Blackjack Deviations: What is it and Does it Affect Your Winning Chances?

Have you heard about blackjack deviations? It’s simply altering your play to increase your chances of winning based on the cards dealt and the richness of the shoe. Mostly, card counters practice this method so they can bring the house down in the most opportune gaming moments. Through calculating the blackjack probability, they can adjust their betting and strategy for optimal results.

Always remember that deviations aren’t fueled by pure luck. All these are based on mathematical formulas which are pre-calculated even before the player sets foot in the casino. There’s no pattern or gut feel involved here. The deviations or play alterations will depend on the situation on the table.

But what are these and how can you use it for your advantage? Read on, my friend.

What are blackjack deviations?

You can always refer to a strategy or blackjack probability chart to win consistent hands. Even card counters have won decent amount of money by simply abiding by the rules of the basic strategy paired by perfect card counting techniques.

Calculating blackjack probabilities will show that these methods cover only up to 80% of your game – sometimes, only 60%.

 

Where does the rest go? This is where blackjack deviations come handy. There are two types of deviations for this card game: playing and betting.

Playing deviations is when you decide to have a different move than what the basic strategy dictates. This happens when the cards’ composition changed and the true running count calls for a different technique. If the true count is running high, it might be best to stand on some hands than to hit like what the strategy chart tells.

On the other hand, betting deviations are when you change the amount of your betting unit based on the running count. It makes perfect sense that when the true count is siding on the casino, you’ll bet less. But if it’s ripe for you to win, you’ll place a larger wager. However, be careful when exploiting betting deviations as this usually attracts the attention of pit bosses.

As you see, deviations are based on the true count, thus you have to count cards to practice this. It also takes practice and good judgment before you reap the fruits of your labor. And remember that although deviations are meant to increase your odds of winning, it will not win all your hands.

To know more about deviations, Ben and Colin from Blackjack Apprenticeship discuss it in a nutshell in this video:

Are blackjack deviations a must?

Well, if you want to increase the expected value (EV) of your play, deviations will be helpful.

As much as the basic strategy charts are champs in guiding your game, it’s not 100% guaranteed to make you win.

 

You need to do some alterations to the moves depending on what’s dealt on the table.So is it a must? Yes and no. If you’re not fond of card counting, deviations are definitely not for you. Still, playing deviations have invaluable benefits.

For example, you have a 12 hand and the dealer has a 2. If we are to base on the 4-8-deck chart where the dealer stands at Soft 17, the ideal move is to hit. However, this changes when we factor in the true count. If it’s below 3, hitting would be best, but if it’s above 3, standing will likely win your hand.

Even if you won’t practice deviations, it’s worth exploring, especially if you want to protect your bankroll from massive blows. And if you love insurance bets, card counting and deviations will be your lodestar.

Should you always use deviations?

Master the basics before breaking them. This old adage goes true for blackjack deviations. Don’t practice any of it unless you’ve mastered card counting and you can recall all the moves in the basic strategy chart in the blink of an eye. It takes mastery before you can make deviations work on your advantage.

So when is the best time to employ such deviations? Let’s see this in separate blackjack probability table sets:

Playing deviations. Once you had the deviation training, keeping a running count and converting it to true count in multiple-deck games is the first step. From there, you’ll decide if a deviation is well justified and if it’s guaranteed to work. And how will you know if it’s going to work? You should’ve practiced deviations in different circumstances and index values. Also, calculating blackjack probabilities will help.

Betting deviations. On this part, you should’ve mastered true count calculation and how to calculate blackjack probabilities as fast as possible. When the true count is on your side, you change your bets. Still, don’t go too far from your bet spread.

Adjusting the index numbers to justify a deviation isn’t very easy. There are over 170 index numbers and memorizing it would be a total mental wreck.

The Illustrious 18

Although it would be difficult to memorize 175 index numbers and its adjustments, there’s the so-called Illustrious 18. It’s a list of 18 playing deviations based on the basic strategy. This is formulated by Donald Schlesinger, a mathematician and member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame.  It’s by knowing how to calculate blackjack probabilities and incorporating variations that you can win.

Schlesinger pointed out that although the basic strategy will yield a reasonable EV, the profit will soon decrease. This is where deviations should be used. Here are the 18 points with its sub-deviations:

🃏Point 1: Insurance🃏

♣️If the true count is higher or equal to +1.4, you should bet on insurance for single-deck games.

♣️For double-deck games, use insurance if the true count is higher or equal to +2.4

♣️When it comes to shoe games, bet on insurance if the count is higher or equal to 3.

🃏Point 2: the 16 hand vs. 10🃏

♣️When you have a 16 against a dealer 10 in a single-deck game, stand if your count is at least 0 or higher.

♣️Against a dealer 10 in a double-deck game, stand your 16 hand if the true count is higher than or at least 0.

♣️Stand your 16 hand against a 10 during a shoe game if the count is higher than or at least 0.

🃏Point 3: the 15 hand🃏

♣️For single-deck, double-deck, and shoe games, stand your 15 hand against a dealer 10 if the true count is equal or higher than +4.

