Blackjack is one of the oldest card games out there and has been taken up by casinos due to the slight advantage that the casino has over the player in a standard game. Although it is unknown as to who actually invented the game, we do know that it has been around since at least the 1700s. It has been thought to have originated in Britain but the name of the game has a French origin raising questions about it.
Either way, the game has become a huge success and has been used in casinos across the globe for decades. Why would players continue to play a game they knew the dealer had an advantage at? It has the lowest house edge and when played right players can actually make money off of it!
Rules of Blackjack Strategy
Before you can learn about Blackjack strategy you need to understand the rules of the game so that you know when to make important calls. Keep in mind that there may be minor differences with rules depending on where you play which can either give the player an advantage or the dealer.
In Blackjack, aces are worth either one or 11 and all royal cards are worth 10. This makes 5/13s of the deck equal to 10s making it the most drawn card value.
The dealer will shuffle out cards to each player at the start of each round. Players are given two cards showing, while the dealer is only given one shown card. Sometimes the dealer will have a face-down card while others they won't draw their next card until after the players have drawn.
The goal of the game is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. If the player gets closer than the dealer does then the player will win the gamble. On the flip side, if the dealer manages to get closer than the player then the dealer will win the gamble. If both the player and the dealer get the same hand then the hand is a push and neither wins.
Blackjacks are earned by getting a 21 off your first two cards. This can only be done by getting an ace and a ten. The odds of getting a BlackJack are very slim so most casinos will offer extra payouts which are usually 150 percent of your original bet. If both the player and the dealer get a blackjack then the hand is a push.
The dealer has to stand on anything that is 17 or higher, while the player may hit as long as they'd like until they bust. Some casinos will have the dealer hit on a soft 17 while most won't.
Basic BlackJack Strategy
The most important part of a Blackjack strategy is to understand how basic strategy works. The basic strategy offers you the highest potential win rate based on the cards you've been dealt with and has been proven to eliminate a majority of the casino's advantage over the player. You can find many tables on our site to do the basic strategy decisions for you and offering your statistical advantages and disadvantages.
It's essential that you always follow basic strategy even if your gut feeling tells you otherwise. Players that consistently follow basic strategy win much more often than players that don't. Here are the general rules for hard hands that you should follow with basic strategy:
• If you have anything that is a hard 17 or above you will always stand.
• If you have a 13 through 16 and the dealer is showing anything greater than 7 you will always hit.
• If you have a 12 and the dealer has a 4, 5, or 6 you will stand. Otherwise, you will always hit.
• If you have an 11 and the dealer has anything but an ace you will always double down.
• If you have a 10 and the dealer has a 9 or less you will double down.
• If you have a 9 and the dealer has a six or less you will double down.
• If you have an 8 and the dealer shows 5 or 6 you will double down. Otherwise, you will always hit.
• Anything under 7 you will always hit.
There are also soft hands that are earned when you have an ace in your hand. Since these cards count as either one or 11 you have a few more choices. Here are the general strategy rules for soft hands:
• If you have a soft 20 you will always stand.
• If you have a soft 19 you will stand unless the dealer has a six, in which case you'll double down.
• If you have a soft 18 you will stand unless they show a three through six, in which case you'll double down.
• If you have a soft 17 you will double down on anything six or under and will hit in any other situation.
• If you have a soft 16 or under you will double down if the dealer shows a four through six, otherwise, you'll hit.
Finally comes the tough decisions. Splitting occurs when you have two of the same card. When you split, you put double your bet on the table by putting the two cards into separate hands. Here are the rules for splitting:
• A,A: You will always split
• 10,10: You will always stand
• 9,9: You will split if the dealer shows anything under a six or shows and eight or nine.
• 8,8: You will always split since 16 is the worst hand in the game.
• 7,7: You will split if the dealer shows a seven or under. Stand if they show a 10, otherwise hit.
• 6,6: Split if the dealer shows a six or under and hit if they show anything above.
• 5,5: You will always double unless the dealer shows a 10 or ace. In that case, just hit.
• 4,4: Always just hit unless the dealer shows a five or six, in which case you'll double.
• 3,3: Always hit unless the dealer shows a four through seven, in which case you'll split.
• 2,2: Always hit unless the dealer shows a three through seven, in which case you'll split.
The difference between a good player and a great player is your ability to consistently follow the basic strategy. The basic strategy won't always be the right decision but it will be your greatest statistical advantage over the dealer. You will win more hands than you would by otherwise not following the strategy.
Learning basic strategy takes a lot of time. There are so many situations to follow that it can be hard. One popular technique is to use flashcards with practice hands and run through them, having the answer on the back. You make a decision and then flip the card over to see if you were correct. You can also carry around a basic strategy chart that you can refer to from time to time when thinking about Blackjack decisions. You cannot have a chart with you in the casino because you'll most likely be removed from the facility. It isn't cheating, but casinos don't want to deal with someone that actually knows how to play the game because they run the potential of losing money.
Getting basic strategy down is crucial for moving on with the rest of this Blackjack strategy guide. Once you've got that down then you're ready to move on. In the next section, we'll be talking about how to best optimize your bankroll for strategic play.
Optimize Your Bankroll
Your bankroll is the total amount of money that you have to gamble with. It's important to remember that unless you're a perfect player the dealer is always going to win in the long run. You will have swings of luck and swings of downfall and need to be able to play through these and recover.
You need to make sure that you are never betting more than ten times your total bankroll. When players gamble big they have a reduced chance of winning the hand mainly because they will make unwise decisions based on fear and adrenaline. Most players will not split or double down on a big hand, even if the odds are in their favor. The large hand is their maximum and they don't want to go over it. This could end you up with a 16 instead of splitting for two 8s, simply because you aren't willing to put more money on the table. This is why you should never go in big unless you plan on losing big. Not to mention that your statistical advantage of winning a single hand is only 42 percent on most tables as you only recover some of that percentage deficit through Blackjacks and smart strategies.
