Gambling Tips > Blackjack

How to Save $80,000 playing Blackjack

By Henry Tamburin


I’m going to show you how to save $80,000 over your lifetime of playing blackjack. Don’t believe it’s possible to do this? Keep reading and I’ll show you how easy it is.

Let’s assume that two twin brothers, Jack and Joe, in their long lifetime of gambling, will each play 10,000 hands of blackjack per year, for 50 years (assuming 100 hands per hour, and 100 hours of blackjack per year). Their average bet will be a modest $10 per hand, playing a typical six-deck blackjack game where the dealer stands on soft 17, and double down after pair splitting is allowed. In all, they will each wager $5 million.

Jack never bothers to learn the basic playing strategy, so he plays by intuition. Over his lifetime, Jack is expected to lose about $100,000 at the blackjack tables, assuming a disadvantage of about 2%.

Jack’s twin brother, Joe, takes a different course of action. He spends a little time and learns the basic playing strategy. He also brings along a basic strategy card when he plays, so if he is not sure how to play a hand, he glances at his card for guidance. By playing basic strategy perfectly, Joe expects to lose about $20,000 over his lifetime, assuming a disadvantage of 0.4%. Compared to his twin brother, Jack, Joe saved $80,000.

If I paid you $80,000 to learn basic strategy, would you do it? Of course, you would. And that’s exactly my point; namely, memorizing the basic playing strategy has real value over your lifetime of playing blackjack.

Many of you reading this article think that you know the basic strategy. Then tell me how you would play these hands. (Assume a six-deck game, dealer stands on soft 17, and doubling after pair splitting is allowed.)

1.
     against    

2.
      against   

3,
      against   

4.
    against    

5.
     against   

6.
      against  



Next question: Suppose the rules specify that the dealer must hit soft 17. Would you play any of the above hands differently? If so, which ones?

Here’s the correct way to play the above hands.

Answers
1. Hit
2. Hit
3. Hit
4. Hit
5. Split
6. Split

If the dealer hits soft 17, you should change your strategy on hand #2 (double down on 6-5 against Ace), and on hand #4 (double down on A-7 against 2). (See my Tip of the Month below for more information about how to play a soft 18.)

So how did you do? If you missed a few hands, read the next section for some tips that will help you become a better blackjack player.

I Got Some Hands Wrong
First, make the commitment to never play blackjack again until you learn the correct basic strategy for the game you are playing. Next, try these tips to help you master the basic strategy:

  1. Go to www.hitorstand.net. There you’ll find a free online blackjack game and trainer that will teach you the basic playing strategy while you play blackjack. The game will keep track of your playing accuracy and alert you when you make a mistake. There are two playing modes: normal and difficult. I would suggest you begin with the normal mode, and once your playing accuracy is at 100%, switch to the “difficult” mode. This is a fun and easy way to master the basic playing strategy.
  2. Go to www.gamemasteronline.net and click on the “Blackjack School” link. Here you will find an entire free curriculum on blackjack (right side of page), comprising a series of 24 lessons. Read Lesson 1 (Basic Strategy) and Lesson 2 (Learning Basic Strategy). The latter lesson contains useful tips on how to prepare flash cards to learn basic strategy (this is how I mastered it some 40 years ago), and several blank basic strategy forms that you can print and use to help you learn the strategy.
  3. It makes no sense to master the basic strategy and then play a game with “bad” rules. Therefore, you need to know which rules are good for a player, and which aren’t, and avoid playing all the bad games. Go to the blackjack page on www.wizardofodds.com and click on the “Blackjack Rule Variation” link. You’ll find a table that lists the effects that different rules have on the house edge. It’s important that you avoid games with rules that negatively affect the house edge. For example, playing a game where a blackjack pays 6-5 increases the house edge by 1.39% (ouch); therefore, you should avoid playing any 6-5 game.
  4. If you are heading to Las Vegas to play blackjack, check out the Las Vegas Blackjack Survey on www.wizardofvegas.com. You’ll find a list of the playing rules for all the casinos in Las Vegas and their corresponding house edge. Scan the list so you know beforehand which casinos offer the best blackjack games (i.e., the games with the lowest house edge).
  5. You can print an accurate basic strategy table for any set of rules using the Basic Strategy Engine on www.blackjackinfo.com (you input the number of decks of cards and the rules, and the software prepares the basic strategy table, which you can print). You’ll also find another very good Blackjack Strategy Trainer on this site.
  6. You should also consider purchasing a commercial set of basic strategy cards that you may bring with you when you play blackjack. The two that I recommend are the Ultimate Basic Strategy cards (by Don Schlesinger) and the Blackjackinfo.com cards (by Ken Smith). (You can read more about these cards by going to the web store on my site www.smartgaming.com.)


Of course, if you bet more that $10 per hand, or you don’t heed my advice and play really bad games, your lifetime losses will exceed $100,000 and, therefore, you can save even more money by learning the basic strategy.

(Note: The concept of looking out over 50 years to determine the value of basic strategy was first proposed by Eliot Jacobson in his book The Blackjack Zone. He called it “being in the blackjack zone” because every decision you make has a long-term expectation.)