How Bad at Blackjack Are You?

Blackjack is a hard game to master, and even experienced players can run into their share of pitfalls. Learning perfect strategy and card counting can increase your success, but there's still the possibility of a lapse in concentration or running into a streak of bad luck.

Most players assume that the biggest impediment at the table is the dealer, but that isn't true. In fact, you're your own worst enemy when it comes to a game of 21.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself the questions from this list. Those who consistently answer "no" are well on their way to being professional blackjack players, while everyone else still has a lot of work to do.

Do you ever split 10s in blackjack?

Assuming you know basic math, it should be obvious that a pair of 10s equals a total of 20. This should be good enough to beat most dealer hands, so there's no point in splitting them. If you do, the result is now two hands that don't equal 20, and you've also had to double your wager in the process. Splitting is a great tactic under the right circumstances, but this isn't one of them.

Have you ever taken even money on your blackjack?

If you get a blackjack and the dealer is showing an ace, you'll often be given the option of taking even money. Don't ever accept this option.

When the dealer is showing an ace, the odds of the hand ending in a push are 30.74%. That means there's a 69.26% chance that your blackjack will hold up and give you a 3 to 2 payout. Go with the percentages and refuse the casino's not-so-generous offer.

Do you ever deviate from basic strategy?

If so, you're depriving yourself of the best chance to win on a consistent basis. Basic strategy is a time-tested method of play that's been designed to provide the player with the strongest odds of winning, regardless of the cards on the table.

The common house edge on blackjack is about 2%, although this can vary depending on the rules of the game. When you employ basic strategy, however, the house odds are decreased to 0.5%. That's a difference of 1.5%, which is more important than it sounds when applied to hundreds or thousands of hands.

Do you even know what basic strategy is?

Basic strategy is a guideline that tells you the best play for each type of hand. While it doesn't guarantee success every time, it does improve your overall odds. If you've never heard of basic strategy, then it's almost guaranteed that you're a bad blackjack player (or at least a novice).

Fortunately, this mistake is easily remedied. In fact, you've already improved your station just by reading the previous paragraph.

Basic strategy charts for blackjack can be found all over the Internet. A horizontal column lists the possible up-cards held by the dealer, while the vertical column list the player's total. During gameplay, just find the appropriate totals on both columns and then see what the chart suggests. This might be as simple as standing or hitting, or the chart might advise you to double down or split.

How often do you play when you're not mentally sharp?

This is a common error made by rookie players, but even veteran gamblers can fall prey to it on occasion. The human brain has its limitations, and even players who are knowledgeable about basic strategy or card counting can falter when they've deprived their body of sleep. This also applies to alcohol or drugs, so I suggest staying away from such activities for a few hours before you hit the casinos.

Do you ever stand on a soft 18 when the dealer shows a 9, 10, or ace?

While doing this doesn't make you a terrible blackjack player, it does mark you as someone who's still got a lot to learn. A total of 18 sounds solid, so most players are happy to take this sum every time.

Unfortunately, a dealer nine or ten is going to equal or defeat your 18, and an ace is going to spell your doom every time. When you add up all the possible ways to lose, there are 24 cards in each 52-card deck that allow the dealer to tie or beat your 18.

Since it's a soft 18, you're better off taking the hit. Getting a high card is the worst that can happen, and you'll always be able to convert the ace into a one and stay in the game.

Have you ever refused to split a pair of eights when the dealer is showing a two through ten?

If your answer is "yes," then you've still got a lot to learn about the game. While a 16 isn't a laughable total, it's also not difficult for the house to overcome.

I know some players get nervous about employing tactics such as splitting and doubling down, but using these options is what separates the men from the boys. If you're ready to achieve blackjack puberty, go ahead and take the plunge.

How often do you split a pair of fives?

A hand comprised of a five is not ideal, so why would you want two hands that begin in this fashion? When you have a pair of fives, the best tactic is to always view it as a 10 and go from there. After all, an ace is going to advance you to 21, while any 10 card is going to give you a respectable 20.

If you want to be especially clever, I suggest doubling down on a pair of fives if the dealer is showing a two through nine. As I discussed in the previous paragraph, an ace or 10 card puts you in a position that's going to be tough to beat.

Do you cultivate a reputation as a winning player?

Have you ever went into the casino and bragged to the employees about all the money you've been winning at blackjack? If so, you've made a serious error. The latter is especially true if your winnings have been obtained by a combination of perfect strategy and card counting.

When the casino thinks of you as a loser, they're happy to have your business. When they think you might actually be a threat, however, they're going to start watching your play more closely. If you're counting cards and winning consistently, this increases the odds that they'll ask you to leave. After all, they have the right to refuse service to anyone.

How often do you chase losses?

When you suffer a major loss at the blackjack table, you should take a deep breath, compose yourself, and stick to your overall game plan. This advice applies whether the loss was a result of player error or just rotten luck.

If you start chasing losses, you mind is going to be clouded by emotions and a desire to regain your money. This prevents you from thinking clearly, and it increases the likelihood that you'll continue to rack up losses (but with more money on the line).

No matter what casino game you're playing, you should never allow emotion to get in the way. Otherwise, you'll soon be going home empty-handed.

Do you ever stand on a soft 17?

While it's always a good idea to stand on a hard 17, the soft version (the one with the ace) is a different matter. Not only should standing on a soft 17 be avoided, but the same logic also applies to any soft hand that equals 13 through 16. This remains true regardless of the dealer's total.

By hitting on a soft 17, you at least give yourself a chance to improve your hand up to 21. If the next card makes you bust, then you always have the backup plan of counting the ace as a one instead of 11. In this scenario, there's no way to lose by taking a single card.

Do you ever exceed your bankroll when playing blackjack?

If the answer is "yes," then you're a bad gambler as well as a poor blackjack player. Bankroll management is of paramount importance, and heading off to the ATM for more cash defeats the entire purpose of setting a limit.

No matter what game you play, it's always important to stop when your initial bankroll is depleted. Otherwise, you run the risk of falling into serious financial hardship.

Conclusion

There's nothing wrong with being bad at blackjack. Everyone has to start at the bottom, even experts like Don Schlesinger and Tommy Hyland.

The true difference between a good and bad blackjack player is the willingness to learn and adapt. A good player analyzes their mistakes and tries hard to avoid repeating them, while a bad player keeps resorting to the same flawed behavior time after time.

By answering the questions listed above, it's my hope that any serious flaws in your game will be exposed. Once this occurs, you can set about the arduous—but ultimately rewarding—task of improving your play.