There is gambling, and then there is Blackjack

You all kindly ignored my extremely informative post about the study on Australians’ gambling habits the other day, and that’s ok, I promise I won’t take it personally.
Tonight, I went out for the first time in a long while, took the train to the City, and engaged in some gambling. I did ok on the Poker machines, even though I played high risk-high yield, but the thing that won the night was, once again, the Blackjack tables.

Now, for a bit of background info. The Poker machine industry in Australia is heavily regulated, those “Pokies” are now everywhere, have destroyed the ambiente of most of Victoria’s pubs and clubs, and are a major factor for gambling addictions, and the financial and social problems that result from them.
The return on a Poker machine in Victoria is determined by law, and has to be between 85-93%, depending of where you play, it’s a bit better in Casinos, and worse in small pubs and clubs. What this means is that if you play lots of games on the Pokies, statistics and probability will wear you down, and you will lose in the long run. What this also means is that if you play socially once a month or so, you might win, and even win more than lose. That’s where the Pokies get their attractivity from, played occasionally people can, and do, win.
Now to Blackjack. Blackjack is different. It is the only Casino game where the player can have an edge over the house, or at least even odds, if he or she plays correctly. The edge these days is roughly 0.5% max, where the odds when you play for fun are around 92% in favor of the house. 0.5% doesn’t sound like much, but it used to be even bigger, but after Casinos had to come up with measures to counter the increasing number of card-counters, who applied the so-called Basic Strategy plus counted the cards, these days the edge is pretty small. But it’s still an edge. Which means, in the long run, the player who plays correctly, will win. That’s what makes Blackjack unique among Casino games, even in the age of 8 decks, electronic shuffling machines, and 75% penetration.

Blackjack is simple, and it’s fun. 96% of Blackjack players play for the fun of it, for the free drinks, the shows, the ambiente, and not to make profits.
Blackjack was probably first played by trench soldiers during WW1, back then it was called “vingt-et-un”, or 21. It spread from the French to Australian, English and New Zealand soldiers, and became immensely popular.
Blackjack is played with a deck of 52 cards, with 4 of everything, Kings, Aces, Jacks, Queens, and so on, 13×4=52. A Blackjack is a count of 21 with an ace and picture, and whoever is closest to 21, dealer or player, wins. As to card-counting, for example if 4 aces have been played in a single-deck game, you would know that no more Blackjack is possible. Also, as we see other cards played, we can tell which ones are no longer available, and which ones are still left. All this is the basis for the so-called Basic Strategy, the correct way to play Blackjack, according to mathematics. In the 1960s, people crunched the Blackjack numbers through IBM computers and arrived at probabilities for every single combination of drawn hands and dealers cards. There are about 550 decisions in Blackjack. Give and take a few deviations. That’s it. You learn those, you can play the game. And beat the dealer, if you play for long enough, and without errors. That’s why I like the game. I can drink beer, watch the ladies, and playing the game is like breathing, you just do it, you don’t have to think about your decisions, because they are dictated by the (advanced, or modified) Basic Strategy. Say for example that you have been dealt 2 cards with a value of 14, and the dealer has 7. Should you draw another card to get you closer to 21, or stand on 14 ? If you don’t know Basic Strategy, you would think about it, ponder the odds, and it all gets stressful pretty quickly. When the decision based on the actual odds is actually straightforward : you draw. Gives you time to perve at the good-looking Chinese chick walking past, too ! Here is a chart that shows the decisions for any combinations of 2 cards dealt, player’s total in the left column, and dealers hand in the top row:

There are a million books and websites dedicated to Blackjack, go check them out sometime, it’s a worthwhile task, especially if you are into maths !

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