Blackjack - Betting Systems

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What is the value of the blackjack system called "Mastering the Flow?" It's marketed via an infomercial, and the website is www.changetheodds.com. It claims not to be a counting system, yet the vague description of the system that the website gives makes it sound like counting to me. The claims are pretty out-there: "Win every time" etc. I count cards (using the KO PREFERRED), and understand that this new "system" has to be either a simplistic count strategy, or a scam. Would you look into it for us, the gullible public?

Michael G. from Henderson, Nevada

I had a look at the web site and also found what little he says about the theory behind his system makes it sound like card counting. However I'm deeply skeptical of anything that claims to "blow old fashioned card counting away." I think we can file this under "If it sounds too good to be true is probably is."

Update: The web site in question vanished sometime after the publication of this question.

Any tips on money management in blackjack? I usually double after a win, go back to my original bet after three wins (or any loss), and play the game according to the book. I usually do pretty well, but it's slow and steady and not very exciting. Any tips?

Jackblack from New Jersey

I don't put a lot of emphasis on betting systems. In the long run you will lose the same percentage of money bet no matter what system you use. So my advice is use a system that maximizes the fun of the game.

In blackjack, do you improve your chances by playing two hands at once for x each, versus 1 hand at a time for 2x? If the odds are better, how much better?

Jim from Atlanta

The simple answer is no, it neither helps you nor hurts you. However, you will have less bankroll variance by betting two hands of x as opposed to one of 2x. Card counters are an exception to the simple no, they may play multiple hands to draw more cards out of a deck rich in good cards, thus improving their odds.

Love your site. I've even taken your blackjack data and made it into a full-color pocket-sized page that I carry in my briefcase for those unexpected trips to Vegas. I've memorized and follow your rules and generally do well (but of course there are times when I lose.) Two questions, you said in a previous answer that you don't cap your winnings. How do you determine when to stop? When have you "won enough" so you avoid regression toward the mean and lose it back?

Second question, does the number of hits one takes effect the outcome? For example, if I have five cards that total 15 against a dealer's 10, am I pressing my luck by taking a sixth card? In other words, are the odds of busting on a 5-card 15 the same as busting on a 2-card 15?

Chris from Gaithersburg, USA

Thank for the compliment and I'm happy to help your bankroll last longer. When I gamble for fun I keep playing until it isn't fun any longer. Usually the fun ends when I have lost too much or have played too long. With the ups and downs of blackjack it takes hundreds of hours before regression toward the mean will cause actual results to look like expected results. Furthermore, the player who puts a conservative cap on their winnings is never going to experience the fun of a long hot winning streak. Keep in mind this is just what works for me. You should do what you are comfortable with. Everything I have to say about money management can be summarized by the following two rules (1) don't gamble with money you can't afford to lose, and (2) don't gamble if it isn't fun.

Regarding your second question, there is something to be said about the composition of a hand. The fewer the decks the more this is true. My blackjack appendix 3A and appendix 3B show the exceptions to single- and double-deck blackjack, based on the composition of the hand. These appendices show that the more cards that are in your hand the more inclined you should be to stand. Regarding your 15 against a 10 example, there are two situations in single deck blackjack where you should stand when the 15 is composed of 5 cards, A+A+A+6+6 and A+A+3+5+5. Note that in both of these situations either two fives or two sixes have left the deck which are the two most helpful cards for the player. The two situations where you should be the most inclined to stand if you have a multiple card hand are 16 against a 10 and a 12 against a 3.

Do you mean to tell me that man has designed a way to put three million transistors on a single chip (microprocessor) the size of a finger nail, and we don't have a way to beat a 50/50 even money game bet. I find that to be unbelievable, besides I found that computer simulations are definitely not the same as live world action. Also why don't casinos introduce video blackjack to thwart the card counters and get rid of dealers?

Mark from Chicago, USA

I have said numerous times that there is no long-term way to beat a game with a house edge. If there were a true 50/50 game with no house edge it would be impossible to guarantee beating or losing to it under real world conditions. The results always approach the house edge in the long-term. It is not just computer simulations that back this up but the fundamental laws of probability.

