CONVENTIONAL WISDOM IS OFTEN GOOD STRATEGY

There’s a ‘conventional wisdom’ for everything and gambling is no different. In fact, there may be more quotes and sayings conveying long-held wisdom in gambling than any other discipline. Since most sayings of this type have been around for years there’s plenty that are outdated and no longer worth following. On the other hand, sometimes ‘conventional wisdom’ has been around for such a long time because it conveys some degree of truth.

Here are some well-known gambling quotes followed by our explanation of why the concept is important for a real money blackjack player to heed:

“ALWAYS ASSUME THE DEALER’S HOLE CARD IS A TEN”

There are definitely some exceptions to this suggestion—for example, if you’re counting cards accurately you’ll have your own idea about the dealer’s hole card. But aside from these rare exceptions, this is very solid advice. It’s a simple matter of probability—there are more cards in a deck with a 10 value in blackjack than any other value. With three face cards and one ten per suit that’s 16 cards in a 52 card deck or just over 30%. The exact probability that a dealer will have a ten as his hole card changes as a deck is played but there’s a reason that virtually all blackjack strategy is based on the number of tens that are in the deck (and, to a lesser extent, tracking the aces in a deck). When in doubt, just assume that a dealer has a ten in the hole and play your hand accordingly.

“NEVER BUY INSURANCE AT THE RENTAL CAR COUNTER OR THE BLACKJACK TABLE”

More good strategy. When you rent a car you’re more than likely covered by some other form of insurance that you already have. Most credit cards provide some form of collision damage coverage. At the blackjack table, insurance is offered against losing to a blackjack when the dealer is showing an ace. You’ll be paid 2/1 should this occur. We’ll again offer the caveat that a high-level card counter might be able to make this bet based on his knowledge of the deck. For everyone else, however, it’s a bad idea.

Like everything else in the casino, it’s simple math. As we learned above 30% of cards in the deck are ten value cards. While the specific odds of the dealer drawing a ten will vary due to hands that have been played we’ll use this 30% number for the sake of argument. The payback of this bet simply doesn’t reflect the true odds of a dealer getting blackjack. Assuming that the dealer pulls a ten 30% of the time it would have to pay more than 2/1 to just break even. The ‘true odds’ of a 30% proposition is something like 2.333 to 1. Advantages in gambling are usually found through an aggregation of small edges, and any time you play insurance you’re giving the house a mathematical advantage that you could really use. You are giving up 33 cents on the dollar every time you take insurance.

A similar strategy is true for accepting even money payouts on blackjacks against a dealers upturned ace. In the long term, you’ll make more money by risking a loss in this situation and holding out for the 3-2 payout for a blackjack.

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“SLEEPY GAMBLERS ARE SLOPPY GAMBLERS”

This is great advice for any form of casino gambling but especially blackjack. You might be able to zone out in front of the slot machines while you’re fighting off sleep but blackjack is a different deal entirely—it requires focus and intellectual involvement. If you’re too tired to pay attention to the cards that have been played, lose track of basic strategy concepts and start betting blindly you’re going to lose money. You’re much better off going to sleep and returning to play some more in the morning. That’s one of the nice things about casino gambling, either live or online. The games are always there and you can play them on the schedule that is most advantageous to you.

“LUCK DOESN’T EXIST, PROBABILITY DOES”

For some strange reason, even experienced gamblers believe strongly in the concept of luck. Simply put, there is no such thing as luck and particularly in a casino gambling situation. Everything that happens in a casino is based on probability. Just take a look at the examples above and notice how often we refer to probability. If you hit a jackpot, for example, you just ended up on the right side of the probability equation. In video poker, for example, the odds of a royal flush are approximately 1 to 18,000 though it varies widely due to the style of play and individual game rules. In the sportsbook, your odds of winning a three-team parlay are roughly 3 to 1. You can increase your probability by making smart bets and following a strategy and you can decrease your odds by making stupid plays.

That’s why the gambling industry—from lotteries to casinos—like to sell the idea of ‘luck’. Players that believe in ‘luck’ are their bread and butter. They’d like nothing but players that hope to ‘get lucky’ because they keep their revenue stream flowing. There has never been a long-term money winner at any form of gambling that just ‘got lucky’. The successful players—whether they’re at the blackjack table, the horse track or the sports book—become students of math and probability and understand the significance of every bet they place and every strategy they implement. They look for betting opportunities where the math works in their favor and avoid those that are tilted too strongly in favor of the house.

There’s a great quote usually attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”. That’s exactly what we’re talking about here. The casino may provide opportunities to win money but your preparation—knowing how to play, understanding the math behind the games and using good strategy—is the determining factor in how well you’ll do.

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