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Last Updated: July 2, 2017

Blackjack FAQ

Michael: Hi, my name is Mike Shackleford with the WizardOfOdds.com website, and I'm here with the lovely Angela Wyman. And in my previous videos, I discussed the blackjack rules and blackjack strategy. In this video, Angela's going to ask me some questions that I frequently get about blackjack that haven't been covered in the other two videos. So, what would you like to ask me, Angela?

Question 1 - [00:28]

Angela: Okay. I'm curious. When I walk up to the table, does it matter where I sit? One seat better than the other?

Michael: Absolutely not. The odds are the same at every single spot. Some people don't like to play that last position or they're superstitious about where they sit at the table, absolutely doesn't matter. Take any spot you like.

Question 2 - [00:52]

Angela: So, is there any truth to that or it's just a myth that the player at the last seat can mess up the whole table?

Michael: That is a 100% myth. Almost every time I sit down at the blackjack, eventually, somebody is going to mention something about the third basemen has to protect the table. And if the third basemen doesn't play by the book, he's going to get blamed for making the whole table lose. That's absolutely a myth. You could have the worst blackjack player in the world of third base and it doesn't make any difference to the odds. He's just as likely to help you as he is to hurt you no matter what he does.

And I can see everyone out there in Internet land shaking their head and going, "I disagree with you on that one," but trust me, any legitimate blackjack writer will say the same thing. And people only think this myth because they remember the times that some action caused the whole table to lose but they don't remember the times that a bad decision saved the whole table.

Question 3 - [02:11]

Angela: [laughs] So what should I look for when walk up to the table?

Michael: When I sit down at the table, if I see a smoker at the table, I'm going to sit as far away from him as I possibly can. But if it's an empty table, it depends, if I think that I'm just going to be playing by myself and no one's going to join me, I'll probably sit right here so I can look at the dealer in the eye. If I think that it's a crowded situation, another people are likely to join me, I don't want to split a group of friends, so I'll probably going to sit at first base or third base. But it's entirely up to you where you sit. It's completely should be based on your comfort.

Question 4 - [02:52]

Angela: Well, what should I look for as far as odds? Does it really make that big of a difference if it's 3:2, 6:5, when you see both of them?

Michael: Absolutely. In terms of choosing the table itself where to play, you got to consider the blackjack rules, and it makes a huge difference. Now, if you remember just one thing from this video, if a blackjack pays 6:5, turn around and walk the other way, doesn't make any difference what other rules they give you. They can give you a list of a whole bunch of stuff you're allowed to do like they do at the Vegas club, forget it. 6:5 is a soccer game, don't play it. The only exception might be is if it's a pleasure pit or a party pit and you have a lovely dealer, then if it's a worthy additional entertainment value, what choice do you have, but that's the one rule that works against the player the most, 6:5.

After that, the good rule is if the dealer stands on a soft 17, that favors the player. Unfortunately, you don't see that very much anymore. But given the choice between the dealer hitting and standing on a soft 17, it's better if the dealer stands. Why? It's mathematically complicated but basically, a 17 is not a very good hand in blackjack. You're better off if the dealer sits on his 17 then takes another card with a chance of improving it.

Beyond that, another good rule to look for is can you double after a split? Usually you can, but with double deck games, I can go either way. So obviously, if you're allowed to double after a split, that works your ways. Another good rule, the fewer the decks, the better the odds. For example, if the rules are otherwise the same and one table is two decks and one table is six decks, you're much better off to play the double deck game.

Now, again, don't be fooled by single deck games that pay 6:5. It's much better off to play a six-deck game with 3:2 on a blackjack than a single deck game that pays 6:5. And I think that the casinos are trying to, shall we say, I don't want to say deceive, but they always a sign that says single deck blackjack but then they don't mention the 6:5 on the table. Always look to where it says "blackjack pays." Always look for this 3:2.

Another two things is it's good if you can surrender. Most players don't surrender anyway but you should when the odds favor it. There are several situations where you should surrender but if you just remember one, surrender 16 against 10. And it's good if they let you do that. Finally, resplitting aces. You split aces, some places give you one card for each ace no matter what. Some places will deal on face up, and if you get another ace, you can resplit it again. It's good if they let you do that.

Now, you may be in the situation where there's conflicting rules and you don't know. For example, maybe the casino will have a six-deck game with surrender, resplitting aces, and double after a split or double that game that has double after a split but not surrender or resplitting aces, then my website, it has a calculator. You put in any set of rules and it'll tell you the house advantage. So, when in doubt, go to my website, look for the blackjack calculator, put in the rules and it'll tell you the house advantage for those rules.

Question 5 - [07:02]

Angela: Well, it seems like no matter what else they offer, every table has giant insurance rubbed in on here. When should I take insurance?