About video blackjack, that may be the way of the future. I have seen fully electronic tables with video display at the World Gaming Expo. I have also seen tables that with cameras can track every bet and every play each player makes. This enables the house to accurately comp players and alert them to card counters. These tables look and feel like any other blackjack table, so you card counters may be out of business if these tables are successful.

Have you ever heard of the Ken Fuchs progression. If so, would you please e-mail me or post the details on your site.

John from Baltimore, USA

I’m not familiar with it. Ken Fuchs co-wrote Knock-Out Blackjack so he can’t be all bad. However I just hear the word progression and I’m immediately skeptical.

I’ve got a question about "progressive betting" (e.g. "Another Experiment", Player 2 on your Betting Strategies page). Obviously in normal bj play you experience streaks of wins and loses. Where is the faulty logic in "minimize your losing streaks by resetting at 1 unit, and increase your winning streaks by raising 1 unit after each win?" FYI, I actually play a little variation of that: 15, 30, 45, 50, 75, 100, 125, etc...Thanks for you time. And, please don’t try to humiliate me like Ann {what’s-her-name} on The Weakest Link :-) I really love your site!!! Thanks for all of the great info.

Chad R. from Memphis, Tennessee

Progressive betting systems, like yours, will turn a good session into a great one without the risk of catastrophic loss as with regressive systems like the Martingale. However progressive systems will turn a choppy neutral session into a bad one. Consider what would happen if you alternated between a win and a loss the entire session. The wins would all be at $15 and the losses at $30. Funny you should mention the ’Weakest Link.’ I tried out for that show during the summer and didn’t make it. It is probably just as well because I’m not that witty in real life and doubt I could come up with a good rejoinder to one of Ann’s jabs.

I play the negative system in black jack meaning I double every time I lose until I Win. I wanted to what the odds are of losing 4,5,6,7,8,9 hands in a row? How many hands should I expect to play till I lost 8 hands which is my stopping point?

Jay from New Haven, Connecticut

The name for this system is the Martingale. Ignoring ties the probability of a new loss for a hand of blackjack is 52.51%. So the probability of losing 8 in a row is .52518 = 1 in 173.

Can You tell me the expected return in Black Jack if a player wagers all his money in one hand and not having money for split’s or double’s. Thank You.

Ruben from Copenhagen, Denmark

If you can’t double or split that adds 1.9% to whatever the house edge is otherwise. This just goes to show that you should always have double or split money available if you need it.

I’ve been playing blackjack for quite awhile using basic strategy, mostly betting an even unit each hand. Occasionally I will increase the bet because I "feel" like I am going to win the next one. I would think that just about all recreational players bet on feel once in a while at least. I was reading through some of your past Ask the Wizard columns and saw your calculation of the probability of a string of losses in the August 4, 2002 Column. You know those emotional thoughts that pop in head while gambling (well maybe not your head), "I’m due for a win!"

That column seemed to put the mathematics to that "feeling" a player can get. In that columns’ example of a player losing 8 consecutive hands of blackjack the odds were (.5251^8 or about 1 in 173). My question though is what does that really mean? Is it that when I sit down at the table, 1 out of my next 173 playing sessions I can expect to have an 8 hand losing streak? Or does it mean that on any given loss it is a 1 in 173 chance that it was the first of 8 losses coming my way?

I know, I know, its some sort of divine intervention betting system I am talking about and no betting system affects the house edge. I’m still curious though. Besides every once in awhile throwing down a bigger bet just adds to the excitement and for some reason it seems logical that if you have lost a string of hands you are "due" for a win.

Steve from Phoenix, AZ

I have no problem with increasing your bet when you get a lucky feeling. What is important is that you play your cards right. Unless you are counting cards you have the free will to bet as much as you want. As I always say all betting systems are equally worthless so flying by the seat of your pants is just as good as flat betting over the long term. When I said the probability of losing 8 hands in a row is 1 in 173 I meant that starting with the next hand the probability of losing 8 in a row is 1 in 173. The chances of 8 losses in a row over a session are greater the longer the session. I hope this answers your question.

