Tips, strategies and stories about black jack.

Blackjack, card counting and big wins!

Unlike some other casino games in Blackjack you compete against the dealer and not other players. This is why it is known as a banking game.

The game relies on the skills of the player and the dealer. The cards you are dealt can be totalled up (each card has a value) and if this is 21 in your first two cards you get a ‘blackjack’ which is a win. If your cards do not total 21 then you can be dealt further cards and count them.

Before Blackjack gambling enthusiast played ‘twenty-one’ which first occurred in Spain in 1602. The object of the game was to reach 21 points without going over. This new game spread to France where French colonialists took the game throughout the continent and across to the US in 1931.

The modern game is based on the notion of card counting. This was a method founded by Edward Thorp who published a book called ‘Beat the Dealer’ in 1962. Thorp’s method of play was based on a single-deck of cards and became the most popular form of Blackjack played in the USA. Thorp’s techniques can be seen in the USA hit movie Rain Man, where Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic man is able to win at blackjack by counting cards.

Edward Thorp himself is commonly referred to as the godfather of counting after he won $11,000 (£7,500) or £111,500 in today’s economy, in one weekend back in the 1970’s. His achievements have earned him a spot in the Blackjack Hall of Fame.

Initially to get people into US casinos to play the new game people were offered bonus pay-outs, for example a 10 to 1 pay-out if the players hand consisted of an Ace of Spades.
Casino’s now hold tournaments for blackjack players. Players are given equal number of chips and the winner is decided via a process of elimination after several rounds.

Casino’s are not the only place to play blackjack. Video blackjack is extremely popular as it is harder to card count. Electronic consoles serve the hand of cards to the player virtually.

Another modern day variant of blackjack is the TV show ‘The Price is Right’. Aired from 1980-2006 this extremely popular show asked contestants to play a form of grocery blackjack. In this game, six grocery products were used, and five of those products’ prices were multiplied by various numbers from 2 to 10, with the one remaining product having the exact price. In order to win a large prize, the contestant had to achieve a score of 21 (which was usually done by picking a product whose price was multiplied by ten and the one that was correctly priced), or beat the house with any score that did not exceed 21.

Advanced Poker Theory

These days your opponents in no limit Texas hold’em will be far more clued up than what they used to be! Reading poker theory on sites like 888 poker and watching videos from coaching sites helps to advance peoples understanding of no limit poker. So we then need to ask the question of how much value you can extract from merely stealing blinds? The value is thinner when it comes to raising from position these days meaning that you should probably do it less often. There are numerous problems associated with expanding your range from position.

Problem number one is that your opponents simply expect the move. Any move that is expected is by sheer definition much less effective. A boxer wouldn’t do very well if they telegraphed every punch they were about to throw. Problem number two is that you are laying your opponent odds when you raise to steal the blinds and that makes blind stealing less attractive mathematically. Thirdly it makes it very easy for your opponents to find simple counter-play and the simple counter-play is to 3/bet. While you have the option to 4/bet, that also is quite thin in terms of value.

You need to be careful when you make any play in no limit hold’em because if you offer your opponent a simple counter-play then you not only make their life easier but your own harder. If you raise with a wide range and then fold most of that range to a 3/bet then you are going to find yourself being exploited by many of your opponents at higher levels. This leaves us in a position where raising with wider ranges from all positions is probably less profitable on the whole in modern online no limit hold’em.

When you also factor in that many of your opponents will be holding short stacks and can possibly shove over your steal raises then open raising is allowing your opponents straight forward and easy responses to your actions. In years gone by then I would open raise with hands like J-8s from the hijack because my control over my opponents was more than what it is today and my value from open raising wasn’t as thin.

I knew that my opponents were much tighter and that my raise would guarantee me the button more than what it does now. These days that sort of raise is much thinner for the reasons previously mentioned because being 3/bet or floated is much more likely with the added likelihood of further aggressive action post flop forcing tougher decisions on you.

Carl Sampson is an online poker player and poker ambassador at 888poker

Playing 7/Stud

Seven Card Stud is a much older variation of poker than Texas hold’em but it is often considered to be far more skilful. Because the players in both forms of poker have to make their best five card poker hand from the seven cards that they have available then both Seven Card Stud and hold’em are very similar to each other. In fact very few people are aware of the fact that hold’em is actually a variation of Seven Card Stud. The game starts with the lowest visible card being forced to open the action.

Each player is dealt three cards, two of which are face down and one card face up which is called the door card. Then we have the first round of betting and after that then the highest visible hand opens the betting on each round of play. Just like in hold’em then bluffing and semi-bluffing play a big part in this form of poker but position isn’t as important in Stud. This is because the player that opens the betting can differ from round to round based on which hand is the highest visible hand on that particular round of play.

