There are two kinds of people in the world: you and everyone else. No matter what skill you decide to master, sooner or later, you’ll depart from the basics.
In gambling, that means you learn the basic strategy first then start experimenting with unorthodox strategies. Basic strategy exists because it works. It may not make you wealthy, but it keeps you grounded as you play the game. When you start taking risks you rationalize your decisions.
In your own mind it’s okay to be the exception because you know what you are doing. But it wouldn’t be gambling if everything worked out the way we wanted it to.
In blackjack, it takes time to master basic strategy. And when you stop playing for a while you begin to forget some of those rules. The best players I know play basic strategy most of the time.
When Should You Work on Improving Your Blackjack Game?
If you’re practicing the game every time you play, then why do you need more practice?
Odd as it may sound, I learned the difference between practice and habitual play from a corporate motivational speaker. To paraphrase what she told us, you’ll keep practicing a bad habit just as much as you’ll practice a good habit.
When it comes to playing a game like blackjack, you should work on improving when you realize you’ve developed a bad habit.
And how do you know when you’re playing badly? Go back to basic strategy. Check yourself against the standard plays. If you’re not sure whether to split sevens and eights, it’s time to review basic strategy.
Why Do We Develop Bad Habits in the First Place?
When I first learned to play blackjack, I made a lot of mistakes. Everyone does that. And like many other people, I bought a book that explained basic strategy.
But the day came when I put that book down and never opened it again. I don’t even have it around anymore. At one point in my gambling life, I was confident in my ability to play the game. I wish I could say I left the casino a winner every time, but I only did okay. Still, I was proud of my blackjack skills.
I had friends that wouldn’t go near the tables. Whenever we went to a casino, I looked for a blackjack game and they headed for the slot machines. And I think I grew bored with the basic game. It wasn’t fun anymore. So, I began experimenting with unusual decisions.
Sometimes, I would hit on 17 and win. Sometimes, I would stand on 16 and lose. There’s no rhyme or reason to my departures from basic strategy. I was being rebellious. I was looking for a little more risk in the game. And after a while, my bad play became a habit.
The bad habit didn’t form in a single night. I had to make a conscious effort to bend the rules again and again until I stopped feeling guilty or stupid for taking an unnecessary risk.
Substituting a Good Habit for a Bad Habit Isn’t Always Easy
Getting back to basic strategy isn’t hard. If you’ve forgotten some parts of it, the internet makes it easy to find all the play tables and strategy cards you need.
What makes it hard to go back to basics is that the game stops feeling exciting. I found a video blackjack game and didn’t enjoy it. After hearing that motivational speaker talk about bad habits versus good habits, I came to the realization that I was trying to elevate my game. But I took the wrong path.
If it’s more risk you want, then move out of your comfort zone by increasing your bets. Stick with basic strategy and adjust your betting.
Basic strategy is wager-neutral. Although the house edge in blackjack is small, it’s still hard to pull ahead by much if you’re not a high roller. So, become a middle roller.
The One Good Habit Every Blackjack Player Needs
You can call it self-testing or self-evaluation. Whatever you call it, you should review how you play the game in a conscious, detailed way.
Challenge yourself to stick to the basic strategy and make some sort of note about when you change. I didn’t want to keep a blackjack strategy so I challenged myself to take one chip off the table when I gave into the temptation to depart from basic strategy.
I didn’t literally take the chip off the table. I just pulled it back. It’s like putting a dollar in a swear jar. If it costs you money to follow your bad habit, how long will you keep doing it?
It’s not a perfect system, but I amazed myself the first time I tried this. I watched that little stack grow and asked myself what I was doing.
Two Ways to Raise the Cost of Your Game
By indulging in bad habits, I allowed myself to lose more money than I should have. And what made this habit so difficult to break was that the losses weren’t obvious.
When the cost of your risk isn’t obvious, the risk feels safe in a false way. Taking on falsely safe risks isn’t smart gambling. By taking money off the table, I reminded myself of what my risky plays were costing me. I made the costs obvious.
When I realized I had been playing badly out of habit, I decided that if I wanted to take on extra risk in the future, I needed to be open and honest with myself. I decided to raise my bets rather than make dumb plays out of some rebellion against boredom.
Ask Yourself How Much Your Strategy Is Costing You
It’s surprising how quickly we begin lying to ourselves. If that sounds like something a motivational speaker would say, that’s because I got it from her.
If you’re not sure how much a risky strategy is costing you, then why are you taking the risk? You should know what you’re wagering when you gamble. If you don’t, you’re losing control.
A skillful player maintains control and awareness. The casino accounts for nearly every wager it makes every day. It’s easy for the house because they have accountants and software tracking their money.
Players don’t have the luxury of asking the accounting department how much money is left in the bank. You’re not just deciding how to play the game but also how to manage your money.
You don’t have to make your entertainment complicated to keep it exciting. There are other ways, besides raising your bet, that can make your blackjack game more interesting.
If you can choose between two styles of blackjack, you can choose to play the one that has a slightly higher house edge. Learning the rules of that game will keep you awake for a while. While I don’t recommend playing 6:5 blackjack, if you want a slightly tougher game where you still play basic strategy, that’s one way to go.
Instead of adopting bad habits under the pretense of making the game more interesting, in the future, I’ll look for more interesting ways to play with basic strategy.
A more skillful player may feel confident leveraging ideas beyond the basic strategy. I don’t need to be the world champion blackjack player. And I don’t need to be a show off.
I just want to enjoy the game and walk away a winner. If I can’t do both, then at least I’ll enjoy the game without guilt.