Blackjack Rules

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Before any cards are dealt, the player must wager. He does this by placing his bet in the designated space in front of his table position. The dealer then deals two cards to each of the players, and two to himself (one of the dealer's cards is dealt face up and one is dealt facing down). Face cards (kings, queens and jacks) count as 10, ace counts as one or 11 (as the player chooses) and all other cards are counted at their face value.
BLACKJACK - If the player's first two cards are an ace and a 10 or face card, he wins. However, if the dealer also has a blackjack, it is a standoff, as are all ties or pushes. A winning blackjack pays the player 3 to 2.
HIT or STAND - Hit means to draw another card (which the player signifies by scraping the table with his cards or a similar hand motion). Stand means no more cards (which the player signals by placing his cards under his wager or moving his hand in a horizontal direction. If the player hits and busts (goes over 21), he immediately turns his cards over and his wager is lost.
DOUBLE DOWN - The player is allowed to double the bet on his first two cards and draw one additional card only to improve his hand.
SPLITTING PAIRS - If the first two cards a player is dealt are a pair, he may split them into two separate hands, bet the same amount on each and then play them separately. Aces receive only one additional card. After splitting, A-10 counts as 21 and not as blackjack.
INSURANCE - If the dealer's up card is an ace, the player may take insurance, a bet not exceeding one-half his original bet. If the dealer's down card is a 10 or any face card, the player wins 2 to 1. Any other card means a win for the dealer.
SURRENDER - Where permitted, a player may give up his first two cards and lose only one-half his original bet.

The dealer must draw on 16 and stand on 17. In some casinos, the dealer is required to draw on soft 17.

From rec.gambling.blackjack Frequently Asked Questions by (
Table of Contents
Section B: Blackjack Questions
B1 What do these funny acronyms mean ...
B2 What special terminology is used by blackjack players?
B3 What special terminology is used by card counters?
B4 Why is there so much talk about blackjack in rec.gambling?
B5 Is casino blackjack a "beatable" game.
B6 How much of an advantage can card counting give?
B7 Is card counting illegal?
B8 Can the casino ban card counters?
B9 What is the correct basic strategy for single deck Blackjack?
B10 What is the correct basic strategy for Atlantic City blackjack?
B11 What is the house edge when playing basic strategy?
B12 Why are single deck games better than multi-deck games?
B16 How is card counting done?
B17 What counting system is "best"?
B18 What counting system is easiest to use?
B19 What BJ counting system is most effective?
B20 Does penetration have any effect on basic strategy expectation?
B21 What is the correct strategy for late surrender?
B22 What is the correct strategy for "multi action" blackjack?
B23 What is "Over/Under" Blackjack?
B24 What is the counting strategy for Over/Under blackjack?
B25 What are some good/bad books on Blackjack?
B26 What are some other sources of blackjack/gambling information?
B27 Is Ken Uston Dead?
Q:B1 What do these funny acronyms mean ...
A:B1 (Adbul Jalib M'hall)
The acronyms that are often used in rec.gambling.blackjack are listed below.
BSE = Basic Strategy Edge
H17 = Hit soft 17 (dealer must hit)
S17 = Stand on any 17 (dealer must stand)
DOA = Double On Any first two cards
D10 = Double on 10 or 11 only
DAS = Double After Splitting is allowed
RSA = Re-Splitting Aces is allowed
ESR = Early Surrender
LSR = Late Surrender
O/U = Over/Under 13 side bets are allowed
Q:B2 What special terminology is used by blackjack players?
A:B2 (Steve Jacobs, Dave Everett)
Blackjack Terminology:
basic strategy
a playing strategy that is designed to minimize the house edge as much as possible without using techniques such as card counting, shuffle tracking, or dealer tells. Basic strategy is used as a foundation for card counting, but is also used by many non-counters.
burn card(s)
cards that are discarded without being dealt to the players. After the cards are shuffled by the dealer and cut by one of the players, one or more cards are "burned" before any cards are dealt to the players.
after a "hit", the player is said to "bust" if the new card causes the player's total to exceed 21.
card counting
a system for improving the player's edge by assigning "weights" to each card face and summing the card weights as each new card is turned face up. The "count" indicates when the game is favorable for the player, so that the player can place larger bets and/or make changes in playing strategy.
cut card
a (usually colored plastic) card that is used to cut the cards after they have been shuffled by the dealer.
double down
to double the initial bet and receive exactly one more card. The option to double is often allowed on the players first two cards only, although some casinos allow doubling after splitting a pair. Many Northern Nevada casinos allowing doubling only with a two-card total of 10 or 11. It is very rare to find games that allow doubling of hands that have more than two cards.
double for less
to double down with less than 2X the original bet. Generally, when doubling is allowed, the player does not have to actually double his bet, but may increase it by any amount up to (but not more than) the original bet.
early surrender
surrender which is allowed even when the dealer has a natural. Very valuable to the player, but rarely offered by the casinos.
even money
taking insurance when holding a blackjack results in a net gain of one bet. Some casinos will allow the player to be paid without actually placing the insurance bet. This is called "taking even money". (See "insurance")
first base
the first player at a table to act on his/her hand is said to be sitting at "first base".
flat bet
to bet the same amount on each successive hand.
hard hand
any hand that is not a soft hand.
heads up
playing at a table that has no other players.
drawing a new card to add to the player's or dealer's hand.
hole card
the dealer's card that is placed face down.
a side bet, of up to 1/2 the original bet, that is offered when the dealer's upcard is an ace. This bet pays 2:1 if the dealer has a natural 21. (Also see "even money")
late surrender
surrender which is only allowed when the dealer does not have a natural. If the dealer has a natural 21 (blackjack), the player's bet still loses in its entirety. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, the player loses half the bet and doesn't play the rest of the hand.
