The Most Common Myth in Blackjack

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Blackjack table

In this new series on the Myths of Blackjack, I’m starting with the most common myth surrounding the game.

The conversation usually goes like this…

Interested Player: So, you play blackjack, huh?

Ken: Yeah, I’ve played a lot of blackjack over the years.

Interested Player: You know what really drives me crazy about blackjack? …

Interested Player: You sit down and get a good game going, and then some idiot sits down at third base and starts messing up the cards.  What do you do about that?

Ken: *Sigh*


OK, I’ll start with a fact…

Other players have no appreciable affect on your results.

That’s right… Johnny Clueless from Buffalo who sat down at your table had nothing to do with your losing streak.

Now, if you already knew this to be true, you probably know what happens next in the conversation.  Trying to explain that other players can’t screw up your results invariably leads to that blank stare.  You know the one.  It’s where you can almost see them thinking: “This Kenny guy doesn’t know squat about blackjack!  How did he ever make any money?!”.

Generally, I don’t even bother trying to dispute their notion.  Instead I’ll just nod my head as if these kinds of players bother me too, and change the subject as soon as I can.

As penance for all those times, let me make a concerted effort to explain why this is a myth.  Even those of you who don’t need enlightening might find some ammo for your own rebuttals here too.

There are actually a whole group of possible complaints about Johnny Clueless.  We’ll address them one by one.

People jumping in and out of the game can’t “mess up the cards.”

So you’ve been winning a few hands, and when Johnny Clueless jumps in mid-shoe and adds an extra hand to the deal, the dealer starts killing everyone.  It must be his fault, right?  Well, no.  Cause and effect is a tricky thing, especially in games where randomness is a factor.  Our brains are evolved to look for patterns in causality, and that makes us see patterns and causes everywhere, even when they don’t really exist.  There wasn’t anything magic about the number of spots that was already in play before he added a hand.  There was certainly no guarantee that you would continue to win if he didn’t enter the game.  He’s just a convenient scapegoat for our brains to blame as a cause.

Red and Blue FireThe problem here really stems from the related myth that there are “hot tables” and “cold tables” in the casino.  If you have won the last ten hands in a row, you would be accurate in saying that the table has been hot, but that tells you absolutely nothing about the next ten hands to come.  But of course, if Johnny sits down and you start losing, you know who will get the blame.  There’s no such thing as a hot table, only a table that has been hot.

There is no magic about a particular number of spots in play causing a winning streak, or ending one.  Sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose.  That’s gambling!

Other player’s strategy mistakes cannot hurt you.

Now we’re on to the part of the myth claiming that unless all the players at the table play a solid basic strategy, none of the players will be able to win.  I am always amused that most of the players who cling to this idea actually have no idea what the correct basic strategy is, but they are quite sure that the new guy at the table is playing badly and costing everyone.

But seriously, this is total bull.  At my table, I don’t care how awful the other players are.  In fact, I love to see bad players.  They are the reason that blackjack is still a viable game for skilled players.  Without a steady supply of uninformed masses, the casinos couldn’t offer a game like blackjack.  If everyone played well, the game would make such small profits that the floor space would be converted to something else.  But, I digress…

Surprised WomanYes, I’m telling you that even the guy that splits tens, hits on hard 16 when the dealer has a 5 up, and sometimes stands on a hand like (Ace,3) because he “has a feeling” cannot hurt your results.  Sometimes his awful plays will cost the whole table, but other times his wacky plays will save the table.  In the long run, it all just evens out.  He can’t hurt you.  So relax!  Remember… Sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose.  That’s gambling!

And no, there is no such thing as “taking the dealer’s bust card.”

This is probably the most common thing that drives uninformed players crazy.  When Johnny Clueless is sitting at third base and decides to hit his hard 14 against the dealer’s 5, you can rest assured that everyone at the table will roll their eyes when Johnny busts and the dealer makes a hand.  He “took the dealer’s bust card.”  Well, yeah, maybe he did this particular time.  But since you don’t know what the order of the undealt cards is beforehand, you can’t say that he wasn’t going to save the table instead.

This is such a strongly defended bit of mythology I’m going to dive a little deeper into the details.  Now I know that many of the people who believe this nonsense can’t be bothered with details, but I am going to make an effort anyway.

Let’s create a completely arbitrary, and impossibly simple situation…  The dealer has a 5 up, and let’s also assume that his hole card is a Ten.  You stand on your hard 12, and now the play is up to Johnny.  We’ll say that there are exactly 4 cards left in the shoe, and somehow we know that the remaining cards are two sixes, and two Tens, although we don’t know the order.

Johnny looks at his hard 16 and says “I’ve got a feeling”, and motions for a hit.  Now we know that Johnny is going to bust with either a six or a ten.  But what has he just done to you?  Before we see the card, we don’t know.  More importantly, before we see the card, it is correct to say that there is absolutely no effect on your result.

Half the time, Johnny will bust with a ten, and he did indeed take away one of the dealer’s possible bust cards.  What’s left in the shoe after that is one ten, and two sixes.  That means that 2/3rds of the time you will lose now because the dealer has 2 out of 3 chances to make a 21.  Johnny sure worked you over, right?

