Reading too much into bad runs – In the short to medium term, blackjack is largely a game of chance. That’s so when you’re observing perfect basic blackjack strategy, and even when you’re counting cards. It’s a bad idea to get frustrated just because the cards are turning against you. And it’ll often be a disastrous move to raise your bets in order to make back the cash. Provided you have a sensible method, there should be good sessions to make up for the bad sessions. So don’t make the latter any worse or more debilitating than they need to be.
Assuming a 0.5% house edge really is a 0.5% house edge – Blackjack’s 0.5% house edge is much talked about. It’s one of the main reasons why ‘savvy’ players line up around the blackjack table, rather than chucking away their money on roulette, or games with even more unfavourable payouts. However, blackjack is a far more nuanced game than the simplistic roulette, and inexperienced players won’t get anywhere near that 0.5% edge.
To do so, you’ve got to know basic strategy inside out. And it’s not just about knowing when to hit and when to stand. You also have to be prepared to throw extra money in and double down or split – but only at key moments.
Always Standing on a 17 or 18 – Common wisdom says that if you have a 17 or an 18, that’s a healthy hand to have, so you should stand. But common wisdom, as often is the case, is wrong – part of the time. The key is to look at the dealer’s card. If they have a 9 or 10, you really should consider hitting, especially on a 17. If a dealer has a 10, drawing an Ace, a 9, or any 10-value card will scoop them the win. And an 8 will allow them to share the pot. So there’s a 46.1% chance they’ll draw a superior hand, and a 53.9% chance you’ll share the pot. And, of course, if the dealer draws a 6 or lower, they’ll hit again, which could give them further chances of winning. A 17 or 18 is frequently not a winner against a 9 or a 10, so be prepared to hit when the dealer has a good card.
Not Splitting 7s and 8s – 16 is a fairly awful hand. If you stick, you’re relying on the dealer going bust in order to win with it. At the same time, 16 is sufficiently high that there’s a good chance of going bust while trying to improve on it. Even assuming you don’t go bust, an A or a 2 (or even a 3) may still not result in you creating a winning hand. So what’s the solution? Well, you can split the the pairs, which means you double the bet. Only now you have two chances to win, and one of those 8s may end up producing a pretty strong hand. You should always split 8s. 7s aren’t quite as clear-cut, but it’s still worth splitting them.
Not Splitting Aces – By themselves, Aces can be quite weak. However, split them, and you have two cards that can be turned into fantastic hands. There’s a 30.7% chance you’ll draw a card with a value of 10, and create a blackjack. Other cards can also turn them into strong contenders for wins. This is an opportunity to hit the dealer with two searing hands. Don’t turn it down.
Not Doubling Down on 10 or 11 – Players are often reluctant to double down. And they’re mostly right to do so, as the situations where the odds favour you doubling down are quite slim. Effectively you’re paying extra for one more card. On the face of it, that seems a poor deal – you’re paying extra for the ‘privilege’ of receiving just one more card? Well, that’s why you need to be careful. But when you have 10 or 11, the long-term odds favour you doubling, just as long as the Dealer has 8 or lower. In fact, in the case of a hand of 11, you can double down even if the dealer has 10. You’ll win handsomely long-term by following these rules. You can also achieve some success by doubling down on a hand of 9, but only assuming the dealer has a hand of 6 or less. If you don’t ever double down, you’re throwing away potential to carve into the house edge.
Standing on Soft 17 – Standing on 17 is one of those hints that blackjack players like to pass on to one another. And there is often some sense in standing on 17, depending on what the dealer has. However, a soft 17 (one that uses an ace with a value of 11, most commonly Ace, 6) is a hand you should rarely stand on. Casinos run some varieties of blackjack where the dealer doesn’t have to stand on 17, provided the hand is soft. This form of blackjack gives the house a bigger edge than the common ‘Always Stand on 17’ version. Casinos know you shouldn’t stand on a soft 17, but players are often unaware of this. When the dealer has a 7 or higher, hit with a soft 17.
Accepting Insurance or Even Money bets – Many blackjack players know that Insurance is a bad bet. When the dealer draws an Ace, the player has the option of taking out a side-bet of half the original stake. If the dealer pulls out a blackjack, the player loses their original bet, but has the loss compensated for with the side-bet – which is paid out at odds of 2/1. The problem is that the blackjack only comes up 30.8% of the time, so the side-bet will be wasted on the other occasions. Insurance, then, is a bad bet, and you shouldn’t even contemplate it unless you’re a card-counter who suspects there’s a high chance of a blackjack being drawn. However, while most players know Insurance is not a good option, many are hoodwinked by the very similar ‘Even Money’ side-bet. This is a variation on Insurance that comes into play when the dealer has drawn an Ace, but the player has already scored a blackjack. The player will agree to a 1:1 payout. In return, if the dealer also draws a blackjack, the player will be paid out on their side-bet at 2/1. However, the costs of the side-bet again fail to pay out over the long-term. In short, both Insurance and Even Money are poor bets. So ignore them.
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