a hand that totals 21 on the first two cards.
a rare bet that the first two player's cards will total over 13, or under 13, when aces are counted as one.
preferential shuffling
shuffling when the deck is favorable to the players, while avoiding a shuffle when the deck is unfavorable to the players.
a tie hand, the original bet is returned to the player.
a "box" for holding the undealt cards, usually used in multi-deck games.
soft hand
any hand that includes an ace that can be counted as 11 without having the value of the hand exceed 21. It is always possible to draw one card to a soft hand without busting.
split hand
hands that start with two cards of the same rank can be split to form two independent hands. This option is exercised by adding a new bet to the second hand, and these hands are played independently.
to place more than one bet before the cards are dealt.
to stop drawing cards.
stiff (hand)
any hand that has a small chance of winning regardless of how the hand is played (usually 12 - 16).
the option to give back the player's first two cards in exchange for a refund of 1/2 of the original bet (rarely allowed). Some hands, such as 16 vs. dealer's 10, are so bad that surrender is less costly than playing the hand.
third base
the last player at a table to act on his/her hand is said to be sitting at "third base".
the dealer's first card, dealt face up. The correct playing decision often involves some consideration of the dealer's upcard.
Q:B3 What special terminology is used by card counters?
A:B3 (Steve Jacobs)
Card Counting Terminology
betting correlation
a measure of how well the card weights correlate to the change in the player's favorability when the cards are seen by the player and removed from the deck. This gives an estimate of the accuracy of the card counting system.
back counting
counting cards and waiting for the count to become favorable before sitting down to play. Usually done standing in back of the players.
balanced count
any counting system that has a count starting at zero when the cards are shuffled, and ending at zero when all cards in the deck(s) have been exposed. Most counting systems use a balanced count.
bet spread
the ratio between maximum and minimum bet size. A player who uses $20 maximum bets and $5 minimum bets is using a 4:1 bet spread.
card weight
the "value" assigned to each card face. This weight is added to the "count" as each new card is exposed. Weights are usually small integer values like -1, +1, or +2.
(noun) -- a number that represents the player's estimate of how favorable or unfavorable.
cover bet
a bet (usually large) placed at the "wrong" time, in order to fool the pit critters into thinking that the player is not counting cards.
insurance correlation
a measure of how well the card weights correlate to the change in the player's favorability for placing insurance bets. This gives an estimate of the accuracy of the card counting system for predicting when to take insurance.
the number of cards that are dealt before the cards are shuffled. Penetration is usually expressed as a percentage of the cards, as in "75% penetration". Good penetration is extremely important to card counters.
playing efficiency
effectiveness of strategy variations in tracking the optimal playing strategy as the deck composition changes. Efficiency is given by E = AG / PG, where AG is the actual gain from making the strategy changes, and PG is the possible gain that could be made by using a playing strategy that is "computer perfect".
running count
the total of the weights of all cards that have been exposed since the cards were shuffled.
shuffle tracking
a system to predict which sections of the deck/shoe will be favorable to the player, based on the locations of favorable sections of the previous deck/shoe, and on studying the method used to shuffle the cards.
side count
a count in addition to the "main" count, usually involving a single card face, as in "ace side count".
strategy variations
varying from basic strategy when the count indicates that it is profitable to do so.
ten poor
a deck that has a lower than average density of tens and face cards.
ten rich
a deck that has a higher than average density of tens and face cards.
true count
a count that is adjusted according to the number of undealt cards, usually by dividing the running count by the number of undealt *decks* (or half-decks).
unbalanced count
any counting system that has a count that starts or ends on a non-zero value (see "balanced count"). Red 7 is an example of an unbalanced count.
improving the player's edge by placing bets only when the count is favorable for the player, and "sitting out" when the count is unfavorable.
Q:B4 Why is there so much talk about blackjack in rec.gambling?
A:B4 (Steve Jacobs)
Blackjack is the most popular table game in American casinos, and the abundance of blackjack articles in rec.gambling is a reflection of this popularity. Unlike many other casino games, skillful play in blackjack allows the player to gain a slight advantage over the casino. However, there is no single form of the game that is found in all casinos, and it is often possible to find several slightly different forms of blackjack within the same casino. When playing blackjack, the "correct" strategy to use will depend on the number of card decks used and on the particular "house rules" that are in effect during play. All of these factors combine to make blackjack a very complicated topic.
[Note: this question is obsolete now that rec.gambling.blackjack is a separate group. This question will eventually be deleted from the rec.gambling.blackjack FAQ]
Q:B5 Is casino blackjack a "beatable" game.
A:B5 (Matt Wilding)
Background: Many books have been written that claim that BJ is beatable.
Answer: Simulations performed by rec.gamblers show different amounts of potential player advantage in theory in BJ, depending on strategies, exact rules, and playing conditions. These numbers typically approach 1% (an average penny gain for every dollar bet) though in certain particular, ideal circumstances this can get somewhat higher. There is disagreement on the net about how much advantage this translates into in "real-world" casinos, but it's generally believed that players can play with a small, long-run advantage in BJ. The variance is very high in this game, however, which makes the slight advantage in BJ far from a sure thing.
Q:B6 How much of an advantage can card counting give?
A:B6 (Steve Jacobs)
A typical card counter will have an edge of 1.5% or less, depending on the counting system used, the skill of the player, and the particular house rules that the player is fighting against. It is quite unusual to find playing conditions that allow the player to get more than a 2% edge against the house, even against single deck games. The player's edge against multi-deck games is generally less than 1%.
