You?re sitting on a stool, nursing a strong drink, at a place that is right on the waterfront, when suddenly BAM! ...everything goes black. The next day you wake up in an unfamiliar room, note that the money is missing from your wallet, and you see the waves gently undulating all the way to the horizon. ?What happened?? you ask yourself rubbing your head. ?Have I been Shanghaied by unscrupulous seamen? Will I be forced to work my way across the ocean on some seedy steamship that is peopled with loudmouthed, uncouth, uncivilized, scurvy-ridden, black-toothed, one-eyed-patched brigands from every port of call in the world??
You?re in a hotel room, in Mississippi or Nevada or Atlantic City, and you are recovering not from a blackjack blow to the head but from a blackjack blow to your bankroll and, more importantly, to your ego.
While blackjack has been written about as the best possible casino game to play if you know what you are doing, it is one of the worst games to play if you don?t know what you?re doing. Just look at the win figures for blackjack across this great and glorious gambling nation of ours and you will see an interesting fact emerge. Casinos win more money at blackjack than they do at any other table game. This win is not just a product of the fact that more people play blackjack than any other table game (they do); it is also a product of the fact that there are more people who play blackjack poorly than there are people who play it well.
Blackjack is a casino game where the players? decisions have a dramatic impact on the players? results. Whether you win or lose is not strictly a function of good or bad luck. A good blackjack player (good is defined as one who plays Basic Strategy) plays against a house edge of approximately one-half percent in multiple-deck games. And what does a bad blackjack player face? Most blackjack players are rated as playing against a two percent casino edge for comping purposes. The fact is that most players are probably playing against edges of three to six percent based on my observations at the tables. Another consideration that makes blackjack a dangerous game for the unwary and unwise is the fact that it is a relatively fast casino game, with anywhere from 60 to 100 decisions per hour. That two, three, four or more percent is working on a lot more money than it would at games such as Pai Gow poker, Let It Ride or roulette, which are relatively slow games.
For three decades now computers have been able to show us what the correct hitting, standing, splitting, and doubling down decisions are in order maximize our win potential and minimize our loss potential on every possible player hand vs. all dealer upcards. For example, most readers are probably aware that splitting tens is a no-no at blackjack. Here?s why. First, let us take the most vulnerable dealer hand, 16, and see what happens when we split our 10s. For every $100 bet on your 20 composed of two ten-valued cards in the six and eight-deck games, you will win approximately $57 if you split them. Not bad? Well , you will win approximately $70 if you stand with your 20! That?s a big difference. And if you split your two ten-valued cards against the dealers 10 upcard (yes, I have seen players do this), you will now win five dollars for every $100 bet in this situation from an expected $56 dollars had you stood on your 20. That?s a huge difference.
Here?s another example of how the proper decisions can affect your monetary expectations. All casinos I'm familiar with offer insurance. If the dealer is showing an ace, you can make a bet that is up to half your original wager that the dealer will indeed have a ten-valued card under his ace and therefore a blackjack. (Whenever a dealer shows an ace she will call out: ?Insurance!? and give players the opportunity to make this bet.) The insurance bet pays off at two to one. At first this seems like an attractive proposition -- after all the dealer has a pretty good chance to have that ten-valued card as there are four ten-valued cards for every 13 cards in the deck. And the casino is paying you two to one if you win the wager! But hold it a moment. If there are four ten-valued cards for every 13 cards, that means there are nine non-ten-valued cards - cards that will make you lose your insurance bet. So let?s see how that works out.
Let?s say that you are betting $20 per hand. Thus, your insurance bet will be $10. You win four times out of 13 for a total win of eighty dollars. However, you lose nine times for a total loss of $90. That?s a ten dollar difference. If you divide the 13 decisions into the 1 unit loss (or $130 bet into $10), you get an edge for the casino of 7.69 percent! You can expect to lose $7.69 for every $100 bet in this situation. That is some big edge and that is why insurance is not the way to go.
Still, here is a common mistake that many players make. The dealer is showing an ace and asks if you want insurance. You have a hand composed of two ten-valued cards. You want to make sure that you win that hand, which is the second strongest hand in blackjack. So you insure. Simple logic tells us that if you have two ten-valued cards in your hand, you have increased the dealer?s chance of not having a ten-valued card under his ace! Yet, many players will give the casino an even greater edge over them in this situation because they erroneously think they are improving their chances to win by insuring when in fact they are increasing their chances to lose.
Not all hands are as dramatic as the above but all hands have better or worse results depending on how you play them. The key is to make the right decision every time and thus reduce the house edge. In short, the above examples show us clearly that the decisions blackjack players make affect their chances for success.
The best approach to blackjack is to learn the complete basic strategy for the games you intend to play. These can be found in most good books on blackjack, including my own Best Blackjack.
However, as a shortcut that can be used by readers of this site tonight, I have created a much simpler version of basic strategy - called The Lucky 13 - that, if followed, will reduce the house edge to below one percent. It is found in the sidebar accompanying this article.
Frankly speaking, to avoid waking up tomorrow morning feeling as if you had been hit over the head with a blackjack, follow my Lucky 13 simple basic strategy tonight. Then when you have the chance, learn the complete basic strategy. And, happy sailing, sailor!
Frank Scoblete?s Lucky 13: A Simple Basic Strategy
Always split aces.
Always split eights.
Always stand when you have 17 or more.
Always hit your 12 through 16 when the dealer has an upcard of 7 or more.
Always hit your 12 against a dealer upcard of 2 or 3.
Always stand on your 12 against a dealer?s 4 through 6.
Always stand on your 13 through 16 against a dealer upcard of 2 through 6.
Always hit hand totals of 11 or less, no matter how many cards compose them, against all dealer upcards.
Always double on two-card totals of 11 when dealer has upcard of 10 or lower.
Always double on two-card totals of 10 when dealer has upcard of 9 or lower.
Always stand on your hands of A7, A8, A9 against all dealer upcards.
Always hit on your hands of A2, A3, A4, A5, A6 against all dealer upcards.
Never take insurance.
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