The most widely played casino banking game in the world, blackjack, also known as Twenty-One, is a card game between at least two players and a dealer. The players don’t play against each other, but rather each against the dealer. A game with a quite thin house advantage (0.5% – 1%), blackjack is a game that can lead to good pay-outs if you work on your strategy and place the right bets.
Tip #1: Understand The Cards And Basic Gameplay
The main goal of blackjack is quite simple: beat the dealer without going over 21 points. There are three ways this could happen:
- Get a blackjack in the first two cards without the dealer getting one.
- Have a final score higher than that of the dealer, but without exceeding 21.
- Let the dealer continue to draw until their hand is greater than 21.
To total the points, you need to know the card values. All numeric cards are worth the number on the card (2-10). All face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are worth 10 points. An Ace is worth either 1 (“hard hand”) or 11 points (“soft hand”). A “blackjack” – also known as a “natural” is when an Ace is combined with a card with a value of 10. If you get a blackjack, most often the pay-out is 3:2 (meaning if you bet $200, you’ll win $300). However, some casinos have shifted the pay-out lower to 6:5. You should tend to avoid these if you can and want a better pay-out.
At least one deck of 52 cards (and up to eight) is used in this game. The more decks used, the harder it is to count cards (more about this later) or to manipulate blackjack rules (“advantage play”). No matter the number of decks used nor whether the game is on- or offline, the layout of the table is always the same. Each player has their own area including card space, betting space, and an area for insurance or a double-down bet. The dealer has a space for their cards plus the “shoe” which contains the cards to be played.
The dealer first deals a face down (“hole card”) card to each player and then the house followed by a card face up to each player and the house. From there, the players decide to hit or stay/stand, one by one. The dealer only reveals the house hand once every player has completed or busted. If you beat the dealer, you win, if you don’t, you lose, and if you tie, it is known as a push and the bet is generally refunded.
Tip #2: Know The Play Terminology
The basic terms you will come across and either signal or hear are:
Bust/ Break – to go above 21 points
Hit – take another card
Stand/ Stay – take no more cards and end one’s turn
Double Down – double the wager, take one card, and stand
Split – separate two cards of the same value to make two hands
Surrender – give up half one’s bet and leave the game
Push – a tied score
Tip #3: Know The House Rules
The dealer must follow a strict set of rules to play a mistake-free game every time. These rules are set in place to protect the long-term house advantage. The rules begin when it is the dealer’s turn to reveal their hole card and thus make their next move.
For a total of 16 points or below, the dealer always draws another card and will continue until the house has at least 17 points or has gone bust. For an initial total of 17 points without an Ace, the dealer stands, even if a player has a higher total. However, if the dealer has a soft 17 hand, meaning an Ace plus cards that total six points, the dealer will have to take at least one more card. The dealer only stops if they have a hard 17 or above or goes bust. This is true in both land-based and live dealer online blackjack.
Some casinos consider a push to be an automatic win for the house, meaning the bet is lost rather than refunded. These should be avoided.
Tip #4: Know The Basic Strategy
The basic strategy of each blackjack game is to play a hand which lose the least money to the house in the long term against the dealer’s up-card. Most of the basic strategy is the same in all blackjack games, with only a couple of small changes required for some rule variations.
This chart gives the basic strategy to memorize and build upon:
Tip #5: When To Hit
Once you have your first two cards then you must decide what you will do next. If you have a low count, then almost always hit or sometimes double down. Generally, if you have 16 or more points, you should stand. The exception is if you have a “soft 17” as this hand can’t bust when taking a hit. If you have at least 18, do not hit. Remember, the dealer must continue drawing cards until they reach at least 17 points.
Tip #6: When To Split (Or Not)
In general, when you have two identical cards in your hand, you can split them into two separate hands. In doing so, you place another bet that is identical to your initial one, potentially doubling your winnings!
The two hands you always split are pairs of Aces and eights. If the two Aces stay together, they have a sum of only 12, but split they are twice 21. A pair of eights is the worst hand possible because it leaves you with 16 points – almost never a winning sum-, so you should split them to have two chances of at least getting 18.
Never split pairs of tens because you already have 20 and splitting would give too great of a risk to end with a bad hand.
Tip #7: Never Take Insurance
Insurance of a bet made on whether or not the dealer has a blackjack off the deal based on their up-card being an ace and is equivalent to half of the player’s initial bet. Insurance is always to the casino’s advantage, unless you count the cards. If you are playing offline poker and you can figure out the card counting strategy, you could give it a try, but it’s not that easy. And if you are playing online, it is impossible to count cards, so taking insurance will never work.
Tip #8: Counting Cards
Some players learn a legal strategy called card counting to help predict the most likely outcome of each hand and which can give the play an edge of up to 2% over the house. Basically, it involves mentally tracking the cards which have been played so far. Each card rank has a point score that is added to each time a card is shown. Based on a memorized table, the counter then makes their decisions on how to play. If you lose track along the way, you’ll lose any advantage that might be had from counting. And if you are playing online, counting cards is completely pointless as each round is dealt from a fresh shoe.
Tip #9: Be Smart – Use Your Head, Not Your Emotions
Never make your playing or betting decisions based on your emotions or “gut feelings.” Rather, set the idea of how you will bet and play your hands ahead of time and stick to it. Play the hand you have and not the money that you have set out as your bet. Even if you have a large bet, don’t stand on a low count for fear of busting. Also, remember that the dealer doesn’t control your winning or losing, so don’t be rude if you’re playing offline and don’t break your computer screen if you’re playing in an online casino. If you are getting very emotional, take a break, refocus, and come back later.
Tip #10: Always Play Responsibly
The final and most important tip is to always play responsibly. Do not bet more than you can stand to lose. If you feel you are playing too often and/or for too much money, please step back and put limits. Blackjack can be a fun game, but it is just that – a game. If you need extra help, there are gambling support groups in many countries, for example Be Gamble Aware in the UK.
Now that you know more about the game, give these tips a try by playing online blackjack at River Belle Casino.