Q:B7 Is card counting illegal?
A:B7 (Steve Jacobs)
No. The casinos would like you to believe that card counting is illegal, immoral, and fattening, but the fact is that card counters are simply using a greater level of skill than the typical blackjack player. The Nevada courts have ruled that blackjack players are free to use any information that is made available to them, provided that there is no collusion between a player and casino personnel. For example, if a dealer accidentally handles the cards in such a way that a player can see the dealer's hole card, the player can make use of this information without breaking the law.
Q:B8 Can the casino ban card counters?
A:B8 (Steve Jacobs)
This depends on where you play. In Atlantic City, where games of skill are not permitted, the casinos are not allowed to ban skillful players. In Nevada, casinos are allowed to refuse service to anyone at any time for any reason. Players are routinely "barred", usually by being asked to leave or by being told that they are welcome to play any game other than blackjack. If you are barred but persist in trying to play, the casino can have you arrested for trespassing.
Q:B9 What is the correct basic strategy for single deck Blackjack?
A:B9 (Steve Jacobs)
The following basic strategy is for single deck games without DAS (double-after-splits).
   +--  Player's hand
   |     dealer         dealer
   |   |-might bust-||-might stand-|
   V   2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  X  A  <------- dealer's upcard
  XX | S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S   never, ever, ever split
  99 | PS PS PS PS PS S  PS ps s  s   split if (d <= 9), except 7
  88 | Ps Ps Ps Ps Ps Ph ph ph ph ph  always split
  77 | ps ps Ps Ps Ps ph h  h  s  h   split if (d <= 7), stand against 10
  66 | ph ps ps Ps ps h  h  h  h  h   split if (d <= 6)
  55 | DH DH DH DH DH DH DH DH H  H   never split, treat like hard 10
  44 | h  H  H  DH DH H  h  h  h  h   never split, double against 5, 6
  33 | h  h  Ph PH PH ph h  h  h  h   split if (d >= 4) and (d <= 7)
  22 | h  ph Ph PH PH ph h  h  h  h   split if (d >= 3) and (d <= 7)
  AA | PH PH PH PD PD PH PH Ph Ph Ph  always split
  A9 | S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S   always stand
  A8 | S  S  S  S *DS S  S  S  S  S   double against a 6
  A7 | S  DS DS DS DS S  S  h  h  h*  double 3-6, hit against 9, 10, A
  A6 | DH DH DH DH DH H  h  h  h  h   double low, hit high
  A5 | h  h  DH DH DH h  h  h  h  h     A4 | h  H  DH DH DH H  h  h  h  h    \ double against 4,5,6
  A3 | H  H  DH DH DH H  H  h  h  h    /
  A2 | H  H  DH DH DH H  H  h  h  h   /
  21 | S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S   always stand
  20 | S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S   always stand
  19 | S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S  S   always stand
  18 | S  S  S  S  S  S  S  s  s  s   always stand
  17 | s  s  s  s  s  s  s  s  s  s   always stand on HARD 17 or above
  16 | s  s  s  s  s  h  h  h  h  h     15 | s  s  s  s  s  h  h  h  h  h      14 | s  s  s  s  s  h  h  h  h  h     > hit if dealer might stand,
  13 | s  s  s  s  s  h  h  h  h  h    /    stand if dealer might bust
  12 | h  h  s  s  s  h  h  h  h  h   /   (special case against 2, 3)
  11 | D  D  D  D  D  D  D  D  D  D   always double
  10 | D  D  D  D  D  D  D  D  H  H   double if (d < 10)
   9 | DH DH DH DH DH H  H  h  h  h   double if dealer might bust
   8 | h  H  H  DH DH H  h  h  h  h   double only against 5, 6
   7 | h  h  h  H  H  h  h  h  h  h
   6 | h  h  h  H  H  h  h  h  h  h   (4-2)
   5 | h  h  h  H  H  h  h  h  h  h   (3-2)
   4 | h  h  h  H  H  h  h  h  h  h   (2-2 pair if no more splitting allowed)
  S=stand H=hit D=double P=pair(split)
  DH= double if allowed, otherwise hit
  DS= double if allowed, otherwise stand
  [uppercase] = "strong" hand, favorable to player
  [lowercase] = "weak" hand, favorable to house
  (*) notes:
     Playing A7 against dealer's ace:
        hitting gains 4.08% if dealer must hit on soft 17
        standing gains 0.74% if dealer must stand on soft 17
     Playing A8 against dealer's 6:
        doubling gains 1.96% if dealer must hit on soft 17
        doubling gains 0.03% if dealer must stand on soft 17
        (this rule may be ignored to simplify the strategy)
Q:B10 What is the correct basic strategy for Atlantic City blackjack?
A:B10 (Steve Jacobs)
The following basic strategy is for typical Atlantic City rules.
     Cards are dealt from 6 decks.
     Dealer must stand on any 17.
       Double-down allowed on soft hands.
     Pairs may be split only once.
       Player may double-down after splitting pairs.
     Surrender is not allowed.