First let me say I love your site and will be visiting each of the advertisers to help support it. I hope you are doing very well financially as you are undoubtedly saving a lot of people a lot of money. It is amazing what I see in the casinos and will recommend your site to anyone who will listen (most losers won’t, I get a lot of heat when I hit a 12 vs a dealer 2 even when I explain the math). My question is do you have any advice for Blackjack players participating in Blackjack tournaments? I have participated in a few and have came very close to advancing to the "money" round with no real strategy other than stay close to the leaders on the table and bet it all on the last hand. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Perry O.

Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate the thought of visiting the advertisers. However the casinos don’t care about click throughs as much as they used to and now what matters is new real money players, and how profitable those players are. So unless you might actually play there is no pressure any longer to click through the banners.

Blackjack tournaments are not my strong subject. For advice on that I would highly recommend Casino Tournament Strategy by Stanford Wong. Wong says that if you are behind to bet opposite of the leader, small when he bets big, and big when he bets small. If you are in the lead then you should bet with the second highest player. The book gets into much more detail. Speaking of supporting my site, it helps to click through my Amazon links when buying books there.

How do you calculate the expected return for a blackjack game with a .5% house edge and a 20x play requirement and an initial Bank Roll including bonus of $1000. Does it matter if you flat bet (assuming that the bets are relatively small compared to the BR) or bet based on the Kelly criterion, or does the Kelly criterion just affect the risk of ruin?

Anonymous

Your expected loss of this play is 0.005*20*$1000=$100. The betting system will not affect the expected loss, but will affect the volatility.

Does losing a hand at blackjack increase the probability that the composition of the deck is in your favor? More specifically, is your expected return on one hand ever positive after a given net loss since the last shuffle?

Anonymous

Without knowing anything else, if you lost the last hand in blackjack then it is slightly more likely that more small cards than large just left the deck. This would make the remaining deck more large card rich and thus lower the house edge. However I speculate this is an extremely small effect. Yet it does go to show that if you must use a betting system one that increases the bet after a loss is better than one that increases after a win. I hesitate to put this in writing at all because again the effect is probably very small and I fear system sellers will misquote me and imply I endorse any system, which I DO NOT.

I have a question about a blackjack tournament, where only the largest stack at the end is paid. Assume 1000 players start with 100$ in chips and can bet 5 hands at a time, from 1-10$ per hand. If no one knows anything about the other chipstacks, what chipstack should you be looking for before being satisfied?

Erin S from Rockford, MI

You didn’t say how many rounds there were. However, I would bet $10 in all five hands every hand, or go bust trying. With 1,000 players and a relatively low max bet you’ll need all the variance you can get.

As a blackjack player, I recognize betting systems don’t work in the long run. However, having played a lot of blackjack, streaks (good and bad) do happen. So, I am wondering, without card counting, would tracking simple wins vs. losses, compared with the remaining cards in a 6 or 8-deck shoe, deck be meaningful? In other words, would you be able to obtain a small percentage advantage for the remaining third of the shoe if you knew the win-loss ratio was out of whack?

Alex from Greenwich, CT

I’ve been wondering this myself for years. In 2004 somebody accepted my betting system challenge, claiming he could beat blackjack without counting. The details are in my page on the Daniel Rainsong challenge. After I posted it, I received a message from a blackjack genius, who goes by the handle "Cacarulo." He challenged me under the same conditions and blackjack rules set forth in the Rainsong challenge.

Knowing how knowledgeable he is about blackjack, I felt that he was probably right, so I declined the challenge. I asked anyway how he would have gone about his strategy, but he wouldn’t tell me. I tend to think that he would have bet the minimum most of the time, except if it was late in the shoe, and the ratio of losses to wins was very high since the last shuffle, he would have bet the maximum. The reason is that losing is positively correlated to small cards being played, and winning to large cards. In other words, a benefit of losing is that it tends to make the count better. However, this is a weak correlation. My challenge allowed the player a bet range of 1 to 1,000, which is probably enough to overcome the house edge, but it will be hard to find a real casino okay with a jump in bet size by a factor of 1,000.

The short answer to your question is, no, tracking wins and losses will not help enough to warrant the bother of doing it.

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