Basic strategy players and card counters have asked me that question umpteen times over the course of nearly 50 years of playing, teaching, and writing about blackjack. This is what I told them.
BASIC STRATEGY PLAYER
Most basic strategy players believe they play every hand perfectly; however, that is not often the case. Most make mistakes, and what’s sad is they don’t even know it. That’s because a dealer isn’t going to tell a player that he just made a “bad” play. (Most dealers don’t know the basic playing strategy anyway, and even for those that do, most casinos forbid them from coaching a player.) Certainly, the floor supervisor isn’t going to rush to a table to correct a mistake a player just made. In addition, if you are depending on your tablemates to tell you how to play a hand, good luck with that ploy.
When you play blackjack, there is one, and only one, mathematically correct way to play every hand dealt to you. When a player uses intuition, gut feeling, or just plain guessing when deciding how to play a hand, the end result is a greater house edge and increased monetary losses. Therefore, it’s important that you play every hand perfectly, and the only way to know if you are doing this is to test yourself beforehand.
Note: Chapter 3 in my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide contains several tips on how you can learn the basic playing strategy at home and then test yourself to be sure you know the strategy cold. You can also bring a blackjack strategy card with you when you play and refer to it if you are not sure of how to play any blackjack hand. (That will guarantee you won’t make any costly playing mistakes.)
Let’s suppose that you master the basic blackjack strategy and are playing every hand perfectly. Will this guarantee you won’t lose? Nope, and here’s why.
Even though you may be playing perfectly, your results on a session-by-session basis will fluctuate widely from the expected result. In some sessions, you will win, in others you will lose, but the results will always be skewed toward the losing side (because the house has the edge over a basic strategy player). Over time, your losses will equal roughly half a percent times the total amount of your wagers. That, my dear readers, is a mathematical fact about the game of blackjack, and no betting system or other voodoo is going to change it.
Many blackjack players who advance to learn card counting mistakenly believe that they should win every time they play. That just isn’t going to happen.
Here’s an example that often occurred with students who attended and completed my four-week card-counting class. They would contact me several weeks later complaining that they were still “losing.” When I asked how long they’d been playing, the answer was usually “a few sessions.”
Folks, it takes more than a “few sessions” before knowing whether your losses are due to the “variance” in the game, or to mistakes in keeping the count, making the correct size bet, or implementing the correct strategy deviations. This is why I always told my students these five important points during their last class:
- After you complete the final take-home practice exercises, contact me so I can check you out before you head to the casino.
- It takes at least 250 hours of play before knowing whether your “losses” are due to variance or due to making mistakes in your playing or betting strategy.
- You need the bankroll amount (discussed in the class) set aside in a money market (or other) account, specifically to tide you over the short-term variability (meaning the ups and downs in your bankroll).
- The math of blackjack will always work out in the long term if you execute the strategies learned in the course perfectly.
- Your edge is small even playing perfectly, and just a few mistakes can wipe out that edge.
The students who embraced the above five blackjack tips did well with card counting. (I know because many contacted me to let me know how they were doing.) The ones who didn’t pay attention during class invariably were the ones that didn’t bother to be checked out by me. This was a free benefit I offered to all my students who took only about 30 minutes of table play to evaluate their playing 100% accurately, and I gave him or her more practice exercises to do at home followed by another check-out by me.
The only way to know if you are playing perfectly is to test yourself. (Alternatively, if you took a card counting class, ask the instructor to test you.) There are also tutorial software programs that you can purchase that will test your counting skills. In fact, there is a free Interactive Card Counting Trainer that you can use to practice and sharpen your counting skills in my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.
The point is this: When you play blackjack, you have to play like a machine, meaning you must make all (not most) playing decisions accurately, keep the count accurately, and make the correct bets and strategy deviations accurately. If not, you’ll continue to experience losses that exceed the mathematical expectations.