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Best of Henry Tamburin

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How to cut the casino's edge in blackjack

22 April 2000

One of the first books I read on the mathematics of blackjack was a book by the late Peter Griffin, titled the Theory of Blackjack. The book is not one I would recommend to the average blackjack player because it is heavy in math, but it does contain a wealth of information on our understanding of the game. I was fortunate to have met Peter at a gaming seminar where we were both giving talks. His classic talk is one he gave on the house advantage on blackjack using oversized playing cards for demonstration. Here are the points that Peter tried to instill in blackjack players.

Let's use as a starting point a player who "mimics the dealer," that is, hits all his hands of 16 or less regardless of the dealer's face card. A player who mimics the dealer would face a casino edge of about 5.5 percent. This is because when the dealer and player break on the same hand, the dealer wins. The probability of the dealer breaking is 28 percent and the player who mimics the dealer strategy would also break 28 percent of the time. The "double bust" would therefore occur 28 percent times 28 percent or 8 percent of the time. A player would be at an 8 percent disadvantage, but this ignores the bonus payoffs that players receive when they get blackjack (which occurs once in about 20 hands). When you factor the extra blackjack payoff, the "mimic the dealer" player faces a casino edge of 5.5 percent.

However, a player can reduce the casino's edge by departing from the "mimic the dealer" strategy. Knowing when to stand, double down, pair split and hit soft 17 and 18 are the keys. By learning when to stand, you can reduce the casino's edge over the "mimic the dealer" strategy to 2.3 percent. Knowing when to double down reduces it further to 0.7 percent. Finally, if you learn when to pair split and how to play the soft 17 and 18 hands, you can whittle the casino's edge to virtually 0 in single-deck games.

One of the reasons why it's critical for players to make the right standing, splitting and doubling decisions has to do with the probability of the dealer busting depending on his face card. In general, aggressive plays like doubling and pair splitting are done when the dealer shows a small face card and his probability of busting is about 40 percent.

The point Peter always tried to make with his audience is that basic strategy works and it's the optimum way to play your hand without knowing the other player cards or keeping track of the cards used in previous rounds.

One of Peter's most famous observations was the one he made in 1987 when he determined that the overall casino's advantage against a typical customer is about 2%. This was determined by recording the number and cost of player deviations from basic strategy for 11,000 hands. On average, according the typical blackjack player misplays about one hand out of every 6.5 at an average cost of 9 percent per mistake.

Peter often would try to describe "the world's worst blackjack player" to his audience. Assuming a player isn't stupid enough to deliberately hit and bust on every hand, the worst players are those that depart from the proper plays on these hands.

  • Always splitting 10s and picture cards.
  • Hitting stiff hands when the dealer shows a small face card.
  • Standing on stiff hands when the dealer shows a high card.
  • Never doubling down.
  • Failing to hit soft 13 through 17 hands no matter what the dealer shows.
  • Always making the insurance bet.

Those players who have heeded Peter's advice on basic strategy are much further ahead compared to the "mimic the dealer" or other seat-of-the-pants playing strategies. You simply can't be a consistent winner at blackjack without knowing it.


For more information about blackjack:

Blackjack: Take the Money and Run by Henry Tamburin
Best Blackjack by Frank Scoblete
The Morons of Blackjack and Other Monsters! by Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Blackjack! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
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:

Winning Baccarat Strategies

> More Books By Henry Tamburin