Blackjack FAQ - Part 3 of 4

Blackjack FAQ Part 3Welcome to Part 3 of 4 in our blackjack FAQ guide. This page focuses on answers to players questions regarding live blackjack. Below you will find answers to almost 20 questions on playing brick and mortar blackjack. This includes what is Vegas Strip, how casinos handle card counting, what is standard deviation and more.

You can view other blackjack questions and answers in Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 4

Blackjack Questions Answered

Which strategy should you use in a blackjack tournament?

Blackjack tournaments with a lot of people can be a crap shoot, pardon the pun. The strategy in any given situation in a tournament has to change, depending on where you are relative to the other players. As a general rule, you should be betting the maximum when you have an advantage play and betting the minimum when you don't.

Why is blackjack so popular?

Blackjack is popular, because it has the lowest house edge of any game in the casino. Blackjack has better odds than roulette. Blackjack has better odds than craps. Blackjack has better odds than baccarat. Certainly, blackjack has better odds than slot machines. The only game in the casino which comes close to the good odds of blackjack is video poker.

Is card clumping real and how does it affect blackjack play?

Card clumping doesn't affect blackjack gameplay at all, since it's a bogus theory. The idea is the cards get clumped on the shuffle and you get an unfavorable bias clumped into the cards. I hope most of the readers can see this theory is flawed logic at face value.

Can a blackjack player using a cheat sheet or a strategy card when sitting at a blackjack table in the casino?

The answer is "yes", you can use a cheat sheet, so long as you don't slow down the game too much for everyone else. If you use a basic strategy card, don't overuse it. Make the game flow.

If the blackjack dealer is on a winning streak, should I find another table?

Most of the time when the dealer is winning, it's because a good number of small cards have come out of the deck. When this happens, it usually means a bigger percentage of big cards in the deck, which is what card counters look for. In other words, the odds should be turning (slightly) in your favor, if that scenario has been happened. That's a small advantage when you're playing with a multi-deck, so don't make hot streaks for dealers the basis of your strategy. No reason exists to assume the next table over is going to offer better luck. You've just been unlucky for a few hands.

Can a player "mess up the shoe", like some blackjack gamblers at the table rudely assert?

This is a common issue in casinos, when a weak blackjack player shows up at the table and starts to make incorrect plays, according to basic strategy. The veteran player in the next seat accuses the newbie of having "messed up the deck" by asking for more cards than they need or standing where they should have hit. When a player holding a hard 17 hits and gets a "10", which causes the other player to miss a 21, this can cause hard feelings. In fact, this questions came up enough that one prominent mathematician used his computer to play 1.5 billion simulated hands where one player used correct basic strategy and the other used a wildly flawed strategy. In this case, no significant change occurred in the expected return of the player using basic strategy. The next time someone tells you that you messed up the deck, tell them math doesn't support their claim.

Can a player touch the cards in a game where the cards are dealt face-up?

No, some casinos have the dealer deal the cards face-up and, in these situations, the dealer is only one who can touch the cards. No reason exists for you as the player to touch those cards. Since players touching them could try to switch them or mark them, this is considered a no-no. Seeing all the cards dealt to players instead of half of them is a positive variation, so this isn't such a bad trade-off.

How much are red, green, and black chips worth in blackjack?

A red chip is worth $5. A green chip is worth $25. A black chip is worth $100. This is the accepted coloring system for most mainstream brick-and-mortar casinos.

What is Vegas Strip blackjack?

Vegas Strip blackjack is found on Microgaming websites and has specific rules. Vegas Strip blackjack uses 4 decks of cards and one betting position. The dealer peeks for blackjack (3:2) and stands on a soft 17. Players can resplit up to 3 hands. Players can double on their first two cards in any situation. A double after a split is allowed. The house edge for Vegas Strip blackjack is a nice 0.36%.

How do casino people spot card counters?

Card counters tend to have a profile. First, they tend to concentrate on the game more than most players. Instead of talking socially with dealers and other players, they stare at the cards while they count. They tend to take a little extra time before betting, but won't hesitate when playing a hand between 12 and 16. They tend to be young and white and tend to have beards, as this disguises their face somewhat. These men tend to dress casually, but bet a lot of money. At the same time, they tend to have larger chip stacks, though they often bet $5 to $10 on their first hand or the first hand of a new deck. These players also tend to scout the tables before sitting down, hoping to find a good count. Of course, card counters play things close to the vest. Not only do they avoid tipping dealers (it hurts the bottom line), but the card counter also doesn't drink alcohol while playing.

To avoid being spotted as a card counter, you'll need to avoid a significant number of these tells. If you're going to be betting a lot of money, dress like you're a high roller. Drink a little bit of alcohol. Talk to dealers and players and make eye contact when you do. If you can do all these things and still keep a count, then you might be successful counting cards.

What does late surrender mean in blackjack?

Late surrender allows a player to save half their bet after the dealer checks for blackjack. Surrender is a rules option which lets you concede defeat in a hand by giving up half your original wager.

How many hands per hour does a casino dealer average?

The average casino dealer deals from 500 to 600 hands per hour. Blackjack tables have room for 7 players, while the dealer always receives a hand. This means any given deal has 8 hands in it. With 8 deals per hand, you can expect to see about 60 to 75 hands per hour, or just over 1 per minute. Online casino software allows much quicker deals, either through the auto-play function or through multi-hand blackjack (some up to 50 or 100 hands at a time). Since the casino has a house edge in blackjack (however slight), it's to the advantage of the casino to deal cards as quickly as possible. Conversely, it's to your disadvantage to increase the speed of deals.

