“You can’t beat the casino, Joel. They wouldn’t offer blackjack if they knew it was possible to be beaten.”
-A childhood buddy of mine, who has not put a single dollar onto a blackjack table in his life, as far as I know
This is what nearly everyone thinks about people who are like me and attempt to (and oftentimes, succeed) make money playing blackjack. And most of these people fall into three categories:
-They have never played a single game of blackjack in their life (but have done every other form of gambling)
-They play blackjack, but have no idea what they are doing
-They were in the process of being an advantage blackjack player, but they got too overwhelmed with things and they gave up
Blackjack is extremely intimidating. It is not like any other game in the casino where the results are completely random but the buy ins are low. It is not like poker where your hand management plays second fiddle to being able to interpret the mannerisms and actions of your fellow players. Blackjack requires strategy, memorization, crackerjack attention to detail and an iron discipline. But it is the only game in the casino that can be completely manipulated to your favor. Some argue that poker is like this as well, but it is nothing like blackjack.
It takes brass balls, and iron will, and razor sharp focus to play blackjack properly. Your emotions will do nothing if not hold you back. People who get emotional at blackjack tables are not winning players. I’ve been taking a beating the last couple of months in blackjack, and that is for two reasons:
-My bankroll (amount of money that I am playing blackjack with) is low, and therefore my discipline and fundamentals are not on point
-I am not a perfect advantage player
Let’s unwrap the first point first. When I had lots of money, I was not really losing too much in blackjack. And I was only beginning to explore advantage playing techniques, only playing by the book. I would buy in enough to lose 16 to 20 hands in a row, play by the book, and leave after losing or winning a bit. Usually if I lost one session, I would come back and win in another. If I did lose significantly, it was because my discipline was lacking. This is exactly what has been happening in the last two months. I have been getting desperate, and have been paying for it (literally). When you get needy you do not get what you want. It’s a rule of nature. Blackjack is no different.
If you are not disciplined enough to bring a specific amount of money to play blackjack with, set exact amounts that you are comfortable winning or losing, and not disciplined enough to actually LEAVE after hitting those amounts, then you have no business playing blackjack (or doing any form of gambling or investing). End of discussion. I have learned this harsh lesson myself over the past two months. Like with anything else, blackjack should be one more source of income, not your only source.
That being said, it is now time to explore the second point. The other reason I am losing at the blackjack tables is the same reason why nearly everyone else is: It is because I am not a perfect advantage player.
So what does it mean to be an advantage blackjack player? Being an advantage player means you are able to gain an advantage over the house/casino/dealer (I’ll use all three interchangeably), and have them gamble against you (instead of you gambling against them). The reason why this is possible is because in blackjack, events that have taken place in the past affect what takes place in the future. When you are an advantage player, you mentally keep track of what you have seen in the past, make predictions about what will happen in the future, then prepare accordingly.
There are quite a few ways to do this. The first, and the most common way, is by counting cards. This is actually a well known concept and people know about it. I even joke about it with pit bosses when I play blackjack (I do not make enough money to be a “threat” to any casinos, so no one thinks that I am an advantage player).
There are quite a few methods to counting cards, but the most efficient is the hi-lo method. In this method, you keep track of how many low (2-6) and high (10-Ace) cards you see, and then bet (or enter a table) accordingly based on the “count.” You get this count by making a checklist in your head of all the cards you have seen. In the hi-lo system, you’ll assign values to these cards as follows:
2-6 = +1 to the count
7-9 = 0 to the count
10-Ace = -1 to the count
Running count = constant updated total of the card values you have seen
True count = running count divided by how many decks have been played
However, it does not stop there. There are many more variables to being an advantage player than just plain keeping track of how many cards you have seen. There exist deviations to the book that must be followed when the table has certain counts. This results in a completely new set of strategies, which must also be completely memorized just like the book. Also, there are bet spreads that must be followed. And these things must be followed perfectly with zero mistakes. Make one mistake and you lose your advantage.
If you believe that you are ready to transition from casual blackjack player to advantage blackjack player, indulge in these training drills. Then go to this website, register as a guest, and read and memorize their materials. Consider this learning the fundamentals of blackjack. If you take these and get anything less than perfect, you are not ready to put any money down on a blackjack table with any expectation of winning. I should know; I am still transitioning.
One difficult lesson that I am learning is that a high true count does not guarantee victory, it just means the chances of winning are greater. For example, if you play blackjack by the book perfectly, your winning rate is a little less than half. If you played 100 or so games of blackjack playing completely by the book and doing nothing else, you’ll see this happen. Counting and the deviations, only raise your winning rate from a little less than half (playing by the book when the count is negative) to two-thirds to three-quarters for any given hand when the count is high and you know exactly what move to make with your hand. This is why you need a seriously high bankroll to be an advantage player; you need to be able to eat many losses, even when the advantage is in your favor and you are betting big.
There exists another technique that falls under the “advantage player” umbrella in blackjack, although it is not as established as card counting. And that is a technique known as shuffle tracking. What would you do in blackjack if you knew every 4th card was the same (or from the same “family” of high, low, or medium cards)? How would this affect your playing strategies. In shuffle tracking, you attempt to see if the cards in a shoe follow a certain pattern and if you can use this pattern to your advantage.
For example, let’s say I know that every 5th card I see at a blackjack table is a low card, 2-6. The dealer is showing a 5, and its time for me to decide what to do. The shoe is on that 5th card. I know it will not break me, and will give me a stronger hand. Now nothing in the book nor in the deviations to the book tells any player to hit or double a hard 14 against the dealer 5. But because I know exactly what that next card is going to be, I’ll double. If you see a very predictable pattern with cards being dealt in blackjack (and I mean REALLY predictable, like the above example, you can also play this way and manipulate certain things.
I will admit that shuffle tracking is not nearly as reliable as the other advantage playing techniques in blackjack. But it is still worth considering.
Because of these advantage playing techniques, blackjack certainly is a beatable game. Yes it does take lots of practice and memorization, but it can be done. By the end of this year I should be able to make roughly $100-$200 per session in blackjack if I am perfect in advantage playing and have an iron discipline.