Blackjack isn’t the most complex card game. In a standard session, a player can optimize returns — given the general statistical house edge of 0.5 to 1.5 percent — by following a simple chart of when to stand, hit, double down or split pairs given the player’s cards and the dealer’s up card. Deviating from this typically means employing complex strategies casinos frown upon, such as card counting.
In Ask Dr. Blackjack, longtime player Sam Barrington tweaks the common strategy. Though the author says he can count cards, he doesn’t. His charts differ in a way he claims will swing a 1.5% house edge (by his approximation) to 0.7% for the player. He explains the statistical reasoning behind these revisions, along with his money management style, in persuasive ways.
The book is oddly structured: the first half is packed with anecdotes and ruminations from Barrington’s years at the tables, with almost all the strategy making up the second half. Some stories slide past PG-13 territory and include light profanity; whether that’s an issue will depend on the individual reader. But Barrington is unquestionably a colorful writer, and many of his stories are mighty entertaining.
If you’re a stickler for clean, smoothly flowing text, this book might test your patience. Each sentence gets its own paragraph; unnecessarily capitalized terms and quotations marks abound; and occasional spelling errors include one in the first chapter’s title: “What Lead Me to the Blackjack World.”
Despite that, Ask Dr. Blackjack is an enjoyable read, and Barrington dispenses sound advice. (The author might consider putting some of his winnings toward hiring an experienced editor for a later edition.) Readers who can look past the technical issues — and who don’t mind some mature material — should find Ask Dr. Blackjack worth checking out.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.