Playing Blackjack Badly

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Every so often I’ll be sitting playing blackjack in my local casino, when I witness “dumb play” on my table. It’s frustrating. A local “expert” decides to split his 5’s against a dealer 8, only to get 15, and 14. He pulls and gets a 6 for 21 on the first hand, and a 10 for a bust on the second. The dealer pulls a 10 to get 18 and beats everyone elses hand. If the “dumb play” hadn’t occurred, the dealer would have bust, helping everyone…

When this happens I want to lash out at the local “expert” and say “Congratulations, you just cost the whole table money”, but I normally don’t as I simply don’t feel its my right to do so. In the long term, these “dumb plays” will hurt some of my hands, and help the others – so it just doesn’t seem worthwhile getting worked up over. Besides, I know from my 15 years of experience playing blackjack, that in the end, the ones who’ll lose the most money on the table are the ones who actually make the “dumb play”. Stupidity and blackjack odds go well together – you can win if you play well, but you will lose if you play in a dumb fashion. That’s the reality.

So I guess you could say I tolerate dumb play – but try not to make dumb plays myself. What are just some of the dumb blackjack plays I’ve witnessed lately?

1) Splitting Tens – I don’t care what the dealer has showing, whether it’s a 6 or below, a 10, or even an Ace, splitting 10’s is just dumb. What can beat 20? Only 21 or a blackjack! What are the odds of that happening? About 1 in 10. So why take a winning hand and make it into two losing ones?

2) Splitting fours and fives – again, this is just dumb. A score of 8 or 10 is perfectly acceptable for your first two cards, especially when you always expect the next card to be a 10. In the long term, keeping these cards together, you’ll get average scores of 18 or 20 on the hand. What happens when you split? You end up with two hands of 14 or 15. Yuck! At that stage only half the cards in a deck will help you – the others will make you bust…

3) Not hitting soft 18 against a dealer 10 – the number of times a dealer gets a picture or high card when a soft 18 is not hit seems extraordinary (when I play at least). Hitting soft 18 will improve many of your hands – and will often take the high cards needed by the dealer too.

4) Not hitting soft 17 – I always hit Soft 17, against ANY dealer card. Why? Because you can never bust by hitting it, and there are four chances out of 13 of improving your hand with just one card. There are many more chances when two cards are pulled. Is some casinos the dealer hits soft 17. Why? Because they know that in doing so they’ll improve more of their hands in the long term. If it’s good enough for the house to do that, it’s good enough for me too!

Note: some advantage players might disagree with the above… yes, there are sometimes occasions when it’s right to make some of the moves I’ve commented on above… however, for the average player, those times / options are so infrequent, that I generally advise against them. Personal opinion – take it or leave it. 🙂

There are many other times when I’ve been playing, and I’ve thought “this guy is just plain crazy” or “wow, he needs to learn how to play”. I take every session on its merits. If there is dumb play occuring but its not affecting my hands negatively, I’ll stay in the game. If I’m losing hands that should win under normal circumstances, I withdraw and find another table. This is one instance where the line “if you can’t beat them, join them” definitely DOES NOT apply! Let me know about the dumb plays you’ve experienced – I’m sure I’m not alone! Leave a comment or email me at

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3 Comments on Playing Blackjack Badly

  1. Anonymous // March 30, 2008 at 5:04 pm //

    I was playing at the Venetian in Las Vegas and one of the players splits 10s – twice in a row. HE won – but he took the dealer bust card and everyone else at the table lost. That’s when I left.

    And I didn’t even wait for the catastrophe when a player sat down at a table I was playing this last week. He spoke no English and knew nothing about blackjack. When a woman at the table who spoke Chinese translated and said he didn’t know how to play – and was trying to explain the game to him – I decided it was time to eat lunch.

    All you can do is leave when there’s someone playing at the table who is ruining the deal for everyone else. I’m sure the casinos love them.

  2. Anonymous // April 3, 2008 at 1:27 pm //

    hello Dave,

    Can you give some advice on how to actually get an advantage at BJ; perhaps a breakdown of card counting. If you can also suggest some reading material that would be appreciated as well.

  3. Casino Barred // April 4, 2008 at 7:05 pm //

    Hi there, sure, I’m happy to help! Check out our online gaming guides on this How to Beat the Casinos website!

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