Blackjack has always been one of the most player-friendly games in the casino, but that hasn’t stopped punters all over the world from trying to flip the advantage in their favour. From card counting to betting strategies to outright cheating, there are hundreds of ways in which gamblers might seek to gain a mathematical leg-up when playing 21 – but do any of these methods actually work? We’ll cover some of the more popular theories on reversing the house edge in real money blackjack, and hopefully debunk a few myths in the process.
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Card counting in blackjack
First, let’s get something straight: counting cards is not cheating. While it is true that all land-based casinos have a zero-tolerance policy for players who are caught counting cards, the strategy itself is perfectly legitimate. The reason it gets people into trouble is because it works – when the conditions of play allow for it, that is.
So, what exactly is card counting? In simple terms, the idea is to keep track of all the cards which have been dealt and/or discarded so you know which cards are left in the shoe. This method allows you to adjust your play so as to take of advantage of situations where the probability of a certain outcome is much greater than it would be with a newly shuffled deck.
For a very simple example, let’s say we are playing a single-deck blackjack game. There are a few other players at the table, and we are sitting last in the order of play. As we watch each punter play out their hand, we see all four picture cards and two face-value 10s.
Thus, we know there are only two 10-point cards left in the deck, which might influence the way we play our own hand (for instance, we might hit on 12 knowing the chances of busting out are greatly reduced).
There are many, many different ways to count cards, from the basic ‘Ace to Five count’ method to the much more complicated and precise strategies developed by blackjack gurus such as Stanford Wong. However, all such practices are heading towards extinction in many parts of the world, and all because of technology.
For starters, it is virtually impossible to count cards when playing blackjack online. Most Internet casino games use what is called a random number generator – RNG, for short – which ensures that each deal, spin, or roll is totally unpredictable. This type of system resets the deck(s) to neutral after each blackjack hand, meaning it is pointless trying to track discards over several rounds.
An even bigger killer for blackjack card counters is the continuous shuffling machine (or CSM), which is quickly becoming a standard feature in brick-and-mortar casinos all over the globe. This operates much like any RNG-powered casino game, meaning the shoe is always properly shuffled after each hand and all used cards are immediately returned to the deck for the next round.
If you do take the time to master a card counting technique and want to put it into action, your best bet is a hand-dealt blackjack table which uses six decks or fewer. These are becoming increasingly hard to find, however, especially on the main gaming floor – so unless you have the bankroll for high-stakes blackjack, you might be out of luck.
Basic Strategy for 21 Games
The most common and user-friendly way to limit the house edge in real money 21 is to implement basic blackjack strategy – a set of fixed instructions for each for possible hand you might be dealt. This system tells you what to do with every hard hand, soft hand and pair, depending on the dealer’s door card and the specific conditions of play.
The beauty of basic strategy is its simplicity. The idea is to make the same move every time for each situation, so there is no need to track cards or calculate probabilities and expected returns on the fly. You just have to learn the routine and stick to it, thus ensuring you always take the most statistically advantageous option.
Strategy charts are very easy to find, too. Just do an image search for ‘blackjack basic strategy’ in Google and you will see hundreds of colour-coded tables for the most popular game styles. It should only take a little bit of regular practice to learn these charts by heart, and you can even use them as cheat sheets when playing your favourite online blackjack games.
If you really want to get the house edge as low as possible without resorting to card counting or blatant cheating, basic strategy is a great launching pad for more complex techniques like ‘perfect strategy’ or ‘optimal strategy’. While these charts are more difficult to learn and do require a certain amount of gambler’s intuition, they will shave an extra few cents off the casino’s advantage when executed correctly.
Blackjack Betting Strategies
In conjunction with basic strategy, countless players over the years have sought to overturn the house edge through the use of specialist betting techniques. The general idea with most of these wagering systems is to guarantee that, whether you win or lose a hand, you always come out on top in the long run.
The most common casino betting patterns are negative progressions, where the stake goes up after a loss and comes down after a win. Probably the best known example is the Martingale technique, which has been around since the 18th century and remains popular with roulette players in particular. It works like this:
– Start with the minimum bet
– If you lose the hand, double your wager on the next one
– If you win the hand, start again at the minimum stake
So, for example: at a $5/$100 blackjack table, we would open with a $5 initial wager. If we lost the hand, our next bet would be $10. If we then won the following hand, we would return to the start of the pattern and bet the minimum $5.
There are several factors which make betting strategies impractical for blackjack, such as the potential for additional wagers through splits and doubles, but the overriding issue is that these systems simply don’t work. There is no way to guarantee success through simply lowering and raising your bets after certain outcomes, and anyone who claims otherwise (and there are plenty who do) is talking out their arse.
Indeed, many such methods are more likely to empty your coffers than fill them. With the Martingale strategy, for instance, you risk hitting the maximum bet limit after only a few consecutive losses, meaning you can’t keep raising your wager to cover your deficits. This is not a lesson you want to learn first hand.
Can You Beat the Casino at Blackjack?
There is only one way to beat the house at any land-based or online casino game: quit while you’re ahead. As soon you are up, whatever the amount, just take your chips and head to the cashier straight away. The longer you play with the house’s money, the more likely you are to lose it – and your own, to boot.
However, that approach isn’t much fun for people like us who enjoy playing real money casino blackjack. Here, then, are a few pointers to help you maximise your earning potential at the tables while avoiding any traps that might bleed your bankroll dry.
– Learn basic strategy. This is essential info for anyone who aspires to become a good blackjack player. Check out our dedicated blackjack page for more details on strategy and where to find the best charts for your favourite games.
– Ignore betting strategies. As we explained above, relying on specific wagering systems will likely do more harm than good. Know your bankroll limitations and play within your means at all times.
– Never take side bets. Optional wagers like Perfect Pairs and Super Sevens will put you on a fast track to the poor house. Yes, the payouts look yummy, but the odds of success are firmly against you. This includes the insurance option, too.
– Play blackjack online. Internet 21 is better value on just about every front, with more game variety, no money wasted on travel, parking, or $12 beers, and lower house edges than you will find in any brick and mortar casino venue. This advice is for international readers only – Australians cannot legally play card games online for real money as of September 2017.