When it comes to gambling, everyone is an expert in blackjack.
Just how many secrets can be left for us all to learn?
It doesn’t hurt to revisit old gems of advice but what really helps is to separate fact from fiction. Here are some facts that have been buried by, if not quite fiction, then by “high expectations”.
1. The House Edge Is the Lowest in Blackjack
The house edge, that percentage of player bets the casino is expected to keep, is not really as fixed a number as we have been told. There are several reasons this established fact is a little bit misleading, but here are the two most common reasons:
Most players make big mistakes. You can read all the blackjack advice you want. You can memorize the tables showing when to play which cards but the truth is that it takes a lot of practice to master the skills of blackjack. It doesn’t help when you sit in a casino hours on end drinking alcohol. Sure, we all enjoy a nice drink now and then, but alcohol impairs everyone’s judgment. Casinos know that.
Naïve players struggle to remember the basic rules of the game. Experienced players who don’t play the game frequently may become a little too distracted. Some people love to socialize while playing blackjack. Some people flirt with the dealers. Whatever the reason, if your mind is not on the game, you will make mistakes.
Monthly casino revenue reports filed with government agencies seem to bear this out. Some casinos have retained as much as 15-20% of player blackjack bets. That’s a pretty good house edge for a supposed 1% game!
Casinos Vary the Rules. There is no one single game of blackjack. If you learn the basic game and only apply strategies that work in that style of play, the casinos will skin you alive. That is why most experts advise you to pay close attention to the table rules. They are either displayed on a sign on the table or emblazoned on the table felt top.
If you bring your basic blackjack skill to Spanish 21, you’re asking for a chance to give the casino money. Just because there are ten blackjack tables in the room does not guarantee they are all playing by the same rules. Experienced players know this. Naïve players may not realize they have to pay their dues and learn each variation of the game.
And, as always, don’t play a 6:5 blackjack table if there are 3:2 tables available. In fact, don’t play a 6:5 game.
2. The Probabilities Only Change with the Cards
No one really comes out and says this but most blackjack articles that discuss probabilities imply it. In other words, as the cards in the shoe are played out (before a new shuffle), the probabilities shift because the mix of unplayed cards changes.
What most advice articles point out is that if a lot of high value cards appear early in the shuffle then your chances (probabilities) of getting another face card decline with each round of play. That is quite true. But those probabilities are also affected by how many people join or leave your table.
Let’s say you’re playing with 8 decks in the shoe. You can expect 128 face cards and 10s to be distributed among 416 cards. If it’s just you and the dealer playing you have an almost even chance at getting those high value cards. The dealer has a slight advantage because he waits for you to win, bust, or stand before playing his hand.
But when another player joins the table your chances of drawing a high value card are reduced by about a third. Add a third player to the table and your chances of drawing a high value card are reduced by about another 25%. Those 128 high value cards start to look very rare in your future as other players scoop them up.
That doesn’t mean you only want to play against the dealer by yourself. The math works with low value cards just as well as it does with high value cards. With three other players at the table you’re less likely to draw a pair of deuces. Estimating probabilities gives you a better understanding of how the game works. That’s a good thing, but there is no magic in knowing the numbers.
3. How the Cards Are Shuffled Does Not Matter
This is a big one and it does not seem to get much attention.
Have you played at a table using a Continuous Shuffle Machine?
That destroys all your calculations. CSMs are used to discourage or inhibit card counting. Card counting gives a proven edge to the players who use it properly. That is why casinos refuse to allow card counters to play their games. The CSM destroys your card counting advantage.
Even if you are not part of a professional card counting team, if you want to reduce the random factors in the game, avoid tables that use Continuous Shuffle Machines. You can show the casino with your money which types of games you prefer to play, and manual shuffling should be one of the criteria in how you choose a table.
Continuous Shuffle Machines allow the dealer to turn more rounds per hour. The more rounds of play the casino serves the more money it makes. If you are just there to enjoy yourself, your money lasts longer at a table where the dealer still shuffles the cards. If you’re a good player you have a pretty good chance at walking away a winner. If you expect to lose only a little bit, that small loss accumulates faster at a table with CSM-assisted dealing.
4. All Dealers Play the Same Game
Casinos watch their dealers closely for good reason. Sometimes a dealer makes a mistake. Sometimes a dealer decides to go rogue. Neither kind of dealer is good for the casino. So while it’s true that casinos keep the dealers on a short leash, they don’t always play the same game.
You don’t want to play with a crooked dealer. That’s illegal and if he’s not working with you he’s not going to help you anyway unless he wants to throw you to the dogs.
What you want is to find an honest dealer who is a bit inexperienced. Many casinos have at least one new dealer on the floor each month. If you play regularly you’ll start to see new faces. Some dealers change jobs and bring their experience with them, so they won’t be of much help to you.
The dealer who is still learning on the job is more likely to make mistakes which will help a savvy player. This is an opportunistic strategy, not something you can count on every time you walk into a casino. Just know that dealers don’t always play the same game.
There are also dealers who are just too good. Maybe they are popular with tourists who don’t understand the game. These dealers may be doing nothing technically wrong but they win more often than you would expect, based on the basic probabilities. Watch the tables for a while and see how good the dealer’s luck is. If it seems a bit too good to be true and the players don’t get up and leave, find another table.
5. Ask the Dealer for Help
Every new player has done this. You get confused and you ask the dealer for advice. Each casino sets its own rules about how dealers interact with the players. Nonetheless, players often make the mistake of assuming the dealer knows how to play the game like a player. Dealers play by different rules from players.
The dealer can explain the table rules to you. The dealer should know the table rules inside out. Ask the dealer about the rules.
But when it comes to strategy or deciding what you should do, don’t ask the dealer. The dealer may have the best of intentions and the casino may not care if the dealer gives you advice. After all, everything is happening on camera and the cards and chips are being tracked. It’s hard for a dealer to cheat.
Even so, the dealer may be terrible at playing blackjack. If you don’t know basic blackjack strategy, then don’t assume the dealer does. If you really need help, flip a coin. Your chances of making a bad decision are about 50%. That’s average for people who are just learning the game.
Also remember that the dealer is not your friend. He or she is there to entertain you, to make money for the casino, and to make money for him or herself. Your needs come last.
Yes, you will find a lot of good advice on the Internet but the seas get rough where advice meets reality. It’s just like cold air splashing into warm, moist air. You really do not know what to expect. Good advice can be wrong for lots of valid reasons.