The art of Blackjack

The question I get asked most often in Torn is “How do I make money?”.

Not an easy one to answer, but recently my main income stream is obvious to all those avid gamblers (and muggers, who try spot me playing). Blackjack.

Odds and ends

Blackjack generally is a bad game for a player. Any casino you wonder in to will be all too happy for you to sit down at the blackjack table – the longer you play the more likely you are to lose your money. Not quite the same in torn.

Let’s take a look at the numbers for a moment. I use a House Edge Calculator which will calculate (roughly) how a set of blackjack rules favour the house. Notice the defaults are 0.408% for the house – that means for every $100 bet at a standard casino game of blackjack the house will take 40cents. Doesn’t sound very much does it? But that is where you have to factor in how many hands are played per hour, how many players are playing, and of course how close to optimum the players decisions are.

In the end the casino doesn’t care how lucky an individual is, they know that in the end they will win (providing the bets made in an hour are ~200 times the wage of the dealer). Same with torn I suspect – we can see the bank wins 1.3% of the money bet there. And once I show you the edge for Torn you will be wondering Just How much do real casinos make from blackjack?.

Torn odds

So if you clicked the link above you will be left with a load of choices. Here is what I chose to get the torn odds. 1 Deck, Double any hand (inc aces), 5 card charlie, Late surrender, hit split aces, and does not shuffle every hand.

bj-edge

The result is -1.2% (as in for every $100 I bet, I win $101.2). And if we only use rules we are certain of and for the rest we assume the worst we are still 0.9% better off.

Let’s put that in perspective. We all get 75 tokens a day. If we all had the money to bet $100m a day that would be $75m winnings per day if we play optimal blackjack. $150m if you use refill. $400m if you work at a ten star cruiseliner!

Optimal strategy

But what is this optimal play? Is it possible? Hit generate on the site above and you will see a  table pop up, with choice on what to do. Find your hand on the left side, and then look at the column for the dealers hand in that row – use the legend and work out what you should be doing. That’s right – You Do Not Need to THINK. It’s already done for you.

Torn splitting

Now let’s remember that torn gives us another advantage. When we split we get to play the first hand and see the dealers hole card. Wow. What an advantage!

 

That second hand of the split I already know what dealer has. I can now hit, stand, double, surrender or even re-split with sometimes 100% knowledge of the outcome of the hand.

re-split-tens

The money to be made in blackjack mainly comes from two sources. Doubles and Naturals. If I have split 22 and the dealer has a 6, I can’t double that first hand, but on the second I might have say 29, and dealer is shown to have T6 now. Awesome, roughly 30% of the time I will get 21. And for the times I don’t get 21 the dealer has a 32 / 48 chance of  busting anyway. so at worst I will be winning 66% of the time, and getting paid twice my money.

So what do I do? I split nearly ALL THE TIME. The only times I have problems splitting are with 22,33,44,55,66,77 vs 8/9/t/a, anything vs an Ace, and anything against a ten.

TT v T (note, dealer natural no longer allows surrender)

I sometimes split tens against a ten too. Why? There are 4 aces in the deck, so 7% of the time he might have a natural and I lose both bets. ~30% of the time dealer will have 20 – this is where I lose a lot. I have two chances of getting natural, and the same 30% chance of also having 20.

But the other 63% of the time the dealer will have under 20, which gives me a good chance of beating him. Every time the dealer has 12-16 I also have the chance to re-split on the second hand too (30% of the time remember!). That’s more naturals, more wins, and for the dealer a 66% of busting. So a quick re-cap

~10% of the time I will get one natural (so -0.5 bet if I lose other, +0.5 bet push, or +1.5 bet win other)
~30% of the time I will lose both hands
~30% I will be evens after the split (2 pushes, 1 win 1 loss)
~30% of the time the dealer will have 12-16 and I have a 66% advantage on each of these hands, and a 30% chance of a re-split on second hand

I’ve never done anything concrete with these numbers, but a quick glance I get:

(0.1 * 1) + (0.3*-2) + (0.3*0.66*2) + (0.3*0.66*2*0.3) = 0.03% gain

so 10% of my hands will be TT, and that means 3.5% or so will be this scenario. which is possibly 5 hands a day, or 0.15% gained by splitting TT vs T (when all aces are left).

so for me daily that would be 1.5m (If I am lucky) – not worth it tbh – it adds too much variation for those with small bank rolls.

Card Counting

Another benefit is the ability to count the cards. I won’t go too much into how to do it, or what value it adds. Maybe another day. For those of you who are already savvy players you will understand anyway and can bet/choose options based on your count.

There are many strategies for this, the quickest strategy is just counting how many aces/tens have gone before each shuffle. The more Aces and Tens left the better chance of you getting blackjack.

Bank Roll

Gambling is dangerous. Never bet what you don’t have. And when it comes to a game like blackjack you need to play for a long time to make money, and you can’t play long if you lose all your money in one or two bets.

If I had 100m I would only play 1m a time. The next day I might have 103m, and I’d probably try with 1.03m a bet. If statistics were reality. But they are not, so I suggest you set a goal based on what you can lose today. If I were only able to lose 100m I would bet 1m a time until I had made it 200m, then maybe change to 2m bets.

*If you use these techniques and manage to lose all your money then you have not followed the most important part of it, which is bank roll management. Do not come crying to me if you get greedy and keep doubling your bets because you lost the last one*

Trust the stats

So finally I’ll wrap up with a bit of talk on the global stats. If you look at global stats you might think that what I have said above is rubbish. If it were true then surely the money gain/loss ratio globally would be above 1?

No. Not everyone plays optimal, even if they think they do. Most blackjack cards don’t include best outcome for 5 card charlie for one (which is a huge 1% swinger!), so most players using cards are still playing as if the house has the advantage. At the time of writing I have a 1.038 ratio – I feel I have  been lucky though and expect this to come down as I play more hands. The Win ratio is higher than average thanks to the fact I split nearly all my hands – and remember that the 22% of hands I am losing I only lose one bet, for doubles and naturals I win more than one bet.

Money Gain/Loss ratio: 1.0382
Win / Loss ratio: 0.7843
Double downs: 814
Double down wins: 496 (~61%)

Updated Jan 2016:

Money Gain/Loss ratio: 1.0311
Win / Loss ratio: 0.7716
Double downs: 1681
Double down wins: 1081 (~64%)

An improvement in double wins, but a lower gain ratio, this is probably because I no longer am able to surrender or insure vs a TA blackjack split

152 thoughts on “The art of Blackjack”

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