Please help me hone my poker/blackjack skills

I like to play Texas hold 'em and blackjack. I usually do pretty well at the tables, but as any serious card player can tell you, one must stay in practice in order to keep one’s edge. Alas, my casino visits are not too frequent these days.

I was doing a quick search for a Web site where I could play blackjack, poker, etc…just for fun in order to hone my skills between casino visits.

All I found were actual gambling sites. Does anyone know if a site exists that replicates as close as possible actual game conditions and situations? I realize the psychological aspects will be different (not using real money, not having real personalities to try to read and bluff at a poker table, etc…), but at least the bets and odds should be representative.

If no such Web site exists, can anyone suggest a good software package that will allow me to really practice my card-playing skills? I am not looking for a “game” per se (I bought one that I ended up throwing away)–maybe more of a professional tutorial for advanced players.


The only package out there worth using is Turbo Texas Holdem from Wilson Software. You can get it from their website, or from The Gambler’s Book Club ( or Conjelco (

If you haven’t studied the theory very much, you should start by reading “The Theory of Poker” by David Sklansky, “Holdem Poker” by David Sklansky, and “Holdem Poker for Advanced Players” by Sklansky and Malmuth. They are pretty much the ‘canon’ for Holdem players. Their publishing company (twoplustwo publishing) maintains a pretty good web site with a free discussion board where the best players in the world discuss strategy. If you take part in the discussions there, your game will improve rapidly. The website is

For blackjack there are lots of decent programs kicking around, some shareware. Stick with a simple hi-lo count, it’s all you need. Make sure you know your basic strategy cold (i.e. plays like A7 vs T and splitting 33 against a 7 should be easy decisions for you). If you haven’t read much literature on blackjack, start with Stanford Wong’s “Professional Blackjack”, or Olaf and Fuchs “Knockout Blackjack”. Be careful, as there are a lot of garbage books written about blackjack that will cost you a lot of money. If you’ve read some books, tell me what they are and I can give you a heads-up on them.

I’ve made my living both as a professional poker player and a blackjack player, so if you have any questions, fire away.


Most software you find will, of course, focus on being a game rather than a tutorial. And most of the latest casino games have been rather poor (if you believe the reviewers). The biggest complaint has been AI.

All three of the sites above have demos.

“Glitch … Anything.” - Bob the Guardian

Those links didn’t come out very good, but hopefully you can figure them out.

I forgot to add as well. What you are looking for is pretty specialized, so it isn’t likely you will find it in a computer store like Circuit City, Best Buy, Babbages, etc. Pretty much your only bet is to find it online or in a gambling store (if there is such a thing).

For blackjack just play the dealer…assume he has a ten as his hole card all the time…there are more 10’s in the deck in a game of blackjack than anyother card as face cards are worth ten. If he has a nine showing assume he has nineteen and so on… That will keep you in the game oddswise which will give you time to consider other options like going down for doubles spliting cards and insurance etc etc…as a general rule I never split anything below 10.

If you decide to go with a game, try Bicycle Poker. It’s an excellent card playing program and being a few years old, it’s usually available for around ten bucks. The Bicycle Card company licensed their name to a series of games including poker, solitaire, and bridge. I think they may also have had a gambling game with roulette, baccarat, and blackjack.

I found
It seems to only play Holdem
and also,
that plays several games including Holdem and Blackjack.

I seldom play cards so I have no idea about the quality of them but they both said they were free so give them a try.

Don’t follow Mike R’s advice. You will lose a lot of money.

There is no substitute for simply memorizing the basic strategy for the game you’re playing. Really, it’s not that hard. Get a good basic strategy reference card and study it. You need to know things like when to double an A8, when to split 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s, etc. There is no room for error here if you want to be a good player, because you have to know all these plays by heart in order to be close to even with the house. (with perfect basic strategy the house will have an advantage of less than 1% against you). Once you’ve mastered basic strategy flawlessly, you can learn a simple hi-lo count, and gain an advantage over the house and become a winning player.


Acespade software is pretty bad, unfortunately. I was a reviewer for their software. The players don’t play well, and the software is slow. It also doesn’t have one tenth of the features of the Wilson Software products. The most important missing feature is the ability to run high-speed simulations, which can really help hone your game. But most importantly, the players are lousy, and the advisor gives advice that will cost you a fortune in a real game.

I’m not familiar with the other program, because I’ve never heard of it. All of the serious poker players I know use Wilson software (if they use anything at all, and lots don’t).

I’m glad to see the replies coming in. Since I only have access to a computer at work, I’ll come in on the weekend to try out the links.

I know basic strategy cold, use a hi-lo ratio count, and keep my eye on penetration that lets me decide when the deck is favorable or not. I then bet accordingly, and alter the basic strategy to account for a shifting ratio.

