Testing the No-Bust Blackjack Strategy

Closeup of a Blackjack Table Being Dealt

On its face, the idea of the no-bust blackjack strategy makes sense.

The idea behind no-bust blackjack is to stand on any busting hand – that’s any hand with a point total of 12-16. The goal of the no-bust strategy is to win by losing – to force the dealer to draw to a bust. If you never get anywhere near busting, the philosophy goes, you should be able to wrestle a little bit of the house edge away from the dealer.

You probably already know that the no-bust strategy doesn’t work. Later in the post, I’ll explain in detail why that is. But as an exercise in blackjack strategy, I thought it would be cool to run through 100 hands following no-bust principles and analyze my results.

The No-Bust Blackjack Philosophy

In blackjack, hands totaling between 12 and 16 points are known as stiff hands. Up to a point total of 11, players literally cannot bust by taking a hit. Once you hit a point total of 12, the odds of busting from taking a hit start to get scary. With 12 points, you have a 48% chance of busting from a hit. At 13 points, that chance goes up to 52%. By the time your hand is worth 16 points, you have a 61% chance of busting out from taking a hit.

So, how often does the dealer bust? The dealer has about a 33.15% chance of busting on every hand, meaning he’ll avoid busting and most likely beat the no-bust player in more than two-thirds of hands (66.85%).

Let’s compare that number to the player’s odds of busting a 15 point hand – 58.58%. The player is at a disadvantage here, regardless of what decision he makes. That’s why it’s called gambling. But it doesn’t take a lot of math skills to recognize that 58.58% is less than 66.85%. The no-bust player thinks he’s doing himself a favor, even though he’s really shorting himself by 10%.

What’s the house edge against a no-bust player? We have to consider how often a player will be dealt one of these bust hands against how often the player stands to lose.

In a typical Vegas blackjack game, you’ll be dealt a hand totaling 12-16 points about 38% of the time, again losing 66.85% of those hands. That means the house has a built-in edge of more than 25% against no-bust play.

You can’t beat the house at its own game. They created the rules and they’re well aware of all the ways you intend to try to get around them. Avoiding bust hands gives you worse odds in the long run, though casinos are happy to let you test it out for yourself.

My No-Bust Blackjack Test

I started with $1,000 in pretend cash, playing with fake money at one of my favorite online casinos.

I chose to play the site’s standard blackjack game. It’s a 6-deck game with a 3:2 payout for a natural blackjack. You can double any two cards, and the shoe is shuffled after each round of play.

I chose a standard bet size of $10. At $10 per hand with a budget of $1,000, I was expecting to see at least 100 outcomes. I wasn’t going to alter my bet – $10 every hand no matter what.

Pile of Casino Chips, Laptop Displaying Dealer at Blackjack Table

As for my no-bust strategy, I decided to stand on totals of 15 or higher. Some no-bust advocates say you should stand on 16 or higher. That’s not how most no-bust players play, so I decided to stick with 15. I would follow optimal blackjack strategy except on bust hands, as most no-bust players do.

Here are my first ten results:

  • -10 (stood on 15 against 10, dealer drew to 20)
  • +10
  • +10
  • +10
  • -10 (stood on 15 against a 9, dealer drew to 17)
  • +25
  • -10 (stood on 17 against a 5, dealer drew to 19)
  • +10
  • +10
  • -10 (stood on 17 against a 4, dealer drew to 19)

I ended my first ten outcomes up $35, which felt great. But I knew in the back of my mind that the built-in variance of the game would be coming back to bite me at some point, pushing my numbers back towards the mean.

Here are the next ten outcomes:

  • -10 (stood on 15 against an Ace, dealer drew to 19)
  • -10 (stood on 15 against a King, dealer drew to 20)
  • +10
  • -10 (stood on 16 against a 3, dealer drew to 17)
  • -10 (stood on 15 against an 8, dealer drew to 17)
  • +10
  • -10 (dealer natural)
  • +20 (made a hand of 21, dealer drew to 17)
  • -10 (bad beat, stood on 20, dealer drew to 21)
  • +10

Now, after 20 outcomes, I’m up just $25.

