The hazy area where negative expectation blends into positive expectation is called the “fuzz.” People who play blackjack without
using basic strategy
are nowhere near the fuzz.Basil Nestor is the author of the new Playboy Complete Guide to Casino Gambling. This wonderful book teaches players how to avoid sucker bets and win more when playing gambling games. He is also the author of The Smarter Bet Guide series for video poker, slots, craps, and many other books about gambling. Basil's website is www.smarterbet.com
They usually lose somewhere between 2 percent and 5 percent of all the money that they bet over time (depending on how much a player deviates from optimal choices). And this is cumulative, so it’s at least 2 percent plus 2 percent and so on until all of the player’s money is gone.
In contrast, basic strategy lowers the house edge
usually to somewhere less than 0.5 percent (well into the fuzz), and it occasionally pushes the edge into the positive range depending on the game’s exact combination of rules. But you have to use the entire
strategy to get the full benefit. Here are some examples.
Third-base players are sometimes harassed by other players for not correctly playing basic strategy. Drawing a 10 that would otherwise bust the dealer is particularly unpopular. If you don’t want the attention, don’t play third base.
The Importance of Doubling and Splitting
Some people try to “save money” by doubling only on 11 or 10 and splitting only aces, But in fact, this variance from strategy actually costs money. That’s because all doubling situations are positive-expectation wagers
. You could earn a living making double-down bets
if blackjack rules
allowed you to wager them exclusively.
Ditto for splitting, though splitting also includes the factor of losing less on hands like 8,8 (16 being a consistent loser). Splitting 8,8
gives you a good chance to catch a 10, 9, or ace to make a pat hand, and you might catch a 2 or 3 for a double-down opportunity.
Remember, a positive-expectation game absolutely requires doubling and splitting in all appropriate situations.
Hitting Stiff Hands
Busting with a stiff hand is a drag, especially when the dealer’s hand turns out to be stiff, too. But your overall chance of losing is much greater when you stand on stiffs against 7 through ace.
This is a situation of losing less rather than winning more because, frankly, stiff hands against strong cards are consistent money-losers. So you’re simply trying to squeeze the most out of a bad situation.
Conversely, the situation isn’t so bad that you should surrender a hand unless basic strategy actually indicates a surrender. Consider this: surrender costs two full bets after four hands (one-half bet per surrender). A stiff hand would have to lose three times out of four to equal that cost (1 win – 3 losses = -2). Most stiff hands have a greater value than that.
So you should surrender only hands that total 15 and 16, and only in specific circumstances. A hand of 15 should be surrendered against 10, and 16 should be surrendered against 9, 10, or ace.
The Insurance Gamble
Insurance is a bad bet. The probability of finding a 10 under the dealer’s ace is less than 1 in 3 (about 31 percent), but insurance pays only 2 to 1. It works out to a house edge of about 7 percent. That’s worse than roulette
and about the same as slot machines
Nevertheless, some people insure their naturals when the dealer is showing an ace because it guarantees a 1:1 payout. Insurance in this situation is still a bad bet, but here how the wager works:
- If the player insures and the dealer has a natural, the two naturals push and insurance wins. 0 + 1 = 1
- If the dealer doesn’t have a natural, the player’s natural wins and the insurance loses. 1.5 – 0.5 = 1
So either way the player receives the same amount of money. It sounds nifty, but the payout on a natural cannot “heal” the bad bet on insurance. They’re still two separate bets. Over time, when the wins and pushes are combined, you’ll earn nearly 4 percent more on naturals when you don’t insure.
There are only two situations when insurance is correct. The first occurs when a player is counting cards
, and he knows that the deck contains enough tens to raise the probability of a dealer natural above 33.3 percent.
The second situation is entirely personal, but it’s one of the few instances when deviating from basic strategy
makes sense. If you have an enormous bet on the table, and you would be sorely disappointed if the hand resulted in a push (the kind of disappointment that might ruin your evening), then go ahead and insure. It’s not good math, but it might be correct from a psychological point of view. Remember, you do want to have fun.