Blackjack FAQ - Part 3 of 4

Blackjack FAQ Part 4This is the 4th and final installment to our blackjack FAQ guide. This page covers answers to the following questions listed below. Most of the questions relate to online blackjack including if it is possible to play for free, where to play, etc. You will also find answers to a few strategy questions along with bankroll and card counting systems.

You can view other blackjack questions and answers in Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

Blackjack Questions Answered

Is early surrender or late surrender better?

Early surrender is better, because it allows players to lose only half their bet when the dealer holds a blackjack. In a late surrender scenario, you lose the entire wager.

What is "basic strategy"?

Basic strategy is an optimal way of playing which gives players the best chance to win. Basic strategy charts provide players advice based on the cards (or total) you hold and the card the dealer has showing.

I read an e-book saying the "Assume a Ten" strategy is the best tactic for blackjack. Is assuming the dealer has a 10 the best strategy for blackjack? 

I've heard about this method and it's one of the worst strategies you could devise for blackjack. Basic strategy for blackjack means the house edge is going to be 0.46%, while the "assume a 10" strategy has a house edge of 10.03%. It's an outrageous proposition to assume the dealer holds a 10, since you'll be wrong nearly 70% of the hands. Consider the financial implications of going from 0.46% to 10.03%. This means for every $100 you wager on blackjack, the player using the assume-ten strategy is going to lose $9.57 more. The optimal player using basic strategy is going to lose $0.46 for every $100.00 spent, while the assume ten theory is going to lose $10.03 for every $100.00 wagered. You won't have a bankroll for long using those odds. Assuming the dealer holds a ten-card is essentially taking the best odds in the casino and turning them into a bad game of slots--one of the worst games for players.

Can I play blackjack for free online?

Players can enjoy free blackjack on the Internet in countless places. Players can find free Facebook blackjack apps like Blackjack Madness, Blackjack Ultimate, Blackjack King of BlackBerry, Live Blackjack Pro for Android phones, free play PlazaWin Blackjack, Double Exposure Blackjack by Lambton Games, 50 Cent's BLackjack from GSN Digital, and the free Blackjack +3. These are just few of the game you'll find. A Zynga Blackjack app is no longer offered. Beyond Facebook, players can find blackjack simulators on many how-to websites. These tools act as a tutorial to help you learn the game and master basic strategy. These are by no means the only resources, though. Even the real money casino sites offer free blackjack. Virtually any blackjack variant at an online casino is going to have a freeplay version. These are used as promotional tools to draw in new players who want to learn the software. Anyone wanting to play blackjack for free can find a ton of options online.

Why do online casinos have so many versions of blackjack?

Many different versions of blackjack have been invented over the years and a good number of them have become popular. Besides classic blackjack, games like pontoon, double exposure, and blackjack switch have been popular in certain regions of the world. In fact, Spanish blackjack, UK blackjack, European blackjack, and special rules in Las Vegas (downtown and on the Strip) and Atlantic City have become popular. Games with side bets like perfect pairs and progressive blackjack have found acceptance with players. To increase the entertainment options for blackjack gamblers, casinos want to offer these games. One advantage for some of these casinos is that certain variants of blackjack don't have the same low house edge which classic blackjack offers.

What is a blackjack grinder?

A grinder is a small money player at the blackjack table.

Where is the best place online to play blackjack?

This site isn't in the business of recommending any one website. For one thing, players reading our Q&A live in all parts of the world. Any given online casino that I recommend wouldn't be legal for everyone reading. Many fine Internet casinos exist. I suggest you do your research, especially learning about the licensing authority which assures the games are fair and the software provider to know if they're legit. I also suggest reading online blackjack forums to see what other players have to say about sites. These player communities can provide independent third-party observations on the service provided. I wouldn't take everything said on these message boards as gospel--competitors can post nasty rumors about a site--repeated horror stories establish a pattern of trouble. Unless you know someone personally, it's usually best to deal with the brand name casinos which have a reputation established over years, not months or weeks.

Does the Martingale betting system work for blackjack betting?

The Martingale betting system doesn't help with any form of gambling, so the answer is an emphatic "no". The Martingale system has been around since the 18th century and the method has been used to gamble on every game in the casino. In the system, you double your bet when you lose. The thinking is you cover the losses on the last bet (and all others in the sequence), while winning back a small profit. Several problems appear, including casino wagering limits and the risk of ruin. Since the Martingale requires exponential increases in your bets, the amount being wagered soon becomes huge, exposing the player to losing their entire bankroll (if a losing streak occurs).

The Martingale works on an assumption called the Gambler's Fallacy, that a result which hasn't happened in a while is "due" to happen. While the content of a deck might make for more likely outcomes in blackjack, this isn't enough to make the Martingale make sense. It would be far better to learn how to count cards and make bigger wagers based on real mathematical calculations, instead of flawed assumptions.

Is betting at the casino no different than gambling on the stock market?

The answer is "yes" and "no". Yes, you can win big by playing the stock market or playing cards, through taking risks with your money. Players can win big at the casino, while investors can lose everything buying and selling stocks. One fundamental difference exists, though. Casino gambling tends to have a built-in house edge, so you're expected to lose money over the long term. Buying and selling stocks comes with transactional fees, so you have to clear this rake from your stock broker. Otherwise, the markets tend to go up over time, so investors tend to have a positive expectation over long periods of time (but not necessarily short term trading). Gamblers are betting at a disadvantage, while wise investors are betting at an advantage.

Card counters give themselves an advantage in blackjack, but it's one of the few gambling situations where that occurs. Still, card counting won't make you rich, unless you already have a huge bankroll to stake on your gambles. The margins are still small enough that it lies within the standard deviation, so card counting isn't the best of professions. Gambling should be done as a form of entertainment, not as a serious attempt to make money. 

