Blackjack, also called “21,” is one of the most popular casino games in the world, both at the table and online. This is because it offers a low house edge. Blackjack requires more skill than most other casino games. It is imperative to learn the proper strategy to get the best return for your money.
How to Play Blackjack
Blackjack is fast-paced. Wins or losses are determined quickly, making for rapid play and exciting bets. Every card in the deck has a value. The object of the game is fairly simple: To hold a hand of two or more cards that amount to higher than the dealer’s hand, but does not exceed the value of 21.
A blackjack hand starts with the player making a wager. Most online casinos offer a $1 minimum bet. The player and dealer each receive two cards. The player may see his cards, but only one of the dealer’s cards are placed face up.
The goal of the game is to get as close to 21 without going over. A player that is dealt 21 on the first two cards gets paid 3-2. This means that a $1 wager would win $1.50. A player that draws and goes over 21 automatically loses.
A player that has a higher total than the dealer without going over 21 wins his bet. If a player has a lower count than the dealer, he loses. A tie is called a push and the wager is returned as if nothing happened.
If the dealer has an ace or a ten-value card (10, jack, queen, or king) showing, he will check for blackjack. If the up card is an ace, the dealer will first offer insurance. This bet wins if the dealer has blackjack and pays 2-1. The house edge on insurance is 8%.
If the dealer does not have a blackjack, the player then has several choices.
Stand – If the hand is a hard 17 or higher, or the dealer is showing a 4-6 and you can bust, you should stand. You should also stand on 13 or higher against a dealer’s 2 or 3.
Split – A player may split when dealt a pair. This involves doubling the original bet and creating a second hand. Always split eights and aces. Never split 10-value cards or 5’s.
Other pairs that should be split:
- Twos: Against a 2-7
- Threes: Against a 2-7
- Fours Against a 5 or 6
- Sixes: Against a 2-6
- Sevens: Against a 2-7
- Nines: Against all dealer cards, except 7’s, 10’s, and aces
Double Down – A double down is where a player can double his original bet and receive just one card. This is only available on the first two cards. Many online casinos will allow players to double down after splitting.
When to double:
- Nine against a dealer’s 3-6
- Ten against any card except a 10 or ace
- Eleven against any card except an ace
There are sometimes that a hand with an ace should be doubled. This is called a soft hand.
- Double A2 and A3 against a dealer’s 5 or 6
- Double A4 and A5 against a dealer’s 4-6
- Double A6 and A7 against a 3-6
Surrender – Some online casinos offer early surrender on the first two cards. This is where a player forfeits half of his bet and folds. Surrender with 15 against a 10 and 16 against a 9, 10, or ace.
Hit – If no other options qualify, or if the player has already hit a card and the hand does not qualify as a stand under the strategy above, the player should hit. This is where a player receives one more card. Players may hit until they either draw over 21 or decide to stand.
Blackjack Card Values
An Ace counts as 11 or 1; players can designate the value of 11 or 1 depending on which will give their hand an advantage and adjust throughout the game. The dealer must always count Ace as 11 if the count is 17 or more.
Picture Cards count as 10. King, Queen, and Jack are all picture cards.
Number cards count as the numerical value displayed on the card.
Blackjack Hand Options
The game of Blackjack is full of options for the player. With every hand, the player has a choice as to what their next move will be.
Hit/Stand: The terms “hit” and “stand” are two most often familiar to those less experienced players. A hit asks the dealer to deal another card to the player’s hand. A stand is satisfied with the original two cards dealt and does not want additional cards added. Players can request as many hits as they want, but if they go over 21, it’s a bust and a loss.
Double: Before a hit, players have the option of doubling their original bet if they sense a good hand. They receive one additional card and may not make any more moves after the bet.
Split: If the two original cards dealt are of the same value, players can split the cards, making two different hands. Each hand is worth the player’s starting bet. Split hands can usually be doubled.
Insurance: If the dealer shows an Ace, players can make an additional bet up to half of their original bet. If the dealer’s hidden card turns out to be a value of 10, players who took out insurance will be paid 2:1. If the dealer does not have blackjack (Ace + 10 value card=21), the insurance bet is lost but players can finish their hand.
Surrender: If the original hand seems less than promising, players can choose to surrender. In this case, the player loses half their original bet.
Push: If the player’s hand equals the same as the dealer’s, it is called a Push. No money is lost or gained, and the player is given their original bet back.
Blackjack has increased in popularity over the years, partly due to Hollywood movies like 21, which glamorized the story of the MIT Blackjack Team who took Las Vegas casinos for millions by using card counting.
There are also blackjack tournaments, such as the World Series of Blackjack, that have increased in size and exposure.
With this popularity, it comes with no surprise that blackjack is a game player would want to play more and obviously find ways to win it more, and make a living out of it, such as seen in the movies – here is where the blackjack strategies come to play then.
In comparison to many of the other casino games available, blackjack is a game that luck is part of it, but not predominant; it is a game where you can alter your winning odds dramatically with some key blackjack strategies.
In terms of strategies, blackjack has plenty, for beginners, intermediate, and advance/pro level players.
The intermediate and advanced level players will basically go through strategies pertaining to score analysis, side counts, specific card number plays and of course card counting. Card counting is the most popular strategy when it comes to blackjack, and probably the most effective one to gain the winning edge on the game too – however, it is no easy task to master, and needs lots of practice, experience, and mental fact calculations. It is also not seen well by the casinos, even though it is not illegal too (casinos are just used to keeping the players’ money, and not losing more of it).
Once these players are able to dominate it, they might practice speed, as well as other blackjack game variations and tournaments. As mentioned though, these are pretty much steps the middle to high-level players would take, as the first step is to learn the game, and the basic strategies.
The basic blackjack strategy includes the hand chart, which tells you the book’s recommendations on your move depending on what hand you have, and that of the face-up card of the dealer.
For instance, if the dealer has a six (6) face-up, and you have a 16, then if playing with a single deck, the strategy recommendation is to ‘stand’ as the dealer will have to hit on his hand, and most likely will bust – giving you the win. Some of these strategies depend on whether the game is played with one or more decks, as well as the rules for each table or game specifically, such as the dealer has to hit on a soft 17 or not…
The best strategy you can follow is practicing and learning by heart the hand chart, where it gives you the book’s recommendations of whether you should hit, split, stand, double-up, or anything else for that matter – depending on what your hand is, and the dealer’s face-up card too; it increases your winning odds in other words.
Practicing it is crucial, as once you have dominated these steps, you will be good and ready to move on to card counting, at least the basics of it.
So as mentioned, practice playing with a blackjack hand chart online before hitting the casinos.