I actually enjoy poker more, and come out ahead more consistently playing hold’em than blackjack. When I sit down at a hold 'em table (10-20, mostly, at the Taj in AC), I can usually consider myself one of the top two or three at the table.

I’ve read some Sklansky, but only when I was working in a bookstore (i.e., I didn’t buy the books). I have two books on my shelf from Edwin Silberstang: Winning Poker for the Serious Player and a similar book on blackjack (don’t have the titles in front of me). I’ve read a lot of crap, and these seem to be pretty solid. I’ve thought about a video or two, but didn’t want to waste the money on a worthless one.

I wish I could join groups and stuff, but my supervisor probably wouldn’t like it too much! One day, I’ll get a computer at home. For now, I’ll be content to play around on a break or during lunch. I also stay late sometimes to surf around.

Probably the worst overall odds for an entire table game (as opposed to certain stupid bets, say, at the craps table) has to be Caribbean Stud (something like over a 5% vig). I won’t play at the casino, but just for fun at home I’ll play out 60 hands and tally my losings. Hardly ever get a winning streak out of 60 hands. Dealing cards to myself was what got me thinking about the OP in the first place.

Well, I’ve probably killed this thread other than for dhanson. But, hey, you can always talk cards with me.

The key to winning at blackjack, if you are counting properly and know your basic strategy and count deviations from basic, is to make sure your bet spread is high enough. This is where most amateur counters fail. Card Counters aren’t really ‘gamblers’, and are somewhat risk averse. So when you’ve been putting minimum bets out for an hour, it can be scary to suddenly put out ten times that amount of money on a single bet. So a lot of counters only spread 2-1, 3-1, 4-1. And that’s simply not good enough to beat a shoe game. Most shoe games require a spread of at least 8-1, and you have to get the big money out fairly early when the count favors you (like, having the maximum out by a true count of +4 or so).

The other big killer of card counters is not having the discipline to walk away from shoes when the count goes negative. Playing a lot of negative count hands really hurts the bottom line.

Silberstang’s holdem book is okay, as is the other stuff he writes. It’s all pretty simplistic, but he’s no John Patrick, who tells outright lies and gives losing advice. Still, I’d recommend you re-aquaint yourself with Sklansky and Malmuth. It’s a pretty fine line between being a winning poker player and a losing one.

Carribbean stud is pretty bad, and you’re right that it’s around 5-6% usually. But there are lots worse. Roulette with a double zero is -5.26%. The tie bet in Baccarat is around -9%. Keno is the worst offender and the house odds in Keno range from 15 to 40%.

The Vegas average for slot machines is 4-9%.

Best games in the house: Blackjack, at about -.5%, Baccarat, at -1.17% (betting bank), the pass line in craps (-1.4% if I remember correctly, and better if you take odds). Stay away from the proposition bets in craps like the hard 8 and such. They are all sucker bets with high house odds of up to 17% or more.

You can play texas holdem against live opponents at Yahoo games.

Dhanson, you ruined my whole day. I was composing an invitation for mike r to come play blackjack at a private club in NY when you made your post. I coulda made a fortune!

Craps: Yes, the odds on the pass line are about 1.4% against. With double odds (the most common game in Vegas and A.C.) it’s .61% against. It drops all the way to .32% with 5X odds, but the casinos that offer that (and sometimes 10X) are usually pretty low end, and that takes most of the fun away. The odds work the same on come bets, and an aggressive gambler combining pass-line and come bets can make some pretty good money if the table is hot early while setting a low stop-loss in case the table is cold.

The place bets are no bargain, but not truly horrible by casino standards and a lousy way to make a living. The hard-way and proposition bets are for stupid people or at least people with stupid money. I encourage everyone to play them, because if no one does the casinos might take the tables out entirely, which would disappoint me. So thank you in advance.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

you mean with all that craps knowledge you don’t already have a fortune?

You can’t make money at craps. I hope Manhattan isn’t suggesting that a money management system like setting stop losses can actually earn a profit…

In the long run, no matter where you set your stop losses and stop wins, the casino will get 1.4% of your pass line wagers. If you take odds the house edge decreases, but the amount of money you put into action doubles, so the house makes just as much money. What odds bets do is increase your variance, which improves your chances of winning through being lucky. But if you keep playing, they WILL get all your money.

The only beatable games in the casino are Blackjack, Poker, and some progressive slots and 9/6 video poker machines. Anything else has a house advantage, and cannot be beat by playing the house rules.

I put that qualifier in because some games like roulette can be beaten by exploiting defects in the hardware, using prediction computers, etc. Most of these methods const
itute cheating.

99% of the professional gamblers in the world play poker, blackjack, and bet sports. Don’t waste your time on anything else.

LOL, mike, well said!. Nope, I lose at the casino, same as you.

