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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wiktor
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wiktor

*appreciable EFFECT

Sol
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Sol

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
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Sol

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
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Anonymous

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
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Anonymous

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
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joek

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
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joek

sorry it was formatted properly when i posted it.

Johnny Vegas
Guest
Johnny Vegas

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
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Rob

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
Mark

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

Steven
Guest
Steven

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
Rob

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
Kevin

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
Ken

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
John

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
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Tom

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
Lawson

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
Stefan

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
anonymous

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
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jason

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
Eric

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
Tim Shepard

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
Johnny Clueless

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
ryan

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
Paul

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
one2few

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
Frank Lu

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.

one2few
Guest
one2few

I see that the majority of this thread is very old, and it’s been slightly hijacked, but it does help segway into a thought I’ve been having. If you put everything else aside and look at only the order of the cards coming out of the deck, it seems there should be a point at which you should deviate from basic strategy regardless of the true count. the reason for this thought is basic probability. Lets start with a dice example: rolling a single dice one time, the odds of getting a 6 are 1 in 6, or .1666. roll… Read more »

Tom
Guest
Tom

I agree. The true count must be calculated in when deciding wether to hit or stay during a hand. Rigidly adhering to bs doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Or so it seems

Eric S.
Guest
Eric S.

Your article. I freely admit that I hate bad players. I’ve gotten mad several times at players not playing the right way. The last time I played this guy hit on a 12 when the dealer showed a 6. I just can’t understand that play. Of course he busts with a face card and the dealer makes her hand with a lesser card. The dealer would have bust if he doesn’t hit. I am sorry, but I just can’t stand it. The guy cost the whole table by doing that and he did that a few other times as well.… Read more »

Dan
Guest
Dan

I know that kind of thing can get on people’s nerves, however at the end of the day the cards are always shuffled rather than setup. It just means there is no knowing the order of cards beforehand. The dealers bust card or the card that makes his 21 could come out different every time. Idiot players help just as much as they hurt you. The thing that gets me is the unrealisticly long losing streaks that seem to come up too often. That is playing perfect basic basic strategy with all the right splits, and doubles yet losing 90… Read more »

ryan
Guest
ryan

totally agree. i had a guy hit on 19! yes 19! after me. i had $200 on that hand he had $20. this hand has put me off blackjack for life!

Jimbo
Guest
Jimbo

In your case you should give more thought to playing only if you can be 3rd base. Then what you described can never happen, which should keep you happy.

Frank Lu
Guest
Frank Lu

Thank you very much.

Frank Lu
Guest
Frank Lu

Hi KenSmith
I have bust rate for dealer up cards from A to 10, but can’t find the bust rate for player hard 12 to 16 when hit for another cards.please give me the information.I am a basic strategy player. Thank you.

Guilmon
Guest
Guilmon

This is confirmation bias again. Everyone wants to complain when Third Base takes the dealer’s bust card and the table gets swept. They forget all those times when it went the other way. Gamblers are a superstitious lot who haven’t the vaguest idea as to what they’re doing. Ask a dozen Roulette players the odds of hitting “red” or “black” is and you’ll get twelve wrong answers. Ask a dozen Craps players how many ways a seven can fall, and it’s “DUHHHH…” As for Blackjack, the most popular strategy is the Whudidowiddishand non-strategy strategy. The 50th anniversary of _Beat the… Read more »

Robbie Gold
Guest
Robbie Gold

Ken, As a “Skilled player” according to the casinos in AC, I would have to agree with you about Mr. Third Base taking the dealers break card. Countless times (no pun intended), I have tried to explain to people at the table that the shoe has no memory of who goes in & out at the table. There have been times when at Third base I will wave a hit with a hand five, deuce against the dealers Ten. People look at me in astonishment after the dealer shows 5 in the hole & breaks with a ten. Even if… Read more »

Don Q
Guest
Don Q

I love them to play with me at my table. The focus is on them not on me. At break time, the dealers and the bosses exchange stories about those stupid players. You know who I like to most to play at my table? A knock them dead beauty, and I’m not even paying her to sit with me by the hour.

