How a Basic Strategy Player can Beat Blackjack

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Casino Chips

Blackjack has always offered a great value in the casino for anyone willing to learn basic strategy. Without card counting, a player that uses an accurate basic strategy at the table can play games at most casinos with substantially under half a percent house edge. Even the worst rules and conditions rarely exceed a house edge of 0.8%.

If you are a recreational player, you can consistently overcome that small edge with the value you receive from comps of free rooms and food. Why is it possible to get back more in comp value than your actual expected loss?

The reason is simple… Most players do not play accurate basic strategy.  They play the game badly.  As a result, the typical player loses substantially more than a fraction of a percent of their action, and the comps given to blackjack players reflect this higher theoretical loss.

Of course casinos know that basic strategy players lose a lot less than the average player, and they supposedly have a way of dealing with this problem.  But, fortunately, their solution just doesn’t work…

When you sit down at a table and hand over your player card, the pit personnel will write down the length of time you play, and the size of your average bet.  What you may not know is that most casinos also have a notation for how strong a player you are.  Generally the rating cards will have spots to mark your ability as “Superior”, “Average”, or “Poor”.  If you are a solid basic strategy player, and the pit is doing their job, they should be marking you as “Superior”, meaning that your play has very low expected losses.  This would negatively impact the comps that will be extended to you, because your theoretical loss will be very small.  This system is intended to keep basic strategy players from getting more back in comps than they will lose at blackjack.

So, why is a basic strategy player still able to beat the system at virtually all casinos?  Pit bosses mark almost every player as Average in skill.  During a session at the recent G2E gaming conference, the moderator quoted a study that was done of 2 million player ratings.  Of all those rating cards, only six were marked as “Poor” players.  That’s easy enough to understand, because if a player were ever to accidentally learn that they were rated as a poor player, they would likely be offended.  And poor players are the bread and butter of the casino.  What’s more surprising is that of those same 2 million ratings, only a handful were rated as Superior.  More than 99.9% of the ratings were “Average”.

So how do you exploit this casino loophole?


I still have a couple of topics that came from the gaming conference, including the comments on RFID chips that I said would be in this post. That’s coming next.

If you are a Twitter user, you can stay up-to-date on all my posts by following me @BlackjackInfo.


About the Author

Creator of Blackjackinfo.com, very few can rival Ken's experience and knowledge of blackjack. His blackjack resume includes winning numerous tournament winnings, making several TV appearances and authoring multiple books on blackjack tournament strategy. Discover more about Ken's background and how he got started here

For a list of all contributors to Blackjackinfo.com click here

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Jonh
Jonh
3 years ago

When playing basic strategy at blackjack, should I always place the same bet, or is it wise to play bigger bets as well?

Jj
Jj
3 years ago

Would it make any difference if I play 2hand when the count is good and back to one hand when it is bad.

Anonymous
Anonymous
3 years ago

Is it possible to use card counting to win without increasing bet size such as using it to alter basic strategy?

LVBear
LVBear
3 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

As a practical matter, no.

Steelguy
Steelguy
3 years ago

Ken Smith,

Thanks for hosting this forum. I found your logic and knowledge to be very informative. I’m sure if we ever sat down and chatted, we could have quite an interesting discussion on the game. I’m in Vegas about once a month.

AJ
AJ
4 years ago

Ken Smith is the only knowledgable player here. I don’t count but I play solid basic strategy and I press like a maniac until I reach the table max. I’m from the school of play to win big. I’ll break my bankroll up into 6 or 8 sessions usually around 600 bucks. I start at a hundred a hand. If I lose three in a row I’m gone. My goal is to press to the table max while pulling back enough money to double or split on any given bet amount. I play for streaks. I want to win 9+ hands in a row. It has happened. I usually don’t play longer than 10 to 20 minutes at a given time. It’s been great. I’ve won big. I’ve lost too. It’s a blast when a streak happens and you’ve got 20 people cheering for you with a 5 or 6 thousand dollar bet up there. Win or lose. It’s a major rush.

Jack
Jack
4 years ago
Reply to  AJ

playing blackjack betting the minimum except always betting the amount you are behind (progressive loses) with the expectation the win will bring you back to zero lose each time. Is it practical you can win two hands often enough to have a net profit at the end of you day gambling?

