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Frequently Asked Questions about Blackjack
FAQ1: Why is there so much talk about blackjack on the internet?

Blackjack is the most popular table game in American casinos. 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.

FAQ2: Is casino blackjack a "beatable" game.

Background: Many books have been written that claim that BJ is beatable. Answer: Simulations 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.

FAQ3: How much of an advantage can card counting give?

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%.

FAQ4: Is card counting illegal?

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.

FAQ5: Can the casino ban card counters?

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.

FAQ6: Why are single deck games better than multi-deck games?

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!

FAQ7: Do 'bad' players at third base have any effect on expected gain?

No. It is a common misconception that incorrect plays by the player at third base will "take the dealer's bust card" or "leave the dealer a good card". As long as the shuffle is sufficient to randomize the cards, improper play of other players will be just as likely to help as it is to hurt. However, bad players can cause frustration and anxiety which may increase the likelihood of making mistakes. It is best to avoid the temptation to strangle bad players.

FAQ8: Where is the best place to sit at a blackjack table?

It depends. For basic strategy players, seat position has no significant effect on the player's expected return. For card counters who use strategy variations, it is probably best to sit at third base in order to see as many cards as possible before playing the hand. When playing against a "front loading" dealer, the best seat is whichever seat gives you the best shot at getting a glimpse of the dealer's hole card. When playing at the Rio, the best seat is the one that gives the best view of the cocktail waitresses.

FAQ9: What is "Over/Under" Blackjack?

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.

FAQ10: What is the counting strategy for Over/Under blackjack?

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.

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