USING INTERMEDIATE BLACKJACK STRATEGY

Blackjack doesn’t have a tidy segue way from beginning play and basic strategy to card counting and more advanced concepts. For that reason, we’ll use the ‘intermediate strategy’ section to address a few strategic odds and ends that every player should be cognizant of.

LAND BASED CASINOS VS. ONLINE CASINOS

While many of the concepts we discuss on this site are different for online and land based casino players it’s essential to understand basic strategy no matter where you’re playing. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing at a live table in Las Vegas or at home online it’s important to know the proper strategy for the rules of your specific game.

NUMBER OF DECKS

Back when Las Vegas was the legitimate center of the gambling universe Binion’s Horseshoe Casino downtown was known for two things: the World Series of Poker and their commitment to single deck blackjack. Times have changed, Las Vegas is trying to shed itself of it’s gambling identity in a desperate attempt to ape Orlando and it’s not as easy to find single deck blackjack as it used to be.

In theory, the fewer decks in play in a blackjack game the better for the player. Obviously, if you’re counting cards the fewer decks you have to keep track of the more accurate your count. But even for basic strategy players you’re better off playing with one or two decks as opposed to a six deck shoe dealt game. The game is less volatile with fewer decks making basic strategy more effective. A single deck game will give a player a 0.48% edge over a six deck game. A double deck game will give the player a 0.19% edge over a six deck game.

There is a corollary to the number of decks that is hard to quantify and calculate: penetration. Simply put, ‘penetration’ refers to how deep a dealer goes in the deck before he shuffles. Some players are of the opinion that you’re better off playing a double deck game with ‘good penetration’ than you are playing a single deck game where the dealer shuffles midway through the deck. If you’re card counting this is definitely true since the deeper you go in the deck the more accurate your count.

SHORT PAY BLACKJACK

Way back in the day when I first started writing about sports betting and casino gambling one of the first pieces of advice I gave out is just as important today: don’t check your brain at the casino door. My original article was in response to something that I witnessed at the old Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. A middle aged couple was playing a progressive video poker machine with a fairly low jackpot. Right behind them was an identical bank of machines—jacks or better, $1 machines, the same manufacturer, etc. The only difference was the jackpot—it was more than twice as high as the machines they were playing. All this couple had to do to significantly improve their odds of winning was to turn around and play the other bank of machines. Even if you don’t understand concepts like expected value it’s pretty obvious that you’re better served by getting roughly 2.5X more money should you hit a royal flush.

Las Vegas has long depended on clueless players to pad their bottom line. My job is to make sure you’re not one of them. Over the past decade one of the more disturbing trends in Las Vegas casino gambling—that has now spread elsewhere—is the growth of ‘short pay’ blackjack rules. This trend is ‘credited’ to Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson, one of the more unctuous human beings on the planet. Adelson got the idea that if people aren’t paying attention to the rules anyway that he might as well pay 6 to 5 on a blackjack instead of the traditional 3 to 2. Unfortunately, Adelson was right—the fanny pack tourists and convention crowd that he attracted didn’t know the difference and couldn’t care less.

Simply put, the short pay blackjack games gives the house an even greater edge. The payout differential might not seem significant but as we’ve discussed successful gambling is an aggregation of small edges. 6 to 5 blackjack payouts give the house an additional 1.40% edge. The moral of the story? While it’s getting harder to find 3 to 2 blackjack payouts you have a duty to yourself and other players to seek them out.

GIMMICK GAMES

A corollary to ‘short pay’ blackjack is the growth of ‘gimmick games’ at some casinos. Casinos love ‘gimmick games’ because they can advertise rules that sound ‘player friendly’ on the surface but in reality screw the player in some way or another. A perfect example of this is the so called ‘Blackjack Switch’ game found at some Nevada casinos. Here’s how it works—a player must play two hands (this in itself isn’t a good idea unless you’re a very adept player) but after the initial deal he can switch one card with the other hand. Now if you’re trying to figure out the math for this variation don’t bother—it doesn’t matter due to the other ‘screw the player’ rules for this game. Blackjack only pays 1-1 and a dealer bust on 22 is a ‘push’. Combined, these two rules give the house an additional edge of approximately 9.5%!