                   Strategy Table
       |---might bust---|  |---might stand---|  <---- dealer possibility
       2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   X   A    <---- dealer's up card
  ---+----------------------------------------  Pairs
  XX | S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S
  99 | PS  PS  PS  PS  PS  S   PS  ps  s   s
  88 | Ps  Ps  Ps  Ps  Ps  Ph  ph  ph  ph  ph
  77 | ps  ps  Ps  Ps  Ps  ph  h   h   h   h
  66 | ph  ph  ps  Ps  Ps  h   h   h   h   h
  55 | DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  H   H
  44 | h   H   H   PH  PH  H   h   h   h   h
  33 | ph  ph  Ph  Ph  Ph  ph  h   h   h   h
  22 | ph  ph  Ph  Ph  PH  ph  h   h   h   h
  AA | PH  PH  PH  PH  PDH PH  PH  Ph  Ph  Ph
  ---+----------------------------------------  Soft Hands
  AX | S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S
  A9 | S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S
  A8 | S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S
  A7 | S   DS  DS  DS  DS  S   S   h   h   h
  A6 | H   DH  DH  DH  DH  H   h   h   h   h
  A5 | h   H   DH  DH  DH  h   h   h   h   h
  A4 | h   H   DH  DH  DH  H   h   h   h   h
  A3 | H   H   H   DH  DH  H   H   h   h   h
  A2 | H   H   H   DH  DH  H   H   h   h   h
  AA | H   H   H   H   DH  H   H   h   h   h
  ---+----------------------------------------  Hard Hands
  21 | S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S
  20 | S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S
  19 | S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S   S
  18 | S   S   S   S   S   S   S   s   s   s
  17 | s   s   s   s   S   s   s   s   s   s
  16 | s   s   s   s   s   h   h   h   h   h
  15 | s   s   s   s   s   h   h   h   h   h
  14 | s   s   s   s   s   h   h   h   h   h
  13 | s   s   s   s   s   h   h   h   h   h
  12 | h   h   s   s   s   h   h   h   h   h
  11 | DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  H
  10 | DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  DH  H   H
   9 | H   DH  DH  DH  DH  H   H   h   h   h
   8 | h   H   H   H   H   H   h   h   h   h
   7 | h   h   h   H   H   h   h   h   h   h
   6 | h   h   h   h   h   h   h   h   h   h
   5 | h   h   h   h   H   h   h   h   h   h
   4 | h   h   h   h   H   h   h   h   h   h
  S=stand H=hit D=double P=split Q=surrender
       1) If more than one option is listed,
          options to the left are preferred
          over options to the right.  Options
          less favorable than STAND or HIT are
          not shown.
       2) Use the "Hard Hands" table only
          when the other tables do not apply.
       3) If splitting Aces is not allowed,
          use the "Soft Hands" table.
       4) Uppercase options favor the player,
          lowercase options favor the house.
Q:B11 What is the house edge when playing basic strategy?
A:B11 (Steve Jacobs)
The expected gain for basic strategy play depends on the house
rules and the number of decks. The following table summarizes
the player's expectation for a variety of games. All numbers are
in units of percent of initial bet.
                           <-- number of decks -->
                  |    1  |   2   |   4   |   6   |  20   |  100  |
  AC              | .1541  -.2228  -.3991  -.4569  -.5368  -.5638 |
  AC + LSR        | .1761  -.1717  -.3323  -.3843  -.4552  -.4790 |
  AC + ESR        | .7694   .3952   .2265   .1721   .0968   .0714 |
  strip           | .0409  -.3214  -.4889  -.5437  -.6245  -.6447 |
  strip + LSR     | .0707  -.2685  -.4239  -.4744  -.5429  -.5659 |
  strip + DAS     | .1809  -.1795  -.3472  -.4021  -.4779  -.5034 |
  strip + ESR     | .6511   .2927   .1320   .0801   .0084  -.0157 |
  vegas           |-.1527  -.5257  -.7015  -.7590  -.8445  -.8663 |
  vegas + LSR     |-.1095  -.4594  -.6221  -.6747  -.7469  -.7713 |
  vegas + DAS     |-.0103  -.3813  -.5570  -.6146  -.6951  -.7223 |
  vegas + ESR     | .5403   .1720   .0046  -.0493  -.1245  -.1500 |
  reno            |-.4291  -.7400  -.8906  -.9404 -1.0154 -1.0337 |
  reno + LSR      |-.3858  -.6737  -.8113  -.8560  -.9178  -.9387 |
  reno + DAS      |-.3121  -.6176  -.7658  -.8151  -.8840  -.9073 |
  reno + ESR      | .2639  -.0423  -.1846  -.2307  -.2307  -.3174 |
  "AC" rules: (typical of Atlantic City)
        dealer stands on soft 17
        double down on any two cards
        double after splits
        no resplitting
  "strip" rules: (typical of Vegas Strip)
        dealer stands on soft 17
        double down on any two cards (but not after splits)
  "vegas" rules: (typical of Vegas Downtown)
        dealer hits soft 17
        double down on any two cards (but not after splits)
  "reno" rules:  (typical of Reno, northern Nevada)
        dealer hits soft 17
        double down allowed on two card total of 10 or 11 only
  DAS = Double After Splitting
  LSR = Late Surrender
  ESR = Early Surrender (no longer available)
Q:B12 Why are single deck games better than multi-deck games?
A:B12 (Adbul Jalib M'hall)
There are some surface differences, such as single and double deck usually being hand-held, while four or more decks are dealt from a shoe, but there are fundamental mathematical differences too.
Single deck blackjack is usually better than multiple deck blackjack for card counters, basic strategists, and the clueless. Additional decks make busts less likely, since one can draw to hands like 2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2 (for 18) which are improbable/impossible in single deck. Busting less often helps the dealer's hand more than yours, since the dealer is forced by the rigid rules to hit more often than you. Blackjacks are also less frequent, which is bad since you get paid 3 to 2 for those. All in all, multiple decks will cost a basic strategist nearly 0.5% in advantage, which is more than all but the very best package of favorable extra rules will give you. This was an intuitive explanation; a complete mathematically sound (albeit huge) proof can be generated by a combinatorial analysis program.
