The 9 Most Amazing Blackjack Facts and Stories
We have compiled our top 9 of the weirdest blackjack facts and most bizarre stories related to blackjack. Curious about some of the most legendary blackjack hands ever played in casino history? Interested in the math behind blackjack and eager to improve your chances of winning? Then make sure you read on!
1. Miami Vice's Don Johnson once won 6 million dollar with blackjack in a legendary casino session
Each day, tens of thousands of people win fantastic prizes playing at both land-based and online casinos. These are mostly ordinary people just like you and me although at times there are some celebrities who make gambling history by winning some huge amounts of money in a very special way. One of these people who entered casino history books is no-one less than American actor Don Johnson, who famously played James “Sonny” Crockett in Miami Vice and even got married twice to Melanie Griffith.
Johnson is quite an interesting figure having successful careers in both acting and music. His life in general is rather amazing as besides his acting he is also a gifted powerboat racer who won several professional championships. He also has quite some talent when it comes to gambling, more precisely at blackjack.
Once Johnson visited the famous Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he decided to play a bit of blackjack. He however stayed at the table for a 12-hour-long marathon session of cards! When he had enough of it and walked away, he went home with a whopping 6 million dollar as profit. That certainly is quite an unique gambling story!
2. It is not forbidden to count cards while playing blackjack in a casino
Card counting is a beloved tactic which is used by many blackjack players in casinos. Many professional gamblers would even say that being able to count cards is a prerequisite in order to be come a truly successful blackjack player! The trick of card counting basically means that you keep track which cards have already been dealt on the table and which cards still remain in the dealer’s card shoe. You do need to be able to memorise cards and have some mathematical skills for this as most casinos use multiple decks of cards for a blackjack game.
That you can use card counting professionally has been proven multiple times by gamblers with great memories or mathematical talents. Perhaps most famous is the story of a team of MIT students and professors who managed to win millions of dollars playing blackjack in their spare time. Their story has even been made into a Hollywood film called ’21’.
Even though it is quite common knowledge that casinos can ban card counters from their tables, it is not widely known that card counting is actually completely legal. It is therefore time to clear up what is allowed and what is not allowed when it comes to card counting. Let’s first say that you will never get into any legal problems when attempting to count cards at a blackjack game as it is not forbidden by law.
Casinos do however have certain house rights and regulations and can basically determine a lot of internal rules what their guests can and cannot do. Many casinos have a ban on card counting and are legally allowed to kick you out of the casino if you get caught counting cards at blackjack. If this happens you won’t be the first – it even happened to some celebrities! Reportedly, Ben Affleck once received a lifelong ban from the MGM Grand Casino after he was caught counting cards.
Do note that counting cards is not a successful tactic if you play solely online, as the decks of cards used at online games are automatically shuffled after every hand, while in a casino they would only reshuffle the cards after the cards in the shoe have been dealt.
3. Blackjack is one of the casino games where the house edge is the smallest
You never know whether you will win or loose when you sit down in a casino and start playing your favourite game. One day luck is on your side, while the next day you might perhaps face a bad streak. That said, there are differences between individual casino games when it comes to standard odds and your predicted chances of winning.
Low house advantage
Blackjack is one of the casino games where the house advantage is the lowest. If you play in an optimal way – for example by adhering to the basic strategy which we described – the casino only has a house advantage of two percent. This means that if you play blackjack for a longer while, the casino will on average win 102 games of blackjack against 100 wins for you. It is important however to play according to the basic strategy and not to follow your intuition. While following your intuition now and then could get you some lucky win – it will not work out on the long term. According to calculations, the house advantage in blackjack increases to somewhere between 10 and 20 percent if you play randomly!
Curious about some other casino house advantages? With baccarat, the house advantage is between 1.17 and 14 percent. With craps the house advantage mostly differs between the kind of bet which the player makes. It runs between 0.8 percent house advantage (double odds) and somewhere between 1.4 and 16.7 percent (normal bets). Roulette has a house advantage of 5.26 percent, while slots have one between 2 to 35 percent. Because of this we always advice you to check carefully which slot is the best to play! To finish our list, sports bets generally have a house advantage for the bookies of 4.54 percent, although this increases to 19 percent if you like to bet on horse racing. The worst of the crop with the lowest chances of winning? Lotteries!
