Book Review: Playing 21 by Karl Jensen

Karl Jensen is a professional Blackjack player and winner of the World Series of Poker. He wrote this strategy book for blackjack to educate other players on how to become successful at ‘blackjack’. This book includes sections on card counting (including multiple types), Shuffle tracking, and casino countermeasures. The book also goes into detail on betting strategies with basic strategy for a given initial two-card hand.

The first part of the book is entitled “Blackjack: Guaranteed Profits at Blackjack” and includes instructions on counting cards. Karl Jensen explains in detail that blackjack can be made into a profitable game using card counting techniques (to estimate an even money advantage) by providing an example. He then explains how to use the count and bets to maintain an edge over the casino with a favourable expectation of +0.57% per hand.

This section also includes an explanation of the basic strategy for multi-deck games. Karl Jensen explains that the initial two cards are much easier to make decisions with card counting since their probability is the same as hitting or standing. He gives an excellent example of how to construct an essential strategy for an eight card deck.

Another section in this book is “Shuffle Tracking”. In this section, Karl Jensen instructs that you can use Shuffle Tracking techniques to estimate which cards have already been dealt and used them to improve your blackjack game.

In the next section, Karl Jensen talks about “Countermeasures” used to detect players trying to gain advantages. Like most other books, he says many countermeasures are just techniques designed to discourage card counters and give the casino a psychological gift.

He explains that casinos use shuffling machines (and sometimes humans) to shuffle the cards correctly. He also admits it is nearly impossible to track decks of cards in a 14+ deck game but explains that since the dealer will always use the same shuffling techniques and order, there are methods to predict cards with high probability using Shuffle Tracking.

In summary, Karl Jensen writes a straightforward guide on how to play blackjack. He explains in detail the most crucial card counting techniques used to gain an advantage in the game and goes into great depth about Shuffle Tracking (which is very hard for casinos to prevent).

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in blackjack or learning how to beat the casinos at their own game.

If the life of a blackjack player interests you, you can consider adding “The Blackjack Life” by Don Schlesinger and Roger Rapoport to your reading list as well. However, for most of us, it’s sufficient to learn how you can win more often in blackjack. A book that goes well with this one is “Win at Blackjack” by Arnold Snyder if winning is your goal.