Blackjack Strategies

Winning at Blackjack: What strategies to adopt?

Blackjack has emerged as one of the most popular online games in recent times. The simplicity of the game along with the easy to follow rules have endeared this game to many and made it one of the most frequently played games in online and most visited in virtual casinos. The growth of Blackjack to its present status has been based on the fact that people playing the game have realized that it is exceptionally easy to win plenty of money provided they are able to follow some basic strategy in knowing when to continue playing and when to call the cards.

Winning in Blackjack is arriving at the magic number of 21 before the dealer does with the minimum number of card draws. Because the goal is a fixed one, many people have often felt that the house has held the advantage as in card games like baccarat. Other reasons for the assumption that the house held the greater chance of winning was based on the rules that

  1. The player had to act first.
  2. All busts (hands totaling over twenty-one) were losers no matter what the dealer later drew.

Most blackjack players felt that these two rules had a telling effect on the victor of a round. This conventional line of thought underwent a change in 1956 with the publication of an analytical paper on blackjack strategy in 1956. This paper written by Baldwin, Cantey, Maisel, and McDermott was published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association and set the ball rolling for the subsequent manuals on blackjack strategy by the same group of statistical analysts. It was these papers that showed clearly that blackjack was a “winnable game” and with a slight tweaking in the strategy it was possible to win consistently in what was earlier perceived as a game of pure chance. The 1956 publication laid the foundations for further studies in blackjack techniques. Edward O. Thorp, a scientist at the MIT started analyzing the work of Baldwin and the others and explored the new avenues that the papers opened out. He paid special attention to aspects hitherto not focused upon – the composition of the deck of cards and the fact that some deck compositions favored the player while a few others favored the house. In 1962, Thorp published his now famous book, “Beat the Dealer” which contained the secret behind the greater chances of success in the game of blackjack. It was his work that brought to light that unlike dice, roulette wheels, and slot machines, decks of cards have “memory.” It is this memory that makes blackjack a winnable game.

To help us understand the concept better, he gives an example of the game of roulette. You are sitting at the Roulette table and the dealer throws the ball and it comes to rest on the number 9. Now, when he throws the ball again for the next round, what are the odds the ball lands on 9 again? Assuming the wheel is not rigged or the dealer is not trained to “fix” the outcome, the odds of the ball landing on 9 again are exactly the same! Let’s take it a step further. Assume that the ball does indeed land on 9 again – twice more. Now the ball has landed on the 9 three times in a row! What are the odds this happens a fourth time? Exactly the same! This is because there is no definable statistical reason for the ball to not land on 9. Blackjack however, is vastly different. In a game of blackjack, if the dealer were to deal a 9 card to every player, then the chances of getting another 9 card in the second round get significantly reduced. If the dealer were using a 6 set deck then the odds would have reduced by a whopping 50% and it is these odds that make Blackjack an immensely winnable game.

Balancing the Odds

It is a fact that every time that a player sits to play Blackjack, the primary advantage lies with the house i.e. the chances of player attaining the magic number 21 in the first round of dealing are very slim indeed. It is therefore necessary to reduce or balance that advantage that the house has by adopting some sort of strategy. Balancing the odds is the primary step to be taken before setting out to beat the odds and becoming an expert blackjack player.

When Baldwin and company conducted their analysis of Blackjack possibilities and came up with manuals which elaborated on the strategies required to win at the tables, they did so without any of the high tech computing facilities that scientists of the later days have. The strategies they developed without any computers are remarkably close to what Thorp developed with the help of highly advanced computing machines. Thorp worked out his strategies based on the 1956 studies and compiled data by using computers that were programmed to play millions of combinations of Blackjack hands. Based on these simulations he was able to analyze which hands would give victory to the player and which hands would not. This was named the “Monte Carlo” simulation.


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