Maverick
Maverick
4 years ago

Ken,
I play at a casino on regular basis at the no-mid shoe entry $25 min with 8 decks hitting on soft 17’s.
They also have a high limits room $50 min. with 6 decks and they stay on soft 17.
Is it better to play with fewer people? There are 5 spots on all the tables and it seems to me that I do the best when there are only 3 or less of us at a table.
And what are your thoughts of one on one against the dealer?

Cosmin Murea
Cosmin Murea
4 years ago

I just started playing BlackJack 6D, with Surrender, Stand on all 17’s, Hit on 16, BJ pays 3:2, Insurance pays 2:1. Could you give me a Betting Plan? Minimum is $10. I’m usually willing to spend $50. How should i bet?

The Boxcar
The Boxcar
4 years ago

Time is a factor in the equation. It helped me to understand why when you look on the faces of people at a blackjack table it is almost always the same.

The Boxcar
The Boxcar
4 years ago

Read a book called ” Against the Gods”. It is a well documented book on the history of risk including casino games. One of the points that has stuck with me is………the longer you play blackjack the higher the percentage of losing comes your way. A good read.

Clay
Clay
4 years ago
Reply to  The Boxcar

Yeah, but if you count then you win back the odds. 99% of black jack players don’t count cards. Very few people even know it’s possible. They believe you have to be an MIT student to count cards, but a high school education is all you really need.

Harold Murray
Harold Murray
2 years ago
Reply to  Clay

With 6 and 8 deck shoes counting cards is not as easy as it used to be , not impossible , but difficult and anyone who can count into a 6 or 8 deck shoe has more than a grade 12 education. I have played this game for over 40 years using basic strategy which I never stray from and when you start losing a few hands in a row its time to get up and leave with your winnings intact and try again later

Theoriemeister
Theoriemeister
5 years ago

Ken,

Interesting article. However, I might qualify what you wrote with “depending on where you play.” I live in a small market with limited playing opportunities. The small ‘casino’ where offers only Texas Hold ‘Em and a second room with Spanish 21, PaiGow, some other card game (I can’t recall at the moment) and a *single* table of BJ. The only comp they offer is a $5 or $10 match play–but they seem to give it out to anyone who plays and not just the ‘club members.’ We even pay for our drinks! There’s a single pit boss, who oversees all the card playing, but rarely watches people play. The table limit on the BJ is $100, so the only time the PB is alerted is when someone bets the table max, which is rare. The min. bet is $3. It’s definitely a low-roller place.

On the plus side, it’s a very congenial, low-key place, and a very pleasant way to spend an hour or so. The dealers know the regulars by name, and there seems to be good camaraderie all around.

Now, I like to think of myself as an excellent basic strategy player: slow to lose, and occasionally going home with more than I came in with. However, I’ve begun to learn Hi-Lo, have read lots of stuff on here and other sites, read a few books (Thorpe, Wong, Schlesinger), and am practicing every day–dealing 5 hands and counting. The BJ at the aforementioned casino is 6D, NS, H17, DAS, BJ pays 3:2, so that’s what I’m practicing at home. (Yeah, I know, not the best game, but it’s all that’s available.) I still have lots of practicing to do, but when I’m ready to put everything into play, I have a place to play, where a small spread, say 1-8 (or 10) will never even raise an eyebrow. And with such a low min bet, I can afford to practice without losing a ton of money.

Anyway, sorry for the long-winded reply. I enjoy your site!

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

It is interesting to hear others opinions as I have my own. It is true, a bad player can make or break your hand. Yes it does change the effects of a few hands. If you watch the pattern of the cards, a bad play will straighten itself out after a few hands. Even with new cards it seems to take about 3 shoes to get the cards lined up. If the dealer shuffles correctly, the cards actually stay in order, for the most part. This why the hands don’t change much from shoe to shoe if every player plays by basic strategy, so you need that other “bad” player to mess the shoe up from time to time. There is no need to waste time counting cards, just watch for the patterns, and adjust your bet accordingly. As mentioned, no one is forcing you to stay at one table, you can leave or change tables at any time.
There is no reason to get mad at any table. You can change the cards at any time, the dealer just deals the cards at your request. The dealer has no bearings on the cards dealt.

