Blackjack is one of the oldest card games in the casino. It has undergone many changes since first being introduced. The game as we know it today bears only a sight resemblance to the original version. As the game has grown, there has been an evolution of blackjack strategies.
Players are always looking for creative ways to beat the game of blackjack. Because the game depends upon precise blackjack rules and uses the same equipment – 52 cards – on each hand, winning solutions are always present. Over time the smartest players have found ways to win. Casinos, on the other hand, must also evolve in order to maintain an edge.
Cat and Mouse Blackjack
There is a constant game of cat and mouse between blackjack players and the casino. The players are always coming up with better strategies. The house is always trying to make it harder to beat blackjack. This adversarial relationship will never end.
In the end it is a good situation for the player. It has been proven that blackjack is a game which can be beaten. The evolution of blackjack strategies only improves the odds of the average player as well as the professional.
Casinos try to make the game more difficult by coming up with blackjack variations. These usually involve side bets that aren’t really a part of the basic game. They target players that love action and crave more ways to bet. In most cases you should avoid these traps.
Basic Blackjack Strategy – Finding the Best Blackjack Play
Have you ever heard of the Four Horsemen of blackjack? This is the name given to a group of four men who are credited with inventing the very first basic blackjack strategy. Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott were inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2008 for their contribution to the game. Read our post about the The Four Horsemen of Blackjack.
The Four Horsemen were serving in the US Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland during the 1950s. During their free time they begin to explore the perfect play for each hand of blackjack. There were no computers at this time. The men only had calculators to perform their analysis. They eventually produced a chart which could, in theory, give players a mathematical edge at the game of blackjack.
The rest is history. The basic strategy developed by the Four Horsemen went on to become the foundation of all modern blackjack strategies. What is amusing about this story is that the men never counted cards nor even entered a casino as far as we know. They simply wanted to see if a mathematical edge to blackjack could be found.
Card Counting – Seeking a Mathematical Edge
The next step in the evolution of blackjack strategies was the important work of mathematician Edward O. Thorp. Thorp’s Beat the Dealer was published in the 1960s and went on to become the Bible of blackjack card counting.
Thorp was also more interested in the science than in actually playing the game of blackjack, but he did test his theories in live play with success. Once Thorp introduced the concept of card counting, others ran with it. New books and methods began to appear from players like Ken Uston and Arnold Snyder. Today, there are multiple card counting methods.
Card counting had an immediate impact on the professional players in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. They were able to increase their profits to a large degree. It wasn’t long before the casinos began taking measures to prevent counting. The first of these were often physical.
Card counters were considered cheats. At best the casino would throw them out. At worst the counter could wind up in the hospital. As time passed, the casinos took a more benevolent approach. They introduced measures specifically designed to prevent card counting.
One of these was to begin using multiple decks of cards. Gone were the single deck and double deck games of the past. It became common to use six to eight decks in a shoe. The idea was that more decks would make it harder for the player to keep a count.
Those who counted soon found a way to exploit this. They introduced the true count and more complex mathematics. The players had won again.
Money Management – Bankroll Strategies for Blackjack
Nevertheless it was soon apparent that mere card counting would not be enough for the player to keep beating the casinos. The next step in the evolution of blackjack strategies was to improve the management of the player’s bankroll.
Systems were developed which would allow the player to raise and lower their bet according to the count. This gave the player a huge edge, but it also tended to attract some attention from the casino. Sometimes players would be accused of counting merely because of how they structured their wagers.
At some point the team concept was introduced. In this scenario, card counters worked in groups of two or more. One player would be tasked with keeping the count and signaling another player to join the game when it was high. The Big Player, as they were called, would come in betting big. To the casino it appeared as though the player was just lucky.
This worked for a while. The legendary MIT blackjack team was perhaps the most famous example. It is believed that the team won millions before the players were identified and blacklisted by many casinos.
Advantage Play – The New Card Counting
Today, the casinos have adopted a new term – advantage play. This is a designation given to players who are believed to employ a mix of card counting, basic strategy, and money management. It basically gives the casino more latitude in identifying and accusing players they think have an edge.
It is unlikely today that you would be charged with a crime or physically abused if you are accused of advantage play. Casinos don’t have to resort to that type of behavior anymore. They can simply remove you from the casino and ban you from playing there again.
This means that the latest evolution of blackjack strategies involves things like learning how to avoid detection. It also means playing more blackjack online. Many players are now making the move toward online casinos and online blackjack games.
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