4. Always double on 11 in blackjack
An often-made mistake in blackjack is people not using the option to double. If you double in blackjack you have to double your starting wager. Afterwards you will only receive one single card on top of your hand, with no possibility to ask for another one if that one card will not suffice. Newbies often are completely unaware about the option to double, while even more experienced blackjack players can be seen choosing to double at the wrong moment while forgetting about it when the moment is right.
If we look at the basic blackjack strategy which is used by professional blackjack players, we will quickly learn when the best moment arises to double. This strategy basically tells you what you should decide on a blackjack table depending on the strength of your own hand and the open card of the dealer. If you adhere to this, you will keep the house advantage of the casino to under one percent.
Do not double at 11
One of the most common mistakes is people not doubling when they are dealt 11 points, for example by getting a hand existing of a five and a six. This is an optimal chance to potentially get blackjack – a score of 21. The only card you need is a 10, jack, queen or king. The only time when you should not double at 11 is when the open card of the dealer is an ace. In this case, it is better just to ask for another card. Of course, if you are an experienced card counter who is playing in a land-based casino you might be able to diverge slightly from this rule if you for example realise that most of the 10-cards have already been dealt and only low numbered cards remain in the dealer’s shoe.
If the two cards which you have are a combined 9 points, you need to double when the dealer has a 3, 4, 5 or 6. In other options you should just ask for another card. If you have a total of 10 points in your initial hand your best bet is to double when the dealer has a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9. In all other cases you just ask an extra card. If your score is 12 points, then you double if the dealer has a 2 or 3, give up your hand if the dealer has a 4, 5 or 6, and get an extra card when the dealer has a 7 or higher. The only good moment to double when you have a pair of fives (and thus 10 points) is when the dealer has a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 – in all other cases you ask for another card.
5. A casino owner once made a bizarre blackjack bet with poker star Stu Ungar – and lost
One of the world’s all time greatest poker players is Stu Ungar. Ungar, an American citizen, won the main tournament of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) three times (in 1980, 1981 and 1997). He is also a gifted blackjack and gin rummy player. Ungar even said that he was perhaps even better at playing gin rummy than poker. He was also known for his eccentric personality and his volatile private life in which he had to deal with his addiction to drugs and frequent financial problems. Ungar got the nickname ‘Comeback Kid’ after he managed to deal with his problems and return to the world stages of poker, even winning the WSOP in 1997.
WSOP Main Event
That year Ungar was sponsored by Bill Baxter, a fellow poker player and good friend of Ungar, who paid for his 10,000 dollar fee to participate in the WSOP Main Event. Even though Ungar was almost falling asleep at the table on the first day of the tournament, he managed to drag himself through thanks to the support of his friends and a picture of his daughter Stefanie which he carried with him. Eventually, Ungar got on fire and won the tournament, marking the greatest ever comeback in poker history.
There are lots of other fantastic tales featuring Ungar. In 1992 he won a big tournament by beating Mansour Matloubi, the champion of 1990 In the winning hand, Matloubi tried to bluff Ungar out of the match by going all-in on a river of 3-3-7-king-queen. Ungar, who had a 10 and a 9, thought carefully for a few moments and then said to Matloubi: “You have a 4-5 or 5-6, so I will call you”. He showed his cards and managed to beat Matloubi, who turned out to have a 4-5. It is one of the most famous poker moments in history.
But in this list we want to hear the blackjack story, and not the poker ones! In 1977, long before Ungar even rose to poker fame, he made a legendary blackjack bet. Casino owner Bob Stupak proposed a bet to Ungar, saying that there was no way that he could memorise all cards of a blackjack shoe with six decks of cards. Ungar accepted the bet for 100,000 dollar after which a dealer shuffled all the decks, playing blackjack until only one card remained in the shoe. At that moment Stupak asked Ungar which card it was. Yet Ungar had a secret talent for card counting and could memorise in his head which cards were already played and which not. He managed to guess the card correctly and win the bet. In the years that would follow, casinos in Las Vegas would ban Ungar from blackjack tables as they knew he would always beat the house.
Unfortunately, Ungar’s life ended tragically in Las Vegas. On 22nd November 1998, his body was found in a cheap motel room. An autopsy showed that he had been using drugs, although he did not die from a drug overdose. The coroners found that his heart simply gave up after being weakened by years of drugs abuse. Ungar’s interesting, rich life has been the topic of a biopic called ‘High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story’, which is a film well-worth watching if you like gambling.