Card counters face the additional problem that the count is less volatile with multiple decks and hence offers less frequent opportunities for large favorable bets. Consider the difference between an urn with 1 black and 1 white marble versus an urn with 100 black and 100 white marbles. Draw half the marbles: what is the probability that all the remaining marbles are white? In the 1 and 1 case, there is a 1 in 2 chance. In the 100 and 100 case, there is only a 1 in 100,891,344,545,564,193,334,812,497,256 chance!
Q:B16 How is card counting done?
A:B16 (Steve Jacobs)
The card counting system described below is an unbalanced 10 count that is 100% accurate for determining when to take insurance. As a general purpose card counting system, it is relatively weak and not particularly recommended, but it illustrates many of the principles behind card counting. This is intended only to give a feel for how card counting is done, and is not recommended for actual practice, although I've used it because of its simplicity. This counting strategy is listed as "Unbalanced 10 Count" in other parts of the FAQ list.
For single deck games:
1) Start the count at -4 when the deck is shuffled.
2) Count -2 for 10, J, Q, K
3) Count +1 for everything else (including aces)
4) Bet low when the count is negative, high when the count is positive
(actually, simulations show that you can bet high for a count of -2 or above).
5) Take insurance when the count is positive.
6) Play basic strategy at all times.
For N deck games:
1) Start the count at (-4 * N).
2) all other rules are the same.
The unique feature of this counting method is that it is perfectly accurate for dealing with insurance. When the count is positive, the player has the advantage when taking the insurance bet. When the count is negative, the house has the advantage, so insurance should not be taken.
Counting is best done by counting several cards at once. It is easy to practice this counting method in the following way:
     Count through a deck of cards, counting one card at a time.
     Start at -4, and count through the entire deck. After all
     of the cards have been seen, the count should be ZERO.
     If it is not zero, a mistake has been made somewhere. Repeat
     counting through the deck one card at a time, until you can
     do it quickly without making mistakes.
     Count through the deck, counting two cards at a time. Look
     for the following patterns, adding the correct amount for
     each pattern
     (X = 10, N = non-ten)
          NN: +2
          XN: -1
          XX: -4
     Again, the count should be zero after all cards have been
     seen. Repeat until you can do it efficiently.
     Count through the deck, counting three cards at a time.
     Look for the following patterns, adding the correct amount
     for each pattern.
     (X = 10, N = non-ten)
          NNN +3
          XNN 0 (this pattern is common)
          XXN -3
     Practice against a computer blackjack game. When I play,
     I usually count the cards by counting an entire hand
     (player's or dealers) at once. If there are more than three
     cards in the hand, I mentally break it up into groups of 1,
     2, or 3 cards (I usually look for "XNN" patterns and
     ignore those cards, since they add up to zero). I usually
     count the cards just before the dealer picks up the hand
     (exception: for insurance, you should count your cards and
     the dealer's up card immediately).
Q:B17 What counting system is "best"?
A:B17 (Matt Wilding)
This has been answered by rec.gamblers using different approaches.
The first approach is to evaluate different systems by simulation. This approach obscures the particular advantages of each system, but it's easy to see how a system will perform in one particular realistic casino playing situation, and not hard to judge the tradeoff between performance and ease of use (see Q/A B18 for more details).
The second approach estimates several performance parameters of each system that collectively approximate the system's inherent potential. This allows the strengths of different BJ systems to be studied in detail, which should allow better, more precise comparison of different systems and aid efforts to improve a particular system. This approach gives results which may be used to determine which counting system is theoretically most profitable, but does not address the issue of how easy it is to use the counting system under actual playing conditions (see Q/A B19 for more details).
It's not yet clear how these two studies relate, and no rec.gambling.blackjack consensus has emerged as to how the more sophisticated performance parameters actually translate to advantage at the tables as in the simulations.
Q:B18 What counting system is easiest to use?
A:B18 (Matt Wilding)
Background: Lots of systems are available. There is an important tradeoff between complexity and theoretical power, as more complex systems are harder to use and more error-prone.
Answer: You pick 'em. A rec.gambling.blackjack study was accomplished that compared different systems, and here a summary of what came out:
Complexity is a subjective measure with guidelines described in the results paper. Power is the integer closest to p/0.05%, where p is the % advantage of the strategy one-on-one in a single deck, dealer hits on soft 17, no DDAS, resplitting-allowed game that's dealt down to 20 cards and using a 1-4 betting spread. 15,000,000 hands guarantee correctness to within 1 point 99% of the time.
   name             complex power      card weights             reference
                                A  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  X
  BASIC               0     -5                                 Steve Jacobs
  UNBALANCED 10       2     13   1  1  1  1  1  1  1  1  1 -2  Steve Jacobs
  SUPER-SIMPLE OPT-I 2.5    16         1  1  1  1          -1  WGBJB (1)  
  REVERE PM          3.5    16  -1  1  1  1  1  1          -1  PBaaB
  RED SEVEN          3.5    19  -1  1  1  1  1  1 R:1      -1  BiB
  OPT1-6+6            5     18         1  1  1  1          -1  WGBJB
  WONG HIGH-LOW       5     19  -1  1  1  1  1  1          -1  PB
  ZEN                 5     19  -1  1  1  2  2  2  1       -2  BiB
  HORSESHOE           6     14      1  2  2  3  2  2  1 -1 -3  MDB (2)
  REVERE POINT COUNT  6     17  -2  1  2  2  2  2  1       -2  PBaaB
  OPT1-6+6 W/ ACE     7     23         1  1  1  1          -1  WGBJB
  ANDERSEN           9.5    16  -2  1  1  1  2  1  1    -1 -1  TtToLV
  USTON APC          10     22      1  2  2  3  2  2  1 -1 -3  MDB
  WGBJB: "World's Greatest BlackJack Book" by Humble and Cooper
  PBaaB: "Playing Blackjack as a Business" by Lawrence Revere
  BiB: "Blackbelt in Blackjack" by Arnold Snyder
  PB: "Professional Blackjack" by Stanford Wong
  TtToLV: "Turning the Tables on Las Vegas" by Ian Andersen
  MDB: "Million Dollar Blackjack" by Ken Uston
  (1) with modifications by Matthew Wilding
  (2) with modifications by Paul C. Kim
Q:B19 What BJ counting system is most effective?