Byakuya
Guest
Byakuya

The way I see it, a good card counter should use these superstitions, particularly the positive ones, to their advantage. Create an image where you either believe them or “keep an open mind” about those folly beliefs. Use the positive superstitions to encourage other players and keep the casino people thinking “Another superstitious fool who’s going to lose all his money, LOL! Give the player (card counter) what he/she wants”. For example: Great job, you changed the flow of the cards just in time. You saved the table with that move I never would of considered (Ignoring the times when… Read more »

Ed Surfer
Guest
Ed Surfer

You forget the “eye in the sky” and the back of the house staff have the statistics. They don’t care what you say, they care that you’re defying the mathematical models and winning more regularly than you should and placing larger bets when you should. And as you say, moving to a new table when you should. They’re not stupid they set up the models so they can make money.

Uncledougy
Guest
Uncledougy

I somewhat disagree that Johnny Clueless has no affect on my hand if he hits. In your example I have a 50/50 chance of winning if Johnny stays. But if he hits, I then have a 75% chance of winning or losing depending on the card drawn by Johnny. Did Johnny’s hit cause me to lose or win? No, but it did affect my chances of winning or losing.

Johnny Clue
Guest
Johnny Clue

False. Even if you can’t wrap your hand around the fact it had no effect… That’s the course of that one hand, it happened to help or hurt in one instance, Over the ultimate course of millions of hands, it will all even out.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

But he is not playing millions of hands..it’s ONE hand that Clueless has hurt you and that ONE hand can cost you

Jimbo
Guest
Jimbo

Not quite correct. If you have a 75% chance of winning you can’t also have a 75% chance of losing. These numbers have to add up to 100%.

Julian
Guest
Julian

A probabilities undergrad course is all it takes to agree with your explanation. Anyway, it helps players to blame someone else for their losses. Thanks for your newsletter.

Tom G.
Guest
Tom G.

I’ve found the best way to keep away from the “clueless” is to play at $25 and up tables! Then YOUR skill is tested!

Greg OD
Guest
Greg OD

I believe in Table Karma. Wrong creates BAD. Right creates GOOD.

Jimbo
Guest
Jimbo

What does karma have to do with putting money in your pocket? It’s just an emotion or mood. One can lose or win with good karma; similarly with bad karma.

Ken S.
Guest
Ken S.

I agree 100%…being a dealer you know the the cards can go either way.

thomas
Guest
thomas

Sorry but this article is for idiots… If you ever thought other players would affect your results then hehhh you’re the kind of sucker gambler a jackpot for the casino.

Jimbo
Guest
Jimbo

@tommy ; Wrong! Ken is 100% correct, although I am unable to understand your obstinacy. As Ken said a poor player affects your winning half the time, AND helps you to win the other half time. This actually translates to any other player at the table, whether a good one or not.

Doug
Guest
Doug

I agree 100 per cent . Basic strategy has been figured out by computer programmers and by mathematicians. It all depends on what you have and by what the dealer has, not by what other players are doing.

Norman Sheridan
Guest
Norman Sheridan

As always, Ken, you are absolutely correct; however……………….I always liked to agree that Johnny Clueless was KILLING me. Why? If the casino pit crew believes that I think that, then they cannot possibly believe I am an advantage player.

Blake Baird
Guest
Blake Baird

I have a minor degree in math, and learned these calculations. Some rumors seem to live forever. Maybe casinos know they bring in people to gamble—you sure never see them disputed by the owners. Thanks for a great news letter and site.

Jim Bray
Guest
Jim Bray

What you said makes sense. I have in the past complained about players taking Dealer bust cards.
But, I can remember when a inexperienced player was doing all the wrong plays but Winning.
Matter of fact I was winning too!!
I will not complain of inexperienced players again. You’re right if it wasn’t for them Playing would be different.
I’m going to Reno for three nights last this month

Sylvia
Guest
Sylvia

Thank you very much for the explanation. I wasn’t aware of that, and silently cursed players for doing this.