6. Lots of beginning blackjack players do not realise how easy card counting is
If blackjack is your favourite casino game, then chances are high you have heard about card counting. This tactic, which by the way only works in a land-based casino and not online, means that you basically have to keep track which cards have already been dealt and which cards remain in the dealer’s card shoe. This way you can make better predictions and decisions as the game drags on. Let’s say you are handed a 10 and a 2 as your two cards. If you know that most of the cards with a face value of 10 have already been dealt by the dealer, then it might be a good sign that it is safe to ask for another card without busting, while normally you might probably fold as chances are big of being given a 10, jack, queen or king.
There are many different ways to count cards. Needless to say, many pros with either high mathematical skills or amazing memory, can really remember up to six decks of cards. But even beginners who might not have these powers can implement the card counting technique – albeit in a slightly different way.
Instead of memorising every single card which has been dealt you could for example decide to only count the cards with a face value of 10 (10, jack, queen, king). This could already help you to slightly improve your blackjack scores! Of course, it is quite handy if you know how many decks of cards are being used in the dealer’s shoe. Generally, more shoes being used makes it harder for players to count cards.
Blackjack counting technique
A technique which is often used by beginning card counters is to give cards a certain value. For example, you can decide that all cards from 2 to 9 have a value of -1 and give cards worth 10 points (some include the ace as well here) a score of +1. This way you can quickly calculate the ‘score’ of the remaining cards in the dealer’s shoe. If you calculated for example a score of -30 after several rounds of blackjack it means that a lot of low value cards have already been dealt and that the remaining cards are more likely to be face cards or 10s. This can be invaluable for making a decision what to do. Let’s say you have been given a 10 and a 3 as your two cards. If you know that a lot of the low number cards are out of the deck, you might on second thought not ask for another card as chances will be high to go bust!
7. Casinos have special tricks to recognise card counters at their blackjack tables
In this list, we have several times mentioned the tactic of card counting. This tactic is often seen by casinos as a curse for the house, as a good card counter can walk away with several tens of thousands of dollars after just a few hours of playing. Almost all professional blackjack players who manage to make a good living out of the game are card counters. This is why most casinos have banned card counting at their tables. You can of course still try it – but if you are caught the casino has the right to ban you from the casino.
Card counting does not work at an online casino (except perhaps the live casino if you play online!) but solely on land-based casinos. You need a live dealer for it – and not a virtual blackjack game. This is because that in such virtual online casino games the deck of cards is automatically reshuffled after each play. In a land-based casino (and most often, the live online casinos) this is not the case and the dealer will only shuffle the cards in his shoe after many turns. The reason for this is very simple. A computer can shuffle the cards in an online game in a millisecond. A real-time dealer needs a few minutes to shuffle a shoe of cards, which can consist of up to eight decks!
For casinos the logic is simple: if you extrapolate this single dealer to all dealers in the casino over an entire day, a tremendous amount of time would be lost if the dealer has to shuffle the cards after a single play. In this time, no bets can be placed, and the casino will not win anything. This is why in land-based (or live) casinos play on until the dealer reaches a so-called marker card, which is a sign for him to reshuffle the cards in the shoe. Sometimes, you see however a casino dealer reshuffle the cards before he reaches the marker. If this happens, it means that there is something wrong.
Shuffling the cards
In most cases, the dealer will only reshuffle the cards before reaching the marker if he suspects that a card counter is sitting at his table. It can also happen that the dealer has contact with someone else in the casino through an earpiece. For example, a casino might have employed special security personnel looking at CCTV images of the casino who watch the tables for suspicious behaviour. If such a security officer detects a potential card counter, he might give a sign to the dealer to reshuffle immediately.
Recognising card counters
How do casinos recognise card counters? They mostly look at the last few games before the dealer reaches the marker in the shoe and has to reshuffle the cards. If almost all of these last games are won by a player and not any by the house, this might be a signal that the player has been counting cards and can predict which cards are left in the shoe. Of course, it could also be pure luck on the part of the player, and a good casino will not easily brand someone as a card counter if they do not have a strong suspicion. If it however happens more and more often, the casino will however get the signal and will most likely ask the player to leave the table.
8. Many beginning blackjack players do not know how to properly split pairs
Blackjack can be one of the best casino games you can play as the house advantage is among the lowest you will find. This is however only the case if you play an optimal game according to the basic blackjack tactic instead of only relying on intuition. This basic tactic basically tells what the best decision is based on the hand you have been dealt when taking into account the open card of the dealer.
