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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Why do high “counts” at blackjack help players and not dealers?

13 May 2013

Question: Blackjack "card counters" increase their bets when they determine that shoes are rich in 10s. Assuming players bet only on single spots, why is this situation advantageous? Don't players and dealers have equal chances of receiving high hands in these circumstances?

Answer: The advantage in blackjack does shift to the player when the cards to be drawn from a shoe have a higher fraction of 10s than the 4/13 of a "neutral" deck. This, despite dealers and players having the same chance of receiving strong starting hands. The explanation lies in the rules of casino blackjack.

First, the likelihood of a blackjack goes up – equally for players and dealers, of course. But, the hands aren't symmetrical because winning nets 1.5 units and losing only costs one unit. So equal frequencies of occurrence mean a net gain for players.

Second, players can stand on "stiffs" – 12 through 16 – while dealers must hit these hands. The higher the concentration of 10s, the more likely that a stiff, when hit, will break. So high concentrations of 10s improve players' chances of winning against low dealer upcards.

Third, players can split and double under opportune conditions. Dealers must always draw until they reach or exceed 17. All hard doubles and certain splits become increasingly favorable when the proportion of 10s remaining in the shoe is above normal.
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.