Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Blackjack - Part Five - Splitting Pairs

If your first two cards are a pair, you have the option to split them, forming two hands. The dealer will deal a second card to each hand, which is then played out separately. Should the second card dealt to either hand also be of the same rank, you can split again. The maximum number of hands that can be formed by splitting is four.

When splitting, you are required to bet the same amount on each hand as you did on your original hand. When playing online, click the SPLIT button. In a casino, indicate to the dealer you wish to split by placing the additional bet on the table near the original bet and announcing "Split".

It's not always good sense to split a pair. Once again, the decision you should make depends on your cards, and possibly the dealer's upcard.

Never split a pair of ten-valued cards. 20 is a strong starting hand. If you split tens, you risk getting dealt, for example, a six on each of them, leaving you with two weak hands of 16 each.

Likewise, never split a pair of 5s. Treat them as 10 and play the hand accordingly.

A pair of 8s should always be split; 16 is the worst starting hand, so you should try to improve it. Always split aces, too. There are more 10-valued cards in the deck than any other rank, so you have a good chance of making 21 on each hand. If you do get dealt a 10 on any split ace, it counts as an ordinary 21, however, not blackjack.

Otherwise, split pairs of:
  • 2s or 3s, if the dealer's upcard is 7 or less.
  • 4s, if the dealer's upcard is 5 or 6.
  • 6s, if the dealer's upcard is 6 or less.
  • 7s, if the dealer's upcard is 7 or less.
  • 9s, if the dealer's upcard is anything except a 7, 10 or ace.
That concludes our overview of basic blackjack strategy. It may seem quite a bit to digest at first, but as you get used to the game, you'll find the decision-making process becomes second nature.

The next few posts will present some ways of making it easier to memorise basic strategy, and also cover some common rule variations that you might encounter online or offline and how to handle them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blackjack - Part Four - Doubling Down

If you are lucky enough to be dealt a starting hand that is a likely winner based on the value of the dealer's up card, you can double down, which means that you choose to double your original bet, and if your luck holds as the hands are played out, you will end up receiving four times your original bet in winnings.

The option to double down is only available on your first two cards. Once you have taken a hit to your hand, you cannot then double.

To double down when playing online, click the DOUBLE button. Your original bet will automatically be doubled, and you will receive just one more card on your hand. When playing in a casino, indicate to the dealer that you wish to double by placing the additional chips beside your original bet.

If your first two cards don't include an ace, double with these totals:
  • 9, where the dealer has 3, 4, 5 or 6.
  • 10, where the dealer does not have a 10 or ace. This includes situations where your 10 consists of a pair of 5s. Don't split them! You turn a strong starting hand of 10 into two weak hands of 5 each.
  • 11, where the dealer does not have an ace.
When your first two cards do include an ace, double when the other card is:
  • 2 or 3, where the dealer has 5 or 6.
  • 4 or 5, where the dealer has 4, 5 or 6.
  • 6 or 7, where the dealer has 3, 4, 5 or 6.
When doubling, you are always hoping that the one additional card you will receive will make you a total of 21 (or when doubling on a hard 9, a total of 20). May the cards always fall in your favour!

Tomorrow, splitting pairs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blackjack - Part Three - Hit Me!

Given that your hand doesn't fall into the any of the categories we've discussed so far, standing isn't the right choice. For now, assume that your starting cards are not a pair, as we'll cover splitting pairs later.

To hit your hand, and receive another card, simply click the HIT button when playing online. In a casino, indicate to the dealer that you want to hit by tapping the table next to your hand.

First, we'll look at hands where the first two cards don't include an ace. You should hit if your hand totals
  • 8 or less.
  • 9, and the dealer has anything except 3, 4, 5 or 6.
  • 10, and the dealer has 10 or ace.
  • 11, and the dealer has an ace.
  • 12, and the dealer has anything except 4, 5 or 6.
  • 13 to 16, and the dealer has 7 or higher.
When your first two cards do include an ace, hit based on the value of the other card:
  • 2 or 3, where the dealer has anything except 5 or 6.
  • 4 or 5, where the dealer has anything except 4, 5 or 6.
  • 6, where the dealer has anything except 3, 4, 5 or 6.
  • 7, where the dealer has 9, 10 or ace.
Continue to take hits until your hand reaches a total where you should stand, as per yesterday's post.

I've left out situations where you may wish to double down on your first two cards, as that's tomorrow's topic!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Blackjack - Part Two - Decisions, Decisions

Once the starting cards have been dealt, each player must decide what to do, based on their hand and that of the dealer's.

