Strategy

Many people who gamble in both a real world and an online casino mistakenly think blackjack a game of chance like almost all the other casino games. They prefer to play as if there were choices to be made between competing strategies, as if they, as players, were in a head-to-head contest with the Dealer and any other players round the table. In fact, when you think about it, the physical layout of the blackjack tables encourages that view. There is a semi-circle of players facing the Dealer in confrontation. The Dealer draws the cards, you bet. If you win, the Dealer pays you.

But there are two major problems with this view of blackjack. The first is that you are not playing the Dealer as a person. The second is that there really is only one mathematically sound way to play any given hand. Blackjack is not a guessing game. Mathematicians and statisticians have long ago taken the guesswork out of play. There is but one Basic Strategy. When fans of black jack play online with the Basic Strategy, they should win more than they lose. If you do not know it and approximate what to do on each hand, you will lose both in the short and the long run.

Why is blackjack different?

To answer this question, we have to assume that the games on offer are honest. That the dice used on the craps table are not loaded, that the cards are not marked, that the roulette wheel is not biased in some way, and so on. Thus, if you play casino slots, you put in money, press the button/pull the handle, and win or lose. In craps, you throw dice. The odds of each combination have been precalculated. If your luck is in, you bet on the right outcome and you win. There is no element of skill in the way you throw the dice. There is nothing you can do to shift or change the odds in your favor. You play and either win or lose.

Poker, on the other hand, is a game of skill and strategy where you play against the others around the table. You are constantly calculating how each player bets the hands, whether there are any signs or “tells” to suggest when he has a good hand and when he is running a bluff, and so on. There is room for psychology and intuition, for some statistical analysis and the calculation of probabilities. There are many factors to take into account but never only one strategy. There cannot be only one strategy when your opponents are also making decisions that can influence the outcome on each hand.

Blackjack is different. Instead of several cards being hidden only the Dealer’s downcard remains hidden until all bets are made. Once the bets are made, the Dealer reveals the downcard and follows the House rules. There is no discretion on whether to stand or hit. The Dealer simply applies the rules. Thus, there can be a single optimal strategy for every hand when you can see the upcard and know how the Dealer will play when the downcard is revealed.

Why does the Basic Strategy work?

When you can see all but one relevant card and there is no discretion on how the Dealer must play, the game becomes one of logic. It is not blackjack strategy. You do not need blackjack tips. It is the Basic Strategy. Initially, groups of men sat around tables dealing hands and analysing play. Some were professional gamblers who wanted to maximize their winnings. Others were hobbyist statisticians and mathematicians who enjoyed the challenge of trying to devise the perfect strategy. More recently, the best of modern computers have been brought to bear on the game.

Ironically, it does it matter who you ask, the answer is always the same. Whether it was the hobbyists who dealt themselves thousands of hands and kept manual records, analysing them for patterns back in the 1950s, or the latest supercomputers virtually dealing millions of hands, there is always one optimal strategy for each hand once you know what the Dealer’s upcard is. You further shift the odds in your favor if you are counting the cards as well but that is a slightly different issue.

The slightly amusing other side of the coin is that the casinos which were writing the rules did not realize that they would lose money in the long term if everyone followed the Basic Strategy. In fact, casinos have never been worried. They learned with surprise that the odds favored the players on the new rules. But, when they looked at what was happening in their casinos and now online, only a very small percentage of players use it. Most do not approach the game with any degree of commitment. They play blackjack for fun and lose their money. That suits the professional gamblers because the casinos earn enough money to be able to keep paying us our winnings.