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Myths of blackjack

Dec 5, 2000 6:51 AM

Sports and gambling are filled with myths and superstitions. Many of us follow them to a "T." Problem is, some of them aren’t true or simply aren’t based in fact.

In baseball, for example, a batter on a hitting streak won’t change or wash his socks for weeks on end to avoid jinxing himself. It may not make his teammates in the clubhouse happy, but they don’t want him to get cold, either, so the ball club endures the growing smell.

In this vein, a writer asks to clarify this problem with his favorite table game.

Question: What are some myths about blackjack?

Guru: Many preconceived notions are not derived from fact, especially after computer analysis is used to determine true odds. However, players still double down when they should (or shouldn’t); hit when should stay pat; or the worst play of all, asking for insurance (in any circumstance).

However, the ultimate in blackjack basics is often forgotten in the midst of the action: the object of the game.

Players, especially first-timers, believe you should try to get as close to 21 as possible ("without going over," as they would say on TV’s The Price is Right!).

Although basic, you’d be surprised how many people don’t understand this: the object of the game is to beat the dealer. This means you should often stand and allow the dealer to go bust or draw a card to go over the magical 21 to win.

In sports, you could call this a "back-door" cover, but who really cares what it’s called. A win is a win, so collect your money and deal another hand.

Another myth occurs when one of the players at your table doesn’t play "basic strategy" and hits on "weird numbers" like 16 or 17, no matter what the dealer’s up card shows.

"Oh, no. You’re going to take my card," is often heard, especially from the last players (often called "third base"), who want to see as many cards as possible to help influence whether they hit or stand. But the math doesn’t bear this out, especially in these days of multiple decks. If that silly player draws "your" card, the odds of your winning are not diminished. This is even true at a single-deck game, although the odds will change and make the playing decision slightly weaker.

It’s similar to a roulette wheel, where probability might change, but the odds never do.

If you’re still unsure, try finding a table at a half-empty casino and play one-on-one with the dealer. Mathematically, it should make no difference, but at least this way you have no one to blame except yourself should you lose.

It is also believed you can’t count cards with more than two decks. However, there really isn’t that much of a difference, except that you need to count more cards and maybe convert to a True Count. Again, odds are odds, ratios are ratios, so simply adjust your betting pattern.

Conversely, there’s no such thing as a hot dealer. Winning streaks and losing streaks occur randomly, just like in any other table game. The cycles for winning and losing can change in a moment’s notice. As long as you’re not giving your money away (always hitting too many times and busting), good money management and basic strategy should keep you alive and even come out ahead many times.

There are numerous books available on basic strategy and betting skills. Find one at your level of expertise. You’ll quickly gain more success at the tables.