21 Frequently Asked Questions About Blackjack
1. Does blackjack have the “best” odds for the player?
Yes! Actually, it depends on the rules of the game and the skill of the player. A single deck game with Las Vegas Strip rules and double after splitting allowed actually gives the player a +0.1% advantage. This assumes, of course, that the player uses the “correct” basic strategy. [Originally published in Issue 4.2 of Blackjack Review ]
2. What is meant by the term “Las Vegas rules”?
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, resplits and insurance allowed. Las Vegas rules also implied that re-splitting of aces and double after splitting were not allowed. [ Originally published in Issue 4.3 of Blackjack Review ]
3. What is the “correct” basic strategy for blackjack?
There 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 my book Blackjack: A Professional Reference which is now 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. [ Originally published in Issue 4.4 of Blackjack Review]
4. Do other players affect your long term expectation?
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. [ Originally published in Issue 5.1 of Blackjack Review ]
5. When would I ever want to take insurance (or even money)?
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. [ Originally published in Issue 5.2 of Blackjack Review]
6. What is the worst common play in blackjack?
Ignoring abnormal plays such as hitting a 19 or 20 the worst play, expectation wise, is standing on 88 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! [ Originally published in Issue 5.3 of Blackjack Review ]
7. Are single-deck blackjack games better than multi-deck games?
Yes and No! A multi-deck game has an inherent 0.5% – 0.6% 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. [ Originally published in Issue 5.4 of Blackjack Review ]
8. If blackjack is really “beatable” then why aren’t you out there making millions of dollars instead of writing about it?
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. [ Originally published in Issue 6.1 of Blackjack Review]
9. How much money can I expect to win if I count cards?
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! [ Originally published in Issue 6.2 of Blackjack Review]
11. What is the “best” blackjack card counting system?
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! [ Originally published in Issue 6.4 of Blackjack Review ]
12. What are the top play variations that yield the greatest gain for card counters?
The top play variations are knowing when to take insurance and stand on 16 versus a dealer’s 10. [ Originally published in Issue 7.1 of Blackjack Review ]
13. If blackjack can be beaten why do casinos still offer the game?
Casino losses due to card counters are insignificant compared with the money made from the uninformed masses and bad players… not to mention bad card counters. A good example of this is the many players that are playing games that only pay 6:5 on blackjack hands. Players should be in revolt over this rule. But I couldn’t even convince my Sister, who doesn’t play very much, not to play at a 6:5 table during a recent Las Vegas visit.
14. Is card counting the only way to beat this game?
No! Over the years, sophisticated players have discovered loopholes in the manner in which casinos have offered the game. Most of these holes have been filled, however, you may occasionally find “a window of opportunity”. Key terms to examine are: front loading, basing, peeking, flashing, warps, mistakes, rules, side-bets, shuffle tracking, ace location, new games, tells, promotions, coupons, comps!
15. What are the most important factors in evaluating a blackjack game?
The answer to this question is three-fold. 1) If you are a card counter you should be looking for games with the best penetration. 2) A basic strategy player’s ideal game is single deck* with the best rules and options available. 3) If you are a gambler you will be better off playing in casinos with liberal comp policies, full single deck* games, slow dealers, and the least number of player options available. * Since most (all?) single-deck games found today only pay 6 to 5 on a blackjack I would stick to the shoe games that pay 3 to 2.
16. What are the “best” blackjack books ever written?
Some of the best books on the subject were written years ago. Edward Thorp’s Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One is the book that started it all and, although outdated, is still a must read. Peter Griffin’s The Theory of Blackjack: The Compleat Card Counter’s Guide to the Casino Game of 21 explains the mathematics of the game. My book, Blackjack: A Professional Reference* was once considered by many as the best resource guide available. Other blackjack books that I highly recommend include those by Ian Andersen, Julian Braun, Bryce Carlson, Richard Canfield, Carlson Chambliss, Steve Forte, Lance Humble, Mason Malmuth, Ken Uston, Lawrence Revere, Donald Schlesinger, Arnold Snyder, Ralph Stricker, Stanford Wong, and Bill Zender. * Blackjack: A Professional Reference has been re-named and updated as The Encyclopedia of Casino Twenty-One on the Blackjack Review Network web site.
17. I want to learn how to win at blackjack. What should I do first?
Read and study all the books mentioned above. Learn basic strategy perfectly. Keep your bets small when you practice in the casino. Be wary of any advice that promises greater than a 1.5% overall advantage. Stay away from progressive betting and money management systems. Subscribe to one or more good blackjack newsletters and join the Blackjack Review Network*. Be patient…. it’s going to take some time! Be disciplined… it may cost you some money! *Online access to the Blackjack Review Network is now free.
18. Where are the “best” blackjack games in the country?
Currently, the best blackjack games in the country are reported monthly in Stanford Wong’s Current Blackjack News. In the past, I recommended Blackjack Forum and my own publication Blackjack Review… but they are no longer being published. You will also find insight into the best games by becoming members or subscribers to some of the best blackjack forums and message boards available. These include those at www.bj21.com, www.blackjacktheforum.com, www.blackjackinfo.com, www.bjinsider.com and www.blackjackapprenticeship.com.
19. Do casinos still bar card counters?
Yes! Skilled blackjack play is a cat and mouse game, and in my opinion, it is the casino’s right to back off proficient players. If casinos are forced to deal to all card counters the advantage possible (due to good rules and penetration) usually disappear very quickly. Case in point: Atlantic City casinos cannot bar skilled players.
20. Should I be concerned about cheating?
Maybe, but only in the smaller out of the way places*. Single-deck blackjack is one of the easiest (relatively speaking) card games to cheat at. Multi-deck shoes can also be rigged, however, this leaves physical evidence of cheating. My advice is to become aware of the tactics used and always stay alert. If you suspect something funny just leave the game. When playing single deck, always be on the alert for preferential shuffling (i.e., where the dealer counts and shuffles anytime the advantage shifts to the player). *Of course, if they only pay 6 to 5 on a blackjack they are cheating you in plain sight.
21. What is the “secret” to winning?
Winning at blackjack requires the ability to take advantage of situations. This ability involves balancing knowledge, skill, bankroll, and risk. The ultimate secret, however, is a life-long dedication to the game.