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It might be tempting to think of each blackjack hand as an isolated event between you (the player) and the dealer. In every hand, the two parties certainly compete with one another, each trying to predict the waves of incoming cards and protect against the risks of busting out of a hand. In some sense, blackjack is really just a sequence of these smaller face-offs, barring any player trying to count cards or systematically predict the run of cards ahead. However, in another, more important sense, blackjack is really much more of a sequenced game than it may appear.
Betting in blackjack is one of the few aspects of the game over which the player has complete control. Players decide on each hand how much they intend to wager, whether they would like to split or double their bet when given the chance, and what to do when they’ve been experiencing a run of good or bad luck. This last factor is particularly important for the player who is in the game for the long-haul. How a player manages the highs and lows of lady luck’s fickle favour will largely influence how successful they are at walking away from a few hours of playing either in the money or out of it.
Any sort of approach to blackjack that does not account for the runs of luck puts them at a disadvantage against the dealer and lowers their overall ability to win in the long run. Although each hand in blackjack is played on its own, it’s important to remember that blackjack is actually a sequence betting game where your most recent wins and losses on individual hands should bear on how large or small you make your next bets. Luck can run hot and luck can run cold – even the very best blackjack players who are experts at knowing when to stay or hit on a given hand recognise this fact and prepare themselves to survive the cold streaks of bad cards by adjusting their betting strategy when needed.
The betting strategies that most professional and expert players recommend are based on the progressive betting system. This means the bets don’t stay the same in every given hand but respond to runs of good luck by trying to maximise the earnings on winning hands and respond to bad luck by trying to minimise the expected losses. However, it’s not quite so simple as betting big when you’re feeling lucky and betting small when the cards aren’t falling your way.
The real secret to success in betting strategies is consistency and patience. Of the betting strategies that are surveyed below, the success that a player is likely to have is very much limited to how diligent they can be about not breaking from their system. Even though it can be very tempting to start shooting from the hip when making your bets and develop an ad-hoc approach, the real benefits of a betting strategy can only shine through when you remain consistent and collected.
These two broad classes of betting strategies in blackjack, which are known as positive progression and negative progression, and they each involve a very different approach and perspective on the game.
For positive progression betting strategies, the underlying theory is to follow up on winning bets with higher bets. After a winning hand, a positive progression strategy instructs a player to increase their bet and try to win further. Positive progression is an aggressive strategy where the player is actively looking to increase their profits during hot runs and only play conservatively when things were running quite cold.
Negative progression strategies are by their nature much more conservative and careful. After a losing hand, a positive progression strategy instructs a player to increase their bet very slightly to recoup the loss of the previous bet. The magnitude of the increase is key – the bet is not aimed at making a massive win, but rather at edging closer towards recovering what has already been lost. Negative progressions are also aimed at winning small amounts of profit very often and being more conservative with those winnings.
So, when should a player decide to switch up their chosen strategy and try something new? This really depends on how aggressive a given player is feeling at that moment, and what their specific goals for betting are. Everyone wants to take more money away from the table than they arrive with, but this is really the end of the similarities between the player’s goals. Some players want to make a small tidy profit for every hour of playing and walk away doing slightly better. Some players want the thrill of making bigger and bolder moves to try and win big and leave a hero. The strategy that a player uses really depends on which broad class of better they fit into.
So, when should a player change strategy? Quite simply, players should change strategies when what they’ve been doing has not worked for at least several hands in a row. As mentioned above, it’s tempting to want to change a betting strategy on a whim and to roll with the punches, so to speak. However, that sort of thinking strays into the dangerous territory of making bets on instinct rather than on a systematic approach. The benefits of the systematic approach are that players can mitigate their losses and hold firm to a line of action. If a player starts playing too flexibly and without consistency, they risk falling prey to a bad run of luck and losing all their chips.
One of the most common betting strategies is the 1-3-2-6 approach. In this approach, bets are reflected as a multiple of one of the four key numbers. If your lowest bet is $10, on hands where you are called to bet a “1” you bet $10, on hands where you are called to bet a “3” you bet $30, and so on.
The key to the success of this strategy is in limiting the damage that losing hands can cause. Every time you lose a bet, you revert to a “1”. If you lose ten hands in a row, for every bet you lose, you only lose a minimal amount. If you win two hands in a row, you follow the sequence up to a “3”, and if you continue to win, you move onto a “2” and then a “6”. If you win more than four times in a row, you revert to the original betting level of “1”. This is a conservative approach and one that requires discipline. If you’ve won four hands in a row, you’re probably going to feel very lucky and want to bet big again. This strategy prepares you to restrain your enthusiasm and play conservatively because as we’ve all learned, luck runs out eventually.
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Words: Sean McNulty
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