There are multiple betting strategies out there that you can use, but here is some advice on some of those strategies. One popular gambling strategy is the martingale betting system. The principle is simple — you set a small bet that you stick to, and double it whenever you lose. The logic behind this is that it's statistically impossible for you to lose indefinitely and you will eventually make your money back. If you had your starting bet at $5 and you lost, you'd put down $10 and winning that next hand would have you at positive $5. No matter what, if you keep doubling you'll be up to $5 when you eventually win. The problem with this strategy is that unlike the casino, we don't have an unlimited bankroll. Although the odds are low, you will have big loss streaks at some point. If you started with $5 and doubled it each loss you would be gambling $2,560 on the tenth loss just to make $5. If you had an unlimited bankroll you'd eventually recoup your losses, but most players don't have the funds to bet thousands upon thousands of dollars in a losing streak.
You should always keep your bets the same if you want to win. When you bet large your adrenaline goes up and you'll continue to do so until you eventually lose big, starting back where you were or even less. If you're a card counter you can adjust your deck based off the count of the cards remaining in the deck, but otherwise, you shouldn't be making alterations.
In the next section we're going to be talking about the location of where you're gambling and your strategic advantage at different casinos.
Choose a Smart Location
You should always be aware of the rules of the casino that you're playing in. Blackjack has tons of variations that change up the game and can adjust player and casino odds. Most likely, if the casino is making a slight alteration to the rules than the odds aren't being tilted in your favor. Casinos want to make money and will tilt them to support themselves. Here are some things to watch out for.
Always understand the rule variations and how they impact your odds. You can usually do a quick search online to see your odds with each type of rule variation. Something as simple as allowing dealers to hit on soft 17s can push your odds of losing from half a percent to three percent. These are major differences created by minor variations.
You should also keep an eye on the casino's monitoring system. They don't want players to win, and will sometimes ask consistent winners to leave the casino. These are locations that you should avoid in general. It means that even if you are winning, it won't last long because you'll be asked to leave anyways. The odds right there are stacked against you.
Automatic card shufflers are another thing to watch out for. These are fairly new devices that casinos are using to dissuade card counting. Since card counting is really the only way to gain an advantage over the dealer, you aren't going to be walking away with extra cash very often when you play against an automatic card shuffler. Avoid these tables at all costs and try to stick to the ones that manually shuffle their cards in front of you.
In the next section, we'll be covering side bets and helping you make decisions on these types of plays.
Side bets are additional bonuses that are put on the table that are used to make the game a bit more interesting for players. They alter the Blackjack game so that it's different from other locations that you play at. However, this additional entertainment isn't free so watch out!
Side bets should always be avoided. The casino isn't putting upside bets to help you win more money at Blackjack. On the contrary, the casino is trying to squeeze as much out of you as they can a little bit at a time. Side bets will put you at a greater disadvantage when you play on them because the odds of winning one are much slimmer than winning a hand of Blackjack.
One example of a side bet may be that the player will get two cards of the same suit. Say the casino pays you three times the amount you wager on the side bet if you win it. That means that if you are going to make money, you have to have two cards of the same suit at least once every other hand and will break even if you can do it once every three hands. The odds of you getting two cards of the same suit is 25 percent, meaning it will happen once every four hands. You now have an additional 25 percent loss in money just from your side bets over a longer period of time.
In the next and final section, we will be talking about rule variations and how they can influence your Blackjack games. These can cause huge effects on your ability to win money by altering your odds. Rule variations should be studied carefully before ever being taken.
A rule variation is a small change in the typical Blackjack rules that will change your chances of winning by either offering the dealer an advantage or offering the player an advantage. Just like with side bets, rule variations are usually not your friend.
Rule variations are used to create an increased advantage for the dealer in most situations. The casino wants to create as big of a statistical advantage for themselves as possible so they will add small rule changes that seem insignificant to the player but make a big change in the game over a longer period of time. Here are some rule variations you can look out for.
One rule variation is to change the amount that players are rewarded for winning a Blackjack. Normally, players will earn three to two of their bet, which is equal to 150 percent. Some sleazy casinos will only offer a six to five Blackjack payoff which is equal to 120 percent. This may not seem like a big difference since you're still winning extra money from the hand but it takes its toll in the long run. You lose several percent of your advantage towards the house when this rule is in play.
Another rule is to allow dealers to hit on soft 17s. Like mentioned earlier, this creates a significant disadvantage for the player because the odds of a casino busting off a soft 17 are very slim while they have a high chance of getting either a 17 or above. This means that if you had an 18 and the dealer had a soft 17 and was allowed to hit it, they will often get an 18 or above and beat you instead of allowing you to win the hand.
Common with unlimited Blackjack is force splits. You are forced to split low numbers if you have two of the same card, otherwise, you can surrender your hand and lose half your money. This is a huge disadvantage because in most cases you won't want to split low cards so being forced to creates a lowered chance of you winning the hand while also making it so you lose twice as much money on the disadvantaged hand. You should never play at a table that implements this rule.
The number of decks used also has some advantages and disadvantages for players. This mostly relates to card counters though and won't influence the average player.
Hopefully, this guide has been helpful in teaching you some Blackjack strategy that you can now use in a real live casino. Even with these strategies, you are at a disadvantage but you've now slimmed it down to only a .13 percent deficit. If you want to tilt the odds in your favor, pick up Blackjack card counting and learn how you can keep track of which cards have been played. This will help you adjust your bets to bet higher when you have the advantage and bet lower when you don't. Good luck!