As dhanson sensibly points out, highly skilled blackjack and poker players can make money in the long run at casinos and no one else, save the odd sport-book guy. (I wasn’t aware that some of the progressive slots could be predictable money-makers. Thanks, dh, I’ll look for that.

The only reason to make smart bets on a craps table is to maximize the fun you have and how long you’re likely to have it . That’s all. The only reason to set a stop-loss is to set a hard limit on the amount you lose that night and thereby retain money for the rest of your vacation. That’s all. If you play once or twice, you might get lucky (but probably not). If you play a lot, you will get lucky from time to time. I’ve never lost more than $400 on a craps table and I’ve made as much as $8,000 but net for life I’m still behind. I’ve never bothered to figure the exact amount, but I’ll bet (heh) that it’s pretty darn close to .61% of my total wagers, since I play the pass and come lines with double odds.

An aside for people besides dhanson who are considering playing poker in a casino. I picked this one up from some pretty good players and I hope dhanson will agree with it. You can study the odds all you want, practice your bluffing skills and all that, but here’s a sure-fire way not to lose your shirt. There’s almost always a patsy at a poker table. If after a few hands you can’t figure out who it is, it’s you. Take what you have left and walk away.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

A great blackjack game I really like is Sage BlackJack. You can download it from their website which is (I THINK)

You can choose from a lot of different options such as: the number of decks (if you want to work on your counting), surrender, double down restrictions, insurance, and you can also set it to play MIDI files while you gamble, haha. If you get stuck on a hand you can ask the computer what you should do based on what the dealer is showing, so it’s sort of a tutorial as well, if you want it to be.

The Taj Mahal in AC offers 5x odds on craps.

I haven’t seen a 9/6 video poker machine in years. Where are they hiding them these days? AFAIK, the Indians and Trump don’t have 'em.

dhanson, was Patrick the one who suggests protecting your pass line wager by betting ‘any craps’ or other such proposition bets? I swear I read this “advice” in some strategy book.

Any craps action I give the casino is only with money won at cards. Say I am $800 up. I’ll take $300 and play only pass/come with odds. No junk bets. If I lose it, I lose it. I still go home with $500 no matter what. And with a game like craps, that $300 could become $1200 or more in no time (especially w/ 5x odds). I realize that this is nothing more than pure gambling, and there is no ‘system’ that would allow me to beat the dice over time; but since I only get to AC once every 4-6 weeks, I feel it’s an okay way to have a little fun and see if the dice are hot for a while. I would have a different attitude if I were trying to grind it out day after day.

I’ve played baccarat, betting bank, but it is just too boring a game. No decisions.

One thing that is hard for me to understand is the superstitious mindset of so many gamblers. Like if a novice blackjack player makes a bad play, and someone else at the table gets on him for “ruining the shoe.” People keeping track of past results in keno, baccarat, or roulette (and I’m not talking about people looking for a biased wheel, just people that think that black three times in a row means bet the farm on red the next spin). I watch a lot of gamblers and I have come to the conclusion that I must be the least superstitious person to ever enter a casino.

I’m actually working on a paper on the psychology of gambling, of of beliefs in luck, systems, etc. The basic reason is that the human brain has evolved to look for causes for effects. That’s how humans had to survive. If something happened, good or bad, learning the reason for it was important to survival. So our brains evolved to do that automatically.

Along comes gambling, and randomness. Our brains can’t handle randomness very well. Let’s say you go into the casino and lose. The next night, you forget to wear your watch, and this time you win. Your brain tries to make sense of the two results, and voila! It was your unlucky watch. Now that it has made this connection, it pays attention to it, and starts to filter data. The next time you play you have your watch, and lose again! Now you’re almost sure it’s your watch. However, the time after that you wear the watch and win. But there *could be other reasons, so your brain doesn’t register it strongly. This stuff happens all the time. Once we make an association, we are more likely to remember the ‘hits’ and forget the ‘misses’. In time, we become almost positive.

This is especially true for ‘system’ players, because most systems change the distribution of results such that most of the time the ‘correct’ result happens. The Martingale is a perfect example. Many people believe in it because most of the time it works. The problem is that when it doesn’t work you lose everything you’ve won to that date and then some. But it’s just one event, and by that time you’ve had maybe 10 wins in a row! So maybe there is a small problem with the system, and you go home and work on ways to avoid the big crash. So you come up with a half-martingale, or a cancellation system, or some other complex system. Try it again, and it works! Most of the time. But you still lose money overall. So maybe another tweak…

There are people that have spent their entire lives on roulette ‘systems’. The cause/effect relationship in the brain is so strong that even people who know better can’t help thinking about it. I bought a new pair of glasses a while back, and immediately went on a bad cold streak in poker. It wiped out almost 20% of my profits for the year. And although I KNOW it had nothing to do with my new glasses, I was tempted to put on the old pair every time I went out to play.