Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How To Win At Blackjack Without Even Trying

This weekend I journeyed to Las Vegas, Nevada, where I played Blackjack for the second time in my life. And I won. And then I won again. And then again! And then a won for the fourth time in a row.

Let me repeat: I played Blackjack at four tables over two days, and I won all four times.

Meanwhile, my good friend (an avid Blackjack player) lost a pile of money. Another friend fared better, but still ended up in the hole.

Was I lucky? Most definitely.

But there’s more to it. I’d been playing a very specific strategy, without even realizing it. And I’m going to share that strategy with you.

But first, let me back up. If you've played Blackjack before, then you've probably played it many more times than I have. And you know the dealer has odds over you, no matter what you do. But you also know you can minimize those odds, by sticking closely to the following formula:

Supposedly, this formula reduces the dealer’s overall odds to 1%. Over the long term, the dealer will still beat you, but if you play your cards right (haha), you do stand a decent chance of winning. That’s why people play Blackjack.

The above strategy boils down to a few basic rules. Always assume a 10 card is coming. If you have at least 12, stand when the dealer is showing 2 – 6. Blah blah blah.

And then there are the more advanced moves. Always double down on 11. A 10 card is  coming next, so you're about to get 21. And you'll double your winnings by doubling down. Etc etc etc.

I’m not here to teach you those rules. There are plenty of other websites for that.

But guess what? I didn't play by those rules! And I won!

Well, not exactly. I mostly did follow the Blackjack Bible. But in some specific cases, I went against the odds. And I won four times in a row.

Why did I do this? Because my goals were different from those of your average Blackjack player. The average guy is out to win money. I wasn't.

Here are my Blackjack goals, in priority order:

1.  Do not lose very much money. (My loss limit was only $100 per day.)

2. Make the time at the Blackjack table last as long as possible. Blackjack is fun. Getting free drinks is fun. Make it last.

3. Quit while you're ahead.

Truthfully, I expected to lose money. I just wanted to lose it slowly. And that forms my guiding principle for Blackjack:

* Lose money as slowly as possible *

Losing money as slowly as possible maximizes the amount of fun time at the table, while still protecting the wallet.

So how do you do it?

The first step is to pick a cheap table. There’s no sense playing $25 hands when you can play $10 hands. For me, the thrill is the same. Sure, if you go on a hot streak, you’re going to win less money. But you're not going to win money, anyway. Remember? It’s more important that you’ll lose less money when you go on a cold streak, allowing you to play longer.

The second step is to avoid risky bets. Even though my friends and I were playing the $10 tables, my friend who lost his shirt often bet more than that. When he won those big hands, he won a lot of money. But he usually lost them. (Remember, the dealer always has odds over you.) And his chips dwindled pretty quickly.

OK, we've established a pattern here. Make small bets, consistently. Where else can we apply this?

I applied this pattern on the “double down on 11” rule as well. Several times the dealer handed me two cards totaling 11. The odds told me to double down, since I was probably getting a 10 card next, meaning I’d have a 21 hand, or Blackjack. And then I’d win double the money! (And who wouldn't want to win double the money?)

But most of the time, I didn't double down on 11. (This drove my friend crazy!) And guess what? More than half the time, I lost those hands. Luckily, I only lost $10 instead of $20. And this made my money last longer.

Sometimes  I did double down on 11. But only when the dealer had a crappy hand. If the dealer was showing 9, 10, or Ace, I avoided doubling down. The risk of losing was just too great.

I applied this pattern in several other situations as well. But I'll let you figure those out for yourself.

Finally, my third goal. Quit while you're ahead. Guess what? I didn't make that one up. But it's surprising how often people don't follow this. That's why I refer to it as a goal rather than a rule. It's hard to do it in the moment.

Each time I sat down at the Blackjack table, I played conservatively, made small bets, went against the odds when it meant risking too much money, and made my money last. At times I was down. But I managed to crawl my way back to even Stephens. And then I went up! And then I walked away from the table!

All in all I won $185. That's not crazy money. But it's pretty good for someone who was just trying to lose money slowly! 


This is a new blog.

No, that's not right. It's actually an old blog.

But it's been empty up 'till now.

And that's about to change, baby!

You may know me as the lead dev on Windows Azure Mobile Services. But more likely, you don't know me at all.

So please allow my to introduce myself.

I'm Jason. I'm the lead dev on Windows Azure Mobile Services.

It's very nice to meet you. I hope you like my new blog.