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Blackjack: Take The Money and Run
by Henry Tamburin
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Henry Tamburin's most popular book on blackjack contains three levels of playing strategies. 1) For the beginner, a non-counting strategy that will give you a slight edge in some blackjack games. 2) The intermediate level strategy contains an introduction to card counting. 3) The advanced level playing strategy is a powerful system that will give the blackjack player up to a 1.5% edge over the casinos. The book also contains advice on which blackjack games give you the most profit potential, the risks involved in playing blackjack, how to play without fear of getting barred, and money management discipline.
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The Cost of Making 'Dumb' Blackjack Plays

The annual cost to a typical $10 blackjack bettor who always makes the insurance bet is: a.  $55, b.  $250, c.  $420?
Believe it or not, the typical $10 live blackjack bettorHenry TamburinHenry Tamburin is the editor and publisher of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter and author of the best-selling Blackjack: Take the Money & Run.  He is also the lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course, a feature writer for Casino Player magazine (and 6 other publications); an owner of a casino gambling publishing company ( and the host of For a free three month subscription to the Henry's Blackjack Insider Newsletter with full membership privileges go to  Henry's website is  who visits a casino 2 – 3 times per month will donate a whopping $420 over the course of a year to the casino coiffeurs by making this dumb play.  If you throw in a few more dumb plays and multiply it by the masses of unskilled blackjack players, it’s not hard to figure where the money comes from to build billion dollar casinos.
A dumb play is when a blackjack player deviates from the mathematically derived basic blackjack playing strategy (excluding card counting).  Every time a player deviates, it costs money. The overall cost is a function of the frequency or number of times you are dealt a particular hand and the penalty (or percentage of money lost) associated with making the dumb play compared to the correct play. By multiplying the frequency times the penalty you arrive at the cost.
Fortunately several blackjack theoreticians (Braun, Wong, Griffin, Schlesinger) have published the cost for deviating from basic strategy on different hands. I double checked their results and decided to use the data reported by blackjack expert Don Schlesinger in his excellent book, Blackjack Attack, for the analysis in this article. Schlesinger’s data was calculated for a 4-deck game, which is good enough for the points I want to make.
What are the typical dumb plays made by blackjack players? Certainly “always making the insurance bet” ranks right up there as one of the dumbest plays. In order to create a list of the other most common dumb plays made by players I used my own observations from my 27 year blackjack playing career  plus input from my casino gambling friends, business associates, and spouse.  I also perused several blackjack books where authors mentioned the typical “wrong plays” made by blackjack players. When I put it all together into one list, it surprisingly boiled down to the 15 dumb plays listed in Table 1.
Many players argue with me that they use the basic playing strategy “most of the time” and the few times they deviate “won’t make that much of a difference”. I say that depending upon the play it will and can make a difference.
To prove my point I used the cost information in Table 8.3 of Schlesinger’s Blackjack Attack plus the assumptions below for a typical player to calculate what each of the common dumb plays cost a player on an annual basis.
1    $10 average bet per hand.
2.    100 hands per hour.
3.    2 –3 casino visits per month totaling 12 hours of playing time.
4.    150 hours (or 15,000 hands) per year.
Table 1 below ranks the annual costs for each dumb play. The most expensive playing mistake is to always take insurance when the dealer offers it. You donate $419 to the casino bottom line if you consistently do this.


Always take insurance
Hit 16 vs. 2
Hit 11 vs. 10
Double Down
Stand 16 vs. 7
Stand 16 vs. 9
Insure a 10-10 hand
Stand on 12 vs. 2
Stand on 16 vs. 10
Stand on 12 vs. 3
Always insure a blackjack
Stand on A,7 vs. 9
Stand on A,7 vs. 6
Double Down
Hit 8,8 vs. 10
Double 11 vs. ace
Double 9 vs. 2
The cost to a typical $10 blackjack player who always makes the five most expensive dumb plays is a whopping $858 per year. Ouch! If a green chip player makes the same dumb plays his donation to the casinos is 2.5 times as much or a whopping $2,145. A high rolling, black chip, action player who plays mostly heads-up against the dealer (150 instead of 100 hands per hour) will donate easily $10,000 and probably more per year by making these dumb playing mistakes. It’s no wonder that casinos cater to these types of players for their business.
The reason that some plays cost more than others is because the most expensive dumb plays occur more frequently and have the highest percentage penalty for making the second best play. Table 2 summarizes the hands that occur most frequently. Likewise the table contains the hands that have the highest percent penalty when you deviate from the basic playing strategy. The more frequent a hand occurs and the greater the percent penalty, then the more it will cost a player in the long run.
For example, doubling vs. hitting on 9 vs. 2 or on 11 vs. Ace are not relatively costly plays (combined they cost the player only $10 per year). The reason? These plays do not occur very often (i.e. frequency is low). Likewise soft hands and pairs do not occur very frequently, which is why these hands appear toward the bottom of the ranking of costs.
On the other hand consistently passing up the opportunity to double on 11 against a 10 is an expensive play because this play occurs frequently and the penalty is high. Also, how you play the frequently occurring hard 16 hand has a great effect on your annual costs.  Players who hit hard 16 when the dealer shows a 2 or stand on 7, 9, or 10 are looking at a $355 annual donation to their favorite casinos. And check out the hard 12 against a dealer’s 2 or 3 play. Lot’s of players hate to hit because they are afraid to bust. It will cost you $63 a year for being a chicken and standing.
If you’re a green chip player, multiply the annual costs in Table 1 by 2.5 to get a rough idea of what you are donating for your dumb plays. If you are a black chip player, multiply  the costs by 10. At these betting levels, playing mistakes get awfully expensive.


16 vs. 10
Stand on A,7 vs. 6
11 vs. 10
Stand on A,7 vs. 9
16 vs. 7
Stand on 16 vs. 7
16 vs. 9
Stand on 11 vs. 10
12 vs. 2
Hit on 8,8 vs. 10
12 vs. 3
Stand on 12 vs. 2
16 vs. 2
Stand on 16 vs. 9
Insure a blackjack
Insure a blackjack
9 vs. 2
Stand on 12 vs. 3
How about a $10 blackjack bettor that never hits a stiff hand when the dealer shows a 7 to Ace?  Care to guess what it costs this player over a year for making this dumb play?  About $5,000. How about the player that always hits a stiff hand when the dealer shows a small upcard? Yes I know you’d like to strangle him or her,  but take solace in the fact that they are donating about $2,800 per year to the casinos for making this dumb play.
If you are a card counter listen up. Sometimes it’s to your advantage to make a “dumb” play on purpose to camflouge your playing skills from casino bosses who get leery when they suspect a player is counting. However, as you see from Table 1, some dumb plays are more costly than others. If you make too many costly plays you can easily wipe out your profit potential from counting. The solution is to only make a “common” dumb play with a low cost when you have a small bet on the layout. Some camouflage plays that fit these criteria include insuring a blackjack hand (everyone will tell you it’s a sure bet in blackjack), standing on soft 18 against the dealer’s 9, 10, or ace, and hitting 9 vs. 2. For more information on camouflage betting I strongly encourage you to read Ian Anderson’s latest book, Burning The Tables in Las Vegas.
If you’re the type of blackjack player that doesn’t want to be bothered learning the basic strategy or figures a few mistakes now and then isn’t going to cost a lot, I hoped I’ve given you a wake-up call. Consistently making playing mistakes is costly. So the choice is yours. If you want to continue to donate your money to the casinos, then continue to make dumb playing mistakes.  If instead you want to stop donating, then learn the basic playing strategy and stop making dumb playing mistakes. It’s that simple.
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