackjack table.

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Sydney Australia’s Star City Casino

Spent an afternoon at Sydney Australia’s Star City Casino this week. 

This is a huge casino with lots of blackjack tables.  However, they are not worth playing as they all use automatic shufflers.  Minimum bets that I saw started at $20 Australian which is about $15 US.  I did not check the high-pit areas which may or may not have regularly dealt blackjack. 

They also have a large poker room which I played a few hours in.  Unfortunately, their rake is awful.  I played in a small  2/3 No Limit Holdem game where there is a time rake AND and regular pot rake.  Charge is $5 / hour plus 10% up to $10 rake.  What was interesting is the dealer uses a single deck plastic box to deal the cards from.  I was told the dealer can deal faster and have both hands free at all times.  I left with a win for the session.

I also played for 30 minutes at the craps table and had another small session win.  Interesting to note that the don’t pass/come bars deuces.  In the USA, the don’t pass/come  bars 12.  No difference in the odds.

My Wife and I spent 6 days in Sydney and we also took a 10 day Celebrity Solstice cruise around New Zealand.    Ironically, the blackjack games on the cruise ship were better then the games in Sydney.  Of course, the cruise ship has their token single deck game with 6:5 rules, but their shoe games were decent: $10/$25 min tables, 8DK, double any, H17, with 1.5 – 2 decks cut off.  Occasionally, a dealer would cut off only 1 deck.

Michael Dalton

PS – Here is a photo of the single-deck shoe that poker dealers use in the Sydney, Australia poker room:

Single Deck Shoe

Monte Carlo Poker Room Closure

Just received this email from the Monte Carlo Poker Room:

Michael,

In the early morning hours of April 25th, 2017, the Monte Carlo Poker Room will be closing its doors.  We thank you very much for your patronage and it was our privilege to serve you over the last 20 years. 

Effective April 1st, 2017, we will permanently discontinue all promotional rakes and payouts.  The promotional pool will be redistributed via a High Hand promotion starting on April 3rd, 2017 through April 12th, 2017.

All comps may still be redeemed at the Monte Carlo Poker Room through April 23th, 2017.  After that, all comp redemptions will be completed at the Monte Carlo M life® Rewards Desk through December 31st, 2017. The expiration date of all comps will continue to follow the normal comp policy. However, after December 31st, 2017, all unused comps will expire regardless of the expiration date.

Our sister properties at Aria, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Mirage and Excalibur will welcome you with open arms and be happy to continue the service that you have experienced here over the years.  We thank you very much and bid you a fond farewell.

If you have any questions, please contact us at 702.730.7780

Sincerely,

The Monte Carlo Poker Room


Looks like it is a sign of the times.  This poker room was very small and only catered to low limit players.