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Playing More Than One Hand

8 October 2010

By Henry Tamburin

Sometimes you will see a blackjack player playing two hands instead of one. Other times, you might see a player who has been playing one hand suddenly spread to two hands in the middle of the shoe because he has the misconception that, by "changing the flow of cards," he will change the luck of the table. Unfortunately, this is not the case since you are just as likely to keep losing as you are to start winning, so switching to playing two (or more) hands will not guarantee that your luck will change.

One obvious thing that happens when you play two hands is that you will be dealt more hands per hour. For example, if you play with two other players, you can expect to be dealt roughly 100 rounds per hour. If, instead, you play two hands, you'll get about 80 rounds dealt to you per hour, or a total of 160 hands per hour (that's 60 more hands per hour).

Is playing more hands per hour good or bad? In general this isn't a good idea because when the house has the edge and you play more hands per hour, you're exposing more of your bankroll to that house edge, and you will lose more money. But let's say that instead of betting $20 on one hand, you split your bet evenly and wager $10 on each of two hands. Your theoretical hourly loss when you bet $20 on one hand is roughly $10 (assumes 100 hands per hour). Betting two hands of $10 each, your theoretical loss drops to $8 per hour (assumes 80 hands played per spot per hour, or 160 total). Therefore, you will decrease your hourly loss if instead of putting all your money on one hand, you bet half as much on each of two hands. (Note: The amount of the decrease of loss depends on how many other players are at the table with you.)

What if, instead of betting $20 on one hand, you bet $20 on each of two hands? Now you've increased the total amount bet in each round from $20 (one hand) to $40 (spread over two hands). In this scenario, the total amount that you wager per hour would be greater betting two hands than by betting one, and your theoretical hourly loss will increase. Betting in this manner on two hands is, therefore, not recommended.

On the surface you would think that the swings in your bankroll would be the same whether you bet, say, $50 on one hand or $25 on each of two hands, since the total amount wagered per round is the same ($50). However, the two hands are really not independent because they are associated with the same dealer's hand, so if the dealer has a lousy hand, you are likely to win both hands (and vice versa if she has a strong hand). What this means in practical terms is that your bankroll will not fluctuate as much when you bet $25 on each of two hands compared to betting $50 on one hand.

Many blackjack players are happy if they can stretch their bankrolls so they give them a reasonable amount of time on the table (e.g., a three-hour session). Others are happy if they can achieve a predetermined win-goal (say, winning $150 with a $300 bankroll). Will betting more than one hand help you in achieving these objectives?

To answer this question, Norm Wattenberger, who is one of the foremost blackjack software developers (www.qfit.com), ran some computer simulations for different betting options (assuming the player started with a $300 bankroll) to determine what were the player's chances of his bankroll surviving over a three-hour playing session (second column in table), and independently, the chances of a player winning $150 and quitting (third column).

Bet

Chance that $300 Bankroll Will Last

Chance of Winning $150

$10 on one hand

86%

40%

$5 on each of two hands

96%

26%

$20 on one hand

53%

62%

$10 on each of two hands

68%

55%

What the data in the table show are:

  • For the same total amount wagered per round, betting two hands improves the chances of your bankroll's lasting three hours but it also lowers the likelihood of winning $150.
  • Increasing the total amount wagered per round from $10 to $20 increases your chances of winning $150, but it also decreases the chances that your bankroll will last for three hours. Unfortunately, you can't have it both ways.

The bottom line on playing two hands with half as much bet on each hand versus betting it all on one hand is this: you will experience less fluctuation in your bankroll, and you are less likely to tap out during a session, but you will have less chance of achieving a win goal.

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.

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