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Perfect basic strategy: not just a pretty slogan

8 June 2007

Dear Mark: Outside of perfect basic strategy, is there any other key to winning at blackjack? Gary Z.

First off, Gary, you get a Gold Star for correctly identifying perfect basic strategy as an important factor for leveling the playing field against the house. The second essential key is money management.

In passing, most players try to take on the casino with too small a bankroll. Your bankroll is the amount of money that you are willing to put at risk, knowing that there is a reasonable possibility that you could lose that entire amount. Accordingly, you should never gamble with money you can't afford to lose. So, Gary, if you're front-and-center at a $10 table, you'll need a war chest of at least 500 dollars. Count 'em: $ $ $ $ $.

Never bring your entire bankroll with you to one gambling session. You need a daily gambling budget. Start by dividing your bankroll by the number of days you'll be gambling. Then divide your daily bankroll into the number of sessions you will be playing each day. Result: your single-session bankroll. Bet tomorrow's money only when tomorrow comes.

Set win goals of between 50 to 100% for a single-session bankroll. Then, when you win something, set aside your original bankroll plus half of your winnings. Now play with the remainder and continue to set aside additional winnings.

Set loss limits, meaning that, when you've lost half your session bankroll — your loss limit — you walk.

Use the Winning Progressive method of betting by predetermining a percentage increase for each winning bet and sticking to it. For instance, you might want to increase your winning bets by approximately 50% after the second win. As an example, start with a $10 bet, followed by another $10 (both winners, you understand), then go to $15, $22, $30, $45, etc. You would continuously flat bet (the table minimum) when losing.

Never double-up your bet to catch up. Your money would just fizzle away like an Alka-Seltzer in warm water.

Identify the profitable opportunities in gambling by shopping for the best odds, rules, and playing conditions available where you play.

What I can't guarantee, Gary, is that these tips will in any way affect the casino edge. Perfect basic strategy does that job. Nor can I guarantee that you will win more money. What these principles will do is minimize your losses and, in most cases, protect your winnings.

Dear Mark: I believe that adjoining pairs in Hold'em are usually of equal value, and that holds true with kings versus aces. Do you concur? Ted C.

Often, I've heard many a player like yourself proclaim that aces and kings are the ultimate starter hands in Hold'em, but I believe kings are nowhere near as profitable as aces.

I will agree that the difference is slight between smaller adjacent pairs, such as fives versus fours, but there is a very large gap between aces and kings in terms of profit when played correctly. Holding aces before the flop belongs in a category all by itself.

With an A-A starter hand, you can expect to win 31% of the time. AND, if you average all the possible playing scenarios, you can figure aces to be worth at least 40% more than kings. But what I find that really makes the difference, is that when you consider actual betting strategy, aces are much more likely to gain those extra bets, especially in a full-handed game with a bulk of the players staying to the river.

Trust this truism, Ted: Kings can do no wrong – until they run into a pair of aces.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Avoid people with gold teeth who want to play cards." —George Carlin

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.