Next time you find yourself taking a stroll through your favorite casino, stop and soak in the scene at the table game pit.
You’ll probably see a gaggle of happy tourists ringing the roulette table, slapping hands whenever somebody’s number comes in.
Over at the craps game, it almost feels like a party has broken out, with ten strangers whooping it up like they’ve known each other for years.
The baccarat enthusiasts are slowly squeezing the last card to maximize their sweat, erupting when they find a winner.
Three Card Poker fans can be found excitedly discussing their prospects of hitting the progressive jackpot.
Where am I going with this, and what does it have to do with playing blackjack for fun? Keep reading to find out.
The Fun Factor
One thing all of the scenes mentioned above have in common is the fun factor.
At first glance, you probably won’t even be able to tell who’s up on the night and who has lost their shirt. The players are generally just happy to be there, far from the pressures of professional obligations and family drama.
For them, the casino is an escape hatch, enabling them to enjoy a few hours away from it all.
Then you make your way over to the blackjack tables, where things have a decidedly different feel.
The players here seem sullen and reserved, staring stone-faced at the cards while saying very little to tablemates or the dealer. Even when they score a well-timed double down, drawing a face card to complete their 21 total, these guys and gals remain stoic and impassive.
They could have a mountain of black $100 chips piled in front of them, but for all the world, it appears as though they’ve gone broke.
This game has a way of wearing even the most avid enthusiasts down, due in large part to the disconnect between correct play and a profitable session.
You may know basic strategy like the back of your hand, and perhaps you can even count better than most. It doesn’t matter, though, because the razor-thin margins between success and failure leave most blackjack players dispirited and downtrodden.
Let’s say you’ve worked on your game for months, mastering basic strategy and working in some advantage play techniques to round things out. You head to the table with a bullet from your bankroll and get to work, intent to play as well as you possibly can.
Then reality sets in, as you seem to alternate back and forth between winners and losers.
Maybe you go on a few streaks in either direction, but when it’s all said and done, hours at the table leave you with essentially the same chip stack as when you started.
All of that hard work, patience, and capable play equates to nothing more than a breakeven session, or perhaps a minuscule loss or gain.
When you break the numbers down and examine blackjack probabilities, it becomes quite clear what just happened.
The math dictates that a player using basic strategy will wind up with the winning hand just 42.42% of the time. On 8.48% of deals, you’ll tie the dealer to produce a push.
Which leaves 49.09% of hands going in favor of the house.
Everybody loves to hype blackjack as the perfect skill game for thinking players, and as an advantage play pro for the last few decades, I tend to agree.
This is a beautifully complex and elegant game, one in which players armed with knowledge and know-how can shave the house’s edge down to under 0.50%.
That fact is laid bare right there in the probabilities above. You’ll avoid a loss on just over 49% of deals, leaving just under 51% of hands going in your favor. That seems like a perfectly reasonable game for gamblers to take their shot with – but only upon first glance.
When you remove pushes from the equation – tied hands which simply send your bet back – you’ll only wind up as the winner slightly more than 42% of the time.
No wonder blackjack players can be so cranky. The game is marketed as the proverbial coin flip, with players winning roughly half of their hands. But in truth, you’ll only be taking down 3/5 of the bets you put up, and that reality can be tough for most players to reckon with.
For that reason, I recommend adjusting your perspective as a blackjack player, prioritizing fun above financial concerns. That holds true for all forms of gambling, mind you, but only at the blackjack table do I find players in the black who never seem to crack a smile.
Now, don’t get me wrong on that account; I still advise readers to take the game seriously. By that I mean study your basic strategy charts, put in the practice on free-play simulators, and shop around for the best game conditions.
The name of the game should always be trying to win. Just don’t get caught up in whether or not you do.
Once you learn the inescapable facts of blackjack probability, it just doesn’t make sense to have a “victory or death” mentality at the tables. Even the very best players in the world – elite talents who earn their living as blackjack pros – will inevitably suffer their fair share of losing sessions.
Don’t take it from me… just ask Ken Uston, the author of “Million Dollar Blackjack” (1982) and a true legend of the game.
This is because, in the short run, results can vary widely around mathematical expectation…in the short term, the typical blackjack player may win and the advanced card counter may lose.
Several years ago, I played full time for 22 consecutive days in some of the most favorable games I’ve ever experienced. This interval included five days of playing only positive four deck shoes, five days of a juicy single deck game, and six days of playing only positive shoes.
At the end of 22 days, I was down $35,000.”
If even a player like Uston – who dominated the tables during the 1970s as a member of the first blackjack card counting team – can lose five figures playing in single-deck games, why should you expect to beat an eight-deck shoe?
Again, I should clarify here… you can surely become a winning player through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. I did, and while it took years of patient practice, I’m in the black lifetime playing this great game.
You can get there too, and I have full faith that you will – but that’s not the point of this post.
I’m writing today to tell you that it shouldn’t matter whether or not you walk away a winner.
Blackjack should be played for enjoyment and entertainment, rather than economic incentive.
Play your game – taking your lumps on losses and laughing it up when you catch the perfect card – with having fun as the only priority.
Converse with the dealer (remember to tip generously so that they have fun, too) and strike up conversations with whoever takes a seat. Maybe even order a cocktail if the mood strikes – do whatever you can to make your blackjack sessions as pleasant as possible.
By taking this more relaxed approach, you’ll build in a certain level of protection from those inevitable downswings. Sure, you can’t find a face card to save your life at the moment, but maintaining the proper sense of perspective will put your mind at ease.
This advice has practical benefits as well.
Poker folks talk of a phenomenon known as “tilt,” which is shorthand for the anger and rage that can consume players who are experiencing a rough run. Even world-class players like 15-time WSOP gold bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth can suffer emotional meltdowns due to tilt, spewing off their chip stacks as if they simply can’t help themselves.
Blackjack players don’t call it tilt, but if you play long enough, you’ll invariably encounter people who can’t seem to handle losses.
They might’ve been playing perfectly before, but a few stacks sent to the dealer can cause them to have a conniption. Suddenly, a formerly reserved player is calling for cards, hectoring the dealer for not cooperating, or worse yet, yelling at the poor sap in the “3rd base” seat who hit and took the dealer’s bust card.
If any of that sounds familiar from personal experience, take my advice and play blackjack for fun above all else. Find a way to laugh at the tough losses, taking them in stride like a true pro should.
By recognizing that the law of probability ensures you’ll lose nearly half the hands you see, you must be prepared to cope with those losses. And when you reach a place where winning and losing doesn’t seem to matter, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much fun blackjack can be.
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How to Play Blackjack Just for Fun and Change Your Attitude About Winning and LosingJanuary 26, 2019