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.

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90 Comments on "How a Basic Strategy Player can Beat Blackjack"

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Jonh
Guest

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

Jj
Guest

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

Anonymous
Guest

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

LVBear
Guest

As a practical matter, no.

Steelguy
Guest

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
Guest
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+… Read more »
Jack
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest
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… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
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… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

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
Guest

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

blackjohn
Guest
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… Read more »
Peter
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest
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… Read more »
Kosenko
Guest

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
Guest
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… Read more »
Harry
Guest
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… Read more »

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