As far as contentious debates go, this is right up there with the best of them. Talk to 100 people who play blackjack on a regular basis and you’ll probably get 100 different answers.
On one side of the fence, you have those who genuinely believe blackjack is all about skill. They’ll tell you that through a combination of experience and intuition, you can tip the odds firmly in your favour.
Elsewhere, others insist there really is little to no skill involved. As it is 100% impossible to predict the draw of even a single card, it’s a game of pure luck. Even with all the intuition in the world, you cannot predict or influence what happens next.
So which is it – is blackjack a game of skill or chance?
The answer, which should already be fairly obvious, is both.
Skill and Luck in Perfect Balance
To say that there is no skill involved in blackjack is to miss the mark entirely. Blackjack differs from most casino games in that you get to decide what to do with each hand.
With games like roulette, you simply place bets on a possible outcome and wait to see what happens. With blackjack, you can choose between hitting or standing, depending how things play out. There’s even the option in some casinos of getting half of your money back by surrendering hands, or doubling down.
Given how decisions must be made based on what’s happening at the time, there is absolutely a degree of skill involved. Basically, everything you do has an influence over your likelihood of winning or losing.
Even if there is a house edge involved and you cannot predict the next card, it’s still up to you to make the right decisions.
The Skill Involved in Playing Blackjack
Becoming a competent blackjack player takes time and plenty of practice. Eventually, you reach a position where you find yourself making decisions instinctively.
The skill involved in blackjack is all about knowing whether to stand or hit, in accordance with the cards you are dealt and the dealer’s up-facing card. Most newcomers to blackjack make their decisions to stand or hit randomly, rather than on the basis of the most likely outcome.
Success with blackjack is not about influencing the outcome in such a way as to ensure you win. Instead, it’s about figuring out how much risk is involved in the choices available to you, and making your moves accordingly.
The Luck Involved in Blackjack
As for the luck side of blackjack, tipping the balance in your favour through knowledge, skill, practice and intuition is impossible. This is because irrespective of what happens, there is always a house edge at play.
Where the odds of winning any given casino game are less than an exact 50/50 split, the house always wins…eventually.
Truth is, you could master the art of blackjack and play every day of your life, but still find yourself on the receiving end of a losing streak. This is because irrespective of whether or not you make all the right moves, the outcome is still 100% random.
Any card (or combination thereof) could be dealt at any time – something you have no control over. So even when you find yourself in a position where you ‘can’t possibly lose’, there’s still every chance you might.
Which Plays the Biggest Role – Luck or Skill?
This is where the debate tends to become all the more fiery, despite the answer being relatively straightforward.
Casino gaming is all about chance, though in all instances stacks the odds against the player. Ensuring a house edge is always in play is essential for the viability of the entire concept. If there was any way a casino game could be masted to such an extent as to ensure consistent wins, it would be unprofitable to the casino.
Consequently, all the research and experience in the world cannot guarantee success at the blackjack table. What happens will ultimately always be determined by the random turn of the next card.
In which case, it’s fair to say that blackjack is more about luck than skill.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that playing strategically isn’t far better (and safer) than making things up as you go along. It’s just a say that you cannot bank on walking away with a profit, even if you know everything there is to know about the game.
How About Card Counting?
This is the one exception to the rule., where skill can indeed provide the player with an edge over house. Albeit, an exceptionally slight edge of around 1% to 2%, typically making it unprofitable and unsustainable for most players.
Card counting works by keeping a mental note of all cards that have currently been dealt, in order to predict the values of the cards dealt next. In some instances, and with a huge amount of practice, card counting can work. It can give you a small advantage over the house and make it possible to predict outcomes with a higher degree of accuracy.
Sadly, card counting simply isn’t a viable blackjack strategy. First of all, it’s exceptionally difficult and beyond the capacity of most people. Even with years of hard work and practice, you might still find it impossible to pull off.
Secondly, it is prohibited in the vast majority of casinos. Even though it is not technically illegal (because it isn’t considered cheating), you’ll be kicked out and banned if caught counting cards. Getting away with card counting can be just as difficult as learning how to do it in the first place.
Lastly, going to extremes to give yourself a 1% or 2% edge over the house is a pretty pointless venture. You’re still looking at odds so close to 50/50 that you’ll find yourself losing much of the time. Which means that when you do win, you’ll barely be winning enough to cover your losses – let alone generate a meaningful profit.
Long story short – card counting really is not worth bothering with!
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