How to Win
Blackjack is the only casino game where the player, using the right strategy, can actually gain an advantage over the house. In every other game, the odds are stacked against the player in such a way that in the long run, losing money is practically guaranteed. With blackjack, however, following basic strategy over the long run can lower the house edge to a miniscule 0.5%. What’s more, if you combine basic strategy with card counting, the player can actually have an advantage. Here I will share that basic strategy with you, but first, let’s cover the basics.
In blackjack, regardless of the number of people at the table, the players are competing against the dealer only, so some of the players can win and some lose at the same time. Each card is assigned a number value. Numbers 2 through 10 have their face value, face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are worth 10 points, and an ace can be worth 1 or 11 points at the player’s choice. If an ace is being used as 11 points, it is called a “soft hand,” because it can be changed to a 1 if the dealt cards would bust the player. In blackjack, the goal is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. It is important to know that if you bust (go over 21) and the dealer also busts, you lose. If you both end up with 21, it’s a push, which means you neither win nor lose that hand. You only win money if you have a higher amount than the dealer without busting or if the dealer busts and you do not.
There are several different decisions that a player has to make when playing blackjack. The first is whether to hit, meaning to have the dealer give you another card, or stand, which is to not accept any more cards. On your first two cards, you also have the option of doubling down. If you double down, you double your original bet and are dealt one more card. You cannot hit again after doubling down. If your first two cards have the same point value, you can split them, which is to create a second hand with each card being the first card in the hand. You must then double your bet, since you are now playing two hands instead of one. Both hands are independent, meaning that you can have one hand win and one lose. Unlike the player, the dealer has no free will. He plays based on a predetermined set of rules. The dealer must hit until he reaches a 17 or more. Different casinos have different rules about whether the dealer hits or stands on a soft 17. The dealer always has one card face down (the hole card) that you cannot see and the rest face up, so you make your decisions knowing that one of the dealer’s cards is a mystery.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
Basic blackjack strategy is simply using the mathematics of probability to determine your move. Every decision you could make in a situation has a certain probability of a good or bad outcome. Following basic blackjack strategy is simply making the decision that, according to the odds, is most likely to benefit the player. However, the decision will not always work. Remember that even following basic strategy, the house still has the advantage, though the house edge goes down to 0.5%. The following strategy is based on a casino using 4 or more decks and where the dealer stands on a soft 17. The following strategy is broken up into strategy for hard totals, soft totals, and pairs. It is worth pointing out that basic strategy assumes that there is a good possibility of being dealt a 10 card, since there are more cards worth 10 points than any other value.
Basic Strategy for Hard Totals
You should always hit on a hard 8 or less and stand on a hard 17 or better, regardless of the dealer’s cards. If you have a hard 9 and the dealer shows a 3-6, then you should double down. Otherwise hit. If you have a hard 10, double down if the dealer shows 2-9. If not, hit. If you have a hard 11, double down when the dealer shows 2-10. If not, hit. If you have a hard 12, stand if the dealer shows a 4-6. If not, then hit. If you have a hard hand between 13 and 16, you should stand if the dealer shows 2-6. Otherwise, you should hit.
Basic Strategy for Soft Hands
You should always hit on a soft hand of 1-12. If you have a 12, even if you’re dealt a 10 card, you can make your ace a 1 to avoid busting and from that point play as with a hard hand. If you have a soft 13 or 14, you should double if the dealer shows a 5 or 6. If not, you should hit. If you have a soft 15 or 16, you should double down if the dealer shows a 4-6. Otherwise, you should hit. If you have a soft 17, you should double down if the dealer shows a 3-6. If not, you should hit. If you have a soft 18, you should double down if the dealer shows a 3-6. If the dealer shows a 2, 7 or 8 then you should stand. Take a hit if the dealer shows a 9, 10 or ace. If you have a soft 19-21, you should stand, regardless of what cards the dealer shows.
Basic Strategy for Splitting Pairs
When you receive cards with the same rank in your first two cards, you have the option of splitting the pair into two hands. You should always split a pair of aces. A pair of aces gives you one of the best hands in blackjack, since both aces can be used to stand for an 11 or a 1. If you have a pair of twos, you should split the pair if the dealer shows 2-7. If the dealer shows an 8 or better, you should hit. If you have a pair of threes, you should split if the dealer shows 2-7. If the dealer shows anything else, take a hit. A pair of fours should only be split if the dealer shows a 5 or 6. Otherwise you should hit. You should never split a pair of fives. A hard hand of 10 is much better. If you have a pair of sixes, you should split the pair of the dealer shows a 2-6. If not, then you should hit. If you have a pair of sevens, split the pair of the dealer shows a 2-7. Hit if the dealer shows an 8 or better. You should always split a pair of eights, regardless of the dealer’s cards. If you have a pair of nines, you should split of the dealer shows a 2-6 or 8-9. If the dealer shows a 7, 10 or ace, then you should stand. If you have a pair of tens, you should always stand. The only thing that can beat your hand is the dealer having 21.
Card counting is not illegal, though the casinos do not like it and if they determine that you are making money off of them by counting cards, there is a good chance they will ban you from the casino. For that reason, though many people swear by card counting, I do not endorse the technique. To me, the risk of getting caught doing something the casino discourages outweighs the reward, especially since you can reduce the house edge so significantly by simply following basic strategy. For those interested in counting cards, though, here is an overview.
By accurately counting cards, a player can shift the odds of blackjack in their favor. The premise behind card counting is that high cards (10 cards and aces) are better for the player than lower cards. Therefore, a deck that has a high number of high cards is beneficial to the player and players who are counting cards will increase their bet if they feel that the deck has a good number of high cards. This is not done by memorizing each card that has been played, but by keeping track of the ratio of high cards to low cards.
There are different types of card counting systems. One type is to assign a value of -1 to all high cards and a value of +1 to all low cards. When the count gets high enough, it indicates that there are a lot of high cards yet to be played. Other systems assign values to different high or low cards, counting some as -1, -2 or -3 and +1, +2 and +3. Regardless of the system, card counting has been made much more difficult since the casinos switched to multi-deck games. Blackjack is played in up to 8 decks and the more decks there are, the more difficult it is to count the cards. Card counting is also impossible when playing online blackjack, because the cards are chosen by a random number generator independent of any deck.
Unlike games of chance like craps, roulette and slots, blackjack is a game of skill that, when played using the correct strategy, gives the house only a very slight advantage. If you are able to correctly count cards, then you can actually have an advantage over the casino. If you want to know how to win at blackjack, memorize the basic strategy and stick to it. Don’t deviate because of any kind of a streak. In the long run, basic strategy gives you the best chance of winning.