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago

Michael. I’m sorry for your loss. If Frank Sinatra was still alive he’d take a f*ing flamethrower to that table, dealer and pit boss that f*ed up your bankroll.

blackjohn
blackjohn
5 years ago

Hi Ken
Thank you for your quick reply. Do you have a list of casino with hand shuffle in North America? (US and Canada). Thabk you

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 years ago
Reply to  Ken Smith

Fallsview is all CSM except for the high roller room, $100/hand minimum bet. I’ve read the above posts, and chuckle to myself. The first rule of gambling in general, is and always will be: “the game can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” The casinos main advantage is an unlimited bankroll. If you are on a bad run, and feel upset about it, stop! If you see it as part of the process, and remain in control, decide if you want to continue or not. You will not always win, anyone who says that is selling something. Other players impact your chances if you let them. If you don’t like your dealer, leave the table, why would you stay anywhere you are miserable? If you decide you’re going to leave at the end of the next shoe, just leave immediately, your bank is likely good, and you are no longer focusing, and destined to lose a bit more money you could have had in your pocket. My last piece of advice: after winning three or four hands in a row, then losing, complain to the dealer that “I can’t win a hand!” They laugh, and you get to remember you’re there to have fun. Remember, gambling isn’t a problem if you win…

Max Quad de TAAB
Max Quad de TAAB
4 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Hey Blackjohn, Fallsview outside of the VIP room does have quite a few automatic shuffling machines (ASM not CSM) but manual-shoe games – like the ones Ken mentions about the US. Check the table games hall at the far end from the VIP room. Unlike the fully manual tables in VIP they are not hand shuffle, but not CSM either. The machine merely has the role of automatically shuffling the stack vertically instead of the dealer doing it the manual way.. The rest is the same as a manual game – cut, reshuffle card, loading in the empty shoe – except it’s an 8-decker (VIP room fully manual tables are 6 decks). The gap between shoes barely leaves time for a toilet break.

Beware – a small handful of low seated tables with ASM and low min bets of $5 -10 are “Blackjack pays 6/5” or something equally avoidable. In all other tables (CSM and ASM) in that hall the regular min bet is $25 but at very busy times or if all seated players request and pit boss goes along they can get hiked to $50 or even $100 – existing players’ min bets get grandfathered till they quit the table but limited to one hand each.

blackjohn
blackjohn
5 years ago

Hi there
I have played BJ recently about 2 months and I applied basic strategy. I played in Fallviews Casino, CSM 6 decks. I am not a card counter. The more I played the more I lost, up and down and I find it getting harder and harder to get my loosing money back which is $4,000. But I still hope if I come back and play slowly slowly I will make money?
The second question is I played at the $50 table and I won many times so I was afraid I would loose so I bet less and the dealer said “you are winning, why you decrease your bet” so I kept my bet then I won again and every time the dealer encouraged me to bet more, I won but after that 1hr more people came to the table so she didn’t say anything to me and since that time I kept loosing everything
Now I just want to get back my money and I want to play BJ like a job ($500/week) anyone can give me advice?
Thanks

Peter
Peter
6 years ago

Does basic strategy apply to 2-card combos after card-splits? ie. Split 8’s against Dealer’s 4. You get a 2, do you double down or just hit? I have found these situations to be more of a trap than winning strategies, because if you happen to have build up your bet, then have to split and double down maybe twice or even three times, you end up risking and often losing your entire winnings and end up losing. Help, anyone?

Rocky
Rocky
6 years ago

Do I think card counting works on an 8 deck shoe. Nope. But if they had 95percent deck penetration in the shoe. And there was about 1 deck left in the show with a plus 10-15 count. He’ll yea is would work. Lol. Basic strategy is your best bet. And he’ll if you win 100 bucks at the end of a 6 hr session. He’ll that’s a great time and a win.

seeker
seeker
6 years ago

I too am new to this site. Stumbled onto it after searching Reveres Advanced point count system. Been on the site last 2 days & signed up for the news letter.I also had ideas of big winnings when i went to vegas in 1980.Reality set in.Now i play around my home,P.A.We don’t have the best conditions but if you play well you can win $$.To me Michaels problem is he never read the rule of only playing under the best conditions as outlined in L.R.’s Playing blackjack as a Buisness.I know the book is outdated but there are many good points that can help even the most seasoned player.Good Luck & thanks for the site.

