How to master Blackjack.
May 15, 2004 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I want to learn to master Blackjack. Software or books I should try? Mathematics I should know cold?
posted by namespan to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Blackjack is essentially a simple game, and people have worked out what's called "basic strategy," meaning your action with a given hand and a given dealer up card. I think there are some minor quibbles about particular situations, and of course things can change according to the particular house rules, but here's an example of a basic strategy chart.

Keep in mind that you are pretty much destined to lose at blackjack in the long run, unless you can count cards without getting noticed by the casino. And that's getting harder and harder to do. Basically all you are doing with strategy is minimizing your long-term losses. And, playing perfectly, you can successfully get the house edge down to something like 0.5%, but not down to even. In games where the house is involved, you will lose eventually.

People have written books about blackjack strategy but I can't for the life of me figure out what can be so complicated about this game, as opposed to, say, bridge or poker.
posted by lackutrol at 1:25 PM on May 15, 2004

That depends: do you want to learn basic Blackjack strategy, or counting? It it's the former, memorize a basic strategy chart. (I like this one at The Wizard of Odds.) Basic strategy will give you close to perfectly even house odds. If you're really looking to yard every cent out of a basic strategy, there are little things you can change depending on the table rules. I like the basic Hoyle Casino software for practicing blackjack.

I don't have any experience counting cards, but from what I understand leaning how to count is relatively easy -- it's not getting caught at it that's hard. I think academic Stanford Wong is considered the major authority on card counting, so you may want to pick up one of his books. Finally, for a fun insider look at counting, try Bringing Down the House : The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, which is excerpted here.
posted by jess at 1:33 PM on May 15, 2004

Response by poster: do you want to learn basic Blackjack strategy, or counting?

Yes. I've actually skimmed Bringing Down the House, and while I have no desire whatsoever to really mess with the Casinos in the way/on the scale those guys did, I am looking for a game I can make some good winnings at when I find myself visiting. I'm also interested in using it as a task to sharpen my math/probability skills just a bit on.
posted by namespan at 1:52 PM on May 15, 2004

Don't bother with counting. Casinos have their dealers reshuffle after every hand if using a single deck, or halfway through when using a 6-deck shoe.

The strategy is so analyzed that virtually everyone gives the same table.

I consider blackjack a social game. I bet the minimum, drink as much as the house will comp, and enjoy the company of my fellow players.
posted by mischief at 1:57 PM on May 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

Go to a bookstore or library and find a copy of Dan Savage's book Skipping Towards Gomorrah, then read his chapter on "Greed." To explore this vice, Dan goes to a casino and blays blackjack (badly), then finds a few old blackjack dealers and has them teach him how to play. The advice in the book is really, really great, not just strategy for an individual game but towards blackjack (and gambling) in general. It doesn't go into the minute details of probability, etc., that other blackjack books do, but if you're interested in an overall approach to the game there's some great advice there. (There are also some recommendations for other in-depth books there, as well.)

You could probably read the chapter in the bookstore without buying the book, but the rest of the book is so good you'll probably want to own it, anyway.
posted by arco at 1:59 PM on May 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

Ok I totally got into this for awhile, but it's too hard to make money off of it. Here's what I went through:

Kuro5hin's: A Casino Odyssey is really a good story about how to play blackjack and win. It's basically a full time job, a lot of work, a lot of study, and not fun at all.

Then I told my friend who's a math whiz and we decided to see what we can do. I drilled him again and again on my Palm Pilot's software (don't remember the name/don't have the Palm anymore) and he got the basic strategy down. He actually won some and lost some but about broke even. Basic strategy is really easy to get down (at least for him I didn't try). As long as you don't get cocky and don't fall into the gambler's fallacy (I haven't had a good hand in so long it's gotta come in soon).

If you want to count cards, there's a bunch of methods in various Blackjack books. For the life of me I can't remember which was best. Start out with an easy one, do drill after drill. You won't even realize you're counting cards. It is just basic addition/subtraction after all. The only problem is the cards come so fast. The better (ie, harder to get down) strategies are better but are only marginally so. You have to literally play all night to see a difference. The main trick to throw off the house to counting is to bet against the count. Fairly simple, but hard to bet against something you know won't win anything. Your betting has to look as random as possible.

Even so, we won nothing but self-satisfaction and a near free trip to an 18 and over indian casino.

Do as mischief says. Do well enough so that your trip to the casino justifies itself. Don't try to make a living out of it or you end up like the K5 people, vagabonds vanguished from nearly every American casino.

I recommend poker if you want to win money. The house just gets a cut so they don't care what happens after that. Of course the chance of you getting screwed by a card shark or a beginner is very high.
posted by geoff. at 2:13 PM on May 15, 2004

Response by poster: Poker seems so much more complex... but if I were looking into it, how would I do that?
posted by namespan at 12:09 PM on May 16, 2004

For poker, offers free tables and practice tournaments against other live players. The conditions are a bit unrealistic because the bluffing is ubiquitous, but you will learn the basics.
posted by mischief at 1:31 PM on May 16, 2004

If you have a palm, you should get one of those free BS training programs and play it when you are waiting for things, like busses and trains. You'll learn BS really fast that way. There aren't really any math skills to sharpen in blackjack, just a lot of memorizing and, optionally, counting.

It's worth pointing out that there are casinos which invite counters by not reshuffling. The reason being that if a counter makes something like one error per hour of play, he loses his advantage totally.
posted by jeb at 3:20 PM on May 16, 2004

I learned the basic routine by playing this. It has a tutorial mode that teaches you, and once you've had enough of that you can just play. There's quite a bit to know about the actual implementation of the blackjack game at any given table, though. For example, how many decks is the game using, and how often are they shuffled? For me, basic blackjack math is easy. Finding a $2 minimum bet single deck game somewhere that makes better-than-crap gin and tonics, *that's* hard.

Avery Cadoza is also good for craps and other games that I never knew well enough to feel comfortable trying at a real Casino. Windows only, though.
posted by scarabic at 6:40 PM on May 16, 2004

Namespan, you can learn the basic gist of poker (if you don't know that already) at a bunch of sites, just google away. If you're interested in learning the basics of good play, I'd recommend Winning Low-Limit Hold 'Em by Lee Jones. He explains a good, if conservative, strategy for the most commonly spread poker variety.

The reason it's possible to be at least a decent, maybe even profitable, player is that there are so many idiots out there who think they can be great players by watching the stars on all the recent tv shows about poker. But the thing is that they usually take all the wrong cues from these shows, by doing a lot of bluffing, for example. When you do some studying, games with these people are very beatable (again, and as always, in the long run).
posted by lackutrol at 9:02 AM on May 17, 2004

This is an online blackjack game that will teach you as you play. Really fun, too.
posted by trillion at 9:03 AM on May 17, 2004 [1 favorite]

I should also say that I think you should just play the game you enjoy; most people aren't going to make much at any game. The reason I like poker is the same reason it's beatable--it's a strategy game played against other people, not (only) a luck game played against the odds.
posted by lackutrol at 9:13 AM on May 17, 2004

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