Why is it that most blackjack players lose at a casino game that is beatable? It’s because they often make some or all of the following common mistakes.
MISTAKE 1: NOT CHECKING THE PLAYING RULES
Most players just plop themselves down at the first open blackjack seat that they spot. That is often a big mistake because not all blackjack games are created equal. Some games have a good mix of player-favorable rules, like the dealer stands on soft 17, and you can double down after pair splitting, while others have terrible rules, like a player blackjack pays 6-5, or doubling is restricted to 10 or 11 only.
A casino manager isn’t going to point you to his more player-favorable games. Nope, that’s your responsibility. Therefore, it behooves a player to check the rules before sitting down to play. Is the dealer going to pay you 3-2 on a blackjack? Does the dealer stand or hit on soft 17? Can you double down after pair splitting? Is surrender offered? Playing at a table with horrible rules can doom a player.
MISTAKE 2: NOT USING BASIC STRATEGY
Playing blackjack is not a guessing game, where sometimes you hit your 16 against a dealer’s 10 upcard, and for whatever reason, other times you stand. The mathematically correct way to play every hand has been determined by brilliant mathematicians and this strategy is known as the basic playing strategy. The latter is available in books and on the Internet (including my Ultimate Guide to Blackjack). The strategy is shown in tables and charts and it tells you the right way to play every hand. So if you hold a 9-9 and the dealer’s upcard is a 9, there is one and only one correct way to play this hand. It doesn’t matter if you are playing in a casino in Las Vegas, the Midwest, Biloxi, or Atlantic City, or whether you just lost or won the last five hands, or whether you have been winning or losing money, or whether your gut is telling you to stand, the correct play is to split. You don’t split sometimes, and stand other times. You always split. You must play like a robot, and always make the correct basic strategy play regardless of everything else. If you can’t or won’t accept this, then you should play a different game because you will never be successful at blackjack.
MISTAKE 3: TRYING TO BEAT THE HOUSE WITH A BETTING PROGRESSION
It seems players have a fascination with betting progressions, where you bet more or less based on the results of previous hands, because they mistakenly believe they can win with them. Well they can’t and they won’t. You are fighting a losing battle if you use a betting progression for one simple reason. In the history of blackjack, there has never been any mathematical study that proves your chances of winning the next hand will improve based on the results (win or lose) of the previous hands. Betting progressions are not the magic bullet that will help you win at blackjack. And yes, in the short run when you get to make some adrenaline-pumping big bets, according to whatever progression you are using, they can be fun to use but in the long run, guess what? The house edge against you won’t change one iota. And what’s worse is you will lose more money using a betting progression in the long haul compared to just betting the same amount on every hand because with a betting progression you will be exposing a greater amount of your bankroll to the house edge, so the more money you bet, the more money you stand to lose. Nope, betting progressions don’t work in the long run so forget about it.
MISTAKE 4: INCREASING YOUR BET BECAUSE YOU ARE DUE TO WIN
Most blackjack players mistakenly believe that blackjack is close to a 50-50 proposition so if they lose several hands in a row, they reason the odds must be better for them to win the next hand so they make a bigger bet. Remember what I said earlier about past results not affecting future results in blackjack? This holds true even after you’ve had a bad run of losing several consecutive hands. Your chance of winning the next hand in blackjack is about 48% (excluding ties), regardless of what happened in previous hands. The only time you should bet more in blackjack is when you know you have the best of it (i.e., by card counting - check your skills with the card counting trainer) and not when you think that you are “due to win.”
MISTAKE 5: PLAYING ON A BLACKJACK TABLE THAT USES A CONTINUOUS SHUFFLING MACHINE (CSM)
A CSM is an automatic shuffling device that also dispenses the cards to the dealer to deal to players. Many casinos nowadays use CSMs on their tables because it speeds up the game and it also discourages card counters. A CSM usually contains four or five decks of cards, and after every round, the dealer places the discards back into the CSM where the cards are randomly shuffled. Because a live blackjack dealer never stops dealing to manually shuffle the cards, she can deal more hands per hour to players. This exposes more of a player’s bankroll to the house edge, resulting in an increase in a player’s theoretical hourly loss. Average players need to slow down their play, which they can do by playing on a table where the dealer hand shuffles the cards, rather than on one that uses a CSM.
MISTAKE 6: PLAYING 6-5 GAMES
I casually mentioned this in Mistake #1 but because 6-5 blackjack games are proliferating it bears repeating. When a casino pays 6-5 (or 7-6, or worse, even money) for a blackjack, that’s a horrible game. In a single-deck game, the house edge zooms to 1.39%; if blackjack pays only even money, the house edge increases even more to 2.3%. It’s not only single-deck games that have 6-5 payoffs. Nowadays, you’ll find 6-5 payoffs on double- and multi-deck games. Be especially vigilant about blackjack games in so-called party pits, where blackjack payoffs are usually 6-5 or even money. You’ll pay big time for the eye-candy in party pits. Bottom line: Don’t make the mistake of playing a 6-5 blackjack game. Check the rules posted on the table or ask the dealer. If the game doesn’t pay 3-2 for a blackjack, walk away (better yet, run).
MISTAKE 7: ALWAYS MAKING THE INSURANCE BET
I covered the insurance bet in Chapter 2.6 but it bears repeating that this bet is an unprofitable bet for basic strategy players. Casinos have fooled players into believing this is a good bet because it “insures” or “protects” their main bet from losing against a dealer’s blackjack. This is far from the truth because the insurance bet neither increases nor decreases your chance of winning the original bet. Plain and simple, the insurance bet is nothing more than a side bet on whether or not the dealer has a ten in the hole (i.e., her downcard) and, consequently, a blackjack. Without any information on the composition of the cards in the deck, you have no earthly idea if the dealer’s downcard is a ten, which is why insurance should never be taken by basic strategy players. Note: Card counters, on the other hand, have information on the composition of the deck; therefore, insurance is a profitable bet for them. I’ll cover this in Chapter 10.
MISTAKE 8: PLAYING TIRED OR INEBRIATED
Have you even seen a bleary-eyed or inebriated blackjack player winning? Neither have I. Yes, I know alcoholic drinks are free when you play, and after a long trip, you can’t wait to get on the blackjack tables. However, you must have a clear head when you play blackjack because you have to use your brain to make playing decisions. Drinking too much alcohol or playing when tired will just cloud your thinking process, leading to playing mistakes. Play first, drink later: and only play blackjack when you are well rested.