Well, the other half the time, Johnny will bust by drawing a six instead, leaving one six and two tens in the shoe.  Now he’s done you a big favor, and you’ll lose only 1/3rd of the time.

Here’s the part that you need to follow…

The chances of Johnny drawing a ten, and you subsequently losing to a dealer 21 is: 50% X 2/3  (That works out to 1/3 total, or expressed differently: 2/6.)

The chances of Johnny drawing a six, and you subsequently losing to a dealer 21 is: 50% X 1/3  (That works out to 1/6 total.)

Add these up (2/6 + 1/6) = (3/6) = (1/2)

Well, look at that.  Our overall chance of losing when Johnny takes a card is… 1/2.

Our overall chance of losing when Johnny does not take a card is… 1/2.

This is not some evil coincidence.  It works exactly the same way no matter how many cards are in the deck, and how complicated the math would be to verify it.  It’s a mathematical fact… Johnny taking a card will help you exactly as much as it will hurt you on average.  It all evens out in the long run.

So relax.  Let Johnny play however he wants.  He can’t hurt your expected win or loss.

And after all, sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose.  That’s gambling!

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74 Comments on "The Most Common Myth in Blackjack"

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Sol
Guest

If you don’t see patterns in the cards coming out of this deck, then you’re just not paying enough attention. It goes both ways, if you are pre-disposed (conditioned?) to dismiss any possibility beyond random. then I guess recognition skills need not apply – grin. And if you can’t rightly say why the authors of this game designated the values of the J,Q,K as 10’s, mathematically speaking, it’s hard to see how one can speak intelligently to this game. But that’s just me.

Sol
Guest

If you don’t see patterns in how the cards come out of the deck, then you aren’t paying enough attention. And if you don’t know the precise mathematical reason for the valuations assigned by the authors of this game to the J,Q,K, then you can’t really speak intelligently about this particular game.

Anonymous
Guest
As you said, bad players are the only reason the casinos can offer the game, though I wonder how many bad players are at the ultra high stakes tables and how the house supports that. Bad players are actually amusing to watch so long as they behave well. The worst players are the ones who throw the cards down, curse or overact when they lose, and drunks. There seems to be a certain point up to which the casino will tolerate that behavior, probably depending on the pit boss, how much money they’re making off the offender or whether the… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
What you all are missing is that if the bad play caused you to that specific hand if you where to follow the cards on subsequent hands , any hand you win on you have to say you won because of what Johnny did. You cannot have it both ways of bad play helps you loose then good play will help you win and that is just not true. Bad play can make you loose that hand sure , but on the next hand you win you have to say it was a result of the bad play. So guess… Read more »
joek
Guest
kind of on topic player 12 through to 16 refer to my chart 6 Decks Dealer Stands on Soft 17 Excerpt From DEALER’S W* of O*’s DEALER’S FINAL TOTAL MY SIMULATOR UP CARD BUST SUCCESS BUST SUCCESS 2 35.350% 64.650% 38.095% 61.905% 3 37.419% 62.581% 38.849% 61.151% 4 39.410% 60.590% 39.410% 60.590% 5 41.841% 58.159% 40.183% 59.817% 6 42.284% 57.716% 45.152% 54.848% PLAYER’S BUST SUCCESS BUST SUCCESS BUST SUCCESS 12 31.000% 1 69.000% 52.755% 47.245% 46.200% 3 53.800% 13 39.000% 1 61.000% 53.822% 46.178% 50.900% 3 49.100% 14 47.000% 1 53.000% 55.932% 44.068% 55.000% 3 45.000% 15 58.000% 2 42.000%… Read more »
joek
Guest

sorry it was formatted properly when i posted it.

Johnny Vegas
Guest
Great article, I had suspected that the “bad player” on third base couldn’t actually screw up the table by not playing basic strategy. I’ve seen dealers even get mad and talk down to players. I do have a question though, what if your example was on the first hand dealt from a 4 deck shoe? If the dealer has 15 as in your example, that means they wouldn’t bust with a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, and if the dealer got an Ace it would depend on the next card that they got to determine if they busted or… Read more »
Rob
Guest

Ken,

Your senario has an equal amount of bust cards and “make” cards. But that isn’t always the case. if the dealer has a 16 there are more bust cards than there are make cards in a neutral shoe.

Because of this, third base has a higher likelihood of taking a card that would have busted the dealer. And, once that happens the dealer’s odds of getting a bust card go down.

Happy to hear if I am missing something here.

Mark
Guest

Statistics is a difficult college class. Most people can’t even pass simple math.

Steven
Guest
The better way to explain it is this. Johnny Clueless says to hit. Instead of the dealer giving him the next card from the deck, the dealer offers you the option to select any remaining card in the deck to give to Johnny instead. Should you take that option? The next card and the one you actually choose have been in that same position in the shoe since the shuffle. If you think that those two cards in those two positions now have a different chance of being a 10, then that was also true for those two cards right… Read more »
Rob
Guest

No, the option isn’t which card do you want him to take. The option is for him not to take a card at all. Because in a neutral deck there are more cards that would bust a 16 then cards that would make a 16. So, it is more likely that the next card, regardless of where you grab it from the deck, is a bust card. If the player takes that card then the odds of the dealer getting a bust card go down.