A:B19 (Adbul Jalib M'hall, Jeff Jennings)
The playing efficiency, betting correlation, and insurance correlation is listed below for several counting systems. These numbers give an indication of the effectiveness of the counting system. When two numbers are listed, the second number results from adding an ace side count in addition to the "main" count.
See answer B3 for definitions of "betting correlation", "playing efficiency", and "insurance correlation".
  SYSTEMS      2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  X  A  SOURCE  PLAY+ace  BET+ace INSURE
  --------     ----------------------------  ------  -------- -------- ------
  Griffin      0  0  1  1  1  1  0  0 -1  0  Griffin  64-64+  .85-.95  .85
  Hi-Opt I     0  1  1  1  1  0  0  0 -1  0  Humble   61-63   .88-.97  .85
  Hi-Opt II    1  1  2  2  1  1  0  0 -2  0  Humble   67-67+  .91-.99  .91
  High-Low     1  1  1  1  1  0  0  0 -1 -1  Wong     51-63   .97      .76-.85
  Ita          1  1  1  1  1  1  0 -1 -1 -1  Sys.Res. 53-63+  .96      .69-.76
  Red 7's      1  1  1  1  1 **  0  0 -1 -1  Snyder   54-64+  .98      .78-.87
  Unbal 10's   1  1  1  1  1  1  1  1 -2  1  Roberts  61-61+  .73-.94 1.00
  Uston +-     0  1  1  1  1  1  0  0 -1 -1  Uston    55-64+  .95      .76-.85
  Uston APC    1  2  2  3  2  2  1 -1 -3  0  Uston    69-69+  .91-.99  .90
  Wong Halves  1  2  2  3  2  1  0 -1 -2 -2  Wong     57-67+  .99      .72-.85
  Zen          1  1  2  2  2  1  0  0 -2 -1  Snyder   63-67+  .97      .85-.91
                           ** red 7's +1, black 7's 0
  Note: Playing efficiencies have a practical maximum of about 0.7.
        "Unbal 10's" is short for "Unbalanced 10 Count"
Q:B20 Does penetration have any effect on basic strategy expectation?
A:B20 (Steve Jacobs)
Probably not. Unless the dealer is cheating, the cards will be in a random order after the shuffle. If the player is not counting cards or using other techniques to gain an advantage, it will not matter if there are several rounds or only a single round between shuffles. But, if the dealer if using preferential shuffling, this will hurt the basic strategy players as well as the card counters.
Q:B21 What is the correct strategy for late surrender?
A:B21 (Adbul Jalib M'hall)
Basic strategy for late surrender in AC multi-deck games is:
Surrender hard 16 (but not 8-8) vs. 9, 10, ace
Surrender hard 15 vs. 10
If you are the least bit risk-averse, you should also:
Surrender hard 15 vs. ace
At some casinos you can surrender your first two cards. You lose half your bet in return for not having to play through the hand. With early surrender, you get back half your bet even if the dealer has blackjack, while with late surrender you lose anyway when the dealer has blackjack.
Q:B22 What is the correct strategy for "multi action" blackjack?
A:B22 (Steve Jacobs)
Multi Action blackjack allows the player to place up to three bets simultaneously on the same blackjack hand. The player is dealt a single hand, and the three bets are played out against the same dealer upcard, but with different "drawn" cards for each bet. Many players feel nervous about hitting stiff hands against a high dealer's upcard (7 or higher), since they will lose all three bets if they bust. However, basic strategy is COMPLETELY UNCHANGED for this game, and the correct strategy is no different than if the player had only a single bet at risk.
Q:B23 What is "Over/Under" Blackjack?
A:B23 (Steve Jacobs)
Caesar's Tahoe introduced the Over-13 and Under-13 side bets that are allowed at some blackjack tables. These bets are based on the player's total for the first two cards, when aces are counted as one. Over-13 bets win when the player's cards total 14 or higher, while under-13 bets win when the player's cards total 12 or under. Either bet will lose when the player's total is exactly 13. These bets are placed at the same time as the blackjack bet, and usually the side bet can be no larger than the bet on the blackjack hand. Over/under games are usually dealt from a 6 or 8 deck shoe, and the player's first two cards are always dealt face up. Although these are "sucker" bets for basic strategy players, with a house edge of 6% to 10%, special card counting strategies can be used to give the player a significant edge on these bets.
Q:B24 What is the counting strategy for Over/Under blackjack?
A:B24 (Steve Jacobs)
The card weights used for the Over/Under count are as follows: count +1 for Ace, 2, 3, and 4, and count -1 for tens and face cards. The deck becomes favorable for counts of +2 and above, and for counts -4 and below. Over-13 bets should be placed when the count is +3 and above. Under-13 bets should be placed when the count is -4 and below.
When playing Over/Under blackjack with this counting scheme, virtually all of the player's profit comes from the over-13 and under-13 side bets. This counting scheme is very poor for playing the blackjack portion of the bet, and will only allow the player to play about even with the house on the blackjack bets. However, the over/under bets can be very profitable if the game has good penetration. A 6-deck over/under game with good penetration can give the player an advantage of 1.5% or more. Single deck over/under games with good penetration (very rare) can give the player an edge of over 4% when using the over/under count.
