The Myth of the Flaw in Blackjack Basic Strategy

Question: Recently I've heard some people talking about how blackjack basic strategy is somehow flawed and that flaw has been making players lose for decades. There are even whole websites dedicated to finding the flaw. Is it true, is basic strategy wrong?

 While you might have heard it only recently, the idea of the basic strategy flaw has been around for decades. The story goes that when basic strategy was first developed in the 1960s, there was a mistake in the calculations and that that mistake has been passed down for years with most people never realizing the error.

Of course, it's just an old gambling myth and is not true, whatsoever. The fact is, basic strategy was not calculated once; it has been calculated thousands of times by different mathematicians and verified again and again. It has even been analysed, and sometimes slightly changed, for every single rule variation, ensuring that players have the best chance to win.

The reason the myth of the basic strategy flaw persists is that many people do not quite understand what it does. If you play blackjack basic strategy, you cut the house edge to under 0.5%. However, the house still has an edge and over the long term you will lose. Basic strategy is the best strategy there is, but it doesn't guarantee that you will win.

 Question: At my child's school they held a charity casino night last week and the blackjack tables paid out even money for blackjack instead of 3-2. I'm sure that gives the house a much higher edge, but how high is it?

Firstly, to answer your question regarding the house edge, when blackjacks only pay even money the house has a 2.27% higher edge on blackjacks than if they paid 3-2. If you were in an actual casino, even getting 6-5 on blackjack is bad, even money is a complete rip-off.

While 2.27% on blackjacks may not seem like a huge increase, in a game with such tight percentages as blackjack, it is humongous.

Let's look at the rules of a standard Vegas-style blackjack table: Six-deck shoe, double any two starting cards, up to three splits on normal cards, one split and one additional card only on aces, and dealer hits on soft 17. If you play basic strategy, then the house edge if they pay blackjacks 3-2 is a mere 0.64%. But if blackjacks only pay even money, then the house edge jumps more than five times to 2.9%, which is giving the casino far too much of your money.

That being said, charity casino nights often use rules that increase the house edge, such as offering even-money blackjack, 25% rake on poker games, or 30-1 payouts on roulette. After all, the point is to raise money for charity, not give players a chance to win. So, as long as you approve of the charity and are happy to lose some money to them, don't worry too much about the game rules.

 

About The Author

Journalist and author John Grochowski is one of the foremost experts on casinos in America. He writes a syndicated weekly gambling newspaper column and he is a frequent contributor to gambling magazines, websites, and radio programs. His books include the best-sellers The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Casino Answer Book.

  • "The baccarat pit is quite different from other areas of the casino. Certain casinos have baccarat dress codes, while tables have seat numbers and room for fourteen players, yet never contain the number 13"

  • "The most common casino bet is an even money bet where you get one chip for every chip you bet. So if you bet one chip, you get your original chip back, plus an additional chip."

  • "It's far too common for players who win to keep playing, reasoning that they are playing with the house's money. But it's not the house's money, it's yours. Always remember that."

  • "In the early 20th century, slots were made illegal. To get around this, slot machines were made to look like vending machines and players would actually get sticks of gum every time they played."

  • "The long run, so to speak, is the expected amount that you would win or lose if you played the game long enough to equal an average result. This is expressed as the EV, or expected value."

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