By Colin Jones
If you play blackjack long enough, odds are the casino is going to end up with your money. While gamblers at the blackjack tables seem to always have someone to blame – the dealer who keeps beating them, the guy who didn’t play his hand right and “screwed up the cards,” the casino who must be cheating them – I’d suggest you consider another option: the person responsible for your poor fate at the blackjack tables is the man (or woman) in the mirror.
The beauty of blackjack, and all casino games, is that it’s based on math. Casinos know this, carefully calculating your theoretical loss before doling out comps. The casinos know the house edge for a perfect basic strategy player (typically around 0.5% casino advantage for a 3:2 blackjack game). They also know that the average blackjack player is playing at a 2% disadvantage, and a poor player is giving the casino a 4% advantage or even more!
If you’re willing to consider that you are responsible for your losses at the tables, and since I love teaching people how to beat blackjack, I thought I’d share with you the top 5 reasons your blackjack game may suck.
#5 – You Come Up with Your Own “Patterns”
“I always lose with [fill in the blank].”
“This is my lucky/unlucky hand.”
“Someone needs to take a hit.”
“I know the flow of the cards.”
Have you ever said one of these phrases, or believe you can play according to some sort of predictable pattern (that can’t be proven with computer simulations)? If so, you’re fooling yourself. You see, the problem with patterns is that they’re all made in hindsight. Casino games are based on independent events. Just because something happened previously, it has absolutely no impact on future independent events. Casinos know, and love, this. Everyone in the casino is coming up with their “strategies” and “patterns,” all the while casinos sit back and know that the math wins out. If you want to play smart, be like the casinos and follow the math. Stop trusting your pattern recognition, better known as “the gambler’s fallacy,” and you will be on the path to better long-term results.
#4 – You Don’t Double Down at the Proper Times… or Worse Yet, You Double for Less
What if you knew every time you could maximize an advantage hand against the dealer? Well, if you know basic strategy, then you can! Every basic strategy hand that says to double down is an opportunity to get the most out of an advantage hand against the dealer.
If you fail to double at the proper times – out of fear, superstition, or simply not memorizing basic strategy – you are costing yourself money! Doubling at the proper times is absolutely essential to cutting the casino’s advantage. If you fail to double, you miss out on value. And if you want to “hedge your bets” by doubling for less, you cost yourself even more value! Heck, if casinos let you double for more, you should do it (when basic strategy tells you to double down)! So next time you get an 11 against a 10, take a deep breath, follow the math, and double that baby down! If you lose 2 bets, at least you know you did the right thing, and that math will work itself out over time.
#3 – You’re afraid of busting
If there’s one thing blackjack players hate, it’s busting. It feels like you didn’t even give yourself a chance to win. Who knows what the dealer had hiding under their upcard? However, just like failing to double for the proper amount, fear is a terrible reason to not follow basic strategy.
How bad is it? Well, the extreme example is the famous “no bust strategy,” where a player never hits a hand that could bust. I ran the numbers on it once and it came out as the worst betting strategy I’ve tested, costing the player 10x the expectation of following perfect basic strategy. For example, if you bet $10 a hand for an hour at a typical 3:2 game with perfect basic strategy, you’d expect to lose about $4/hr. At that same table, the “no bust strategy” would cost you a whopping $40/hr!
Maybe you’re thinking, “well that’s extreme. I simply don’t hit 15’s and 16’s because I’m so likely to bust.” While it’s true that you are more likely to bust than not, you’re even more likely to lose by standing. You have to think of blackjack in terms of odds. Yes, you are likely to lose when you hit a 15 or 16. But in the long run, you will lose less by hitting than by standing. The bottom line is that the math doesn’t lie. And as bad as it feels to hit a hand that will likely bust, it’s still the better move if the chart says to hit.
#2 – You Play the Side Bets
People play the lottery because there’s a chance to win an incredibly large amount with a very small bet. What they aren’t thinking about is that the return on investment of a lottery ticket is -84%. So while buying a $2 lottery ticket, gives you the hope of winning big, the odds are that you’re throwing away $1.68 on every $2 lottery ticket.
Side bets work similarly. Casinos have added them to blackjack tables so they can massively increase their advantage over players. Players play them because they offer bigger potential payouts, like 40:1, 100:1, or even 1,000:1. However, that potential comes at a huge cost. The most common side bets have between a 3.5 and 17% house edge. Think about that… the side bet has a 7x to 34x larger house edge than playing perfect basic strategy. If you want to play smarter blackjack, avoid the silly side bets and your money will last you a lot longer.
#1 – You Believe in ANY Betting Strategy that isn’t Based on Card Counting
Martingale, progressive betting, pressing your bets, hunches, or making random bets will not work over the long haul. Don’t believe me? Prove it with a computer simulation. I’ve shown the results of several common gambling strategies on my YouTube channel. Or you can simply google it and actuaries have likely run the numbers for you. If they haven’t, do it yourself with blackjack simulation software. If you can’t prove it with math, then it’s a faulty system. However, there is a betting system that math has proven to work…
Remember how I said earlier that blackjack is based on independent events? Well, that’s not exactly true. There’s a “glitch” in the game that was discovered by a PhD in mathematics in the 60’s. As long as the game isn’t dealt out of a continuous shuffle machine, blackjack does have dependent events… the cards that have already been dealt. Once a card has been dealt, it has changed the composition of the remaining cards until the dealer shuffles. What card counting does is inform the (perfect card counting) player of when the house edge has changed. Have lots of 10’s and Aces come out already? Then the house edge has gone even more to the casino’s advantage. Has a surplus of small cards come out, relative to high cards? Then the house edge has begun shifting to the player. I know you may be skeptical, but card counting has been proven, mathematically and experientially, for over 50 years. I’ve personally run teams responsible for $4M in profits. Or if you don’t believe me, read up on the famous MIT Blackjack teams, the Hylanders, the Greeks, and more.
Card counting takes discipline, perfect skills, an iron stomach, and a requisite bankroll. So I’m not saying you should become a card counter. But it is the only betting system that is mathematically proven to work. Convincing yourself that any other system is going to work is just going to cost you money in the long run. That’s why a casino would never boot a player using a progressive system but casinos fear card counters… they know it’s blackjack’s achilles heel.
After beating blackjack in casinos across America, teacher and entrepreneur Colin Jones built and managed one of the largest card-counting teams in America. The Church Team’s multi-million dollar success story was chronicled in the award-winning documentary Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians, and has since been covered by New York Times, CNN, and The Colbert Report. In 2008 Colin Launched BlackjackApprencticeship.com as a way to train others to beat the game, and has since built it into the premiere blackjack training destination. Colin is the author of The 21st Century Card Counter: The Pros’ Approach to Beating Today’s Blackjack, available now through Huntington Press.