🃏Point 4: Pair of 10s vs. 5🃏

♣️If you have a pair of 10s against a dealer 5, split if your true count is at least or higher than +5. This applies for shoe, single-deck, and double-deck games.

🃏Point 5: Pair of 10s vs. 6🃏

♣️Split a pair of 10s against a 6 in an S17 single-deck game if the count is at least or higher than +5.  In case of H17, split at +4 and up.

♣️In a double-deck/shoe, S17 or H71, game, split the 10s against a 6 in a true count of +4 and up.

🃏Point 6: 10 hand vs. 10🃏

♣️Double down a hand of 10 against a dealer 10 if the count is +3 and up in a single-deck game.

♣️For double-deck and shoe games, double down a hand of 10 against a 10 if the true count is at least +4.

🃏Point 7: 12 hand vs. 3🃏

♣️In single and double-deck games, stand a 12 hand against a 3 if the true count is at least +3.

♣️Stand your hand of 12 against a 3 during a shoe game if the true count is at least +2.

🃏Point 8: 12 hand vs. 2🃏

♣️For single, double, and shoe games, stand a hand of 12 against a dealer 2 if the true count is at least +4.

🃏Point 9: 11 hand vs. Ace🃏

♣️For single-deck S17 games, double down your 11 hand against an Ace if the count is at least -1. If you’re playing at H17, double down at -2 and higher.

♣️In an S17 shoe game, double down a hand of 11 vs. an Ace if the count is +1 and up. For H17, double down if the count is at least 0.

♣️For S17 double-deck games, double down a hand of 11 vs. an Ace if the true count is at least 0. If playing at H17, double down if the count is at least -1.

🃏Point 10: 9 hand vs. 2🃏

♣️For single-deck, double-deck, and shoe games, double down a hand of 9 vs. 2 if the true count is +1 and up.

🃏Point 11: 10 hand vs. Ace🃏

♣️A 10 hand vs. an Ace in a single-deck game should be doubled down if the count is +2 and up.

♣️For double deck games, double a 10 vs. Ace if the true count is +3 and up.

♣️In an S17 shoe game, double down a 10 against an Ace if the count is at least +4. If playing in H17, double down in at least +3 count.

🃏Point 12: 9 hand vs. 7🃏

♣️Be it for shoe, single-deck, or double-deck games, double down a hand of 9 against a dealer 7 if the true count is +4 and up.

🃏Point 13: 16 hand vs. 9🃏

♣️Always stand a hand of 16 against a dealer 9 of the true count is +5 and up for single-deck, double-deck, and shoe games.

🃏Point 14: 13 hand vs .2🃏

♣️For shoe, single-deck, and double-deck games, always hit on a 13 hand against a dealer 2 if the true count is equal to or lower than 0.

🃏Point 15: 12 hand vs. 4🃏

♣️In single-deck games, hit at a hand of 12 vs. a dealer 4 if the count is equal to or lower than +1.

♣️For shoe and double-deck games, hit for the same hand if the count is equal to or lower than 0.

🃏Point 16: 12 hand vs. 5🃏

♣️In a single-deck game, hit a 12 hand vs. 5 if the count is equal to or lower than 0.

♣️If playing shoe or double-deck games, hit if the true count is equal to or lower than -1.

🃏Point 17: 12 hand vs. 6🃏

♣️In an S17 single deck game, hit a hand of 12 against a 6 if the count is equal to or lower than +1. For H17, hit when the count is equal to or lower than -2.

♣️For S17 double-deck games, hit a hand of 12 vs. 6 if the true count is equal to or lower than 0. For H17, hit when the true count is equal to or lower than -3.

♣️If playing an S17 shoe game, hit when the count is equal to or lower than -1. For H17, hit if the count is -3 and lower.

🃏Point 18: 13 hand vs. 3🃏

♣️In single-deck games, hit a hand of 13 against a 3 if the count is -1 or lower.

♣️For double-deck and shoe games, hit a hand of 13 vs. 3 if the count is -2 or lower.

For a quick look on visual cards and the application of these deviations, here’s an informative video from Jack Dell:

Does the Illustrious 18 really work?

The aforementioned points are aggressive moves. If you’re not tired of the basic strategy and basic card counting, don’t try to dip your fingers on the deviations yet. Schlesinger noted that the Illustrious 18 will be golden for both Hi-Lo card counters and those who just mastered true counting.

As a method of advantage play, the Illustrious 18 gives you an option when unique playing circumstances occur. It gives the players more game protection, especially those who can’t afford to lose a large bankroll.

Even Eliot Jacobson, a seasoned advantage player and founder of Jacobson Gaming LLC, would attest to the efficacy of Illustrious 18.

 

Still, he warns that no matter how lucrative this method could be, there would be limitations. By referring to the blackjack probability chart, you’ll know that nothing is absolute.

 

Schlesinger invented the Illustrious 18 with the “I trust you” mindset rather than “trust me”. It’s like saying proceed at your own risk. This is why I believe the 18-point deviation should only be practiced by experienced card counters after intensive months – or even years – of practice.

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