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Anecdotal stories can help you remember what you’re supposed to do in the casino, but they are not a good basis for what you actually should do.

This past week, I had the opportunity to sit down and play some blackjack at the Suncoast Casino. My son was in town and he likes the tables more than video poker. I’m not really sure why I don’t play blackjack much anymore.

I know the game as well as anybody, and I play it as well as I play video poker (maybe better!). I think it is probably more about me finding video poker more exciting (i.e. more volatile) and that gives a greater thrill while playing.

We probably only played for an hour and it is rare to amass so many stories to tell from just an hour of play. All but one reinforced the reason why it is important to know what you are doing while playing. I’ll start with that one, which simply showed that sometimes it pays to be lucky.

It was the first time I had ever seen this particular thing occur. At the Suncoast, the cards are dealt face down. As a result, no one knows exactly what the player is doing and thus he doesn’t get any guidance from the dealer or table.

I don’t remember the exact card the dealer was showing, but it was not a bust card. The player took a hit and drew a 6. It was then not much of a surprise when he drew another card. This time a face card.

I figured he busted (most likely, but not necessarily), but he tucked his cards under. A few moments later, the dealer revealed his cards and he had an Ace and 4 in his hand. I looked at the player and said, “You realize you hit a 21, don’t you.” 

A little flustered, he looked at his cards and realized he had. He said something about looking at his initial hand and thinking he had a 5 and when the 6 game, his mind just said 11. He wound up winning the hand, but how easily he could’ve thrown away the hand if the second draw card was a 3 or 4 and then he busted. When playing blackjack, it helps to be able to count (accurately) to 21.

Next up, came three relatively young guys (20’s?) who were sitting at our table. We chatted with them a bit. Apparently, they had just moved to town and were definitely enjoying going to the casinos and playing blackjack, including their lunch hours. By itself, this may not be a problem. But, they mentioned they had each lost a few hundred dollars the prior night.

For the most part, they were playing $5 and $10 on the base game and a buck or two on the sidebet (Pair Square). Sidebets are usually not good for the bankroll. They were okay players but clearly not totally versed on the strategy. But, it takes a lot of bad luck to lose $400 on $5 blackjack in a single night!

Then I learned how they did it. After wagering $5 or $10 on most hands, one of the guys went “all in” and put about $50-$100 up. He was dealt a 13 vs. an 8 and promptly hit (good move) and got a 6. Unfortunately, the dealer wound up with a 4-card 21.

As someone who keeps a close eye on the cards (we were playing double deck), I can say the cards were not necessarily in the player’s favor at that point. His decision to wager the rest of his bankroll was based on a hunch, not on counting. He did everything right on the hand, but that doesn’t guarantee winning.

At that moment, the payback was not likely on his side and once you lose your bankroll, there’s no returning – unless you go to the ATM, which we would find out later they did and were going back for more.

About 5 minutes after this hand, another of the guys did the same thing and wound up with the exact same result. Dealer hit to a 4-card 21 and his bankroll was gone.

Bankroll management is a key component of proper strategy. If you’re going increase your wager tenfold, you better be counting cards at least a little.

In a very rare occurrence for me, I was actually doing quite well while all this carnage was going on around me. The dealer was hitting 21s every which way and not busting all that often. Fortunate for me, I wound up with a blackjack on one of these hands and it seemed like I got garbage on the hands she was making a spectacular 21 on, so it didn’t really bother me much.

Then, of course, it was my turn. I got one of those defining hands. I was up about $30 and I’m dealt a pair of 3’s looking into a 6. In my estimation, the deck was fairly neutral at that point and maybe slightly leaning in my favor. But, she had just hit into a bunch of 21s. The math is my guide, so I split the 3’s. Naturally, I got another 3. I now have three hands up there.

I was right about the deck being full of big cards. I get a 9 on the first 3. Stick. I get an 8 on the 2nd 3. Yep, I double down. The double down card is dealt face down. I get a face card on the last 3. I now have a 12, a 13 and an 11 with one card. I really need her to bust. She turns over a 7 and I’m about ready to bang my head against the table. Then she turns over a 3 for 16. Lastly, she turns over that big face card.

I don’t have to worry about what my double down card is, which turned out to be a 2. I had a 12 and two 13’s and won every hand.

Despite what she had done on the previous hands, I followed what the strategy tells me to do. What happened the last hand does not impact the next hand. Follow the math on the strategy. It will be right more often than wrong.

Shortly after this hand, my son and I decided to play one more “shoe.” I was up about $50, the dealer was still pretty hot, so I told him I might not even go through the entire shoe. On the first hand, I’m dealt garbage against a 5. The relatively new guy at the third base spot is dealt a beautiful 20. A near sure winner. Until he decides to split the 10’s.

I have to admit I haven’t seen someone do this in a long time. What hand is he hoping for? I assume if he’s dealt another 10, he’ll just split again? Instead he’s dealt two little cards and his 20 is now two really bad hands. The dealer goes on to not bust and instead of winning $10, he loses $20.

I know his play doesn’t impact how I’ll do, but I can’t sit there and watch a guy do this. I get up to leave in disbelief. My son plays one more hand and loses and he gets up as well. The lesson on this one is easy – don’t split 10’s! Don’t turn a near sure winner into two so-so at best hands. I strongly suggest if you’re going to play a lot of blackjack that you go find a good book about blackjack strategy.

Buy his book now!

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is Email: [email protected].

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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