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Want to Become a Better Blackjack Player?

8 May 2004

By John G. Brokopp

Live poker rooms and video poker not withstanding, blackjack is the only casino game where skillful play counts. With this in mind, it makes absolutely no sense to make a "crap shoot" out of it. If you're going to play blackjack, play correctly. The more you know, the better your chances will be of tipping the advantage scale closer in your favor.

The only reason blackjack is still found in casinos around the country is because a large percentage of people who play don't take the time to learn all they can about the game. They are the players upon which casino blackjack thrives.

Learning and memorizing basic strategy is the first step. If you master it, you'll already have an edge over most players. But it doesn't stop there. If you want to continue your blackjack education and truly take advantage of the game, you must ascend to the next level: Keeping some form of mental track of the cards.

The odds are continually fluctuating during a game of blackjack. Basic strategy does not take this into account. There can be times during the course of a "shoe" when the house enjoys a fatter edge than the norm. On the contrary, there are also occasions when the players as a collective group are in a superior position.

Knowing when to capitalize on those situations by increasing your wager when it's a "players" game or decreasing your wager when it's a "house" game can elevate you to a higher plateau of blackjack play and make you a more successful player over the long run.

Keeping track of the cards can be mentally taxing. The minute percentage of master players who take it to the max possess brilliant mathematical minds and superb powers of concentration. Not everybody (including yours truly) can do it. But there "shortcuts" which can help you become a more skilled player.

Taking a shortcut means you can no longer be a passive player. You'll have to observe to a certain degree and divide your attention between your own hand and the hands of all the other players who are at the table with you.

First, let's establish some foundation. The most powerful blackjack cards for players are the 10-value cards (Kings, Queens, Jacks and Tens) and the Aces. There are 20 such cards in a 52-card deck. Collectively, they constitute 38 percent of the cards. Without them, a two-card "Twenty-One" (blackjack) is impossible. Shooting for that 3 to 2 payoff on your bet is a huge advantage.

Since house rules are inflexible and dealers must stand on 17, 10-value cards can be the anchor for "push" hands of 17 and winning hands of 18, 19 and 20. They also can make or break the opportunity players enjoy to split hands and double down.

On the other hand, the most powerful cards for the dealer are the fours, fives and sixes. There are 12 such cards in a 52-card deck. Collectively they constitute 23 percent of the cards. They allow dealers to draw to strong hands. Because house rules require dealers to "hit" 16, a draw of four or five can be devastating for players. It's a mathematical fact that the fives are THE most powerful cards for the dealer.

It is upon this foundation that we'll build our strategy to become better blackjack players. Knowing during the middle game of a shoe when there are an abundance of 10-vale cards remaining or an abundance of fours, fives and sixes can give you a playing advantage few people at your table will be aware of.

Next week I'll outline the strategy as it can apply to the six-deck and eight-deck games that are played at casinos in the Chicago area. I think you'll be surprised to learn how simple and easy to use it is.

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

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