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by Basil Nestor

Basil Nestor is author of "The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps," "The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack," and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit and drop him a line.

What’s the edge on blackjack? You probably know this by heart. If you play a game with bad rules and you use only a mediocre near-optimal strategy, the casino’s advantage climbs to about 2%. With perfect conditions and without counting, the edge is less than 1%, and if you count cards or use other advanced techniques, you get a player edge pushing up to 1%, and very rarely higher.

Therefore, the whole range is about 3%. Sounds pretty tight, right? And near 0% seems like a coin flip. Unfortunately, your actual results may not be so smooth.

First, almost anything can happen in a few hands. For example, you may sit down at a blackjack table and be lucky enough to win 10 out of 12 decisions (+8 net). That’s unusual, but not impossible. It occurs about 1.2% of the time, or about 1 in 80 trials. Play long enough, and a streak like that is inevitable. Other weird stuff will happen in the short term.

However, once you get past the short-term streaks, everything should even out, right? If the long-term edge is near 0%, then you should hit your "theoretical numbers" as you creep toward 1,000 decisions, one million, and so forth. Yes… but it may not seem that way.

Zero Can Deliver Some Big Numbers

Alas, 0% is more volatile and leaves more room for profits and losses than you might think. We’ll simplify the math and use a coin flip as an example. Even a humble coin flip can be surprisingly "unfair" over the long term.

Consider a perfectly even 50-50 game played with a silver dollar with 0% edge. After a bunch of flips, lets say 10, 1,000, or 1 million, you might expect that the two sides will always be almost even.

Yes, but no. After 10 decisions, you have only...

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