Kevin
Guest

And when the player takes a non-bust card, the odds of the dealer getting a bust card go up. It all evens out in the end. If this does not make sense to you, I suggest taking a course in probability and statistics so that you might gain a better understanding of how games of random chance work.

Ken
Guest
l’m curious about the superstitious guy who has a huge bet on the table with a dealer 6 showing. I’m on 3rd base with my $5 chip out in front of me. If I have a 14 showing and hit then I’m screwing the table over by taking the dealers bust card? But what if I have an 11 showing? Isn’t my desire to double down and improve my hand going to screw the table over just the same? Somehow my playing or not playing by the rules makes it “ok” to take the dealers bust card? I never understood… Read more »
John
Guest
Funny thing is most blackjack dealers are firm believers in the whole taking the bust card mentality. Even after multiple decades of working in the industry they swear by it and cite their extensive experience as proof. I tried explaining it to one dealer and he responded, “Well if everyone says it there must be something to it!” Of course, they are just victims of their own conformation bias. But it’s the illusion of control over the outcome that keeps most players coming back. The human mind trying to see a pattern and replicate it and get that rush of… Read more »
Tom
Guest

Yes! very much agree with this. I was playing and did something against the rules. this one guy mentioned it, and kept mentioning it, a couple of hands later. as if to say that my 1 decision affected his cards 2-3 hands later. but there were many other events that transpired after my choice to not play the rules. I believe in situational advantages and, in general, play by “the rules.” but to say that my not affects multiple events thereafter is delusional.

Lawson
Guest

I’m am very glad I found your article. I’ve tried many times to explain this point to players and it’s exactly like arguing religion. Once you bring facts into the debate they shut down (please don’t be offered I don’t mean to insult anyone’s faith). What this all boils down to is if you want to live by hindsight, would offs and could ofs, your going to have a very miserable life.

Stefan
Guest

I have seen it again and again ….. same guy who hurts you is the same guy that he busts the dealer and all players win.the best advice is never say an opinion if someone ask you to hit or stand !

anonymous
Guest
it does affect you. when the count is rich in tens, the crazy counter spread to 5 hands by way of using his friends, it affects you getting a stiff hand if your 3rd base. He would take all the tens in front of you. these so called myths are truths because there is no calculations of bet size into the equation. A person losing 2000 bucks in that one mistake hand does affect their game. It just cost him 2000 bucks of bankroll. So all the bs that is said to only affect one hand is wrong. That 2000… Read more »
jason
Guest

WHAT?? i cant even follow what you are trying to say here.

but if you’d pay attention to what the article said, you would have heard it does affect the game how they play. it affects it both positively and negatively an equal amount on average.

Eric
Guest

How about asking the complainer: “So you think the casino purposely put the Blackjack cards in just the right order so that YOUR hand would win and that OTHER GUY screwed it up for YOU? Wow, that’s so nice of the casino to try to give YOU money!”

Tim Shepard
Guest

God I wish I had a Dime for every time I tried explaining this to some superstitious player.
Thanks for putting it in writing finally, I can just point people to this article from now on and save my breath.

Johnny Clueless
Guest

Mr. Ryan
I love to hear from Ken about your question. But I will give you my two cents worth of opinion. It’s just back luck!! Johnny can took away the good card from dealer and make you win that hand too. Then you will be $2000 ahead. Then you should quit going to casino forever, so that you will be ahead $2000 , because that will be your last hand playing blackjack. Good luck!

ryan
Guest

can I just ask something here, you say that johnny clueless doesnt have an impact in the long run, so how to you explan your matsmatics to the guy who playing his last $2000 on his last hand and johnny takes the dealers bust card? i would love to hear you explain this to me? my emai is ryro@hotmail.co.uk I await your caculated answer.

Paul
Guest

It is hard to believe this is an actual comment/question after the article and all of the comments. Johnny will take the Dealers bust card as often as he won’t. 50/50 you will get mad at Johnny or give him a high five… get it?

one2few
Guest

that makes sense, I guess I should have pointed out that my point wasn’t that a poor player will make you lose, but that other players at the table receiving cards will give insight it to what could potentially be coming out of the deck.

I was persuing another avenue of thought from all of the poor player myths such as taking the dealers bust card and whatnot. Just simply the effect that multiple players can have on your play in terms of opportunities and insight vs one on one with the dealer.

Frank Lu
Guest

There is another explanation from Wizard of odds,FAQ , about myth of poor player made you lose money in BJ.
This author simulates 1.5 b hands of plays. One player always played basic strategy ( A), and the other player (B) always played a different strategy, different from the basic. The end result were the A player lost 0. 28% and the b player lost 11.% after 1.5 B hands. It’s doesn’t Mather how the other play, the result is the same in the long run.

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