There is a certain amount of mystic and mythology that surrounds the casino game of blackjack and this is even demonstrated by its regular appearances in Hollywood films. Movies such as 21 where the young smart students try to beat the house and to a certain extent succeed In books and film it’s often used as a game that show players hitting huge winning streaks and often the game is used as the example of how casino players can indeed beat the house. But is any of this actually true? We know that movie makers and authors try to be a little ‘flexible’ with the truth to make a good story a great story, so the question is, can the house be beaten when playing blackjack?
The reality is however somewhat different. However Edward O Thorp provided the only real way to in fact beat the dealer in his book on card counting ‘Beat the Dealer, a Winning Strategy for the game of 21’. This of course led to other books, and later the film of how it was used to beat the casino. The book explains that in some situations where the shoe was rich in 10’s blackjack players could expect a positive return. It’s a complex system but the important factor in most card counting systems, the effect of removal, is a part of it. The effect of removal is the basis of many systems and it means that in general it’s good for the player to take low cards from the deck, while keeping all high cards. The easiest system in which this is used is the ace/five system, however there are many more complex card counting and card removal systems.
A perfect card counting system needs to have two things in place. It would need to adapt perfectly to the shoe at any given time, and it would allow the player to bet the maximum amount only when they could expect a positive outcome from the hand. Simple strategies do not change the way in which the game is played, they only allow for changes in the bet size, as optimal blackjack strategy should be played at all times. The bet size and when the bet is raised to the maximum is therefore also key, however as casinos picked up on players betting patterns this was quickly noticed and players were banned from casinos. This is where working in teams came in and as those who have seen the film 21 will know, there are counters in place who play the minimum bet and then leave as the deck turned hot, allowing for the high roller to come in and scoop up the winnings.
Casinos also quickly picked up on this and now they have many rules in place that stops card counting, with many decks used, limited splitting and doubling opportunities and while this has made things ‘safer’ for the casino, the 99.99% of players who are not card counting are the ones that suffer with all these restrictions in place. With rules in land based casinos that stop card counting, the house edge is now hard to cut and you’ll find that the same house edge exists in land based casinos and in online casino when playing blackjack.