The game of Seven Card Stud places a great deal of emphasis on remembering which cards have been dealt. In fact this is one of the primary skills of the game because remembering which cards your opponents have discarded has a big impact on your pot odds and implied odds and your overall chances of winning the pot. Seven Card Stud is making somewhat of a return to online poker and poker in general because many players are seeing the close similarities with hold’em. There is not a lot of theory on Seven Card Stud at this time and so any player who decides to put in the necessary work can find themselves some very profitable games.

You need to remember that Stud has five betting rounds as opposed to the four in hold’em and Omaha. This means that it tends to be played more in a limit or a pot limit format and no limit Seven Card Stud is rare. However it is one of the most skilful forms of poker that there is in the world at this time that requires unique skills on behalf of the player in order to be able to play this game very well indeed.

Carl Sampson is a professional poker player who plays online at 888poker

Game Selection in Blackjack

Back when I used to play blackjack for a living in 1998 to 2002 in the UK, it was vital to be able to spot a profitable game. Unfortunately what made the situation so difficult in the UK wasn’t that the gaming staff were so clued up and spotted you but in the few available games there were to choose from. It is difficult as a card counter to play in the same casino repeatedly and so you need to move around a lot. However this involves travelling time and that eats into your playing time.

So it then becomes very difficult to play blackjack for forty hours per week. So you need a fairly high hourly rate if you are only going to play for say twenty hours per week but if you include down time and travelling time then twenty playing hours could come close to a full time job. In the UK back then there were only about 120 casinos and although that sounds a lot, many of those were part of the same companies. So Grosvenor Clubs (as it was then), Stanley’s (as it was then), Staki’s (as it was then) and London Clubs were the four biggest companies and these represented the lion’s share.

Staying Ahead of The Pack

So you could be detected in just four clubs but yet find it difficult to get a game in the entire country. Most casinos only had one blackjack game open and if that was being dealt by a trainee dealer or the game was full then the number of hands per hour dropped alarmingly. Blackjack is similar to poker in many ways and you can read about poker on my poker blog at 888 poker if you care to take a look. Game selection is pivotal to your success in both games and when you only get poor games to play in then you are not going to earn any money.

If a dealer is giving poor penetration which means that they are only cutting say half a shoe and the game is six deck then you are essentially wasting your time. Playing six decks doesn’t make it impossible to make money from card counting but it does make it very difficult. So remember that choosing the right blackjack game is very important. A game needs fast pace, be preferably four decks and not six and the dealer needs to be dealing around two thirds to three quarters of the shoe.

We can also add to this that we ideally need a dealer and casino staff that doesn’t have much clue as to how to catch a card counter either. If you can find these avenues and capitalise on them then you may just place yourself into a position to make money from playing blackjack.


Carl Sampson is an online poker player and poker ambassador for 888poker

Bluffing in Poker

As an online no limit Texas hold’em player that has played every level from $0.01-$0.02 to $25-$50 levels then I am well versed on many of the differences that are required in order to do well at higher levels. Bet sizing is just one such area. In fact bet and raise sizing is critical to your success at the higher levels.

When we play micro levels and low stakes no limit Texas hold’em then we become cocooned with a way of playing that has very little relevance to play at even the $200 levels let alone high stakes poker. One such area is in bet and raise sizing. Let us look at an example here to show you what I mean. It is folded around to our hero who raises with the As-5s to 3.5bb. The big blind calls him and there are 7.5bb in the pot.

Both players have 100bb stacks before the hand starts and the flop comes 8d-4s-3h giving our hero an inside straight draw and an ace overcard and backdoor flush draw. The big blind checks and he c-bets for 5.5bb into the 7.5bb pot. The big blind check-raises to 18bb and the action is back on our hero. He aggressively chases the dead money which is correct but he then three bets to 67bb which is the size of the pot. This places around 75% of his stack into the middle and so he is committed to the hand.

In games like no limit Texas hold’em then it is possible over the short term to make these sorts of bet sizing errors and not be punished. When our hero three bet the flop then he is faced with a situation where he either has the best hand or not and a raise can make his opponent fold or not. If villain cannot call then our hero has simply risked too much to win the pot. In effect he has placed dead money into the pot for his opponent to win. If villain has a hand that he will not fold then our hero has lost 67bb. But just how much of that could have been saved?

At the higher levels then a flop check-raise to 18bb in no way signals a big hand. So our hero can simply three bet to something like 40bb here and that is a raise size that is going to commit his opponent should they continue. It also allows him to save 27bb if his opponent cannot or will not fold based on the difference between this bet size and a pot sized raise. So if re-raising to 27bb less achieves the same effect then our hero has needlessly risked 27bb for nothing. This is simply extra money that he loses when he is losing and his opponent will not fold.

In no limit Texas hold’em then you need to pay very careful attention to your bet sizing and this is especially so at the higher levels where you will be chasing more dead money. Tight low stakes players who only ever play with strong hands and smaller stacks never have to worry about this concept.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and poker ambassador at 888poker

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