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Best of Henry Tamburin

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Blackjack myths debunked

12 September 2001

Which of the following statements about blackjack is true?

  1. You should always take insurance or even money when you are dealt a blackjack.
  2. Unskilled players will hurt other players' chances.
  3. It's impossible to count cards in multiple-deck games.

Surprise! All of the above statements are FALSE, yet if I polled typical blackjack players, most would have said the above statements are true. How can this be? When players have a losing experience in blackjack, they are quick to put the blame on someone or something. They would never consider that their losses may be do to the fact that they haven't a clue about basic playing strategies or their loss is simply due to the variability that is part of the game of blackjack (the latter means that even the most skillful players will have losing sessions). Hell, it makes more sense to blame that nerd at third base who killed the table with his stupid plays.

If you are serious about wanting to win at blackjack, then the very first thing you absolutely must do is to separate the truth from the fiction. Otherwise you will be like most blackjack players, who always have an excuse for their losses.

I could probably fill many pages with blackjack myths. Instead I've selected the most talked about, the most misunderstood, the most frequently used myths about the game, the reason for the perpetuation of the myths and the absolute truth.

Myth #1: Always insure your blackjack or 20 against a dealer's ace.

The Reason: If the dealer ends up with a blackjack, you can avoid losing money on your hand by insuring it. In fact, if you have a blackjack or 21, you can't lose by making the insuring bet. If you have a 20 and the dealer has blackjack, you'll end up pushing (you lose your bet but win on insurance). If you have a 21 (blackjack), you'll automatically win even money if you insure your blackjack (or take even money if its offered to you).

The Truth: When you have a 20, it's the worst time to take insurance. Why? Because you are holding two 10-value cards that the dealer needs in order for you to win your insurance bet (remember you win your insurance bet only when the dealer's hole card is a ten-value card giving him a blackjack hand). Because you have two of the cards he needs for a blackjack, the odds of his getting a blackjack are worse. Your 20 is a sure winner; don't mess it up by taking insurance (translated -- don't make a bad bet to protect a good bet).

It's true you can't lose when you insure a blackjack hand. In fact you will win 1 to 1 or even money every time you take insurance or even money. But the mathematics show that when you don't take insurance, your expected outcome is 1.04 to 1, which is greater than 1 to 1. Saying it another way, you'll be giving up 4 percent of your potential profits every time you take insurance when you have a blackjack hand. Unless you have some knowledge about the composition of the remaining cards (i.e., card counting) making the insurance bet is a sucker play. Don't do it!

Myth #2: That third base player is killing me.

The Reason: The dealer shows a weak 5 up card and all the players including yourself make the right play and stand on all stiff totals. The third baseman, who is the last player to act before the dealer, ponders whether to hit or stand on 16. He hits, the dealer gives him a picture card, and then the dealer draws a 6 to her 15 for a 21, beating everyone. Oh, how you would like to strangle the third base player. If the dummy would have stood like he was supposed to, the dealer would have gotten the picture card instead and broke and everyone would have won. Don't tell me bad players don't affect whether or not I win or lose.

The Truth: It's absolutely true that dumb plays made by dumb players can effect the outcome of a hand for everyone else. But it has been proven mathematically that it is just as likely that a dumb play could result in the entire table winning. The player in the above example could have just as easily gotten the 6, leaving the picture card for the dealer to bust. While dumb plays can upset smart players, it has no mathematical long term effect on a player's expected outcome. You always curse the stupid player that caused you to lose, but do you ever congratulate him when his stupid play causes you to win? If the terrible play of others effects you emotionally so that you start to make playing mistakes, then my advise is to leave the table and play elsewhere.

Myth #3: I'm due to win.

The Reason: The dealer has won five hands in a row. Blackjack's an even game, so my chances of winning the next hand are good. I'll bet up to recoup my losses.

The Truth: The cards don't give a flip that you have lost the last five hands in a row. In fact, the chances of your winning the next hand is independent upon whether you lost, tied or won the last 5 hands. Yes, eventually the number of hands you will win will be around 48 percent, but eventually means a long time. Over the short haul, like a few hours of play, don't bet that you are due to win based upon what has occurred.

Myth #4: The objective in the game of blackjack is to get as close as possible to 21.

The Reason: Some authors and casino marketing folks try to over simplify the objective the game.

The Truth: The objective in blackjack is to beat the dealer by either 1) having a higher total than the dealer, or 2) not busting when the dealer busts. Those are the only 2 ways you can beat the dealer's hand. It is not to get as close to 21 as possible (if you try it, you'll be broke before the shoe is done).

Myth # 5: Never hit a 12 against a dealer's 2 upcard because you will invariably draw a 10 and bust.

The Reason: More often than not, players will draw a 10 when they hit a 12 against a dealer's 2 or 3. They figure if they would have stood and the dealer's downcard were a 10, the dealer would have to hit his 12, caught the 10 and broke. Instead of losing the hand they would have won.

The Truth: If you hit the 12, you will win 37 percent of the time and lose 63 percent of the time. If you stand on 12, you will win 35 percent and lose 65 percent.

You agree that a hard 12 against a dealer's 2 is a lousy hand. Whether we stand or hit, the casino has us beat over the long run. But is it better to win 35 percent or 37 percent of the hands? I hope you agree that winning 37 percent of the hands is slightly better than winning 35 percent of the hands. So standing is the better play, not because you'll win a lot of money with this play, but because standing will save you some money when you are in a losing situation. So even though you'll get your fair share of tens when you hit 12 and break, it's still the better play to make.

Myth # 6: Always stand on soft 18.

The Reason: An 18 is a good hand. It's a sure winner so don't mess with it.

The Truth: A soft 18 is good hand when the dealer shows a 2 or 7 up card. But against a dealer's weak up card of 3, 4, 5, or 6, the better play to make is to double down. You do it not to improve your position, but to put more money on the table when the dealer is most vulnerable to busting. Your 18 is a loser to the tune of about $18 per $100 wagered when the dealer shows a 9, 10 or ace. However, you can cut your overall long-term loss to $14 per $100 bet by hitting soft 18.

Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin