Improving My Blackjack Play Using Data

In my day job I rely on data for most of my key digital marketing decisions so when I was struggling earlier this year with my blackjack results I decided to turn to the data and see what I could find.  The KPI for this project is pretty simple – money won/lost at live casino blackjack.

To get to the underlying data that led to that final result I realized I needed to dig a little deeper and analyze my play on a shoe-by-shoe basis.  In January I started tracking my results per shoe on my favorite app in my phone’s notes as well as every shoe played in a live casino.

With 4 months of results that spanned hundreds of digital shoes and dozens of live shoes I took the data and started crunching numbers.  The first thing I realized was that I needed to stick with a game longer – when I bought in for slightly more money and backed that buy-in up with a re-buy of 50-75% of the original amount on one table I had a stronger chance of hitting a strong run and earning money than buying in for less and hoping to win in shorter bursts by switching tables once that amount was gone.  I also learned that my style of play can lead to several winning or losing shoes in a row, but the variability isn’t very large between any given shoe so I should be able to weather a couple of bad shoes and still have the opportunity to make money.  Interestingly I didn’t see much difference between my play and results in surrender games vs. no surrender allowed – which is the only option at my local native American casinos – this was fairly surprising to me.

Armed with this data I’ve made a nice run since my poor results in 2016 and rough start to 2017 and now I’m only a couple yards from break-even for this year.  Of course now that I think I have some things figured out there is a great chance I’ll go on a terrible run which sends me right back to the drawing board.  At least now I’ve got some more data behind my play and I’ll keep working the numbers to deliver positive ROI on my blackjack play.

Blackjack Table Etiquette for Beginners

One thing I hear from friends on a regular basis is that they often feel overwhelmed playing blackjack or almost any table game live in a casino since they are afraid that they will make a mistake that will embarass themselves, or worse, make someone at the table get upset with them.  My guidance is that unless they are being an a-hole and the mistakes they make are honest rather than malicious the dealer and other players will usually cut them slack.  The approach that I appreciate most when less experienced players join my table is to have them ask the dealer and tablemates for advice when they are uncertain about a situation.  Nothing is more frustrating than an inexperienced player who makes a bad move that tanks the entire hand for the table rather than swallowing their pride and asking for advice.

To get started there are a few simple things to remember:

1) Don’t touch the cards unless you are at a single deck table where they deal face down

2) Feel free to ask the dealer or other players their opinion or advice

3) Take a minute to understand the table rules before you sit

4) Don’t sit at third base – the last seat to players left – unless you are comfortable with people second-guessing every play you make

5) Ask the players if you may join them or if you should wait until the next shoe

6) Don’t enter a game if everyone is on a roll without asking first

7) TIP your dealer and drink server – I usually play between a $2-10 bet for dealer after a blackjack or major split/double win

8) If the players look like boring jerks choose another table

9) If you smile and have fun even the biggest a-hole will usually not get too upset with a couple of bad plays

10) Cheer for other players to win even if you lose the hand


Let me know if you have any other advice for new players to make their experience better