Snyder's "Over/Under Report" discusses the over/under game in detail, and is available from RGE at an outrageous price.
Q:B25 What are some good/bad books on Blackjack?
The individual book reviews given below are grouped according to the person doing the review. If you have an opposing view or wish to express another view of any of these books, write your own review and send it to the maintainer of the FAQ list, and it will be included. Reviews of books that are not mentioned here are especially welcome.
There are undoubtedly many good books that are not listed here, as well as many terrible books that are not listed here. These reviews are only the opinions of the reviewers, and your mileage may vary.
Review by Michael Dalton (as reported by Adbul Jalib M'hall)
     Dalton, Michael. Blackjack: A Professional Reference. Spur of the
     Moment Publishing, PO BOX 541967, Merritt Island, FL; 1991. (1964
     Written by a NASA computer systems engineer, this book is a
     comprehensive reference to the game of blackjack. Over 1000 entries
     listing books, magazines, publications, newsletters, articles,
     reports, videos, software and other products available for serious
     players of the game twenty-one. Also included is the most
     comprehensive blackjack dictionary ever compiled explaining blackjack
     terminology, system and strategy descriptions, rules, and
     miscellaneous blackjack trivia. Complete basic strategy charts that
     cover most blackjack games in the world are also presented. Fully
     cross-referenced with recommendations.
Reviews by Edmund Hack:
     Blackjack Video: Winning at Blackjack with Bobby Singer, JCI Video,
     1987, 103 minutes. This video is a tape of a sales pitch/introduction
     to card counting seminar hosted by Bobby Singer, billed as the
     "World's biggest winner at the game of Blackjack" on the back cover.
     The tape covers 5 areas: Basic Strategy, Card Counting, Money
     Management, Team Play and Casino Awareness. Unfortunately, the
     information is incomplete. For example, the basic strategy section
     only covers hard and soft hands and the card counting section only
     covers the card values for the Hi-Lo count, but no bet sizing or
     strategy adjustments. The rest of the information is available for
     $149.00. For this price, you get a set of notebooks with lessons and
     audio tapes covering the Hi-Lo count and an 800 number you can call
     to find out where the best games are in the city you plan to play. I
     rented the tape for $1.50 and maybe got my money's worth.
     One interesting point covered in moderate detail is team play. Singer
     advocates playing 4 deck or up shoes with the "Big Player" approach
     pioneered by Uston and others. He advised using a counter at one or
     more tables who flat bets and uses hand signals (i.e. scratching the
     head) to call in a big money player. The current count is signaled to
     the Big Player by the stacking of chips in front of the counter in a
     particular way. The Big Player can then play out the rest of the
     shoe, presumably free of heat. If the count goes bad, the big player
     leaves, proclaiming a trip to the restroom is needed. The home study
     course is said to have info on bet sizing related/risk of ruin for
     teams and individuals.
     The Winner's Guide to Casino Gambling, Edwin Silberstang, Plume, 1980
     and 1989. This is a general overview of casino gambling with chapters
     on casino operations, comps, junkets, credit and the games offered.
     Detailed sections on craps, baccarat, roulette, keno, slots, video
     poker (89 edition only) and blackjack give the staff, rules, and
     procedures of each game, the house advantage, a glossary, and the
     best plays for each. In addition, there are anecdotes about playing
     the games. As the author has separate books on poker and sports
     betting, there is little information on them here and Red Dog and Pai
     Gow poker are not covered. The blackjack section has correct basic
     strategy information for 1,2, and 4+ deck games with and without DAS,
     and a discussion of Strip, Reno and Downtown rules variations. He
     presents the Hi-Opt I count (not by that name) and how to use it for
     bet sizing and insurance bets, but no strategy adjustments. There is
     a section written by a professional blackjack player on how to hide
     the fact that you are counting and life as a pro. If you want a
     single book as an introduction to casino gambling, this is it. [Note:
     there are 2 versions of the book out - a small green paperback from
     1980 and a black trade paperback from 1989 that has been updated.]
Reviews by Adbul Jalib M'hall:
     Fundamentals of Blackjack by Chambliss and Roginski - this book is
     pretty much a standard blackjack book, but it has exceptionally good
     tables of information. I advise buying this book as a supplement to
     whatever book you use for your counting system (probably either
     Professional Blackjack, The World's Greatest Blackjack Book,
     Blackbelt in Blackjack or Million Dollar Blackjack.) The counting
     system discussed in "Fundamentals..." is not one that you would
     actually want to use, but the tables don't assume this system is
     used. Unfortunately, many of the tables were generated using Snyder's
     Blackjack Formula, and so the accuracy is not as good as would be the
     case with computer simulations.
     Card Counting for the Casino Executive by Bill Zender - this book is
     written for casino executives, as you might suspect, which makes it
     insightful reading for card counters. The book goes into detail about
     how pit critters should go about identifying and discouraging card
     counters. It also lists all kinds of ways the players can win, both
     honestly and by cheating. The author is fairly counter-tolerant,
     which is refreshing. Alas, the book is spiral bound, only 138 pages
     long, and *full* of white space.
Reviews by Steve Jacobs:
     Million Dollar Blackjack by Ken Uston. This is a good all-around
     blackjack book, although the advanced counting scheme is much more
     difficult than most. Ken gives a balanced view of blackjack, without
     the exaggerated claims that many BJ authors are fond of.
