Blackjack is a definitive game in the casino genre. Ask any gambler, and they’ll probably tell you that blackjack is one of the games they come back to time and time again. The popularity of the game is probably in part to the game’s easy to play, simple to master nature. This is alongside the fact that Hollywood has constantly put the game in the spotlight, so major blockbusters have even made blackjack the main plot hook. It’s safe to say that blackjack is ingrained in pop culture these days.
The whole point of the game is to reach a score of 21 without going over that, or simply beating the dealer’s hand. As simple as that seems, there’s quite a bit of strategy and thought that goes into playing Blackjack well. Professionals have dedicated years to mastery of the game, but if you take our advice, you won’t need that long to stark racking in the cash at the blackjack table.
If you want to master Blackjack, we’re here to help. Have a notepad and pen handy, as we’re about to give you the tips you need to up your blackjack game.
Step 1 – Master the Basics
So, what is blackjack exactly? Well, it’s a game in which each card is assigned a value, and as you draw cards the values of your cards are totaled up. You want to reach 21 without exceeding that. The cards that are between 2 to 9 and exactly what they say they are. Jacks, Kings, and Queens are worth 10, while Aces can be either 1 or 11. The suits of cards don’t mean anything in blackjack.
Casinos will use a minimum of one 52-card deck to play the game, but some will use as many as eight and shuffle them all together. This is done to deter card counters, although the strategy is still viable even with a larger pool of cards. But, more on that later. If you find a table that isn’t using a lot of decks, then it is probably easier to win.
When bets are placed, the dealer and the player each get two cards. Yours are always face up, while they have one face up and one face down. If nobody has a natural 21, then you’ve got several options:
- Hit – This means you receive an extra card from the dealer.
- Stand – This means that you don’t get any extra cards, but you continue to play.
- Double Down – You take an extra card and double your bet. Your turn also ends here.
- Surrender – Give up half of what you bet and end your turn. This is a way to cut your losses if you have a bad hand.
- Split – this one is a bit more complex. If you have two cards with the same rank then you can split them up into two different hands, while still having the aforementioned options available to you. Note that rank isn’t the same as point value: a king and a jack are both worth 10 points, but they are not the same rank and therefore cannot be split. Splitting means you place an additional bet, so remember that you’re playing with two hands now, not one.
- Insurance – You can only do this if the dealer’s up-facing card is an ace. You spend half your bet to insure yourself if the dealer has a natural Blackjack.
The dealer can’t do as much as the player, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this automatically gives you edge in the game, as it doesn’t. The dealer is required to hit if they’re under 17 and stand if they’re equal to or above that. They also can’t split, double down, or surrender. Additionally, if the dealer busts (goes over 21) then all players who haven’t busted automatically win.
If you get a natural 21, then you automatically win unless the dealer’s up facing card is an ace. Then, the down-facing card is revealed. If it’s not a natural 10, then you win. If it is, then it’s a tie or a push.
Step 2 – Set a Budget and Stick to It
Having the discipline to make and stick to a limit is something that can protect you against some serious financial losses. It’s tempting to want to play more when you’re on a hot streak and win back your losses if you’re down. That’s not wise – that’s how you wind up losing even more than before. Losses can also only be the start of it. Stretch your play too far and you could even incur debt if you are too reckless with your blackjack play and gambling habits.
Gambling is supposed to be fun, but it can cost a lot of money if you’re not careful. Set a limit, and come in with the mentality that you can afford to lose only up to that limit. Don’t start stretching it a bit here and here, because before you know it, you’ll be down $1,000 on a $300 budget.
Being as honest as we can, we’ve seen too many blackjack players ignore this advice. Every player seems to think that they’ll be the exception to the rule that’ll turn it around when facing a huge deficit at the blackjack table. Let us tell you, you won’t be. When your pre-established budget runs out, the best and most sensible thing you can do is walk away from the table and live to play another day.
Step 3 – Know the Terminology
Basically, this means that you need to know how to play blackjack. Knowing the lingo is essential to being a fully-fledged player, given that this is the dedicated language that keeps the gaming moving forward. Knowing how to “speak blackjack” means that you can become fluent in its rules. The following list contains the terms you need to know:
- 5-card Charlie – If your hand has five cards and you haven’t busted, this is considered an automatic win in a lot of rulesets.