This represents a slight regression toward the mean. Notice the bad beat there, right before the end of this section? There’s no way anyone would have hit with a total of 20, but the dealer beat me anyway, drawing to 21. There’s just no other way to play that hand.

Interesting that we also saw the first dealer natural – it seems like the odds are swinging back in the house’s favor.

Here are my next ten outcomes using the no-bust strategy:

  • -10 (stood on 12 against a 10, dealer drew to 17)
  • -10 (stood on 17 against a 9, dealer drew to 18)
  • -10 (stood on 16 against a 10, dealer drew to 18)
  • -10 (stood on 19 against a 8, dealer drew to 20)
  • +10
  • -10 (stood on 17 against a 3, dealer drew to 19)
  • +25
  • -10 (stood on 15 against a 2, dealer drew to 19)
  • -10 (stood on 19 against a 3, dealer drew to 20)
  • +10

After 30 outcomes, I’m at even money, sitting at $1,000, exactly what I started with. Notice that string of four losses in a row? That’s a somewhat common result.

For a typical blackjack game, your odds of losing four times in a row are 1/16, or about a 6% chance. Remember that up and down swings are common in blackjack, where the player has about a 42.42% chance of winning each hand.

Casino Blackjack

Before I give my final results (and some further thoughts on using no-bust strategies in blackjack), I wanted to show the very next ten outcomes, as something interesting started happening:

  • -10 (stood on 12 against an 8, dealer drew to 17)
  • +10
  • -10 (stood on 15 against a 7, dealer drew to 17)
  • +10
  • -10 (stood on 12 against a 10, dealer drew to 20)
  • +10
  • -10 (stood on 12 against a 7, dealer drew to 19)
  • +10
  • +10
  • -10 (stood on 12 against a 4, dealer drew to 21)

See what happened there? The back-and-forth wins and losses in this section of outcomes kept me exactly even. After 40 outcomes, my stack was still $1,000 tall, just like it was when we started.

It was a whipsaw session, a collection of outcomes in which I felt the mathematics underpinning the game settling, working into an average, and pulling me back and forth across its saw blades. I may not be winning, but I’m sure having fun watching the no-bust strategy fall apart.

Overall Results of My No-Bust Blackjack Test

After 100 outcomes, I ended my session down $25, with a $975 stack and a look of complete non-surprise on my face.

It could have gone a lot worse than a $25 loss, but I also could have lucked out and ended with a profit. That’s the nature of blackjack and any casino game. Most of the time you lose; now and then, tantalizingly, you win.

That win feels tied to something amazing that you did, not because the randomness of mathematics happened to stop in your favor. This is a big driver of gambling behavior, for better and for worse.

$25 in losses over 100 outcomes means I was losing about $0.25 per hand, giving the house an edge of about 2.5% over my no-bust strategy.

But I noticed something – I had fun while gambling. Something about hiding behind my strategic mask, expecting the wins and losses, recording the sessions, and taking the time to appreciate the way the game was working on me improved my enjoyment of the game, even if just temporarily.

I also think there’s some benefit to playing a little bit of no-bust blackjack as a means of re-orienting yourself to the game’s optimal strategy. While playing, I kept a basic blackjack strategy chart handy, and mentally took note of how my no-bust moves went against traditional play ideals.

Conclusion

Sitting back and hoping for the dealer to bust was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. But you shouldn’t use this as a real strategy in a real-world game with actual cash. As an exercise in statistics and applied game theory, it was just fine. As a means of beating the casino, it doesn’t work.

If you want to improve your blackjack play, you’re better off studying strategy charts and practicing those difficult in-between hands that sometimes come up. There’s no easy way to shave points off the casino’s blackjack advantage.