Should a player bust while playing their hand, the dealer will immediately collect their cards and bets.

After all players have finished playing their hands, the dealer turns over his hole (face down) card, and plays out his hand, which is always done according to the house rules; he cannot choose for himself. In these examples, we'll use two rules that are commonly found at casinos on the Strip in Las Vegas, and at many online casinos. I'll cover variations in later posts.

The dealer must draw cards to his hand until:
  • he has a total of 17 or more.
  • he busts.
If the dealer busts, all players still in the game (not busted) win their hands. Otherwise, he will end up with a final total between 17 and 21. Those players whose hands total more than the dealer's are winners and receive even money on their bets. If the player's and dealer's total are the same, it's a push and no money changes hands. Otherwise, the dealer wins.

Making the right choice when playing a blackjack hand does affect your chances of winning, sometimes dramatically. Playing accurate basic strategy is most definitely your best bet. A regular player will want to memorise the entire strategy, but for now, we'll start with the simplest decisions and work up from there.

Today, we'll just consider when to stand.

If you have a hard total (that is to say, where you don't have an ace worth 11 in your hand) of 17 or more, or a soft total (where you do have an ace worth 11 in your hand) of 19 or more, ALWAYS stand, no matter what the dealer has. When playing online, there'll be a button onscreen marked STAND, but if you were playing in Vegas, you'd indicate you wish to stand by waving your hand, palm down, above your cards without touching them.

You should also stand:
  • if you have a hard total of 12, and the dealer has 4, 5 or 6.
  • if you have a hard total between 13 and 16, and the dealer has 6 or less.
There is just one special case, where you have a total of 18, and we'll look at that when we discuss splitting and doubling.

Easy, right? Of course it is; blackjack is not a difficult game to learn, and it's lots of fun.

Tomorrow: when to hit. See you then.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blackjack - Part One - Introduction

If, like me a few years back, you have never played a table game in a casino, you may find the idea of doing so a bit intimidating. What is the best game to start with? What are the rules? And, most embarrassingly, will I look stupid if I make a mistake as a new player? Today, we'll start setting your fears to rest.

In terms of the odds, the best table game bet in any casino is usually blackjack (with a few exceptions that I'll talk about in a future post.) An average game of blackjack favours the house by just one half of one percent on each hand, and a really good game has an even smaller house edge than that.

Playing online is a great way to familiarise yourself with the game before you head off on that big Vegas adventure, so by the time you arrive you'll be a seasoned pro.

As to the rules, well, that's what I'm here for! After we've covered game play, we'll look at what is called basic strategy - a way to play each hand that ensures the best chance of winning for the player. Basic strategy has been developed using mathematics and simulating millions of hands by computer. The good news for the average player is that all the hard work in developing basic strategy for blackjack has been done; if math isn't your thing, no problem.

So, let's begin.

The object of the game is simple: to beat the dealer's total without busting (scoring a total over 21 when adding up the value of all the cards in your hand.) A picture (face) card always has a value of 10, and an ace can be valued at 1 or 11, whichever makes the best hand.

At the start of a new hand, the dealer will give each player at the table one card in turn, starting from his left, then one card to himself, then another card to each player, and finally another to himself. The dealer's second card will be dealt face down.

The best starting hand a player can have is a blackjack, or natural 21, as it can never lose. A blackjack consists of any 10-valued card and any ace. Blackjack pays 3-to-2, so if you bet $10, you will receive $15 plus your original bet returned to you. Nice!

A blackjack is paid immediately, unless the dealer also has a blackjack, which he will check for before he continues with the hand. If this does happen, your blackjack is a push, or standoff, and your original bet is returned to you.

If you don't receive a blackjack, your first two cards will give you a total somewhere between 2 (a pair of aces) and 20 (a pair of 10-valued cards). At this point, the new player will be wondering what options they have, so let's look at them. You can:
  • Hit, which means you ask the dealer for another card.
  • Stand, which means you think your hand is as strong as it's likely to get.
  • Split. If you have a pair of cards of the same rank, you can split them to make 2 hands.
  • Double down. If you think your hand is particularly strong (we'll discuss later how to decide this) you can double your original bet. You will then receive one (and only one) more card on this hand.
I'll leave it there for today; as I continue with this series I'll be posting every day, so please do come again soon. The next posts will cover when to make one of the above 4 decisions.

If you want to ask any questions about anything on this blog, please contact me at anothergambler@gmail.com - I don't bite and always enjoy hearing from readers.

