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Blackjack Myths

Blackjack is a game for thinking, rational gamblers. Strategy and optimal play require concentration, study, and skill. The fact that the game pays out 3:2 or 1:1 odds means the game is about calculation and patience, instead of wild swings of fortune and huge “all-in” moments. Despite the logical nature of your classic player, as many 21 myths exist as do myths and misconceptions about pokies, poker in general,  online casinos, or Texas holdem–maybe more. It’s in the nature of a game to have a certain mystique. Here are a few of the most familiar illusions dispelled.

Only Math Geniuses Count Cards

When you watch a movie about gambling (like 21, for example) it’s natural to assume the MIT Blackjack Team knows some arcane secret that only geniuses and mathematics gurus can know. That’s not the case. If you can add or subtract 1, you can count cards. In the basic system, low cards (2 through 6) are plus one and high cards (10 through ace) are negative one. 7’s, 8’s, and 9’s are not counted. When the count gets into the positives, you should bet more. When the count is in the negatives, bet less.

That’s just the basic system, though. More complicated ones increase your odds, but the principle is simple. What makes being a card counter tricky is the fact you can’t seem to do it, because casino employees are taught to spot them. That’s why the team in the Kevin Spacey movie used a spotter and a high roller. The big spender gets a signal and moves in to bet more when the count is good. A lone card counter has to keep a count while pretending to be some kind of free-spending big shot.

Bad Players Hurt Your Odds

One of the most common fallacies in blackjack is the idea a bad player next to you hurts your odds. It can be infuriating to see someone holding 17 ask for a hit and get a “10” for a bust when you hold 11 in your hand and really needed that 10-card. Even if they mess up your chances on that one hand, that doesn’t mean their bad play affects the overall odds of the game. The cards are random, so as often as not, their bad decisions are going to send a better card your way.

In fact, gambling math whiz Michael Shackleford once ran a simulation of a billion hands where the person to his right was using optimal strategy and a billion hands where the person was making common mistakes, and it turned out the awful play somehow increased the odds of the player to their left (based on eliminating a few more bad cards from the deck). So when the player next to you messes up, don’t berate them. They might be doing you a favour.

Counting Cards Is Illegal

It’s a legend that counting cards is illegal, one the casinos are happy to perpetuate. Card counting is using simple math to calculate the odds of a game, like you would do in calculating the pot odds in Texas hold’em. Nothing says you can’t use your brain to figure out the best time to wager, then increase the size of the bet to seize that advantage.

Casino management doesn’t like the practice because, with the right min/max of bets, you can play at 100%+ payout percentage when using the method. Casinos have the right to ask anyone to leave their establishment, so they might but you on a blacklist and escort you to the door. In the old days, they might have gotten rough, but that’s a thing of the past, and the most security might do now is detain you a little too long or otherwise try to intimidate you. The point being, you have the right to count cards, and they have the right to bar you from their games. Nothing illegal is going on.

Land Based Is Better Than Online

The idea that land-based blackjack gambling is better than online blackjack is a mistake. Online casinos offer more variants of 21 than any live casino ever could. With multi-player games, live chat, and a reliable Internet connection, you can meet people and enjoy their company while you play. If you don’t trust random number generators or you prefer to see the dealer, you can find a live dealer game of blackjack at one of the Microgaming casinos. The live streaming is television quality and only getting better. It won’t be long until you can pan around a table full of players streaming live from their homes.

This misconception does have one basis for reality. Adding in a random number generator makes it easier to reshuffle the deck. (You can also read myths about random number generators in video poker games here and on our page about bingo myths, too.) Most games on the Internet reshuffle every hand. Under these conditions, card counting serves no purpose, so you can’t play at an advantage. Since the vast majority of players don’t count cards and wouldn’t want to devote that much trouble to their hobby, this dynamic affects only a small number of gamblers.

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