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Overview of Blackjack
By Mike Van Emmerik
Blackjack is one of the few casino games where the mental skill of the player can be used to directly alter the outcome of the game, sometimes in the player's favour. This possibility is, in the opinion of many, the primary attraction to this game: people like playing a game that is beatable in principle. The fact that 99% of all players do not play with an advantage does not deter the majority from "having a go".
The primary tool available to the blackjack player is that of card counting. Contary to that depicted in the movie "Rain Man", and also contrary to many people's belief, card counting does not require freakish memory capabilities, but actually dedication and practice. Most academically oriented people are capable of counting, and most could not be bothered to learn the skill.
Despite the fact that casinos can bar anyone they want, and occasionally bar people they suspect are card counters, counting is quite legal. In some enlightened parts of the world, such as Atlantic City , it is illegal for casinos to bar people for counting, since it is discriminatory. Shouldn't that be the law everywhere?
A note to casino officials
All the talk about counting here does not imply that I am a successful counter. Many players fancy themselves as "partial" or "gestalt" counters, basing their betting on observation of small cards coming out in one round. The vast majority of such people delude themselves into thinking that they have the edge over the casinos, and lose in the long run. It should be remembered when Thorp's orginal book Beat the dealer came out in the sixties, casinos overreacted and made blackjack rules unattractive. Players stayed away in droves, and when rules were restored, the proliferation of would-be counters only served to increase, not decrease, the casinos profits. One of the main reasons that blackjack is so popular today is that it can be beaten; that only a handful can do it successfully does not matter to the average punter, including me.
This is a variation of normal blackjack, also known as "Zweikartenspiel" (see Epstein, p249), where both the dealer's cards are exposed before the player makes a decision. This is of course a tremendous advantage, and is balanced by rules such as naturals pay even money, and the dealer wins all pushes (ties). The correct basic strategy for this game is much different to that of normal blackjack, and is quite different from what most people expect. Thus, most players do very badly at it and its a great game for the casino. However, this game is apparently more suited to counting than regular blackjack, so it may be possible to overcome the high basic strategy edge. There are details in Blackjack Secrets.
(Also called multi-action; not the same as double action): this is a special table with three betting circles for each player. The dealer plays the same "hole" card three times, with a different second card each time. Despite appearances, basic strategy for this games is identical to that of normal blackjack. Do not play "more conservatively", as many will tell you to.
Sometimes, you will be restricted to making at least 2 wagers, i.e. make use of 2 or 3 of the betting circles (otherwise, it is the same as an ordinary blackjack table). All casinos have to pay a royalty to the Four Queens casino in Las Vegas for the use of the table, so they don't want to see it used as an ordinary table.
Some tables may offer a side bet, where you bet whether the total of your first two cards will be over or under 13 (two separate bets; you bet one or the other). If your total is exactly 13, you lose either bet. Aces count as 1 for this side bet. As with all these side bets, it is a poor bet unless you have more information than what is obvious. In this case, there are certain card counts that can make this bet favourable.
This is another side bet. You are restricted to making one bet of $1, as long as you
also make a regular blackjack bet (the bet is $1 regardless of the size of your blackjack
bet). You are paid various odds, from 3 to 1 for a single seven, to $5000 for 3 suited
sevens. Again, it is possible to overcome the house edge on this bet with a suitable
"Million Dollar Blackjack", Uston K, Gambling Times (Carol Publishing Group), New Jersey 1981. ISBN: 0-89746-068-5. This is my personal favourite; it is full of great stories and good information. Ken was intrumental in winning rights for players in the early days of Atlantic City.
"Blackjack for Profit", Davis D, Jady Davis Games Products, Broadbeach 1990 (there are later versions). ISBN: 0-9589529-2-2 (later versions may differ in the last two digits). This book is readily available in Australia, is economical, and contains the basics of Blackjack counting. His HiLo count is suitable for blackjack played from shoes (4 decks or more). Also has a few good stories. A perfect beginners book.
"Professional Blackjack:, Wong S, Pi Yee Press, La Jolla 199X. ISBN: XXXX. This is the counter's bible. Other books may be more entertaining, or more mathematical rigour, but this one has the facts and data.
"The Theory of Blackjack", Griffin P A, Huntington Press, Las Vegas 1988 (4th or "elephant" edition). ISBN: 0-915141-02-7. Very mathematical; of interest only to serious gamblers. However, if you are a serious and mathematically inclined reader, this book is a must. Very good tables.
"The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic", Epstein R A, NY Academic Press, New York 1977. ISBN: 0-12-240760-1. Recently published in paperback: 2nd edition, 1993, ISBN: 0-12-240761-X. Quite mathematical, but unfortuately it all relates to single deck. Very good for serious gamblers, especially those with access to single deck games.
"Blackjack for Blood", Carlson B, CompuStar Press, Santa Monica 1994. ISBN: 0-9633684-0-0. Fairly complete, good stories, good tables. A good all-rounder. Includes a coupon to obtain for free the "Omega II Blackjack Machine" program, which only runs on Macintosh computers.
"Blackjack Secrets", Wong S, Pi Yee Press, La Jolla 1993. ISBN: 0-935926-20-8. Stanford Wong's books seem to have a lot of overlap; this one seems to contain some of the content of Professional Blackjack, which in turns contains much of Basic Blackjack, all by the same author. Many of the "secrets" pertain to blackjack as it is played in the US, so a lot of its appeal is gone for Australian readers. Even so, I found it interesting reading. Low formula to information ratio, so makes an ideal gift for the family member or friend who doesn't understand the attraction of blackjack.
"Extra Stuff: Gambling Ramblings", Griffin P, Huntington Press, Las Vegas 1991. ISBN: 0-929712-00. Not just blackjack, but all sorts of miscallanea are included here. Great for the mathematician interested in gambling, who has everything else. For example, chapter 7 was inspired by a consulting job with a wealthy Arab oil sheik, who wanted some advice on how best to bet on roulette when the casino paid back half his losses. The sheik bet $10,000 per roll (!) for 100 Arabian nights, so the story goes. To find out why the sheik won almost $88,000 per night, you will have to buy this book.
"A Beginners's Guide to Winning Blackjack", Roberts S, Gambling Times, New Jersey 1984. ISBN: 0-89746-014-6. An average book, but with interesting sections on cheating (by the casino, mostly).
"Blackjack by the Numbers", Parrillo R, Sibylline Books, Bellevue, 1993. ISBN: 0-9631961-4-6. I find it hard to accept the basic assumptions of this book. Not recommended.
Casino", Barstow, F. This book advocates betting progressions and other nonsense,
and backs up the ideas with flawed, simplistic mathematics. Preys on the reader's hunches
and superstitions. Burn it! Strongly not recommended!
Many of the above books are available from the Blackjack Review Network at https://www.BlackjackReview.com.
Last Update: 11/01/98 - No longer updated by original
author. Edited by Michael Dalton.