Luck to all!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Getting Your Own Back

First things first - a belated Season's Greetings and a very Happy New Year to all my readers, and sorry for making you wait so long between posts. A round of overseas travel at short notice has left me without much time up my sleeve.

In the past decade or so, it's become common for businesses, both large and small, to establish or take part in a loyalty program, to encourage repeat business and to give something back to their valued customers. Casinos, both landbased and online, are no different. Every time you play, you will have a percentage of your total action (the amount of money you turn over in bets) returned to you. This is referred to as a complimentary (or comp) program; each casino will have a brand name for theirs, for example, Harrah's Total Rewards or MGM Mirage Players Club.

While a casino in, for instance, Las Vegas, may return your comp dollars to you in the form of free room, food and beverage, this isn't quite so practical when you play online. Hence, you're most likely to receive your comps in the form of cash. That's right - cold, hard cash which is credited back to your casino account, either automatically or upon request. This cash can then either be used to make further wagers, or withdrawn just as you would with your winnings. Most good comp programs allow you to receive your payout any time you like, so long as you have earned a certain nominal value of comp dollars, say $5.

What this means to the player is that a casino game that is already a good bet in terms of player return, such as blackjack, baccarat or the pass line bet in craps, becomes even better. The overall effect of the comp program is that the house edge is reduced by the comp rate that the game you are playing is earning. This rate will generally be higher when playing a game with a larger house edge, too, which is great news for slots players!

When you join a casino in the Fortune Lounge group, you automatically become a member of the Fortune Rewards programme. From your first bet, you start earning comp dollars redeemable for cash. As your earnings increase, you move up through the membership levels - Blue, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Each level has unique benefits, such as higher bonus point levels, which give you additional recognition the more frequently you play.

To begin enjoying all the benefits available to you as a player at one of Fortune Lounge's trusted online casinos, why not take advantage of this lucrative offer from Fortune Room? Give your first deposit of up to 50 a 1000% makeover of up to 500! Click below now & get your gaming experience off to a flying start!
Next time, I'll look at some blackjack basics for those who have always wanted to try the world's most popular table game. Until then, best of luck!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Choosing an Online Casino - Part One

When I made my first tentative entry into the world of online gaming a few years back, I really didn't know where to start. There are literally hundreds of choices out there, and, as with any industry, there are many reputable operators and, of course, a minority of cowboys who get all the publicity when things go wrong. Thankfully, I got lucky and had good-to-excellent experiences with the casinos I chose, but while luck is important when you're actually playing the games, there's no need to rely on it when you're selecting a casino. Today, I'll give you a brief introduction to picking a reliable casino - one that will not only act ethically in all its business dealings, but always look after its players, whether or not they have had a good day at the tables and slots.

If you play at a land casino, the local licensing authority will usually give you good protection against being cheated. For example, in Las Vegas, the Nevada Gaming Commission, a state agency, is charged with ensuring that the games are fair and that the casinos follow the rules. Almost all online casinos claim to be licensed in one jurisdiction or another. However, unlike land casinos that have a physical presence in the jurisdiction where they are licensed, allowing the licensing authority to easily intervene if something goes wrong, online casinos generally do not. So, in order to maintain the prestige of their licenses, the authority needs to have a strong reputation for taking prompt and firm action if one of their licensees doesn't treat their players fairly. In Part Two of this series, I'll discuss a few of the jurisdictions that license online casinos & explain why you can have more confidence in some than in others.

This having been said, simple market forces are probably the player's best friend in regard to protection against fraud. The online casino industry tends to self regulate by virtue of it being so competitive; in many cities around the world there may be just one or a handful of local casinos where you can play, but online, a new gaming site is just a few clicks away. A casino operator who is dishonest or who provides poor customer service generally won't last very long. Word will get around the player community, and the casino's flow of deposits will dry up. Well-known online casino watchdog sites such as Casinomeister maintain lists of reputable and rogue casinos, and these are usually an excellent starting point when making your selection.

A good rule of thumb is that the longer a casino operator has been in business, and the better known they are, the more likely they are to be reputable. If a dishonest operator has a high profile, this will usually work against them. Another positive sign is that the casino's games have been audited by an independent third party such as a major accounting firm. If a particular operator does have this done, they will publicise it on their website, as it's a great selling point for their product.

Unless an online casino has ticked all the above boxes, you won't find me recommending them here. Even if a particular casino has treated me well in the past, that isn't a guarantee that they will get my seal of approval. As per the title of this blog, I'm just "another gambler" - I'm not employed by any casino operator and my primary concern is a great gaming experience for my readers. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to email me at any time at anothergambler@gmail.com

Good luck to you all!