Are blackjack ebooks worth buying?

While nothing keeps a blackjack ebook from being well-written and informative, understand that many ebook authors offer up fluff content or rewritten advice from more famous writers. That being said, any book in print might have its ebook counterpart, so I suggest you read the classic blackjack books before turning to an unknown ebook author. One thing to look out for is sales copy with fake testimonials and bold slogans. These are red flags in the gambling industry. If an ebook author claims to have a secret to beating the casinos, that person is almost certain to be making claims they can't back up--unless they teach a good card counting system. If they do, you can read about these elsewhere. Finally, remember that moneyback guarantees are easy to tout, but not as easy to collect on.

Are Edward Thorp's ideas on blackjack out of date?

A lot has been written on blackjack since Edward Thorp first introduced the amateur gambler to concepts like basic strategy and card counting. That means reading Edward Thorp only would not prepare you for all the changes in casino gambling over the past 47 years, nor would it take note of the subsequent attempts to create more accurate (if more complicated) card counting strategies. Still, all the math experts running simulations on their computers have only confirmed that basic strategy is best way to play hands. Card counters might want to read more than Beat The Dealer, but they also should start by reading Edward Thorp's groundbreaking work on beating the casinos through counting cards.

How Big a Blackjack Bankroll Do I Need?

How big a blackjack bankroll you need is based on your goals as a player. For example, a card counter who’s trying to make a living at blackjack needs a larger bankroll than a recreational player who just wants to have some fun or get some comps.

If you’re a card counter, then most experts recommend that you use the Kelly Criterion to determine the size of your bankroll. This minimizes the risk of going broke because of a bad streak of luck, but at the same time, it gives you enough aggression that you can make a decent amount of profit in a short period of time.

The Kelly Criterion states that you should be a percentage of your bankroll that’s roughly equivalent to the edge you have over the game. If you estimate that your edge over the casino is roughly 1%, then you would need a big enough bankroll that you could bet 1% of it on a single hand. If you’re playing $5 minimum tables, then that means you need at least a $500 bankroll.

You also have to take into account the average number of hands per hour that you’ll be dealt. At a table with a lot of other players, you might only play 40 hands per hour. If you’re playing by yourself with the dealer, you might play 80 hands per hour. With a 1% edge and an average bet size of $5, your hourly wage is easy to determine—you multiply your average bet size by the number of bets per hour by the percentage amount you expect to win on each hand in the long run. That’s $5 X 80 hands per hour X 1% = $4/hour, assuming it’s just you and the dealer.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t live on $4/hour, so if you want to make it worth your while, you’ll have to have a larger bankroll so that you can play for higher stakes. If you up your bet size to $25, you’ll need a correspondingly larger bankroll--$2500. Even then, you’re only earning $20/hour, which sounds a lot less glamorous than you though, doesn’t it? On the other hand, if you grow your bankroll to $10,000, you can play for $100 per hand, and then you can start earning closer to $80/hour, which starts sounding more attractive.

On the other hand, if you’re just a recreational player, you should probably just determine approximately how much time you want to spend playing blackjack on your trip, then calculate how much you’ll lose per hour, and have a bankroll large enough that it won’t run out before your time at the table does. Since your goal is to just maximize the amount of fun you’ll have, gravitate toward the full tables, so you get fewer hands per hour. At 40 hands per hour, with a $5 per bet average, and a 1% house edge, you’ll only lose (on average) $2 per hour. So if you have a bankroll of $200, you can spend 100 hours at the tables. Keep in mind that a streak of bad luck will wipe you out sooner than that sometimes, too.

What Does It Mean to Get Barred from a Casino?

Card counting is legal, but that doesn’t mean that casinos approve of the activity. In fact, most casinos actively abhor card counters. If they get the impression that you’re counting, they’ll bar you from the blackjack tables or even bar you from the casino altogether. That means you’re not allowed to play there. If you’ve been asked to stay out of their casino, and you play there anyway, you ARE breaking the law, because you’re trespassing on private property. Casinos have the right to refuse service to anyone, and when they exercise that right on card counter, it’s called “being barred from the casino.”

How Did They Figure Out Basic Strategy?

There are a limited number of possible situations at the blackjack table. For example, the dealer’s upcard is limited to one of ten possibilities. At the same time, the player’s possible totals against that upcard are limited to one of twenty possibilities. The mathematically correct play for each combination of a player total versus a dealer’s upcard is called “basic strategy,” and it’s usually presented in a chart or a table. But how did they come up with the correct play for each situation?

Basic strategy was determined originally by using a computer to deal literally hundreds of thousands of hands in each situation, examining the results of each potential decision, and then determining which decision won the most or lost the least amount of money in each situation. More modern computers determine basic strategy by just calculating the expected value of each given decision in a given situation.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Card Counter?

If you’re serious about becoming a card counter, the first thing you have to do is learn how to play blackjack. That means you need to understand ALL of the options, not just hitting and standing. You also need to know what it means to split and to double down. A couple of hours playing a free blackjack game on a computer program ought to familiarize you with the basics of how to play.

The next step to becoming a card counter is memorizing basic strategy. That will probably take the average person 8 to 10 hours.

Then comes the hard part—learning how to actually count cards. To be able to count cards well enough to get an edge over the casino, you’ll probably need to spend at least 40 hours practicing. If you’re serious about getting an edge over the casino, you’ll need to spend another 40 hours learning when to deviate from basic strategy based on the count.

So if you seriously want to become a card counter, you should plan on investing probably 100 hours or so of your time in learning how to do it before you even try counting in a casino.