- Bust card – This is the card that puts you or the dealer over 21.
- Bust – This is when your total points are above 21.
- First base – This is the spot directly to the dealer’s left, which receives the first cards and acts first.
- Hard hand – This is any hand that doesn’t have an ace.
- Hole card – This is the card that is faced down when the dealer is playing. It isn’t shown until the player acts upon their hands.
- Natural – Getting a sum of 21 with the two starting cards.
- Pairs – Any time you receive two of the same card.
- Push – Also called a tie, and occurs when the player and the dealer have the same total.
- Shoe – This is the device that holds all the decks used in play. Can contain up to 8 decks.
- Soft hand – This is any hand that has an ace. This is because an ace is the only card without a fixed value, making it more flexible than others.
- Stiff – A hard hand where you can bust when you hit. Ranges from 12 to 16.
- Third base – The player to the dealer’s right, which is the last to act and the last to get cards.
- Up-card – The face-up card that the dealer has.
Blackjack sounds like a language all of its own and that’s because it is. You can forget many of the usual card terms when you play this particular casino game. So, if you truly want to become a blackjack master, knowing the lingo will make the game smoother, snappier, and more enjoyable.
Step 4 – Learn the Basic Blackjack Strategy
Basic blackjack strategy is more than just a hot phrase, it’s your ticket to success when playing at the tables. Now, it’s important to remember that the kind of hand you and the dealer have will determine what strategies will be more effective, but this outline of moves remains critical to victory. The following actions are usually what you should do in the following scenarios:
- Stand if you’re at 19 or 20.
- If you’re at 18, stand if the dealer’s up-card is showing at least a 7, and hit if it’s a 2, 3, or 4.
- If the total is below 18, hit unless your total is between 13 and 18 and the dealer’s up-card is a 5 or 6. In that case, double down.
- Stand if you’re at least 17.
- If you’re between 12 and 16, stand if the dealer’s up-card is between 2 and 6, and hit if it’s at least 7.
- If you have cards values at 10 or 11, double down if the dealer’s up-card is between 2 and 9.
- If your total is below 10, hit.
- Never split if your pair consists of 4’s, 5’s, or 10-valued cards.
- Always split if you have a pair of 8’s or aces.
- Always split 2’s, 3’s, 6’s, 7’s, and 9’s if the dealer’s up-card is a 4, 5, or 6.
Lastly, surrender if you have 16 and the dealer’s up-card is a 9, jack, queen, king, or ace. These basic strategies, if followed strictly, will reduce the house edge to an impressively meager 1%.
Step 5 – Know the Table Rules
There’s a lot of variation in how blackjack is played from one casino to the next, as well as between tables. Yes, conformity is pretty uncommon when it comes to blackjack, as every casino is looking to ramp up the house edge as much as possible, but this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. Rules can vary, as can payouts. While 3:2 payouts or a blackjack are the norm, casinos are moving to a 6:5 model in some places. Casinos also vary how many decks are used in a game. If they are using a large shoe, it means that they’re using more decks to try and deter card counters. Finally, some tables let dealers hit on a soft 17, even if the rules say a dealer must stand on a 17 in normal cases.
Blackjack has become a game that gives players much more control than the casinos are comfortable with. Some of the biggest wins in both land-based casino and online casino history have come at the blackjack table, as many players have mastered how to beat the dealer more often than not. Cheating has also become more commonplace, but the less said about this dishonest practice the better. Honestly, you can’t blame the casinos of the world for wanting to up the challenge, as they’re looking to protect their bottom line. If you want our advice, know if any additional rules are in effect beforehand and you’ll be less likely caught out by them.
We understand that simply by stating “know the rules”, we are spelling out the truly obvious. But, you would be stunned by the number of players that take a seat at the table and don’t even understand what to do. These players are not only putting themselves at risk, but they are likely going to annoy players at the rest of the table by disrupting the flow. Don’t be this player.
Step 6 – Explore Blackjack Variants
Following on from the above, blackjack as a game is anything but one-dimensional, largely as there are various variants of the game around worth taking a look at. Should you become a little bit so-so about the original form of blackjack or are little fed up with the multi-deck versions, don’t be afraid to branch out a little.
