Advantage Play in Blackjack

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Published: 11/11/2013

The game of blackjack is designed to earn profits for the House, not the player. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean winning is impossible. Quite the opposite, if a player is especially observant and skillful in card play, it is possible to gain an edge over the dealer. Collectively, the techniques that allow this shift in the game’s margin are called “advantage play.” They include any number of legal ways to gain a mathematical edge while playing blackjack.

Avoiding Bad Rules

Most casinos modify the basic rules of blackjack to tip the House Edge in their favour. Advantage players must seek out the variations that optimize the probability of success by reducing the casino’s profit margin to as close to zero as possible.

For example, catching 21 on the first two cards dealt should pay 3:2. Games that pay only 6:5 or 1:1 for a natural blackjack take money out of the player’s payout and give the casino an unfair advantage. Similarly, more decks put in play for dealing favours the House, not the player. And when the dealer draws to soft 17, it aids the casino, not the player, who should be looking for a game where the dealer stands on all totals of 17 or more.

Any restrictions placed on doubling down or splitting are not to the player’s advantage. Other “bad” rules to avoid are those that allow the casino to win on what should be a push or to push on a bust total of 22. The same is true of games where the shuffling process is modified, such as shuffling after every deal, use of a continuous shuffling machine, or dealing from a shoe with low penetration, i.e. shuffling before more than two-thirds of the cards have been dealt.

Creating an Advantage

In land-based casinos, advantage play includes a variety of actions a player can take to benefit from human or mechanical faults or by keeping track of the cards put in play. Following are some of the most common:

Card Counting – Each time a card is removed from a deck, it changes the odds of the game. Card counting is the art and science of keeping track of what cards have been played, knowing how it affects the odds, and then betting and playing accordingly, taking advantage of situations when the remaining cards favor the player. Numerous systems are available to blackjack players, from the original “Plus/Minus Strategy” to such complex systems as KO Count, Hi-Lo Count, Hi-Opt I Count, Hi-Opt II, and so on.

Hole-Carding – Some dealers are not very proficient at keeping their hole cards covered up. They may lift the edge high enough for players to view the hole card when they “peek” to check for a natural blackjack. They may deal in such a way that the card is lifted to allow a clear view of the hole card before it is tucked into place. Knowing the value of the hole card gives the player a massive advantage, so always seek out dealers with such “bad” habits.

Shuffle Tracking – This is a difficult but highly effective method of gaining an advantage by watching the discards from a game to see where a concentration of Aces and tens ends up during the next shuffle. A good shuffle tracker can then cut the deck so that those cards will be put into play early and bet accordingly.

Freerolls – Almost all online casinos offer occasional chances to win something for nothing. It doesn`t matter whether the occasion is a weekly Blackjack tournament, a new player promotion or an anniversary celebration. If there is no cost or entry fee, an advantage player should welcome the opportunity.

Comps – Casinos keep track of players, too. They “rate” blackjack play by amount of buy-in, average wager value, length of time playing and other factors that add up to complimentary dining, accommodations, entertainment and other benefits for loyal players. Again, if it’s free, advantage players will be happy to take what’s offered and even ask for more.

Published on: 11/11/2013

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