If you’ve ever sat down and played blackjack anywhere, chances are that you’ve been lectured by some asshole about you not hitting when you were supposed to hit or staying when you weren’t supposed to stay. Maybe in some of them, you were that asshole. I certainly have been. The reason all of those people, well, certainly at least some of them, felt confident enough to make such bold declarations about your play is that the game of blackjack is relatively solved. What does that mean exactly? For every combination of cards you or the dealer might have, some nerd out there has figured out exactly what you should do. It’s so solved, in fact, that said nerds have compiled those scenarios into an easy to read chart, referred to by the gaming community as “the book”. An example can be seen below thanks to our friends over at Wizardofodds.com (great name);
The book advises you on not only when you should take a card or stand pat, but when to split your two cards into separate hands (allowing you to take a bad hand like fourteen and start over) and when to double down (more on that later). It’s pretty helpful overall. Playing as closely to this as possible will allow you to have the best percentage chance to win. You aren’t a favorite, but you aren’t too far behind either.
So, naturally, some people out there aren’t too keen of other players taking any kind of creative license against the knowledge of said chart. If you have twenty, they insist you stay, if you have two aces, you must split. But some decisions on this chart are hard. They don’t feel good. If you’ve ever been forced to, say, split eights against an ace or hit a sixteen against a face card, you know the feeling. It isn’t going to end well. And most of the time, it doesn’t, because it’s a bad spot.
But there’s another really interesting spot on the chart for an entirely different reason. It’s different because this spot feels bad, but unlike the previous scenarios, is actually very good for you. I’s the entire segment of scenarios where you have eleven, and you’ll notice that you should nearly always (according to the book), not only hit it, but double down on it.
Let’s take a step backwards and really dig into why doubling down is such a big deal. In blackjack, you can only make your bets before you see the cards. Everything that you do happens blind. The dealer could be about to deal themselves a blackjack, which would immediately win them the hand, and there’s no way you can see it coming. Making bets before you have no information is, generally, not a good strategy. To offset that, the casino allows you to employ a strategy once a hand on your initial two cards, wherein you double your bet and receive one additional card. This is one of two strategies (along with splitting a pair of matching cards such as the two eights mentioned above into two separate hands) that allow you to put more money on the table after you’ve seen the cards. It’s an important way to win.
Logically, you’d only want to double down in spots where you’re a large favorite to win. And, as you can see, eleven almost always fits that bill. You have a four in thirteen chance to make a hand so good you can’t lose (ten through king), and even if you pull a bad card like a two or a three, the dealer can still break and you win with thirteen or fourteen. The chart says you should nearly always double down in this spot.
But you see the exact opposite at the table when you’re playing. People get scared when they see a face or an ace in front of the dealer. Rather than doubling down, like they should, they simply hit. Even if they make 21, they left money on the table and, as we’ve discussed, it’s really hard to win at blackjack if you’re leaving money on the table. Typically, if Herm Edwards is to be believed, you play to win the game. If you find yourself sitting at the blackjack table and you get eleven, don’t overthink it, just double down. If you have to make a bad double against an ace occasionally, that’s your call, but don’t be afraid to do it against the tens.
Surprise! This doesn’t just apply at the blackjack table either. Of course, there isn’t a big chart for life that tells you what decision to make, but there are a pretty big number of things in life that we know definitively give you an edge because they’re designed that way. The numbers are out for how valuable it is to start investing your money early, in either an IRA or a 401k, for example. Entering the market, deferring money now for money in the future, building a budget to free up extra money, that’s scary – but you do know the odds are in your favor. It’s nearly impossible for that money not to grow, sometimes exponentially, over a lifetime. I’m not an investment adviser, but I think one of them would probably agree with me. That’s just an example though. If you think for a bit, I’m sure you can think of more. You know better than I do what your strengths are and where you might have an advantage, so take some time to think about that and then start betting your metaphorical chips as hard as you can in those circumstances. Even if you’re looking at a scary card.
To explain the second rule, we need to define one more gambling concept: hedging. Hedging means that, after you place one bet, you eliminate your chance to lose by betting placing a second bet on the opposite side of the bet you took. Let me give you an example. Let’s say before the season you place a bet on the San Francisco 49ers at 30:1 odds for 100 dollars. If they win the Super Bowl you’ll receive 3,100 dollars (the 3000 you win plus the 100 you bet). If you were to hedge that bet, you could find a place to bet 1,500 dollars on the Chiefs. In that instance, no matter if they lose the game or win the Super Bowl, you still win a fair amount of money.
Here’s the rub though, by hedging your winning bet you’ve given up a lot of value. Would you have made the same bet before the season if you were offered San Francisco at fifteen to one odds? Probably not. And you’d have been right, because those would’ve been terrible odds. So why are you throwing away the value? To make sure you don’t lose any money? If you didn’t want to lose money, you shouldn’t be making bets in the first place. Gambling .We just discussed how hard it is to win when you’re playing blackjack and leaving money on the table (the game with some of the best odds for the player to win) so giving up value on your potential winners placing sports bets (which are even harder to win) is generally a bad move. You’re not going to place enough winning bets where you can afford to give that much of it back, so you should just let your bets ride until they’re finished.
So, that gives us rule five: hedging is for losers. If you’ve got a road to succeed, don’t cut out your winnings by insuring you don’t fail. Elon Musk didn’t start two car companies in case the electric one didn’t work out. You’re certainly welcome to leave some metaphorical meat on the bone, if you want, again, that’s your prerogative. But I wouldn’t advise it. I’m licking that fucker clean; more meat me for me.
Again, these are metaphors. These certainly worked in the very limited context of their respective games, but they apply more broadly to life as well. If you do want betting advice, feel free to listen to the current unnamed Unleash the Hounds gambling podcasts on our soundcloud page. Your biggest asset in life isn’t money anyways, it’s time, and when you’re spending or betting it you should be looking for maximum returns. Don’t be afraid to press harder when you think you have an edge. Double down in spite of how afraid you are of the cards you’re looking at. And don’t hedge either. Nobody wants to be a loser.