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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Jonh
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Jonh

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

Jj
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Jj

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

Anonymous
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Anonymous

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

LVBear
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LVBear

As a practical matter, no.

Steelguy
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Steelguy

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
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AJ

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
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Jack

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
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Maverick

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
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Cosmin Murea

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
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The Boxcar

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
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The Boxcar

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
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Clay

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
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Harold Murray

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
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Theoriemeister

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
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Anonymous

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
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Anonymous

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
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blackjohn

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
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blackjohn

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
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Peter

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
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Rocky

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
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seeker

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
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Kosenko

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
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Guilmon

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
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Harry

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 »

Mike
Guest

Ken – “And, there are also easier ways to make money in the casino.”
Such as?

Scott
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Scott

When gaining an advantage using basic strategy as outlined here, what role does tipping play? I doubt if a player who tips can still have a positive expectation.
Thank you, Ken.

Don Q
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Don Q

If this guy was for real, the pit boss would have spoiled him; losing 3k in a few minutes, those are the guys they love. They have a live one. They’ll even entice him to come back have and bait the hook with a promised refund on his plane ticket plus a $100.00 slot free play for the wife or girl friend. The Asian dealers are probably more educated than him. I bet you, they probably speak at least 2 languages including English, not counting Mandarin and Cantonese. If he really knew how to count even from books, he would… Read more »

Don Q
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Don Q

Bankroll, I always bring at least 40X my minimum unit bet. With 3K, my unit bet would have been $75.00. Why play the 6 deck shoe with that bankroll? With $50 to $75 unit, he could have played a 2 deck BJ with minimum bet of $50 heads up vs the dealer. If I lose 3 hands straight after I just sit, I leave that table, there’s no math to it but just 3 strikes I’m out.I had at one time, lost 9 straight hands! If he has a bankroll of $3K, he could afford to invest in a tutored… Read more »

Shane
Guest

Look I am not a huge card player and I have the opinion that the house always wins. But I will give your tips a go and let you know how I fared.

Randall Newman
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Randall Newman

RESPONSE TO MICHAEL: Loosing $ 3,000 at the MGM. I just returned from Sam’s Town in Tunica, MS and have been counting cards about 12 months. I have found it very profitable. This was my 3rd trip in 12 months to Tunica but I also have been to Biloxi to practice my skill. My first trip out was not a big winner. As I have practiced and experienced the real casino again and again I have never returned a looser. I also went to Las Vegas in May 2013 and I also played at the MGM. My experience was totally… Read more »

Bob Carroll
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Bob Carroll

The above statements are all interesting. I like a table where I am confortable and prefer players who are good because it seems to lift the leveal of play. Card counting, even speed counting is mentally taxing after a few hours. Generally it is best to ignore all comments and concentrate on your playing. Gambling, especially blackjack, is a mathematical experience so stay with some form of perfect strategy. Most people, including dealers, are not familiar with probabilities so their advice, mo matter how sincere,must be considered suspect. Randomness is often misunderstook because it includes streaks of winning and losing.… Read more »

Ryan
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Ryan

For the longest time I used to think that bad players prevented me from winning, but it turns out not so much. The thing with bad players is they don’t have as much of an affect on your hand as you like to think. The thing with BJ players is they react to the immediate situation and never think about the long run. All those hands you think drunk guy splitting 10’s cost you will come back to your favor later even though in the moment you are seething. Obviously if you play once a year then these beats seem… Read more »

Harold
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Harold

As a veteran blackjack player, I have to agree with Bernie. Dealers generally do not know the finer points of the game. Their knowledge of the game is generally acquired by observing repetitive actions of the players, and as most skilled players know, most players don’t really know how to play the game. Regarding playing with unskilled players, it’s true that you seem to remember how others bad play cost you hands, but I have come to believe that their stupidity will result in an equal number of hands that I win. One thing for sure, it is almost impossible… Read more »

Bernie
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Bernie

It’s amazing how many blackjack dealers don’t know how to play blackjack. I hear bad advice given from blackjack dealers all the time. I have been told I made a bad plays when hitting soft 18 vs. a dealers picture card plus hitting 12 against a dealers 3. Just two examples of dealers stupitity. Bernie

Jared Hemingway
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Jared Hemingway

I disagree with Mike Gunter and this is precisely why listening to dealers is bad business. If the game is square, it doesn’t matter how others play. The cards you still receive are random and a count with basic strategy still applies. Folks all caught up in how others play are too superstitious. But agreed, it’s very frustrating to see mistakes that cost you a hand(s.). But if you really pay attention, those mistakes win you hands also. Cards come out random, how others play have no mathematical affect on the shoe. Enjoy

Jim
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Jim

Jared, you’re exactly right. Mike Gunter still hasn’t learned the game!

