Blackjack is probably the most popular casino game. It combines knowledge and luck and there aren’t many casino games that are so reliant on the player using the right strategy to win.
In fact, if you play Blackjack without a Blackjack strategy, it is estimated that the casino’s edge over you is around 2% or more. However, if you utilize even the simplest of Blackjack systems, such as the basic Blackjack strategy chart, you can reduce that edge to around 0.25%.
Add to that a casino bonus, some winnings from Blackjack side bets, and other treats that the house frequently offers to players and you can have a decent profit from Blackjack even in the long run.
At the most basic level, the purpose of Blackjack is to beat the dealer. This means that the player needs to have higher total than the dealer, while at the same time not going over 21.
So how can you beat the dealer? Well, there are three ways in which you can do this:
- You get 21 on your first two cards and the dealer doesn’t;
- You have a total which is higher than the total of the dealer;
- The dealer goes over 21 with his hand and you don’t.
This is pretty simple, right? We will give you more detail about how these hands are played, but in essence, these are the only three ways in which you can beat the dealer.
When it comes to losing to the dealer, you can lose your wager if the following two things happen:
- Your hand total is higher than 21 (you bust);
- The dealer’s total is higher than yours, while both of you are under 21.
It is important to note here that your wager is a losing one when your total is higher than 21 even if the dealer “busts” (also goes over 21). Players always play their cards first and this is how the casino has the edge over Blackjack players.
Blackjack Hand Totals
Let’s now go to the all important issue of how we calculate Blackjack hand totals. There are three things which you should know here:
- Cards from 2 to 10 are counted at their face value. This means that if you have a 4, that counts as 4. Similarly, if you have 8, that counts as 8;
- Jacks, Queens, and Kings count as 10;
- If you get an Ace, it can be counted as 1 or 11.
The value that you use when you get an Ace is the one which makes for a better Blackjack hand. For example, if you get an Ace and a King, the Ace counts as 11. However, if you get a King, a Jack, and an Ace, the Ace counts as 1.
How to Play a Blackjack Hand?
The first thing that you do when you start playing Blackjack is changing your money for chips. If you are playing at a brick and mortar casino, you would do this by laying the money on the table, so that the camera can record how much money you are changing. The dealer will then give you your chips.
On the other hand, if you are playing at an online casino, this will be much faster. You only need to write the chip amount that you want to purchase and that’s it. You do this at the table, before the Blackjack game starts.
After you have done this, you need to place your bet. You do this by putting your wager on a part of the table which is sometimes a square, circle or some other shape or logo.
You cannot miss this section as it is right in front of you and if you are playing at an online casino the chips would automatically be placed there.
It is important to note at this stage that different Blackjack tables have different betting limits. Always make sure that you know the minimum and maximum bets for the main game as well as for the side wagers.
The third step when playing Blackjack is getting your cards. The dealer gives all players on the table one card each. They are all face-up. Then he deals one card for himself, but this one is face-down.
Then he does the same and gives another face-up card to each player. This time however, the dealer’s second card is also face-up.
Now it’s time to start playing the game. The player has several options to choose from and we are going to explain each in detail.
Possible Player’s Hand Resolutions
The best hand that a player can get is an instant two-card Blackjack. For example, if the dealer gives the player an Ace and a 10, then the player has a Blackjack. If the dealer doesn’t have a Blackjack, the player is paid out at 3 to 2 (or 6 to 5 at some tables). This means that if you placed a wager of $10, you would get a profit of $15 (3 to 2).
However, if the dealer also has a Blackjack, then the hand is a “push”. This means that you get your wager back. If you placed $10, and both the dealer and you have a Blackjack after two cards have been dealt, you get the $10 back.
If you don’t get a Blackjack from your first two cards, you have the following options:
- Double Down,
If you get a decent hand from the first two cards, you can stand. This means that you don’t want any more cards. For example, if you get a Queen and a King, you will probably stand as asking for another card here, would be equal to a Blackjack suicide.
If you don’t get a total which allows you to stand, you can ask for more cards, i.e. ask the dealer to hit you. For example, if you get a 2 and a 3, you should definitely ask for more cards.
It is important to note here that once you are satisfied with the card total you have, you can ask the dealer to stop giving you cards, i.e. to stand.
The third scenario here is double down. This means that you are happy with your hand and its prospects so you double your initial bet. In this situation, the dealer gives you only one card and puts it sideways. He does this so that you know that you can only get one additional card to your initial two.
When doubling down always check what the minimum amount that you can place is. The name of the wager is obviously double down so you have to double your initial bet. However, some casinos will allow you to double down with less than that.
The fourth situation that you can find yourself in on a Blackjack table is to get a pair. This means that the dealer has given you two cards of the same value when he dealt the first two cards.
In this scenario, you can put a second bet, and split the hand. When this happens, one card of the pair will be the first card of one Blackjack hand and the other one will be the first card of the second Blackjack hand. This means that you are now playing with two hands.
The last thing that you can do is to surrender or give up on your hand. In this situation, you will get half of your wager back and you won’t take part in the rest of the hand.
For example, let’s say you get a 10 and a 5. Many players would continue playing with this hand and would ask for a hit. However, a cautious and experienced player might see that the odds are stacked against him and ask for half of his wager back.
