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Best of John Grochowski
Blackjack answers15 September 2016
In the last few weeks, I’ve received a number of e-mails from readers who are seeking a new level.
Most are not trying to become card counters. They’re playing for fun, but would like to mix in more frequent profits, too.
Let’s try to answer a few of their questions:
Mike: “I bought a basic strategy card in a casino gift shop. They even let me refer to at the table. That got me to wondering: Can something the casino lets you use to make your decisions really help?”
Yes, basic strategy cards really help. In a six-deck game. With basic strategy, you can reduce the house edge on a common six-deck game in which blackjacks pay 3-2 to about six-tenths of a percent, or a few tenths more or less depending on house rules.
If you have an imperfect grasp of basic strategy, missing some fine points, the house edge can rise to more than 1%. And if you play the guessing game, the house edge can soar to 2%, 3% or more.
Not all states and not all casinos allow you to use strategy cards at the table. Illinois, for one, bars players from using artificial aids that include strategy cards for blackjack and video poker. But where permitted, the cards can help players just learning basic strategy to improve their games.
Vern: "Can betting progressions help me win? It seems like they should. If I set a loss limit that’s the same as without a progression, then I can win big on a streak but can’t lose any more than betting flat."
The weakness of betting progressions is that they can lead to more frequent losing sessions.
Let’s use a $5-$5-$10-$15-$20-$25 progression as an example. If you win a $5 bet, you bet $5 again so the worst you can do after two bets is break even. After that, you add $5 to your bet after each win.
If you get on a hot streak, you can make a nice profit quickly. I don’t play progressions now, but at the beginning of the 1990s I once took that system to a $300 winning session at Palace Station in Las Vegas. It was exciting, but several losing sessions afterward told me it was no surefire moneymaker.
When there are no long winning streaks, the progression fares worse than flat betting. If you win twice and lose once, betting a flat $5 a hand brings two $5 wins and a $5 loss for a $5 profit. The progression brings two $5 wins and a $10 loss for a breakeven run.
Not turning a profit in runs like that turns some potential winning sessions into losers, and some losing sessions into bigger losers.
Betting progressions do not change the house edge. They just alter the way wins and losses are distributed, bringing bigger winning sessions but more frequent losers.
Chester: "What is penetration? I heard a couple of guys I’d seen at a table talking about it at lunch, and didn’t know what they meant."
In blackjack, penetration is the percentage of cards in shoe that are dealt before shuffling. Card counters like games with high penetration because the bigger sample gives them a more reliable count. To those who don’t count cards, penetration gives no usable information.
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Best of John Grochowski