By Henry Tamburin
Have you even wondered, “Who is in control” when you play blackjack in a casino? Is it you or the casino?
I know that most players sometimes feel the casino (a.k.a. the dealer) is controlling their destiny. I mean how many times can the same dealer draw that one and only card that beats your hand? However, believe it or not, you have a great say in your destiny at the blackjack tables.
First let’s look at what the casino controls when you play blackjack, then we’ll look at what we, as players, can control.
This is no trivial point. Casinos in most gaming jurisdictions in the country are free to implement whatever rules they want at their blackjack tables. This includes the number of decks of cards, whether or not the dealer stands or hits on soft 17, whether or not surrender is offered or resplit of aces or multiple pair splits or double down after pair splitting, and so on. Yes, the casinos can control how much of an edge they want to have in blackjack by picking and choosing the different playing options they allow at their tables.
They even control how many cards they will allow to be dealt from the dealing shoe by their policy on the placement of the cut card (which has a great effect on a card counter’s edge). They can make their blackjack games very tough to beat, even impossible to beat, or give players a competitive blackjack game.
The Betting Spread
Another not so trivial point. Casinos dictate for the most part what minimum and maximum bets they’ll allow at their tables. The maximum bet that is allowed in most casinos is far less than the casino’s total bankroll. Therefore, the casino controls the odds of having a lucky player “break the bank’ by having a bankroll that far exceeds the maximum bets they will allow at its blackjack tables. In fact, the “risk of ruin” for a casino is virtually nil.
Casinos make it easy for players to get access to betting money. Playing on credit is relatively easy to establish. Lose all your cash? No problem there are plenty of ATM and “credit card to cash” machines conveniently located throughout a casino.
The casinos engineer the environment in a casino to make it easy for a player to feel good about his losses. In this exciting, no holds barred, every thing is fast-and-fun casino atmosphere it’s easy for a player to bet more, to spend more, and to lose more.
It seems like the cards are stacked pretty much in the casino’s favor when you play blackjack. However, the fact is that you have control over your destiny for the most part, and not the casino.
Minimize the Casino’s Edge
You control how much or how little the casino’s edge is against you by your playing and betting skill level. Just by learning the basic playing strategy, which is a set of rules that tell you when to hit, stand, double down, pair split or surrender, you can reduce the casino’s edge to less than 1%. If you are selective and only play blackjack games with the best rules, you can cut the casino’s edge to a half a percent of less. Moreover, if you learn to increase your bets only when there is an excess of high value cards vs. low value cards in the remaining unplayed cards (i.e. learn a simple card counting technique like Speed Count), you can actually swing the edge in your favor.
You control your emotions in the casino. Don’t let the exciting atmosphere lull you into playing above your means. Go easy on the ‘free drinks’ and learn to accept your losses. Even the best blackjack players in the world can’t win every session. Just stay focused on staying in control, and avoid the casino temptations that can quickly separate you from your money.
You control how much credit you want the casino to give you. If you can’t handle the credit, don’t get it. Don’t bet more than you can afford just to get a comp (believe it or not, many players have lost bundles playing longer and at higher betting levels just for the sake of a free meal). Play with money you can afford to lose should the worse happen and if you can’t afford to bet big, don’t! By all means, ask for your fair share of comps based on the betting level you feel comfortable with, but please don’t play longer, or bet higher, just to get one.
You control the odds of losing your bankroll (Gambler’s Ruin) by how much you bet in relation to your playing bankroll and your playing skill level. When a player overbets in relation to his bankroll, he is doomed to lose. Card counters, for example, take great pains not to overbet because even though they have the edge, they know that they could go days, weeks, and even months losing more money than they win at the blackjack tables. Never overbet and you’ll be in control of “Gambler’s Ruin.”
When you think about it, blackjack players have a lot of control over their destiny. More so then most other casino games because we get to make playing and betting decisions that directly affect the outcome. Players who discipline themselves to play in blackjack games with the more favorable rules using the basic playing strategy and a simple counting system will win a lot more money in their lifetime then the player who opts to play blackjack in “any old casino” using a seat-of-the-pants playing and betting strategy. Like I said, you can either play “in control” or let the casino control you. The choice is yours. And I trust you will make the right choice.
Henry Tamburin has been a respected casino gambling writer for the past 50 years. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide and was editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter. You can read his latest articles on blackjack, video poker, and his personal playing experiences at