So let's talk about blackjack. Everyone and their mother have heard of it. It's no surprise, because it is one of the most popular games at any casino out there.
The more you understand how blackjack works, the more likely you will win at it. That's why we're here. We'll help you come up with the best blackjack strategy to increase your chances of winning at each hand.
Just because everyone has heard of blackjack doesn't mean the entire world knows how to hit or stand, let alone understand how the whole game works. So before we go any further on this topic, let's cover the basics here.
In blackjack, your goal is to draw cards totaling as close to 21 as possible without going over.
You're playing against the dealer, and whoever has cards totaling closer to 21 (without going over) wins. The numbered cards (2 through 10) are worth their face value, while all of the face cards (kings, queens, and jacks) are worth 10. Aces are basically your “wild cards”, as they can be used as either 1 or 11. For example, if you draw a seven and an ace, it will bring your total to either an 8 or 18, your choice.
If your hand goes over 21, you automatically lose. The same goes for the dealer; if his hand goes over 21, he automatically loses (marking you as the winner!)
The game begins when the dealer deals out two cards to each player (including himself). Your cards are dealt face up; the dealer receives one card face up and one card face down, which is called the hole card. Keep in mind that it's impossible to go over 21 with the first two cards. Your best hand would be a face card and an ace, because then you will get a blackjack, which is a hand value of 21.
You, the player, always have to act first. That means when you're dealt the first two cards, you need to decide whether you want to hit, double down, stand, split, take insurance, or surrender.
Blackjack players express their decisions via hand signals. It's to help keep the game moving and to ensure that there are no verbal misunderstandings between you and the dealer. Plus, if there is a misunderstanding between you two, the casino can review the play on their camera footage and decide whose side to take.
Let's take a minute to cover each move:
- Hit: If you end up with low cards, you might want to take a hit. To take a hit means to draw another card (and another, and another) until your hand total gets as close as possible to 21. If you continue to take a hit until your hand total exceeds 21 points, you lose. If you wish to take a hit, signal the dealer by tapping your hand on the table or making a beckoning motion with your hand.
- Double down: You can double your bet and get only one more card. This is actually a favourable rule to the player. Because of that, some casinos will only let you double down on hands that total 10 or 11.
- Stand: If you're pleased with your cards, you want to stand. That means to stay put with your cards to compare against the dealer's. To signal to the dealer that you wish to stand, wave your hand over the top of your cards.
- Split: If you are dealt a pair, you have the choice to split those cards into two separate hands. However, you have to make an additional bet that's equal to your original bet.
- Take insurance: If the dealer's up card is an ace, the dealer will offer insurance. It's basically a side bet you can make with half of your original bet that the dealer has a ten in the hole. Statistically speaking, there is a 33% chance you will win. If you win, you will be paid 2 to 1, but you would lose your original bet. In the end, you would get your money back. A lot of people believe that this is a sucker bet, because the odds are pretty low and if you lose, you'll lose your original bet plus half.
- Surrender: This option is offered in some casinos. If the dealer gets a blackjack (cards totaling 21), you can surrender your hand and give up half of your bet.
Once you make your decision, the dealer will turn over his hole card. If he has 16 or less, he will always draw another card. However, if the dealer has an ace and any number of cards that bring his hand total to 17 (known as a “soft 17”), he might take a hit.
When the dealer is finished, the higher hand total between you and the dealer will win.
Free Online Blackjack Cheat Sheet & Reference Guide
Why is blackjack popular?
Blackjack offers one of the lowest house edges compared to other casino games. The house edge is the advantage the casino holds over the player. It's the profit the casino makes off a percentage of your original bet. It can be defined as “the ratio of the average loss to the initial bet”.
There are many different variations of blackjack, but in a typical blackjack game, the player plays at about a 2% disadvantage. However, a player using the basic strategy plays at only a 0.5% disadvantage.
The basic strategy
You have to use the basic strategy to get the best possible odds. Fortunately for us, blackjack experts already did the dirty work for us. They analyzed the game mathematically, figured out the best way to play every possible hand, and put it all in a giant table chart. Once you have the basic strategy table chart memorized, you'll have a high chance of winning each hand. The chart can be found on multiple gambling websites. Instead of going over the entire table chart, we'll offer some actionable tips and tricks that will have you mastering the basic strategy in no time.
When to hit and when to stand: what makes a good basic blackjack strategy
If you want to play as safely as possible, you should always assume that the dealer has a 10 in the hole. Obviously, it's not always the case, but making such an assumption allows you to make an educated comparison between your hand and the dealer's. To help you with this, we'll give you a few ground rules:
- When the dealer's up card is a 2-3, hit until you have at least 13.
- When the dealer's up card is a 4-6, hit until you have at least 12.
- When the dealer's up card is a 7-A, hit until you have at least 17.
- When you have an 11 and the dealer's up card is a 2-10, double down.
- When you have a 10 and the dealer's up card is a 2-9, double down.
- When you have a 9 and the dealer's up card is a 3-6, double down.
- Always split when you have an A-A or an 8-8.
Your strategy should be a little different if you have a soft hand. A soft hand is when you have a hand with an ace that counts as 11. It's when you can't go over 21 by taking a hit.
For example, an ace and an 8 is a soft hand, because the hand total can be either a 9 or a 19. If you end up with a 10 or even another ace after taking a hit, you can use the first ace as a 1 to keep your hand total from exceeding 21. With a soft hand, you can play more aggressively. Here are a few ground rules when it comes to soft hands:
- If the dealer has a 5 or 6, and if you have a soft 13-18, double down. If you don't get a good card to go with your hand, there's a good chance the dealer will bust (go over 21).
- If the dealer has a 3 or 4, add that card to your card that's not an ace. If the total is 9 or more, then you should double down. If it's under 9, then you should take another hit.
- If the dealer has a 2, and if you have a soft 12-18, take a hit. Don't double down because the chances of the dealer busting are not high.
- If the dealer has a 7, and if you have a soft 12-17, take a hit. If you have a soft 18-20, stand.
- If the dealer has an 8, and if you have a soft 12-17, take a hit. If you have a soft 18-20, stand.
- If the dealer has a 9, 10, or an ace, and if you have a soft 12-18, take a hit. If you have a soft 19 or 20, stand.
When the dealer's up card is small (6 or less), he will be more likely to go over 21. Since 10 is the most common card value, that 6 could turn into a 16, and then it could become a 26 after the next hit. If a dealer shows a small card, you'll be likely to expect that he will go over 21, so you won't risk busting your own hand. That means you'll be less likely to hit a hand of 12 or higher.
Can I count cards to increase my chances of winning at blackjack?
Contrary to popular belief, counting cards is not illegal. You can't get arrested for it, but the casino is allowed to ask you to leave or ask you to stop playing, even if you're trying live dealer online blackjack.
One strategy does not fit all.
Many beginners forget this. While the basic strategy is probably the most effective strategy out there, you still have to remember that your blackjack strategy and odds can vary according to the specific blackjack game you're playing.
The most important rule when it comes to blackjack? Play smart!
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