Tuesday, December 27, 2016

There's No Such Thing as a Sure Thing

By Carl Van Eton

Image courtesy of Flickr.com
Casino players the world over are always looking for "The Sure Thing."  That is, a wager or betting system that will guarantee that they and not the house come out ahead of the game.  The problem is that while there are ways to gain the upper hand over the house in blackjack by counting cards, most players don't seem to want to bother taking the time to master the art.  

Who can blame them.  Card counting takes weeks or months of dedicated practice, practice, practice, just to be able to sit down at a table without getting blown away by the dealer.  Any of you who have tried to count cards in the distraction-rich environment of a casino, know that this is no simple task.  Not only are you required to count up to 8 decks of cards, you are required to make strategy and wagering decisions all in the time it takes the dealer to put 'em down and pick 'em up.

Even players who have successfully mastered card counting realize that they have a slim one percent advantage over the house based upon perfect play.  Make a couple of playing errors per hour and the edge is right back where it started, with the house.  Playing with 99.5% accuracy doesn't mean that you are going to win every time you play either.  All that it means is that you will prevail in the long run, provided that your playing ability and your bankroll don't run out.  So don't think about the movies where card counters can win 6-figures in short order. Think of winning hundreds of dollars per session, not hundreds of thousands. Still, it beats losing that much or more, doesn't it.


Players seem to love progression systems.  Progression players have been around since gambling was invented.  Theoretically, there are progression systems where literally can not lose...provided that you as a player have an unlimited source of money and the house will permit an unlimited maximum wager. All you have to do is double your wager after every loss until you win just once.  

Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
Anyone who has ever played in a casino knows that that's why the casinos set betting limits on their tables.  Even in Caesar's Palace, where the betting limit on their $5 tables is an astounding $5,000.00, sooner or later you are bound to max out.

Betting $5 on your first bet, you would be able to make 9 wagers as follows before you exceeded the table max: $10, $20, $40, $80, $160, $320, $640, $1,280, $2,560. The next wager would have to be $5,120, which is $120 over the limit.  Even if the pit boss let you get away with a tenth double, you would be risking $10,235.00 just to win $5.  Besides, if you think it's impossible to lose 11 hands in a row, you and your money will soon be parted.

Now you know why pit bosses love progression players.

That brings me to the last of the wagers many players believe is a sure thing, insuring a blackjack.  You know the drill.  You get an ace and a face card and the dealer is showing an ace.  What does the dealer say every time?

"You want even money on that?"

Every dealer in every casino has been trained to try and convince you that insuring a blackjack is a sure thing.  This tactic has proven so prevalent that I have known dealers themselves to insure their blackjacks when they play.  

What they don't understand is that by insuring blackjack, the only sure thing that players accomplish is to throw away their money.  Sounds contradictory, doesn't it.  Allow me to explain:

Image courtesy of BigGameBlackjack.com
*If you insure your blackjack and the dealer does not have a ten in the hole, you get paid even money on your hand. 

*If you don't insure your blackjack and the dealer does not have a ten in the hole, you get paid 3 to 2 on your hand.

The question you should be asking yourself is how likely is the dealer to have a ten in the hole, because that is the only time you get paid for taking insurance, which is in essence a side bet.

Let's pretend that your wager is $10. Consider what happens after 1,300 decisions in which you have a blackjack and the dealer shows an ace-up. Over the course of 1,300 hands, the dealer will have a 10 in the hole on average 400 times and he or she won't have a ten in the hole on average 900 times, respectively. 

Without insurance, you should push on 400 and win $15 on 900 for a net gain of $13,500. With insurance, you win $10 on all 1,300 for a net gain of $13,000. In other words, by taking "Even Money" by insuring all blackjacks, you will wind up giving away an expected $500 in the course of time.  The bottom line is unless you are a card counter, NEVER insure your hand.


Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
Every game in the house is predicated on the fact that the mathematics favors the house.  For instance in roulette, a straight up wager on a single number pays 35 to 1 if the number is hit.  The problem is that there are 38 numbers on an American roulette wheel, 36 numbers and two house numbers, 0 & 00.  Over the course of time, this mathematical certainty provides the house with a 5.27% advantage over the player.  Since the outcome of one spin has zero effect on subsequent spins, the math of the game will inevitably grind down the player.

Image courtesy of flickr.com
Craps is another excellent example of a random-trials process game.  The odds of rolling a seven on the comeout roll is 1 in 6.  The odds of rolling a second consecutive seven is 1 in 6.  A third straight seven.  You got it, 1 in 6.  Just as with roulette, in craps the house generates its income by paying less than true odds on winning wagers, with one exception:  Odds.  Take odds on your Pass or Don't Pass bet and you will be paid true odds.  The problem is that you are required to make your initial Pass or Don't Pass bet in which the house has a rock solid 1.4% edge.  Sure taking odds reduces the disadvantage on the Pass/Don't Pass by .6%.  However, it doesn't eliminate it.

This brings us back to blackjack.  Unlike Craps, Roulette, Big 6, & the slots, just to name a few random-trials processes games, in the game of blackjack the effect of removal of even one card has a direct effect on what remains to be dealt.  This is in essence the foundation of card counting.  

If the remainder of the shoe has a prevalence of small cards remaining to be played, this favors the house.  If the shoe is rich in big cards, this favors the players.  The problem is that unless you take the time to master a practical card counting system, neither of these factors is of any use to you.  Playing perfect basic strategy only reduces the house edge, it doesn't eliminate it.  Without counting, there is no betting stratagem or lucky rabbit's foot that is going to change that fact.

The bottom line, dear player, is that short of owning a casino, there is no such thing as a sure thing.

Carl Van Eton is a professional blackjack player with more than 20 years of full-time playing experience.  If you want to learn more from the master, check out his website at http://biggameblackjack.com

1 comment: