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Five Ways To Get The Edge in Blackjack

Insider tips on how to turn the tables on the casino

by Henry Tamburin

 

When you play in a blackjack tournament, you are competing against other players. By learning some simple tournament playing and betting strategies, you can gain the edge over your opponents.

 

Do you want the edge over the casino when you play blackjack? Actually, that’s a ridiculous question because when you think about it, who wouldn’t want the advantage when he plays blackjack? Getting the edge is not as difficult as you think. In fact, I’m about to show you five ways that you can turn the tables on the casino and gain the edge over them.

At the minimum, you must be playing the basic playing strategy and play only blackjack games that have good rules. If you do this, you will reduce the house edge to 0.5% or less (depending upon the mix of rules and number of decks). Even though using the basic strategy is a great start, your return is still below 100% (it’s 99.5% when the house edge is 0.5%). To gain the edge, you have to get your return over 100%. Here are five ways to do this.

Blackjack board

Learn a Card Counting System

 Now don’t turn me off just because I mentioned the “C” word. What I’m proposing is that you learn any one of four simple counting systems designed for recreational players. They are the Ace/10 Front Count, Speed Count, Ace/Five Count, and the Rookie Knock-Out System.

You’ll be surprised at how simple these systems really are, and how easy they are to use in the casino. Moreover, by learning them and playing them accurately you will be able to boost your return to slightly over 100%. However, keep this in mind: your edge is very small and you won’t win every time you play. In addition, in the short term, your bankroll will fluctuate up and down; therefore, you need to have enough bankroll to prevent going broke when a negative swing occurs.

Here is where you can obtain information about these systems: Ace/10 Front Count (Blackjack Bluebook II by Fred Renzy), Speed Count (Beat Blackjack Now! by Frank Scoblete), Ace/Five Count (Appendix 5 on the blackjack page at www.wizardofodds.com), and K-O Rookie (Knock-Out Blackjack by Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs).

Take Advantage of Casino Comps

 Another way to get your total return over 100% is to get back more in comps than what the casino thinks it will win from you. Here’s how this works.

Most casinos assume that they have a 2% edge over the aggregate of players that play blackjack, meaning that the house stands to win, on average, 2% of all the money that a player wagers. The house will usually return to the player 40% of what it thinks it will win from him or her in comps. Here’s an example.

Say you play three hours of blackjack and your average wager is $15 per hand. Different casinos use different models for estimating the number of hands a player plays per hour for comping purposes. The range is 80-90 hands per hour (on the high side), and 60-70 (on the low side). I’ll take the middle-of-the-road and assume 75 hands per hour. Therefore, you will have wagered $3,375 over the three hours ($15 average bet per hand x 75 hands per hour x 3 hours). The casino estimates that it will win 2% of the $3,375 or $67.50 from you. When you ask for a comp, the floor supervisor will give you a comp worth about 40% of that value, or $27 (for example, it could be a comp for two to the buffet or café). However, because you were playing blackjack skillfully, using the basic strategy, your theoretical loss is not 2%, but rather 0.5%. In addition, by playing at a crowded table you can reduce the number of hands played per hour. You can also slow down your play by taking your time making a playing decision, and taking a few breaks every hour (bathroom, cell phone call, etc.). By doing all this, you can easily reduce the number of hands you play per hour to roughly 50, and your theoretical loss to only about $11 ($15 average bet per hand x 50 hands per hour x 3 hours x 0.5% house edge). Your expected loss by playing this way is only about $11, yet the casino gives you a comp worth almost two-and-a-half times as much ($27). Your net return is a positive $16, meaning your overall return is over 100%.

The comping policies of your local casino may be slightly different from the above example. However, the principle remains the same. You can get a positive overall return by slowing down your play, reducing the house edge to the bare minimum by using the basic playing strategy, and taking advantage of casino comps (you must get a Player’s Card and be rated when you play). For more tips on how to get more comps than you actually deserve, consult the following books: Comp City by Max Rubin, and More Frugal Gambling by Jean Scott.

Use Matchplay Coupons

 Don’t laugh at this technique to gain an edge over the house. I’ve done many “coupon runs” in Las Vegas during my lifetime that netted me a nice profit. It’s actually fun to do, and when you use the coupons, you have the edge over the casino. Here’s how it works.

Suppose you have a $5 Matchplay coupon. You take it to a blackjack table and wager a $5 chip along with the $5 Matchplay coupon (put both of them inside the betting spot). You now have $10 riding on the outcome of the hand. If your hand wins, the casino will pay you two $5 chips (one to match the $5 chip you wagered, and the other to match the $5 Matchplay coupon). Your net win is $10. If the hand loses, you are out only $5 (the $5 chip you wagered and the casino takes the Matchplay coupon). In other words, you risked $5 to win $10. (Note: Because you don’t win 50% of your hands at blackjack, a Matchplay coupon is worth slightly less than half of the face value of the coupon.)

There are other types of gambling coupons where you have the edge when you use them; for example, a coupon that pays you 2 to 1 on your blackjack or one where your first card is a (valuable) Ace. (For more information on gambling coupons, consult More Frugal Gambling by Jean Scott.)

There are several sources where you can get gambling coupons. One is the Member Rewards book that a subscriber to Anthony Curtis’ Las Vegas Advisor newsletter receives (www.lasvegasadvisor.com). Another is the coupons that are included in the 2012 American Casino Guide by Steve Bourie (www.americancasinoguide.com). In addition, check with the hotel that you are staying at to see if they give gambling coupons to their guests (many do in Las Vegas).

Play in Blackjack Tournaments

 When you play in a blackjack tournament, you are competing against other players. By learning some simple tournament playing and betting strategies, you can gain the edge over your opponents.

I can’t go into all the details of tournament skills; however, suffice it to say that if you want to get the upper hand, you have to learn when to increase your bets, depending upon whether you are the leader in chip count and your betting position. Likewise, you have to learn when to deviate from basic strategy, especially on the last hand in a round, to maintain a lead or to catch a leader.

The best all-around books on tournament strategies are the two e-books written by Kenneth Smith (How to Win More Blackjack Tournaments, and How to Win Even More Blackjack Tournaments). You can get more information about these e-books, including sample chapters, by going to www.bjinsider.com/win.

You’ll also find a schedule of blackjack tournaments in casinos across the U.S. in my Blackjack Insider newsletter (www.bjinsider.com) or at www.blackjacktournaments.com.

Get a Rebate on Losses

If you are a high roller, you should have paid attention to what basic strategy player Don Johnson did to three Atlantic City casinos last year (he hammered them for $15 million). Johnson pulled off this feat by negotiating a terrific rebate on his losses with the casinos.

I went into the details of Johnson’s deal with the casinos in two articles I wrote for Casino Player magazine (September and October 2011 issues). Suffice it to say that negotiating a rebate on your losses is a very valid way to get the edge over the casino (assuming you negotiate a good deal as Johnson did).

Tamburin’s Tip of the Month

 Generally, you should always split a pair of 2s when the dealer’s upcard is 2 though 7. However, if the rules do not allow you to pair split after doubling down (no das), the correct basic playing strategy is as follows:

Single deck: split 2s when the dealer’s upcard is 3 through 7.

Double/Six/Eight deck: Split 2s when the dealer’s upcard is 4 though 7.

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Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), the lead instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com), and host of smartgaming.com. For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/freetrial. To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.

 

Five Ways To Get The Edge in Blackjack.

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