Winning at Blackjack

It has been a long time since I played blackjack seriously for money.

I started playing the game in the 1960s after reading a book written by a UCLA math professor named Edward Thorpe who authored 'Beat The Dealer.' The book detailed his card-counting and basic strategy for winning at 21 or blackjack.

It was based on a 52-card deck which nearly all casinos were using at the time the book was published And to put it bluntly, Thorpe's system worked.

On the several occasions I used his system in Las Vegas, I won money. I had some big weekends It takes a special mind to count cards backwards to determine when the deck is rich in 10-value cards and aces. Sometimes I was good at it, sometimes I wasn't, but Thorpe's strategy made the game profitable for me

It didn't take long for the casino management to catch on to Thorpe's methods. After booking some big losses to the newly enllightened players, the casinos took action to take the advantage away from the players.


They began shuffling up earlier and added decks to the game. They went to two decks, then four, then six. Some even placed eight decks in a shoe in order to end the losses.

Thorpe revised his book and changed his strategy to cope with the casinos' changed rules. It helped the players somewhat, but the game had changed.

Today I am considering returning to my old love, blackjack. If I do start playing the game again, here is some of the strategy I will use, based on Thorpe's basic strategy.

Always split aces and eights.

If the dealer has a bust card showing -- threes to sixes -- go down for double on any two reasonable cards. You can double down if your hand totals eight, nine, 10 or 11 -- and have a reasonable expectation of winning the bet.

When the deck is rich in 10s or aces, double or triple the size of your bet. When the deck is poor in high cards, reduce your bet to the minimum.

If a hostile dealer takes over, don't hesitate. Leave the game You want the right vibrations to win at blackjack.


Once you have accumulated a sizable number of chips, smile, pick up your winnings and take a break.

Blackjack is still a game that can be beaten. It isn't as easy as it was in the past, but it can happen.

Edward Thorpe was a pioneer in overcoming the House advantage on blackjack. He deserves the praise of players everywhere, and I take off my hat to him.

There are still a couple of casinos in Las Vegas that deal single-deck blackjack. If you find such a game, play it. Good luck. Let the games begin.

“Thorpe revised his book and changed his strategy to cope with the casinos' changed rules.”

  • It's always nice to reminisce about the old times, especially after talking with someone from that era. Rosemarie of the 'Dick Van Dyke Show' remembers receiving champagne and roses from the Mob when she opened with Xavier Cugat's Orchestra at the Flamingo. Her boyfriend in those days was Benjaman Siegel, aka Bugsy -- but only to his close friends.
  • I think you're absolutely right regarding the old days. It's refreshing to read there is someone that remembers and experienced a great time in history! I like reading your articles and I have to admit, my viewpoint on a few of them have sometimes been in stark contrast, but I think that in itself is part of the enjoyment. Keep em' presses rolling! LOL!
  • Nice to hear from a veteran 'old-timer' and I do agree with the writer. Progress doesn't always pay off for the average person. The old days were better in many, many ways.
  • I was a casino dealer/floor/shift supervision for over twenty years. These years included different casinos in different states and cities here in the U.S.A. I have witnessed the change in casino gaming in those years. In my earliest years of dealing I worked for the boys in Vegas. These years are the special one's for me. Not only was I a bit green in the tomato patch (21 pit) but, I had to sneak on graveyard shift to deal dice! Women just did not deal craps in those days; that was taboo! For me, it was scary yet very exciting and I learned so much about the gaming business and it's players. Those also were the years when the player's dressed classier, acted with manners, and everything seemed more grandiose. Gentlemen wore jackets/suits to dinner and the women, well, they were puttin' on the Ritz! There were no player's cards back then to track a player and how much they played. Which today determines how much in comps a player may be rewarded. Rather back then any upper management in the pit could comp any amount at any of the club's restaurants, bars, and hotel rooms. No bean counters were running the clubs back then! The beautifully dealt game of 21 was dealt with a single deck 95% of the time. On weekends, holidays, or special occasions, you might see a few double decks or maybe a couple of shoes in the pit, so they were more the exception than the rule! There were no peep viewers or automatic shufflers; rather the game of 21 in its purest form. Sadly, those days are long gone! The casinos of today could have a chimpanzee dealing 21. Nothing to it! The cards are constantly being reshuffled, there are 12 deck shoes now, and at most joints you can not double down on any first two cards. Strictly, 10 or 11 only! Oh and you can forget the occasional playing of 2 or more hands. Now it is only after the dealer has reshuffled and you must continue to play the same amount of hands through that shuffle. In today's gaming world, everywhere there is 21 being dealt they have taken away the very slight winning edge for the player. In my opinion the fun is gone also! I could go on and on about this subject but it makes me sad and mad when I think or compare the old to the new; so, I try not to do that anymore. Instead I remind myself to be grateful that I got to experience first hand and be a part of those glorious years of gaming that are now part of history! P.S. - Great read this article was!
  • I wonder how the computers behind the play at online casino's shuffle the cards? Is the cyber deck shuffled after each hand is dealt? Are strategies based on some idea of the content of the remaining cards the dealer distributes to the players therefore not applicable to online blackjack play? Or are some strategies applicable while others don't apply when playing cyber rather than live blackjack?

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