Hit or Stand?
Every Blackjack game eventually boils down to this question.
You might also be able to split, double down, maybe even surrender if it’s an option, but the long and short of it is that your choice is to either take another card to try and beat the dealer or keep what you have and hope they go bust.
Making the right decision is usually informed by basic strategy, i.e. going for the optimal play in each situation to reduce the house edge as low as it can go. Using basic strategy, you can get the house edge down as low as .75% with the right rules in place.
But if you’re serious about advantage play, you need to get your head around card counting and the major advantages that come from having a high-count deck. While card counting has a lot of benefits, the biggest ones all come from having a high-count deck.
What is Card Counting?
First things first though, what is card counting? Invented by Edward Thorp around 1962, the core concept is answering the question of whether you can gain an advantage in blackjack by counting the cards that come out. The answer, unsurprisingly, was yes.
Thorp discovered that by tracking how many of a certain value of card came out, you could quasi-accurately predict what was coming next and bet high as a result. Typically, ten value cards are the ones you want to keep an eye out for. Over the years, casinos have worked out multiple ways to try and prevent card counting from being as effective. The most common way is to have multiple decks going at once and frequent shuffling so the counter never knows what stage into the deck they’ve reached.
Despite how the casinos treat it, card counting is legal. But if you want to put it into practice be forewarned that the casino might just toss you out if they get suspicious.
How it Works?
The way card counting works is that you assign a value to certain cards and keep a mental track of which cards have come out to predict what’s coming next. The most common system is Hi-Lo which tracks card values over 10 and under 6. Every time you get a 10 or above you -1 from the count, and every time you get one under 6 you +1.
What this means is, that after a few hands of low cards, your deck will have a positive count – that is, there will be more cards from the 7-ace range and that gives you a better chance of landing a good starting hand. The same holds true in reverse, if the deck has a negative count then you’re better off avoiding the table as you’ll get poorer hands and run a greater risk of going bust. Notably, you won’t be able to card count if you’re playing blackjack online as you won’t be able to tell when the decks are shuffled. That is unless the casino games app you’re using offers a live blackjack variant.
So why is having a high count so vital?
Advantage to Players
The primary advantage is that you’ll get stronger starting hands. By using the basic strategy, and having some insight into what you’re going to get, then you can bet high and see a bigger return.
It also gives you greater confidence to perform manoeuvres such as splitting and doubling down as you have some idea of what you can expect to see coming out of the deck. This helps you to win back any losses you’ve had as the game has gone on and the count’s gone up.
You are also more likely to see a blackjack if the deck has a heavy balance of 10s and aces, with the enhanced pay-out of 3:2 helping to mitigate any losses you’ve had along the way.
It’s not all good though, you’ll also be exposed to some dangers. If you get dealt a hard 12 (a nine and a three for instance), then it’s riskier to hit as you’re more likely to go bust. However, even this can be viewed as an advantage if you bear in mind that all the elements that give you a boost can severely limit the dealer.
Disadvantage to Dealers
If a deck has a high count then the dealer will have a few problems to deal with that can be easily exploited by the canny gambler.
First of all, let’s focus on the problems a hard 12 brings for a player – while you will be stuck with the hand and feel deep reluctance to follow the basic strategy in light of the count, you do have the option to stand. If the dealer has a hard 12, they have no choice but to hit as, at nearly all tables, they are required to reach 17. Whether it’s a hard or soft 17 is worth finding out before you sit down, but the number will remain the same.
In addition, a player can gain an insight into what the dealer’s face down card could be with a high-count deck. If they have a six showing and a face down card, it’s extremely likely they’ll go bust this round so even a hard 12 should be safe to keep.
With card counting to sharpen your edge, answering that simple question can become a whole lot simpler.
Hit or Stand?
You know the answer.