The Dealer Plays his Hand
So let’s say that your hand is still active. You didn’t bust and didn’t surrender. You either stood on your initial total or you made a decent hand after asking for a hit, after doubling down or splitting.
In this situation, it is time for the dealer to make his move. When this happens the dealer flips his face-down card, also known as “hole card”, and the following happens:
- If the dealer’s total is 17 or higher, the dealer must stand;
- If the dealer’s total is 16 or lower, he must hit his initial two cards and get additional cards.
The dealer never has options such as double down, split or surrender in Blackjack. One thing that you always need to check though is how the dealer plays his hand when he has “a soft 17”. A soft 17 is when the two cards the dealer has are an Ace and a six.
Some casinos and tables would stipulate that the dealer takes an additional card. This is advantageous for the casino as it allows the dealer to make better and stronger hands.
On the other hand, if the dealer stands on all 17s, both hard and soft, then this is a very good thing for the player because it further decreases the edge that the casino has over him.
It’s very easy to see what the dealer does when he gets a soft 17. This is usually prominently displayed on the table, together which things such as how much Blackjack pays out and minimum and maximum betting limits.
Once you and the dealer have played your hands, it’s time to see whether you will win and how much you will win.
The first situation here is that the dealer busts. If this happens, everyone who is still active on the hand is paid out at even money. This means that if you have a wager of $10, you will get $10 as profit. Players who have busted lose their wagers regardless of the dealer busting too.
The second scenario is that the dealer has an active hand. If you still have an active hand, it’s basically your hand’s total versus the dealer’s hand total. Whoever has the higher card sum wins.
You are paid even money here as well. If you wagered $10, you will get $10 for having a higher hand than the dealer. If you have the same total as the dealer, this is a push. In this situation, you don’t win anything and only get your wager back.
And this is how a Blackjack round is played, from start to finish. There might be variations on how the casino approaches the soft 17 or whether it pays out 3 to 2 or 6 to 5 for a Blackjack. Other than that, all Blackjack rounds play out just as we described.
In addition to the main game, some casinos enable players to make side bets. The most popular of these is the Blackjack insurance side bet, but you can find various other wagers depending on the casino you play at.
Insurance is a very popular side bet and most Blackjack tables offer it. This is offered when the up-card the dealer has is an Ace. In a situation like this, the house gives players the chance to bet on the dealer getting a Blackjack at even money.
This means that if the dealer has a Blackjack, and you bet $10 on the insurance bet, you will get $10 as profit. This is quite useful as you are likely to lose your initial wager because the dealer has a Blackjack. The only time you won’t lose your initial bet is if you have a Blackjack too and in that case, you will get your money back.
Other Blackjack side bets are also popular. They vary from one casino to another and the player has to check what types of side bets each casino offers before playing a Blackjack round. This is because side bets can be quite lucrative and they are never tied to the wager outcomes of the main game.
Some examples of side bets include betting on getting you or the dealer getting a pair as the first two cards. Another one is whether you and the dealer will have the same hands.
Lastly, there are also tons of poker-related Blackjack side bets. These stipulate that you have to make a certain poker hand by using your cards and what the dealer has. The payouts here vary on how strong that poker hand is.
Blackjack is one of the rare casino games in which you can significantly reduce the house edge if you use the right strategy or system.
Basic Strategy Chart
The most popular strategy that Blackjack players use is actually generated by a computer. Blackjack enthusiasts took a powerful machine and simulated all possible Blackjack hands, outcomes, and what is the best decision that a player can make in a certain situation.
The computer went through thousands of different scenarios and produced the statistically best ways to play each hand. For example, if you have a 4 and a King, and the dealer has an up-card of 9, the computer calculated that you should ask for a hit. In other situations, you would be advised to either stand, surrender or double down.
The best thing about this strategy is that it is readily available, can be printed out and carried in your pocket, and is also very easy to memorize.
Players who use basic Blackjack strategy lower the edge that a casino significantly (the edge is only around 0.25%) and that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
The Martingale betting approach is used by lots of gamblers and not just Blackjack players. This betting system is very easy to understand as it stipulates only one thing – when you lose, double your subsequent bet.
This means that if your first $10 Blackjack hand was a losing one, you should place $20 on the next one. If that one is losing too, you should place $40 on the one after that.
If your third hand is a winning one, and it’s an even money payout, you will win have a profit of $10. This is because you won a total of $80, but wagered a total of $70 on the first three rounds.
However, always be careful when using the Martingale approach. All it takes is one long losing streak in which you can’t double that last wager for everything to fall apart.
This is the best Blackjack strategy and it definitely works. There are tons of films and documentaries made about it and experienced players have made a fortune from card counting.
The trick here is to see whether the small cards have already been used in previous rounds. If there are mostly face cards in the remaining deck, the probability to win is on the player’s side.
For example, if the previous two hands have been comprised mostly of cards from 2 to 9, you can expect that there will be lots of face cards in the rounds that follow.
However, this requires a highly skilled Blackjack individual as Blackjack games are not played with a single deck of cards at most casinos. In fact, most Blackjack tables use 6 to 8 decks and that complicates things for aspiring card counters.
Blackjack is a great game to play. It is a combination of luck, knowledge and strategy and disciplined Blackjack players can virtually play the game for free.
If they use advanced Blackjack strategies, casino perks, and get a bit lucky, they can make a decent profit in the long run too.