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rec.gambling.blackjack FAQ


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Archive-name: gambling-faq/blackjack
URL: http://www.conjelco.com/faq/bj.html

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
-----------------------
Frequently Asked Questions about Blackjack

This is the rec.gambling.blackjack Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list.

Changes or additions to this section of the FAQ should be submitted to:
jacobs@xmission.com.

Page last modified: 7-09-95
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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?
B14 Do 'bad' players at third base have any effect on expected gain?
B15 Where is the best place to sit at a blackjack table.
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.

Abbreviations:
     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.

bust
     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.

hit
     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.

insurance
     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.

natural
     a hand that totals 21 on the first two cards.

over/under
     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.

push
     a tie hand, the original bet is returned to the player.

shoe
     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.

spread
     to place more than one bet before the cards are dealt.

stand
     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).

surrender
     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".

upcard
     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.

count
     (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.

penetration
     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.

wonging
     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 (thunk)

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.

  HOUSE 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

  NOTES:
       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:B14 Do 'bad' players at third base have any effect on expected gain?
A:B14 (Steve Jacobs)

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.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Q:B15 Where is the best place to sit at a blackjack table.
A:B15 (Steve Jacobs)

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.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Notes:

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:

1)
     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.

2)
     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.

3)
     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

4)
     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 (thunk)

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 (thunk)

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 'thunk'
  (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".

                  EXPLANATION OF COUNTING SYSTEMS
  ===========================================================================
  COUNTING           COUNTING VALUES         "BEST" EFFICIENCY  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?
A:B25

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
     pages)

     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?
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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