Michael: Absolutely never. A second thing I want you to learn from this video, never take insurance. Period, no exceptions. And that includes if you have a blackjack and the dealer is showing an ace, the dealer will say even money, and there's always a player goes, "Even money. What's that?" And the dealer will always say, "Oh, it's a guaranteed winner. Win even money." No. It's better to have the chance of a blackjack paying the full 3:2 than a sure even money.

Angela: Wow. So never take insurance, don't do even money, know when to surrender, find a table with all those rules. [laughs]

Michael: Yes.

Question 6 - [07:55]

Angela: Okay. Do you think there's any difference between a face up and face down game or it's just purely preference?

Michael: It's purely preference. Generally, they're going to deal the cards face up in a shoe game and face down in a single or double deck game. Mathematically speaking, it doesn't make any difference how they deal the cards. That should be according to your own preference.

Question 7 - [08:16]

Angela: So, I got a question the casinos might not like me asking very much but I know everyone's going to want to know. There's a lot of books about card counting out there and a lot of different strategies, which strategy is a card counting would you recommend or which do you think actually have a chance that you can make some money out of?

Michael: Good question. Before I answer that, let me say that card counting is not as lucrative as movies like Rain Man and 21 make it out to be. It's hard and it only gives you a very thin advantage. However, if you accept that anyway and you're ready to learn how to count cards, first, you got to memorize the basic strategy. No ifs, ands or buts have seen so many so-called card counters that didn't know the basic strategy. And they are playing a losing game because it's much more important to play right basic strategy than it is to count cards. So only after you've memorized the basic strategy call perfectly, then should you even open up a book about card counting.

Now, there's lots of card counting strategies out there. And the more complicated the strategy, the more powerful it's going to be. A lot of the older books on blackjack really pushed the complicated strategies, like Revere and Ken Uston, they really pushed the difficult strategies to try to get every 10th of a percentage of advantages they could. However, the thinking today amongst Blackjack writers is that, it’s not worth the additional trouble and most counters are probably going to lose more due to mistakes made with these complicated strategies than they gain from the extra power. That said, the two most common card counting strategies out there are the Hi-Lo and the Knockout. The Hi-Lo is an old card counting strategy going back to the 80s that simply treats twos through sixes as low cards, tens and aces as high cards and as you’re playing, you keep a running count as you see the cards. Then you have to make an adjustment to how many cards are left and then you play your cards according to what you have, what the dealer has and the count. I know it sounds hard but just adding and subtracting one at a time, it’s not that tough. If you’re dedicated at something that 95% of people could do.

Another strategy that’s a little bit easier, in fact perhaps even significantly easier and almost as good, in my opinion, is called the Knockout Count. That instead treats a two through a seven as a low card and still tens and aces as a high card. So, what you’re going to see is this gradual increasing of the count because it’s not what’s called a balanced count because there’s more small card that big cards. Once the count reaches past a certain point, then you start increasing your bet and at certain hands, you’re going to play it differently. The good thing about the Knockout count is there’s no what’s called a true count conversion. You don’t have to worry about how many decks of cards are left to be played in the deck. You just go off of what’s called the running count.

Finally, if those are too complicated, I have a really easy card counting strategy on my website called the Ace Five. It just tracks aces and fives. You count fives as plus one, aces as minus one and you keep a running count as you go. If the count gets high, meaning a lot of fives have gone out which are bad for the player and aces left which are good for the player, then you start betting more. It’s not going to give you much of an advantage but it’s certainly at least going to get the odds in your favor and it’s not that hard.

Question 8 - [12:40]

Angela: Alright. So, before I can even start to learn card counting though, I have to perfect basic strategy. When I’m trying to learn basic strategy in every gift shop in Las Vegas, there’s this little plastic credit card sized strategy cards that I can tuck in my pocket or my wallet. How come they’re not all the same? If you really look at them, the cards will vary from casino to casino on what you should do.

Michael: Good question. The reason the card change from one to the other is because the rules are not always the same. Of course, you’re referring to the basic strategy. I’ve got it on my own business card here. Now let me say that no matter what basic strategy you follow, you’re in good shape. You’re way, way ahead of the curve. The only places where they differ is in certain borderline situations. A common one is you have a total of 11 and the dealer is showing an ace. If the dealer hits a soft 17, the odds favor doubling that. If the dealers stands on a soft 17, the odds favor hitting it. However, it’s very borderline play. Let’s say you memorize the strategy for the dealer standing on a soft 17, so it says to hit that and you find yourself at a game where the dealer hits a soft 17, don’t freak out. Don’t say, “Oh, I got to check Mike’s site for this basic strategy”. Trust me, it’s okay. Just play the basic strategy you know. If you know just one basic strategy, you’re already better than 99% of blackjack players out there.