BJnoob
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BJnoob

In response to all those that believe in 3rd base player effects… Aside from it being complete rubbish, let us also not forget that focusing on Billy Nobrains’ poor decision-making and how it affected your hand also actually distracts you from your strategy, count and bet sizing. I’m a relatively successful market trader and investor and have seen many similarities in psychology….maintaining a cool head under stress, not blaming bad luck on anything (except perhaps your own analysis), focusing on longterm results, understanding past errors, and knowing when to stop trading after a bad run. However, two of the most… Read more »

Beacygal
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Beacygal

If you play at a hand shuffled table the shuffle is not random! It is repetitive where card clumps occur. This is documented in studies by “first base blackjack.” It occurs in two deck games and up. I have played games in Vegas when the dealer,s tell card or up card is 10 card 70 percent of a shoe. Don’t wait to be asked to leave just leave or your money will. The player at third base better play a strategy to win his hand. Third base is not there to save the table. Stastically, no one impacts the next… Read more »

Mike Gunter
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Mike Gunter

I have been a dealer for 10years. 8 hrs a day 5 days a week. First, if you play on a table that offers surrender you are throwing your money away. As soon as someone on a table surrenders the whole shoe is ruined. Surrender is the biggest scam in blackjack. Second if you play with someone who doesn’t know when to hit and when not to hit there goes that shoe. NOT THE HAND, THE SHOE! As far as card counting, that might have worked on single shoes but it doesn’t work on 6 deck shoes. As soon as… Read more »

MD
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MD

Probably you are right!
I am no card counter and I am smart enough to follow the basic strategy and I have no courage for split and double down and etc
Today, I played with 100$ for the very first time. I went to casino in the morning and there was no body in my table. after one hour I made 100$ profit.
I still wonder how I made that money?!! maybe what you said is right. I was alone with one dealer and following basic strategy only

RanDom Primes
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RanDom Primes

“As soon as someone makes a mistake in Basic Strategy, there goes the SHOE” (Corrections to spelling and punctuation were made to the above quote because the entire post is so ridiculous, I had to do something to make it a little more tolerable.) Why stop with SHOE? If a single mistake in Basic Strategy ruins an entire shoe, doesn’t it also ruin every other shoe at that table for the rest of the day? After a single mistake in Basic Strategy, the “Universe” now knows that the cards are in a different order than if no mistake had been… Read more »

khmer
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khmer

Man- you are so full of it. Surrender and 3-2 payout in BJ are the two rules that significantly improve the players odd.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Hey bro I’m a dealer too, and I agree 100%, I’ve been dealing for 6 months and been a pit boss 3 of those months, how the long term effects on your body? Cuz my body always aches now

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Disagree on the surrender part if it was such a scam every casino would offer it!

GNote
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GNote

Michael Shackleford, A.S.A., a professional actuary who has made a career of analyzing casino games, sees your statement as myth. He runs the numbers on new games for casinos and game developers and has helped design many of the popular slot machines on the Internet. In his own words……. “Unless you are a card counter, how other players play should not affect what you do. Basic strategy players should stick to the basic strategy no matter how badly the other players play. Other players are just as likely to help you as hurt you. In the end, it makes no… Read more »

Stefan
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Stefan

Sorry man but u dont have an idea of bj !!put u in 99people among

Steelguy
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Steelguy

Mike Gunter,

Great comments. I agree with 90+ percent of your narrative and 100 percent agree on the heads up solo. The only thing I disagree on is surrender. My experience on hit & run using surrender to limit losses on poor percentage hands has worked pretty well. Maybe I’m just fortunate but I’m also not trying to retire every time I play. Thanks for the insight.

