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Blackjack - Should You Count Cards?

If you are like the average, recreational Blackjack player, you may play Blackjack in a casino a few times per year and you want to play in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and have fun.

But at the same time, you don't want to play a game where the odds are greatly against you and you want a good chance of beating the house on any given day. And you're willing to invest a reasonable amount of time learning to play properly.

Does this describe you? If so, you're not alone. About 99% of Blackjack players can very likely be described as "recreational" players. If you invest the few hours it takes to lean Basic Strategy and good money management you will reduce the casino's edge down to about a half percent. This is the closest to playing even with the house that you'll find in any game in the casino.

However, for those of you for whom playing almost even with the house is not good enough and you want the edge, you must become a card counter.

It is an irrefutable fact that you can have an advantage over the casino in Blackjack by counting cards. There are dozens of books this subject and card counting has been mathematically proven - literally thousands of times - as a method to more accurately determine the odds that your next hand will have favorable cards.

The long-term advantage gained by card counting is about 1%, versus the one half percent disadvantage from simply playing Basic Strategy.

So why isn't everyone a card counter and why are casino Blackjack profits at an all- time high and climbing?

Two reasons:

* Casinos have made the playing conditions very difficult for card counters.

* Becoming an expert card counter requires hundreds of hours of practice and a monstrous bankroll. Even then, a small lapse in concentration at the table will wipe out the small advantage gained by counting.

This does not mean there aren't professional Blackjack counters who make a living playing Blackjack - there are.

However, to be able to make a full time living by counting cards, you'll need to be able to do the following:

* Spend hundreds of hours, and play thousands of hands, to learn to count cards expertly, plus learn the many subtle variations to hitting and standing that vary with the count.

* Play 100 hours plus per month of actual table time, with average bets of $50 - $100. You can probably double this amount of time - or more - to allow for breaks, finding good tables, changing tables and casinos frequently, travel, etc.

* Learn how to constantly conceal your card counting skills when playing, to avoid being asked to leave.

* Play at odd hours ? usually very late at night into the early hours of the morning, because it's best to play one-on-one with the dealer or with as few other players as possible at the table.

* Change tables and casinos frequently, to avoid being detected.

* Have a very large bankroll. As a professional, you will need about 300-500 times your average bet, to be able to take advantage of the count by stepping up your bets dramatically and playing multiple hands, while also being able to weather the wild swings in your bankroll that will frequently happen in the short run. This translates to a working bankroll of about $30,000 - $50,000, based on average bets of $50 - $100, which is what you'll need to earn a full time living.

If you are indeed able to do all of the above flawlessly, then congratulations! You are an expert card counter and you will make money in the long term.

For the 99% of us who are recreational players and unable - or unwilling - to make the substantial effort required to count cards expertly, then playing Basic Strategy is the next best thing. This will give a very low edge against you of about one half of one percent, while still providing the chance to come away a winner in the short term.

Learning perfect Blackjack Basic Strategy takes only a few hours and can be mastered by virtually everyone. You can play any table, any time, for as long as you like, without having to worry about being noticed by the Pit Boss. In fact, the Pit Bosses will welcome you with open arms. You'll still have the lowest odds against you of any table game in the casino and you'll have a fighting chance of beating the casino with a good run of cards.

This is the best way to play for casual, recreational players who want to have fun but not lose their shirts.

Don't get me wrong: the bottom line is that if you want to be a serious, dedicated Blackjack player, who gets the most thrill out of beating the casino and is willing to work hard to do it, then by all means learn card counting.

However, for the recreational player, Blackjack should be easy to learn and fun.

With Basic Strategy, it is.

Tom is the webmaster at http://www.blackjack-for-everyone.com, which is a website dedicated to the recreational Blackjack player.

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