Blackjack Advice

Blackjack Advice

A young lady took a seat next to me at a blackjack table and immediately began to ask the dealer for advice on how she should play her hand. I sat there in amazement as the dealer proceeded to instruct her on every hand. What disturbed me most was that better than half of the advice that the dealer gave her was incorrect. I tried to offer my advice but the young lady obviously felt the dealer knew better. "So be it", I said to myself, "after all it's her money." Needless to say, her blackjack learning experience was a costly one as she lost her bankroll in less then an hour.

I have no grudges to bear against casino dealers. They have a very tough and demanding job. But dealers are trained to deal cards and the vast majority of them have no knowledge of winning blackjack play.

You may think this was an isolated incident but believe me it's not. I've noticed over the past year that more and more novice blackjack players asking dealers for help on how to play their hands. For some reason blackjack players believe that if a person deals the game, they must be an expert when it comes to playing the hands. This unfortunately is not true. Most dealers know very little about basic strategy and less about winning techniques like card counting. For example, taking even money on blackjack hands and to not split a pair of 8's when their face card is a 10 is just a sample of the wrong advice I have observed dealers offer players.

The policy in most casinos discourages dealers from telling players how they should play out their hands. Some friendly advice is OK especially if the player is a beginner. But for the most part casinos discourage dealers to offer playing advice to players because they do not want to be put in the position of being blamed for a player's losses. There is also a security issue because in most instances when a dealer tries to cheat a casino it usually involves a fellow player as an accomplice.

Dealers aren't the only ones giving misinformation to blackjack players. I once picked up a newsletter inside a casino that offered "helpful hints for table game players from the grand institute of fun and games professor." On blackjack the advice was:

Split eights unless the dealer shows a ten value card.

Always split aces.

Double down on two card combinations of 9,10,11.

Don't take a hit on a possible bust hand (12 or higher) if the dealer's upcard is a 6 or less.

If you lose more than five times in a row, move to a different table, don't fight the cards

The first piece of advice is wrong. Even though you're in a losing position when you split 8's against a dealer 10 upcard, you will lose less on average compared to standing or hitting. For every $100 you bet holding a pair of 8's vs. a dealer ten upcard, you will on average, gain $6 more by splitting rather than hitting. Standing on a pair of 8's vs. a dealer ten-value card is an even worse strategy. The bottom line is that a pair of 8's is a bad hand. You should always split 8's against any dealer upcard to get a fair chance at winning some hands. Against a dealer's upcard of 3 to 7 you will usually convert a losing hand into a winning hand by splitting the 8's. It is an offensive play that will win you money in the long run. In the case of a dealer's upcard of 2,8,9,10, picture card, or ace, you will still be in a losing position even when you split. However, compared to hitting or standing, you will lose less money in the long run when you split the 8's. Therefore, splitting 8's in this case is a defensive play that will save you some money over the long haul.

Always split aces is sound advice. Some casinos in fact allow players the option to resplit aces and/or to draw cards as many cards as they want to each split ace. Both of these rules make pair splitting an even better play for blackjack players. The bottom line is always split aces no matter what the dealer's face card.

Telling players to double down on two card combinations of 9,10 and 11 is nonsense unless you specify against which dealer's face card. The fact of the matter is in typical multiple deck games you should only double down on two card combinations of hard 9 if the dealer's upcard is 3,4,5,and 6. If the dealer has any other upcard you should not double down. Likewise, you should double down on two card hard combinations of 10 only if the dealer's upcard is 2 through 9 and double down on hard 11 only against dealer's upcard of 2 through 10. These are the only playing situations in which you should double down on 9, 10 and ace.

The casino newsletter advises not to hit on a possible bust hand (12 or higher) if the dealer's upcard is a 6 or less. This is true for all player hard hands except when the player holds a hard 12 and the dealer's face card is a 2 or 3. Although it's a close play, the percentage favors hitting 12 on dealer's 2 or 3 and standing on 12 against dealer's 4,5 or 6 face card.

The advice to move to another table and "not fight the cards" if you lose more than 5 hands in a row, isn't a bad idea from a psychological point of view. But doing so isn't going to change your long-term expectations. Player's often get stressed-out when they watch in disbelief as the dealer pulls yet another 20 and win. Most player's reaction when this happens is to press their bets because they figure they are "due to win" the next hand. Or they will blame someone else for their losses (usually the dealer or the inept player at third base).

If you tend to get emotional or upset or feel you are "due to win" after you lose 5 or more hands, then getting off the table and playing somewhere else might not be bad advice. I say this because if you play blackjack long enough you should expect to lose 5 (or more) hands in a row on a regular basis. It's just part of the normal fluctuations that is inherent in this game. Mathematicians call this swing in our fortune variability. This means over the short run, you have as much chance to lose 5 in a row as you have winning 5 in a row. Smart players don't get overly emotional when they lose 5 hands in a row. They know it can happen and they are prepared by not over betting and having enough bankroll to sustain these short-term negative swings.

My own experience on a recent trip to Las Vegas confirmed that variability is alive and well in blackjack. I had a high count, which indicates I had a slight edge on the next hand so I increased my betting level by playing two hands at $25. I stood with a 20 and 19. The dealer showed a 5 and turned over a picture card. No she didn't draw the 6. Instead she teased us and drew an ace and then a 5 for a 21. The count still justified a large bet on the next 5 consecutive hands which I lost in much the same way (I had 18, she would have 19 and so on).

What should you do when you start losing? Don't increase your betting level because you believe you are due to win. Don't blame the basic playing strategy you've been using, or the dealer or your fellow players for your losses. Even if the third base player is a complete nerd, his "stupid" plays could just as well help you win a hand as it could result in you losing a hand. If you've lost about 30 to 50% of your session bankroll I'd take a break from the action. Whatever you do, don't get emotional because emotions interfere with sound blackjack play. If you find yourself getting emotional or stressed when you lose quickly, I suggest taking a break from the action. If you budget your bankroll correctly you should have enough money to try your skills and luck on another table once your head clears. If you lose again, so be it. It wasn't your day. Don't let your ego get in the way of calling it a night. Even the pros have their days and take their lumps. Just remember that over the short term anything can and usually will happen. Play for the long haul because with correct playing and betting strategies, you can win more than you lose.