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New Year’s Resolutions in Playing Blackjack

Commit yourself to playing smarter and winning more in 2010

By Henry Tamburin

“Brilliant mathematicians have spent countless hours developing and perfecting the basic playing strategy for blackjack. If you’re not using this strategy when you play (and I mean all of it), it’s no wonder that you are losing.”

So how were your results at the blackjack tables this past year? If you’re like most players, you probably lost a lot more money than you won. But don’t fret, because I’ve got some tips that can turn your game around in 2010.

Stop Playing Games That Pay 6-5 for a Blackjack
Blackjack games that pay 6-5 for an untied blackjack are proliferating everywhere. You’ll find 6-5 payoffs mostly on single-deck games, but some casinos have boldly implemented the dreaded 6-5 on double- and even six-deck games. The house edge on these games is terrible compared to a traditional blackjack game that pays 3-2 for a blackjack. How terrible? The house edge on a single-deck 6-5 game is about 1.4 percent, and for a two- or six-deck game with typical playing rules it’s worse. Stay away from any game that pays 6-5 for a blackjack; instead, play blackjack where the house pays 3-2 and you’ll save a bundle of money.

blackjack games

Stop Using a Convoluted Playing Strategy
In this day and age I’m still shocked to see players guessing when it’s time to play their hands. Listen up: Brilliant mathematicians have spent countless hours developing and perfecting the basic playing strategy. If you’re not using this strategy when you play (and I mean all of it), it’s no wonder that you are losing. You’ll find the basic playing strategy in books and on the Internet (surprise!). And if learning the complete basic playing strategy has been an Achilles heel for you, at least try this: learn the very simple strategy developed by Michael Shackleford (known as the “Wizard of Odds”) that you can learn in minutes…check it out in issue #118 of my Blackjack Insider Newsletter (

Stop Playing Fast
If you are a basic strategy player, slow down your game. Don’t play heads-up against the dealer where you will be getting 200-or-more hands dealt per hour (and allow the house edge to grind down your bankroll that much more quickly). Don’t play on a table that uses a continuous shuffling machine because there is never a pause for a shuffle and, therefore, you’ll be playing about 20 percent more hands per hour. Instead, play fewer hands per hour by playing on crowded tables where you’ll typically be dealt about 60–80 hands per hour. Remember, speed kills players’ bankrolls when they don’t have the edge.

Stop Using Progressive Betting Systems
I wrote an article on the evils of Progressive Betting Systems in the August 2009 issue of Casino Player. Bottom line: No matter how you slice and dice them, progressive betting systems for blackjack don’t work, and in the long run they will cost a player more money (compared to just betting the same minimum amount of money on each hand). For tips on how to bet at blackjack, see my Tip of the Month below.

Stop Taking Even Money
When you get a blackjack and the dealer shows an ace, the dealer will ask you if you’d like to take even money. The majority of blackjack players will take the even money because they figure getting paid even money is a whole lot better than winding up with a push if the dealer has a blackjack. This is another costly mistake because the dealer is more likely not to have the 10 in the hole, in which case you’ll get paid 3-2 for your blackjack. In the long run you’ll wind up with more money in your pocket if you decline the even money.

Don’t Double Down for Less
For some unknown reason I see more and more players doubling down for less than their original bet. This is a big mistake. The reason that you double down in the first place (assuming you are using the basic playing strategy) is that your chances of winning the hand are good. So why limit your winnings by being timid and doubling for less? Yes, sometimes you will lose your double downs, but in the long run you’ll win a lot more money than you will lose, so go with the percentages and always match your initial bet when you double down. For more details on doubling for less, see my article in the November 2008 issue of Casino Player.

Be Careful Playing “Modified” Blackjack Games
Game developers work hard to invent “new” blackjack games or side bets that will catch on with the public. Before you jump in and try a new game or variation, be sure you know beforehand what the house edge is and whether or not you need to modify your playing strategy, which is the case for Spanish 21 and Super Fun 21, two games that are currently being offered in casinos. If you find a new blackjack game or side bet that you’d like to play, check if it’s been analyzed on If it has, you’ll know what the house edge is for the game and whether it’s worthwhile playing, plus you’ll find an optimal playing strategy for this new game on the site.

More Tips
Here are a few more tips to that will help you win more in 2010:

• Use a basic strategy card when you play (playing mistakes are costly)
• Play blackjack games that have more favorable playing rules (like the dealer standing on soft 17 rather than hitting)
• Get rated when you play (the comps you get may cancel your expected playing loss)
• Use match play and other gambling coupons (you always have the edge when you use them)
• Play in blackjack tournaments (where it’s you against other players, rather than you against the house…but learn some tournament strategy first)
• Don’t over-tip your dealer (I didn’t say never tip, just tip judicially for friendly and helpful service)

Think of blackjack as a journey, and that along the way, you’ll have many winning sessions and a fair number of losing sessions. However, if you implement some of the above tips, you’ll be improving your chances of winning more and losing less next year. I guarantee it.

Tamburin’s Tip of the Month
The question I’m frequently asked by recreational players is: “How should I bet at blackjack?” I don’t recommend progressive betting systems because they won’t change a player’s overall expectation, or long-term odds of being ahead. What I do recommend for average players is to learn any number of simple card-counting systems that will tell you when it’s appropriate to change your bet size, such as Speed Count (Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution by Frank Scoblete), Ace/Ten Front Count (Blackjack Bluebook II by Fred Renzey), the Wizard Ace/Five Count (, or the K-O Rookie System (Knock-Out Blackjack by Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs). These simple systems don’t take very long to master by average players and are relatively easy to implement at the tables. And if you are still hesitant to learn them, at least do this: increase your bets only when you’ve seen a disproportionate number of low cards (i.e., 2–6’s) played vs. high cards in the first couple of rounds after the shuffle (and you’re fairly certain that the remaining cards are richer in high cards). Then, and only then, should you bet more. Otherwise, bet the minimum.


Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (, Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (, and host of For a FREE three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to To receive his FREE Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit

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