Ken
Guest
Ken

Some Play. and those who can’t must deal. Please don;t give bad advice.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

You don’t know anything about blackjack

Michael
Guest
Michael

I’m in Las Vegas right now as I type this staying at the Luxor. I’ll be here for 2 weeks. I took your advice and lost $3,000.00 at the MGM 3/2 Blackjack tables outside the Rouge. I’ve studied card counting for 8 months. I can count through an entire 6 decks every time. Vary the bet using the Kelly method etc. None of that helped me last night. 1) 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 I’m not interested. This behavior was… Read more »

khmer
Guest
khmer

Card counting is a tool to give you an edge over the dealer. The tool can never beat the dealer- only you can beat the dealer using the tool effectively. You need to have discipline in order to use your tool effectively.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Dam bro o know it’s to late bit listen. Wenever ur in that situation, u GET UP AND WALK AWAY FROM THAT TABLE before u lose anymore money.

Blackjack
Guest
Blackjack

What a schmuck this ‘Michael’. I’m in Las Vegas right now as I type this staying at the Luxor. I’ll be here for 2 weeks. I took your advice and lost $3,000.00 at the MGM 3/2 Blackjack tables outside the Rouge. I’ve studied card counting for 8 months. I can count through an entire 6 decks every time. Vary the bet using the Kelly method etc. None of that helped me last night. 1) 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 I’m… Read more »

connectwithbill
Guest
connectwithbill

That was the most Spot-On address of a complete Tool I’ve had the pleasure of setting my eyes on. For Michael to be so full of himself and yet be so victimized must be the ultimate in internal conflict. Well said, Blackjack.

Max Quad de TAAB
Guest
Max Quad de TAAB

Hi Blackjack, great put down! You mentioned playing in Asia. Is there any place on that continent where one can still find non-CSM games – manual shoe with manual or automated (not CSM) shuffle? Macau and Genting (Malaysia) gave up manual shoes in a complete surrender to CSM several years ago. (And, further,Genting has only 4 BJ tables left outside VIP in a major shift from BJ to Pontoon). Don’t know if Korea and Philippines have made a similar switch. I bet newbie Singapore too follows Malaysia’s lead as Genting is from there and Sands are the ones who first… Read more »

benster
Guest
benster

If they knew you were counting cards then for sure the Asian woman was a plant to put you off. You can’t blame the casino for that. Counting cards is not illegal and neither is anything they did. I’ve no interest in counting cards, as i just play now and again for fun. Counting cards takes high levels of focus, discipline and cool. From your post I’d suggest its not for you.

Jasonjrf
Guest
Jasonjrf

First man counting does work but it’s not easy to do. Second it sounds like you made some big mistakes. The hard part of counting cards is the money management and bet management. If you lost 3,000 in a short amount of time then you are probably betting far too much. Or you have a fuckton of money. If you have 10,000 in your bank account your playing bank should be 10 percent so 1000 and you should bring half that to the casino so 500 and if you have ten thousand your max bet should only be 10 percent… Read more »

Ken
Guest
Ken

Would help if you re study your money management. $!0,000.00 Bankroll would be a min. bet of table allowed min to a Max of 2% of bankroll or $200.00 I am speaking og your playing bankroll not how much money you have in the bank. If you only have $10,000.00 in the bank total to live on, stay home and pay your bills. $25 to $200 gives you a 8-1 spread not great but playable. $10 to $200 gives you a 20-1 spread very good but be carefuk not to get caught with the large bet difference.

E
Guest
E

The dealers have there own way of cheating. while you are distracted by the shill sitting next to you, the dealers covering up the cards so you are forced to think of other things. I had a dealer shuffle the cards around before putting them in the discard trey. acting like they had slipped out of his hands and he also kept winning so i studyed him for a few hands and left the table still with half my chips.some dealers or good enough that they keep track of patterns or clumps i should say.

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Steven
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Steven

Hello, I have been studying card counting and basic strategy for 6 months. I have read the books that are recommended and practiced every day for about an hour or so. After recently reading a few posts online,pros have been saying that card counting is no longer what it used to be and that it’s nearly impossible to maintain a healthy living off of the game let alone making it worth your time playing. Is this all true? Should I even continue thinking of card counting as a part time job on the weekends to make some money?

Andrius
Guest
Andrius

I was playing in Poland few month. So I can say the basic strategy, card counting, and other beting system really works my mounth profit was ~ 3000euro, ante was 3euro

Maz
Guest
Maz

Card counting does not work

tom t
Guest
tom t

Did you ever think, you may not know how to count! It is a fact, it works. Why do you think MIT (group) got banned from the casinos. Geeze where the fuck do these morons crawl under from.