Kosenko
Kosenko
6 years ago

Hi there. Iam new to your site but I am glad to see most of your bloggers are correct in what they say, especially regarding poor players changing the shoe! I was twenty years in the business so I think I know a little bit. Good luck to all.

Guilmon
Guilmon
6 years ago

Michael:

“Ive studied card counting for 8 months. I can count through an entire 6 decks every time. Vary the bet using the Kelly method etc”.

Be that as it may, you are still a raw neophite. I know this because:

“The dealer at the MGM uses a mirror to see her down card then starts telling me how I should play. This is bullshit”.

No, it isn’t, and there is nothing wrong about this, and it’s been around for a very long time. Using that mirror prevents Spooking. If the dealer never lifts the hole card off the table to see if the hand is a blackjack, then other people can’t see it either.

“An Asian women kept talking to me and was rubbing my leg with her leg and arm. I know Asian women want white guys but Im not interested. This behavior was making me nervous. I lost the count and started losing}”.

Why did you start losing? If you aren’t comfortable playing there, then move. It’s not like the MGM has the only blackjack tables in town, now is it?

“The pit boss knew I was counting. He walked up and gave me an intimidating look. The dealer was rude and could not even speak English”.

I highly doubt that. Most pit bosses don’t count, don’t know Basic, and have a lot more tables and players to watch than little ol’ you. If you didn’t like the dealer, then why didn’t you move?

“I lost $3,000.00 in a matter of minutes. It was no fun. It was a complete waste. The dealer got 14 blackjacks. They were winning every hand. NOBODY plays that good!”

Vera Variance can be a real bitch at times. It happens, and if you stick around card tables long enough you will see some of the god-damnedest things happen that defy belief. They will happen to you and it ain’t no fun when it does. Been there; done that.

“Card counting is bullshit”.

No, it isn’t. It’s a helluva hard way to make some easy money, and there will be occasions where it’ll look that way. You have to ride out the dry spells, give the slim edge you get from counting time enough to make up for them. It will happen. However, it won’t happen if you don’t watch the ‘tude. It takes a certain equanimity to play this game, and bad attitudes will ruin your ‘roll faster than if you played like a casual gambler. To add insult to injury, the pit crew will gladly let you steam it off, and back you off the instant it looks like you’ve come to your senses.

“I started getting a major attitude with the stupid rude dealer who cannot speak English!”

Then leave. No one’s holding a gun to your head, forcing you to play.

“This guys comes over and stares me down. When I asked about comps he puts the card on my table like fuck you and walks away”.

Maybe “this guy” woke up to find that his kid is flunking out of college, his wife filed for divorce, and his dog got run over? If he’s having a bad day and taking it out on you, you can always play somewhere else.

That’s another thing: don’t sweat the pit crew. They probably don’t know you’re a counter. If you’re backed off, then worry about it. Don’t figure that they’re gonna nail you this time. If it happens, it happens, then you deal with it.

Harry
Harry
6 years ago

In regards to Michael losing $3k in a matter of minutes @ the MGM, how much was he betting $1000 a hand? I am no card counter but I have played Black Jack since 1978 in Vegas and many casinos around the country. Michael had a lot of complaints and when you lose everything is wrong or bothering you.

I see as everyone else that most people do not know how to play much less know how to bet. Blackjack is a game of patience you have to start with a “base bet” every single time and build up from there on your winning streaks. I see players betting $25 or $50 lose 5 or 6 in a row and then bet $300 and lose again now what’s your next bet $600? a quick way to go down. Or the player who after losing 5 in a row is now winning play after play but does not raise their bet, how will you get your money back or get a big win if you do not build on your base bet? or the player who has won several stacked bets in a row and 5 or 6 hands later reduces the bet to table minimum anticipating a loss.

As for the green or chicken players who make mistakes non stop, your hand can go either way, I do not give advice at the table or correct people’s mistakes because the next time they play it right we may lose again! I do like a “no mid shoe” table overall.