Where many players go wrong is when it comes to playing pairs. With a pair, we mean two cards of the same value, for example receiving a 6 and another 6 from the dealer as your starting hand. Many gamblers, most often inexperienced blackjack players, do never split pairs or sometimes are even completely unaware of this option. Even more experienced blackjack players might only split aces, but never really do it with any other pair. If you split your cards, you basically create two different hands out of just one. The hand of two sixes out of our example will be taken apart and turned into two different hands. Each hand will then get an extra card from the dealer. Of course, you still need to place your initial bet at the newly created hand as well!
There are cases where splitting cards can be an extremely wise decision, but also moments where you should never even think of doing it. When we sit at blackjack tables we are surprised how often people think that splitting a pair of tens is a great idea. They say that it basically doubles their chances of a blackjack. This way of thinking is however statistically flawed, as the chances are much bigger that you will ruin one or even both hands by being given a two or three as an extra card. You basically have turned an excellent hand of 20 to two potentially losing hands! Sure, if you are lucky you might hit blackjack twice, but chances are bigger that you are actually decreasing the value of your hand. If you have a score of 20 it should be fairly simple: never split, never ask another card.
Always split aces
What you should always split is a pair of aces. A pair of aces is not worth much as a hand in blackjack (2 or 12 points) but if you split them you create two fantastic chances of a blackjack. Now all you need is a 10, jack, queen or king to get 21 points. Even if you receive a 9, 8 or 7 you will still have a perfectly good hand with a score of 20, 19 or 18. Do note that a few casino blackjack tables might not allow you to split aces. It is also commonly accepted that splitting a pair of 8s is always a great idea no matter what the open card of the dealer is.
Other card options
The other possibilities are a bit harder to explain as the decision would depend on the open card of the dealer. If you have a pair of 2s, you should always split if the open card of the dealer is a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7. In all other situations you just ask for another card. The same situation applies if you are dealt with a pair of 3s. When you receive a pair of 4s you only split if the dealer has a 5 or 6 as his open card, in all other situations you just ask for another card. A pair of 5s should never be split, but rather doubled if the dealer has a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 (in all other cases you just take a card). This might sound odd as when you double you will only get one extra card. What if you only get a 2 on top of that? And even with a 10 on top, a 15 isn’t a that great of a score? If you think logically it however makes sense. The chance that the dealer will go bust is quite big. Let’s assume the first card of the dealer is a 6 and his second card is a jack. Even at 16 points, casino rules determine that the dealer should take yet another card. Chances will be high that he will go bust, and you will win even with a low score!
A pair of 6s should be split if the dealer has a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 – in all other cases you hit (take) a card. A pair of 7s should be split when the dealer has a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 – in other cases you again take a card. You should always stand with a pair of 9s if the dealer’s open card is a 7, 10 or ace. You only split a pair of 9s if the dealer has a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 or 9.
Minimise the house advantage
With this tactic in hand you can easily improve your blackjack game and come close to minimise the house advantage to somewhere around 1 percent instead of the 10 percent or so house advantage if you play mostly on intuition and luck. Even then the casino is likely to win more than you on the long run, but at least your chances of winning will have been much improved. With a bit of luck you might have a winning streak and walk home with a nice profit!
9. A blackjack dealer managed to work for 51 hours in a row
There are some cool blackjack records which are worthy to include in our top 9 of most bizarre blackjack stories and best blackjack facts. We have already seen some great winning stories when it comes to blackjack. There are however also some utterly crazy blackjack records where you ask yourself why someone might even want to attempt it.
Biggest blackjack table ever
The biggest blackjack table ever was built in 2013 in the Viejas Casino outside of San Diego in California. The entire table was somewhere around 2,224 square feet in size. Only once did the casino actually offer a blackjack game at the table, using cards and chips of a size fitting to the table. It is well worth checking it out on YouTube if you do not believe it.
Longest blackjack dealing session
Another bizarre record was set on the island of Malta in 2010 when a dealer at the Oracle Casino managed to work for 51 hours and 33 minutes straight behind a blackjack table. In all those hours he managed to shuffle the decks, hand out cards and collect and pay out bets. We aren’t really sure why the dealer wanted to attempt the record in the first place, as all he earned with it was a huge amount of tiredness!
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