Strategy & Odds; Poker vs Blackjack2 years ago
Despite using exactly the same tools, poker and blackjack are two wildly different games. Although there is a healthy amount of glamour, glitz, and celebrity that comes with being a professional poker player, blackjack is, and probably will remain, the world’s most popular casino game.
Is this because blackjack is easier than poker, or is it because one is more luck based than the other? In order to get the bottom of this, let’s take an objective look at the strategy and odds involved in comparing poker vs blackjack.
The Odds Involved in a Game of Blackjack
As with all card games, what you get is the luck of the draw. That being said, blackjack is a game in which you play against the House as opposed to other players. This means that in order for it to be profitable, the game must be designed for the House to win if the average player plays for long enough.
This can be seen in the fact that even though blackjack has the lowest house edge of games of this kind, it still has a house edge.
The Odds Involved in a Game of Poker
This isn’t to say that there is no luck involved in poker – there is. It’s just a different kind of luck. If you are lucky enough to play against weaker, less experienced players, you obviously have an advantage.
However, because the game is played against other players, not the House itself, the odds in poker are already more in your favour than they would be in a game of blackjack. In order to be profitable the house takes a cut of the poker winnings, known as the ‘rake’.
The Strategy of Blackjack
Despite there being huge variance in terms of luck when playing blackjack, blackjack is unique in that it is entirely possible to get very, very skilled at the game before ever stepping foot into a casino. This is backed up by not only by the fact that there are books on how to play – The Basic Blackjack Strategy and Beat the Dealer being the most famous of these – but also by the undeniable statistics quoted therein.
In The Basic Blackjack Strategy, for example, a team of American statisticians lay out the guidelines for what to do with each given hand. Do you double down on an 11, do you split the 8s, do you stick on 16? Because the odds are so precisely calculable and the dealer's options are determined by the game rules, there really is a right answer in each situation.
Beat the Dealer is a book which has inspired more Hollywood films than most, as it is the book which first taught people the skill of card counting – the basis for famous movies like 21. Card counting, a strategy in which you can mathematically predict the likelihood of winning your next hand, is responsible for millions of player winnings at casinos around the world over the years.
While frowned upon, this strategy isn’t exactly illegal, and at worst you will simply be asked to leave the casino.
The Strategy of Poker
Poker is also a game in which skill is extremely important. However, unlike with Blackjack you won’t get asked to leave the casino for using your full repertoire of perfectly legal skills. It’s for this reason that many professional blackjack players eventually make the transition to poker. Take the infamous Andy Bloch for example. He is now a masterful poker player, but recall that he actually started playing cards on the MIT Blackjack team that inspired Bringing Down the House.
It is extremely rare for players to move from poker to blackjack, however. The level of skill that one is able to bring to the poker table means that even though there is luck involved in the game, you can overcome the odds if you know what you are doing.
Poker vs Blackjack: The Result?
Both blackjack and poker are games in which strategy, skill, and luck are important, though you can make arguments for blackjack being more luck based and poker more skill based. Either way, with the celebrity fandom of being an accomplished poker player and the secrecy that needs to come with being an accomplished blackjack player, it’s clear that strategy in poker is a far more celebrated phenomenon.
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