Of all the casino games, why bet on blackjack? What makes it “different” than any other casino-banked game?
It’s clear that casino games are supposed to make money for their owners. In order to ensure this happens, casinos offer games of chance that are based on what mathematicians call “independent trial processes”. What this means is that the odds for any bet remain constant no matter what has occurred in previous spins of the wheel or rolls of the dice.
Take the example of roulette. The odds against any number winning are 37 to 1. Suppose number 7 wins. On the next spin of the wheel, the odds of number 7 winning are still 37 to 1. In fact even if number 7 were to win 2, 3 or even 4 times in a row, the odds it will win on the next spin are the same – 37 to 1. The reason? The roulette ball has no memory. It doesn’t know or even care that number 7 just won. Each spin is an “independent event” and no number is ever “due to win”. The number 7 has the same chance of winning on each spin regardless of what happened on previous spins.
With this information about roulette, the inventors of the game knew how to get the edge against all bettors. It’s really quite simple. You just pay off winning bets at odds that are slightly less than the constant odds that players face when they bet on any number. The odds against number 7 winning – or for that matter any roulette number – is a constant 37 to 1. If you win, the casino pays you at 35 to 1 odds (you win $35 for every dollar bet). The difference between the constant odds of winning a bet (37 to 1) and the casino payoff odds (35 to 1) is what creates the casinos edge. In the case of roulette the casino stands to win 2 chips out of every 38 chips wagered by a player or a mathematical advantage of 5.26%.
One characteristic of all “independent trial processes” casino games is that mathematically, with an honest game, there are no playing and wagering systems that can overcome the casino’s edge in these games. A player always has a negative expectation, which means over the long term a player will lose more money than win.
When blackjack was first invented, it wasn’t so easy to figure out how to put the edge in the casino’s favor. There were no computers to analyze the exact percentages on every hand. By trial and error a set of playing rules were developed which combined with the players playing skills (or lack of) resulted over time in the game winning money for the casino. But then came the computer-derived playing strategies that were far more accurate than a player’s “intuition”. By using these accurate playing strategies, a smart blackjack player can reduce the casino’s edge to around half a percent. That means a player stands to lose only 50 cents out of every hundred dollars bet at blackjack. I don’t think the casinos ever intended it to be that close.
The big difference between blackjack and the other casino games is that blackjack is based on “dependent trial processes”. This means that are the odds are not constant from one hand to the next. They change depending upon what cards were played on previous hands. If you were playing in a single deck game and four aces were played, what is the chance of getting a blackjack on the next hand? It would be zero because there are no more aces left in the undealt cards. On the other hand if you saw no aces being played in the first few hands, the probability of getting a blackjack would increase (since all four aces remain in the undealt cards). The point is that unlike the roulette ball or dice, the cards do have a memory and the odds are not constant from one hand to the next.
Another factor that separates blackjack from other casino games is that players must make a playing decision after they make their bet. This decision will either increase or decrease their chance of winning the hand. Therefore, the level of playing skills for a blackjack player very much influences his chance of winning.
So why play blackjack? Because blackjack is beatable for the above reasons and it gives skillful player’s the best shot at winning.