Playing Multiple Blackjack Hands

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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, 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.

Some Disadvantages

However, multi-hand play does complicate the game somewhat, especially from a money management point of view. 

For example, if your betting schedule calls for a top bet of $60 (based upon the count and the total size of your bankroll), it’s not just a matter of putting out two bets of $30 in order to achieve the same effect.

A more appropriate bet would be two hands of $40 because the two hands have an inherent relationship to one another. In the “heat of battle”, so to speak, it’s real easy to forget the count or to forget how much the next bet should be and you could end up over-betting which may cause you to lose, no matter how accurately you keep the count or play the hands. Conversely, your bet may be too small and that’s like throwing $$$ away because this will presumably happen only when you have an edge, otherwise you wouldn’t be upping your bet. So, playing more than one hand is a tactic which has to be learned and practiced like so many others in this game, but

I want to stress that it’s worth the effort. For me personally, multi-hand play has been the most lucrative “refinement” to my game, far out-pacing such skills as Ace side-counts and shuffle-tracking.

But it comes at a cost of exposure. Playing more than one hand may draw some extra attention from the casino supervisory personnel (or “pit critters” as we lovingly call them) and it’s a tactic which is very difficult to camouflage. 

For example, it’s relatively easy to camouflage a 1-4 bet spread at a single-deck game by occasionally betting two units after the shuffle, then dropping down to one unit if the count goes negative or by going up to four units if the count goes positive.

But playing two hands is like being pregnant: you either are or you aren’t. To camouflage your multi-hand play by betting two hands when the casino has an edge means you’re betting at least twice as much in a negative-expectation situation and that is not the road to riches, my friends. And don’t forget that most casino personnel know counters want to get more $$$ on the table when things are good, so if they see you doing it only part of the time, they might come to the conclusion that you’re the type of player they can live without.

The conclusion to draw here is that spreading to two or more hands has to be done smoothly and you need a good “act” to pull it off.

Some Tricks

Most gamblers (as opposed to smart advantage players like you) seem to think that the cards are in some sort of “order” and they also think the Blackjack is a team sport. 

They’re wrong on both counts, but you can use that to your advantage. As I mentioned in part one, switching back and forth on the number of hands you play may drive off other players and that’s usually a good deal for you. But another way you can use this “order” B.S. is when a player who has been at your table gets up and leaves.

If the count warrants an above-minimum bet at that point and there’s an open betting spot next to yours, spread out to two hands so you can “preserve the order” of the cards for the next round. Others at the table will agree that it’s a good move (especially if the dealer busted on the last hand) and you get the bonus of not only getting more $$$ on the table, but now you look like the average gambler.

Another way to look like a “typical” gambler is to go to the casino with a friend and use him or her to play your second hand. 

Many casino patrons have friends who are interested in games other than Blackjack, but they’ll drop by the table now and then to see what’s going on, when are we going to eat, are you winning, etc. What if you planned those visits ahead of time? This won’t work at every game in every casino, because there may be a “no mid-shoe entry” rule in effect which basically requires a new player who joins the table to wait until the shuffle before getting any cards.

But, if that rule isn’t in effect, work out a signal to “call-in” your friend when the deck is favorable and have him or her make a bet the same size as yours, which is presumably, the proper bet for one of two hands at that count. Your friend doesn’t have to know how to count or even how to play the game, since you can handle all that with subtle hand signals.

For example, if your right hand is playing with your chips, that may tell your friend to “hit” and when you stop, that tells your friend to “stand”. I think you get the idea here, since all you need is a signal for double, split, hit, stand and maybe surrender. Also, have your friend take insurance if you take it and work out a signal for telling your friend to leave the table.

This playing technique requires a little bit of practice, but it’s a nice tactic, especially for couples, since it can all look very natural. I’ve been using various versions of this ploy for over twenty years and have never been barred or even suspected. I used a variation of this some years ago to bang the old Playboy Casino in Atlantic City for over $5000….in half an hour! They still don’t know what hit them.

Now, I want to cover the specific money management techniques to use when you’re playing more than one hand. 

As you know, how much to bet on a hand of blackjack depends upon the size of one’s bankroll and the advantage the player has on that hand. The advantage is calculated by first knowing what kind of edge the casino has “off the top” of a freshly-shuffled deck or decks and that’s determined by the rules which the casino offers.

For general discussion purposes, I like to use a casino edge of 0.5%, but that can vary widely. This edge changes as the True Count moves in favor of the player thus, in a ‘normal’ game, an increase of 1 in the True Count decreases the casino’s edge by about 0.5%. So, if the casino’s basic or starting edge is 0.5% and the True Count is 2, then the player would have an edge of about 0.5%. I like to use 75% of the advantage in these calculations, rather than 100%, so that splits, doubles, etc. are automatically figured in. Below is a table which shows the optimum bet for a $3000 bankroll in single-hand play and next to it is the actual bet that should be made, since it’s not practical to bet odd amounts like $11.25 at a Blackjack game.

Optimum betActual Bet
True CountPlayer AdvantageX 75%X $3000Single-hand
Below 0(Disadvantage)00$5

If you’d like more background on this, visit  “Money Management, Part 1”.

When playing two hands, the bet should be about 55% of the advantage on each hand, so this is what the calculations look like:

Optimum betActual Bet
True CountPlayer AdvantageX 55%X $3000Two hands
Below 0(Disadvantage)00$0

So, to summarize, this is how it all looks:

Actual BetActual Bet
True CountSingle-handTwo hands
Below 0$5$0

Of course, when the player doesn’t have an edge, s/he wouldn’t go out to two hands, so when the True Count is 2 or lower, only one hand is played. 

It’s usually not worthwhile to go to three hands and there’s no advantage to playing two hands when you’re alone at the table. No, it’s not some superstition that makes me say that, it’s grounded in pure mathematics. As you can see by the betting schedule above, you’re betting roughly 50% more $$$ and you’re using 50% more cards so one offsets the other.

But if there’s one or more other players besides you, then go to two hands whenever you have an edge, if it’s possible to do so. But don’t over bet.

See you here next time.