My friend chooses a blackjack table by the one with the fewest chips. Does this work?

I've heard of multiple old school blackjack players using this method to pick a table in a casino. The idea is that a table without as many chips has a dealer having a bad day, because those chips have been given away to players. Some players swear by this method. I'll say this method isn't 100% by any means. You've seen pit bosses come along and collect chips from a dealer with a lot of them before, so other reasons exist for a table having fewer chips. That isn't to say this method of selecting tables has no merits, but unless you've seen every hand played, it's hard to know exactly why a table's chip stack is low. Some players look for players with lots of chips or even the table with the most smiling players, but you should know these are hardly scientific ways to find a table. Luck, chance, and happenstance characterize all gambling trips.

What is the best card counting system?

Many people consider the best card counting system to be Hi-Lo or High Opt II. It might be accurate to say there is no "best card counting system", because different players have different strengths and weaknesses. Part of the effectiveness of a card counting system has to do with a player's ability to handle mathematical complexity while interacting with casino personnel and other players in an unsuspicious manner. No two players have the exact same abilities in this regard, so your best system may not be the same as your buddy's best card counting system. The more accurate a card counting system is, the more complex it is. While basic card counting doesn't require a mathematical genius (far from it), more complex systems might be hard to maintain in the hustle and bustle of a casino. You'll need to find the card counting system which offers the most accuracy, but allows you to use it in a natural fashion at the table.

What is standard deviation in blackjack?

Blackjack writers talk a lot about "expectation", which is your theoretical, expected result. If blackjack has an expected value of 99.54%, you expect the casino to show a house edge of 0.46% over time. "Standard deviation" is a measure of the real results, because theory (which is based on an average of a lot of players) seldom matches results. If you flip the coin for heads-or-tails a hundred times, the expected result is 50 heads and 50 tails. In fact, the standard deviation is that 68% of the time, the numbers will fall somewhere between 45 and 55 for each option. Maybe one time it's 47 heads and 53 tails. The next time it might be 55 heads and 45 tails. The next time it might be 49 heads and 51 tails. Not many times will it be a 50/50 split. Understanding standard deviation helps gamblers cope with the fluctuations of blackjack. Even the best of card counters get unlucky.

I've often heard the term "shill for the casinos". What is a shill? 

A shill is a casino employee who plays blackjack in order to draw in more customers. These players tend to be easy to spot, because their plays mimic the rules for the dealer. If an employee is playing in order to fill up tables and make it appears more gamblers are enjoying blackjack, a person is shilling for the casino. Blackjack terminology is sometimes used loosely in online situations. For instance, a shill for a casino might be an affiliate trying to say good things about an online casino, hoping to drive traffic there for the sake of a percentage.

What is a rich deck and is it good?

A "rich deck" is a card counters term to describe a deck with a disproportionate amount of aces and 10s in the deck. This is considered the best thing for card counters, because this is when they play at an advantage and make larger bets.

What do casinos do with card counters?

Casinos bar card counters from playing in their establishment, if they catch them. It is not illegal for someone to count cards in a casino, so casinos cannot call the cops or engage in illegal activities to dissuade players from counting cards. A casino has the right to refuse to let a gambler play at a casino, so those caught will be escorted to the door. The casino might take your picture and place you in a database of known card counters--the so-called black book.

Is surrendering a sucker move?

Surrendering is not a sucker move in blackjack, though many beginning players surrender too often. If a player knows when to surrender and uses this rule wisely, then the player's expected return and payout increases. Study basic strategy charts for "blackjack surrender" to become aware of when to make this move.

If card counting is so effective that players are barred from brick-and-mortar casinos, how do online casinos make sure card counting doesn't happen online?

No one method of foiling card counters is used by online casinos, but the most widespread way to beat card counting is the use of blackjack software which reshuffles the deck automatically after each hand. This is universal with single-deck blackjack games and used in a huge majority of multi-deck blackjack games. Reshuffling every hand makes card counting useless in almost every situation.

Other techniques are used, such as changing the rules of basic blackjack enough that the house edge is large enough to accommodate card counting. That is, if the rules give a casino a significant enough house edge, then even counting cards is not going to offset that advantage. This is a bane for less skilled blackjack players, since they have to face lousy blackjack odds. Many blackjack variants online have worse odds, such as the games with side bets like perfect pairs and progressive blackjack. Just about any side bet in blackjack is going to have worse odds than the basic game. While it's not impossible to find a beatable game on the Internet, the field isn't as easy for card counters as you might assume. The standard game is 6-deck blackjack with auto-shuffle after each hand. Some casinos even have infinite deck blackjack (or high-number finite deck blackjack), so this makes card counting pointless.

Why should I always split aces and 8s? 

Two 8s make a "16" and that's a weak hand in blackjack. Splitting those 8s gives you a chance to improve both hands, either with really high cards (10, 11) or really low cards (2, 3). Splitting aces gives you two changes to pair 10s with your ace and receive 21.

A friend of mine says he knows a strategy which beats the house edge. It's called the "Don't Bust Strategy" and you never hit when you can bust. Does the Don't-Bust Strategy work?

No, the don't bust strategy absolutely does not work. Your friend assumes that not busting forces the dealer to face the threat of busting more often. While using this strategy does mean the casino is going to bust more often, the casino is also going to take your money an inordinate amount of time because you'll be playing a lot of weak hands. The don't bust strategy has a house edge of 3.91%, while the house edge using basic strategy is 0.48%. Learn a basic strategy chart and you'll be much better off.