     World's Greatest Blackjack Book by Humble & Cooper. This is a good
     book with a pretty reasonable counting scheme. The authors are _way_
     too paranoid about cheating, to the extent that they attribute
     virtually all of their losses to cheating. Otherwise, it is a good
     book. These guys have absolutely nothing nice to say about Lawrence
     Revere, so if you've read Playing Blackjack as a Business and would
     like to read an opposing viewpoint, this is the book for you.
     Blackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder. The Red Seven count in this
     book is simple, and quite effective against single deck games. The
     Zen count is more difficult, but more powerful. Snyder includes some
     interesting ideas that aren't found in other books, such as "depth
     charging". This book is probably not as good for beginners as are the
     previous two books, but is a good book for more advanced readers.
     Theory of Blackjack by Peter Griffin. This is one of the few good
     books that cover the mathematical considerations of the game. This
     book is either a complete must or a complete waste of time, depending
     on how you feel about mathematics.
     Beat the Dealer by Edward Thorp. This book is a classic, and is still
     worth reading. The card counting schemes are now somewhat dated, but
     it is still a good book for card counters.
     Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong. Some people really like this
     book, but I didn't find it all that exciting. It is considered a
     classic, and has a lot of good material.
     Playing Blackjack as a Business by Lawrence Revere. This is one of
     the most accurate books for basic strategy, and the color charts are
     very nice. The numbers in the tables were provided by Julian Braun,
     and are about as accurate as any available, but don't believe the
     numbers that Revere gives for player's expected gain. Revere's
     counting scheme isn't widely used today, and Revere's "I'm right and
     everyone else is a dope" attitude is very annoying, although
     partially justified if you account for the date of first publication
     and the scarcity of good books at that time. Revere also makes many
     inflated claims about player's expectation, which Humble & Cooper
     would attribute to character flaw.
     Scarne on Cards by John Scarne. This book is simply wrong when it
     comes to blackjack, and Scarne was too arrogant to even consider the
     possibility that he might have been wrong. He spends a lot of time
     trying to discredit Thorp. This book has _negative_ value for serious
     blackjack players, and should probably be avoided completely.
     Turning the Tables on Las Vegas by Ian Andersen. This is an
     entertaining book that describes techniques for disguising your play
     to avoid detection by pit critters.
     Casino Tournament Strategy by Stanford Wong. This book combines
     previous Tournament Blackjack and Tournament Craps book together at a
     reasonable price. Covers many of the unique situations that come up
     in tournament play. Worth reading if you plan to play in tournaments.
Q:B26 What are some other sources of blackjack/gambling information?
A:B26 (Jonathan Rosenberg, Adbul Jalib M'hall, Jack Mcgee)
RGE Publishing, 414 Santa Clara Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610, (510) 465-6452 Publishes Blackjack Forum, $30/year (4 issues). Call for their very interesting catalog. Includes books, videos, PC based BJ practice programs, analyzers and simulators, and back issues of Blackjack Forum.
Current Blackjack News, by Stanford Wong. $95/year (12 issues). Available through RGE.
Blackjack Confidential Magazine, 513 Salsbury Road, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034 $99/year (10 issues).
Win Magazine, 16760 Stagg St. #213, Van Nuys, CA 91406, (818) 781-9355 Formerly Gambling Times. $36/year (12 issues). Covers all gambling and gaming topics. [Some reports of irregular publishing schedule]
The Experts Blackjack Newsletter, Gambling Times Incorporated, 16760 Stagg St. #213, Van Nuys, CA 91406, (818) 781-9355 New, advertised in WIN Magazine. $30/year (6 issues)
The International Gamblers' Club Newsletter, P.O. Box 73, Thornhill, Ontario, Canada L3T 3N1 $24/year (4 issues). Founded by Lance Humble. They'll send you a free but dated sample if you write. Mainly BJ but contains some sports betting information. (I wasn't impressed with my sample).
Gambler's Book Club, 630 South 11th Street, Box 4115, Las Vegas, NV 89127, (800) 634-6243. Not a newsletter but call for their awesome, awesome, awesome catalog containing not only just about every blackjack book ever written but practically every book ever written on any gambling topic. They also operate a book store at the above address in Las Vegas. [And they have gambling experts (including card counters) working at the store most of the time, willing to answer questions -- Adbul Jalib M'hall]
Las Vegas Advisor, Huntington Press, PO Box 28041, Las Vegas, Nevada 89126, (702) 597-1884. $45/year (12 issues) (add $5 for first class delivery). Produced by Anthony Curtis. Lots of information on deals and freebies available in Las Vegas. Sometimes includes valuable coupons or arranges special deals for subscribers. (I have personally more than recouped the cost in actual cash back from coupons for about half year's worth of the subscription. -Hall)
Casino Player, 2424 Arctic Ave., Atlantic City, NJ 08401, 609-344-9000. $24/yr, (12 issues). It covers most gambling jurisdictions, with particular attention paid to AC and LV. Articles on all games, by Wong, Caro, Frome, Malmuth, Snyder, and others. It's a full color, slick, well produced magazine, about 60 pages.
Q:B27 Is Ken Uston dead?
A:B27 (John Schwab)
Yes. He was found dead in a rented apartment in Paris, France, on September 19, 1987. The cause of death remains undetermined, since an autopsy was not performed and the body was cremated. The local police found no evidence of foul play. Alcohol and drug abuse were strongly suspected by several people who knew Uston intimately. Reference: Stanley Roberts, "A Double Dose of Death", Roberts' Rules (column), _Gambling Times_, Jan./Feb., 1988, pp. 8, 41
That article is the only printed mention that I have seen on Uston's death. Maybe someone else has the citation for the Card Player article?
rec.gambling FAQ index

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