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Back to The Blackjack Page
The Blackjack Page Archive
Playing Multiple Hands - Part 1


Playing Multiple Hands Part 2
Playing Multiple Hands Part 3

There are a lot of variables in the game of Blackjack, most of which aren't controlled by the player (the casino rules, betting limits, etc.) and some which are controlled by the player (whether or not to play in the first place, bet size within the parameters offered, and so forth). Another player option at most brick-and-mortar casinos and at some Internet casinos is to play more than one hand. What I'm referring to is betting on more than one spot and playing each hand as a separate entity which is something you can only do, obviously, if there is enough room at the table. Also, most casinos will permit a player to bet on more than one spot only if they are adjacent to one another and some require the minimum bet for two or more spots to be twice the table minimum. For example, a casino might require a player at a $5 table to bet at least $10 or more on each of the hands if they're playing more than one. It's a dumb rule, but I'll show you how to turn that to your favor a little later on.

The Advantages

First, you need to understand that playing multiple hands is worthwhile only if you have an advantage over the casino, either from counting cards (or other "advantage" play) and/or because the rules the casino offers are so liberal that the player has an edge "off the top". To bet more than the minimum when the casino has the advantage just hastens the loss of your $$$, so you can forget about using multi-hand play alone to gain an edge. But, if you do have an edge in the game, playing more than one hand is an excellent way of increasing your betting "spread" while still appearing like a gambler (good), instead of a counter (bad). For example, if you are using the 1-12 betting spread which I recommend in my lessons on money management (archived on the bottom of the Blackjack page of this site), one way to achieve that spread and still look like a relatively "small-time" gambler is to bet two hands of $40 instead of one hand of $60. There are some ramifications to this which I'll explain later, but such a strategy seems to draw less attention in many casinos.

Another advantage to playing multiple hands is that you can "chew up" a good deck if there are other players at the table with you. Let's say you're playing one hand along with another player and the deck(s), according to the count, get very favorable. If you continue to play only one hand, that other player is going to also reap the benefits of the good cards and that could continue for several rounds of play. But, if you spread to 2 hands, it's much more likely that all of your hands will benefit from the good cards and even though the 'streak' may not last as many rounds, you'll probably get in more hands of play under these favorable conditions. A situation like this is when I'm glad the casino requires a larger minimum bet because they "make" me go from one hand of $5 to two hands of $10, yet I just jumped my bet by nearly a 4 to 1 ratio. I say "nearly", because the two hands I'm now playing are interrelated to a degree and your bets must reflect that. This is called "covariance" and you need a working knowledge of it so that you'll bet properly in multi-hand play.

A Little Bit of Math

Let's say you and your friend go to a casino to play some Blackjack and you've agreed to pool your risk capital and to split the win or loss. If your friend plays at one table and you play at another, your hands have a covariance of zero, since the two hands (yours and his) are completely independent of each other. But, if you both sit at the same table, your hands are related, especially when the dealer shows a Blackjack (you'll both probably lose), or if the dealer breaks and you're both still in the game (you'll both win). If, by some miracle, you and your friend were to receive exactly the same cards on every hand, the covariance would be 1. In reality, your results from playing two hands will swing back and forth between these two extremes, so the covariance will average out to about 0.5 and we can use that to calculate the proper bet size. Here's the important part: Covariance allows you to bet more total $$$ on two hands than one, yet the risk remains the same. In the money-management plan I recommend, a bet of $30 is called for when the player has an advantage of 1.5% over the casino (as measured by the True Count), but when playing two hands, the bet can be $20 per hand for a total of $40, yet the risk is essentially the same.

However, because the risk is basically the same, so is the profit, thus you're betting more $$$ but may not make more profit. However, if you're spreading in order to chew-up some good cards, you are getting your bets on the table under what may later prove to be better circumstances and that's always a plus. In addition, a "two-handed" bettor may get more comps because it at least appears as though you're betting more, overall. Beside all that, I just like having a hand of 20 along with that damn 16 when the dealer's showing an Ace. Another advantage of sometimes playing two hands is that the switching back and forth between one and two hands causes other players to grumble that "yer messin' up the order of the cards" or some nonsense like that. If that's how they feel, they may leave the table and, remember, the fewer players there are at your table, the more hands you'll get on an hourly basis. And, if you have an advantage, the more hands you play, the more $$$ you'll make. It's cold, I know, but if I can chase off other players, it's to my benefit and who said Blackjack was a team sport, anyway?

When I used to teach 'live' Blackjack classes, I always encouraged my students to become known as a player who often bets two spots, because it has more advantages than disadvantages. Yes, there are disadvantages to playing two or more hands and I'll cover that in the next lesson, along with when NOT to play two hands and whether or not you should play three hands or more.

See you here next time.

 

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