In blackjack, cards do have memory
November 20, 2012 3:14PM
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Updated: December 24, 2012 6:34AM
In nearly every casino game, every play is an independent trial. Regardless of whether you’re playing slot machines, video poker, roulette, keno, sic bo or craps, past results have no effect on future outcome.
That also goes for games in which cards are shuffled for every hand. Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride, and any number of poker-based options fit here. Freshly shuffled cards have no memory. They don’t know whether you’ve been winning or losing, and the odds of drawing winners never change.
It’s a fact in gambling that usually comes up when a slot player has had a long losing streak, or a craps player has seen too many 7-outs in a row. But one reader asked for a clarification: Why doesn’t this rule apply to blackjack.
“I think I’m quoting you correctly that you say the house edge is the same on every play in every game,” he wrote via email. “What’s already happened doesn’t affect what’s going to happen, right? So then why should raising and lowering your bets like blackjack card counters do make any difference?”
What’s different about blackjack is that there are multiple hands between shuffles. The cards already played do have an effect on future outcomes, and it can be said that the cards DO have a memory. If an Ace has been dealt, that’s one fewer Ace that’s available as a component of the two-card 21s that pay players 3-2 — or, in bad games, 6-5. If a whole bunch of low cards already have come out, that’s a whole bunch of low cards unavailable for future draws, or to spoil a double-down hand.
The conditions of the game change as the constitution of the deck remaining in play changes. Card counters bank on that, raising bets when there’s a higher than usual proportion of high cards to be played, and lowering bets or leaving the table when there’s a higher than usual proportion of low cards in the available deck.
That means advantage players have their biggest bets on the table when their chances of being dealt a blackjack are greatest. The memory contained in the cards already played makes all the difference.
There’s one other casino game where multiple hands are dealt between shuffles. That’s baccarat, but the memory effect is much weaker. In theory, a bettor could get a tiny edge, but not in any practical way. But in blackjack, that memory gives good players an edge.
John Grochowski is a local freelance writer. Look for him on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).