For something that carries the same classic card game feel, take a look at Pontoon. Otherwise, you can try more exotic options like Super Fun 21, Spanish Blackjack, and Blackjack Switch. Some may say that you should stay away from blackjack variants, but we disagree, as there is plenty of fun to be had by stepping away from the norm. The likelihood is that trying different versions of the game will likely make you a better blackjack player too.
Step 7 – Learn to Count Cards
Casinos try to deter this because card counters are frequently a loss for them, they’ve gone as far to label it as a form of cheating – for the record, it isn’t. In other words, card counters often make a living from the casinos playing blackjack. But despite what they want you to think, hear, or read card counting is not a crime. What it does do is it reduces the house edge to almost nothing if you’re good at it.
Card counting lets you take calculated risks based upon what you know about the remaining cards in the deck. Counting cards is the most mentally intensive thing you can do in blackjack, but it is easily the most rewarding as well, especially from a financial standpoint.
There are several ways to count cards. One way is to assign values between -2 and 2 to each card, and add the totals up while you play. You can also try and add up the values themselves, but that’s a lot harder. If you wish to card account, we highly suggest that you do your research on the matter. There are many ways to go about it, but not every method will be suitable. Take the time to practice, ideally in a live setting, and have plenty of patience, you’ll surely find the right approach to card counting eventually.
Casinos can’t hurt you or take away your winnings if you count cards, but they can have you thrown out. The exception is if you live in New Jersey, where a 1979 ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court made it against the law for casinos to do so. Be aware that when you start card counting, the casino will usually be watching, so try to not make your efforts to obvious or they might show you the door.
Step 8 – Don’t Always Dismiss Side Bets
Side bets are a thing that casinos introduced to try and increase the amount of money they make from Blackjack. Side bets are distinct from regular gameplay but are integrated into it nevertheless. Aside from insurance, there are also:
- 21+3 – If the two cards you’re dealt as well as the dealer’s up-card form a flush, then you win a bunch of extra money. It’s unlikely to occur, but fun to play.
- Royal Match – This gives a 5:2 payout. The bet states that if both of the cards that you’re dealt are either a jack, queen, or king, then you win. If they’re a king and queen, then it’s 25 to 1. If they’re of the same suit, then it goes up to 5:1.
- Over/Under 13 – It’s simple. If you’re over or under 13, you win. If your total is exactly 13, you lose. Aces are treated as lows (1’s) in this case.
- Super 7s – 7 is a casino’s lucky number, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. For each 7 you have, you get a better payout. One 7 pays out 3:1, and two 7’s pays out 50:1. If they’re suited, it’s 100:1 for one seven and 500:1 for two. This jumps to 500:1 unsuited and 5000:1 suited. Bet sizes cap out at one dollar, so the most you can win is 5000 dollars.
Side bets are pretty controversial and most blackjack guides will tell you to stay away. The reason is that this casino creation doesn’t improve your odds of walking away from a winner, or at least that’s what most people think. We won’t be quite as harsh on side bets, as when used properly they can power up your eventual payout, but we would say that you should air on the side of caution when using them.
Step 9 – Practice Makes Perfect
This is the simplest piece of advice, and probably the most important one. You won’t get good at anything unless you practice constantly, casino and card games included. Blackjack is a game with a lot of depth to it, and mastering the many strategies that you can employ in it can take years. But for those who put in the time and effort, it can pay off very handsomely. Any and all players that sit down at blackjack do so to make money, if you don’t, well, you might want to question what you’re doing at a casino in the first place.
If you’re not ready for live practice or are just starting out with the game of blackjack, a great way to get the practice you need is to play with friends and family. In that setting, you can play purely for fun while exploring some different strategies that you want to hone. There’s no financial risk, and plus everybody has a blast. Outside of that, hunt around for demo games, or maybe even low-stakes games, this should allow you to dip your toe in the blackjack water.
Become a True Blackjack Master!
At the end of the day, blackjack is a game that is meant to be enjoyed. It’s so simple: get to 21. And yet, the depth of strategy that goes into doing that makes blackjack so interesting. This particular game has multiple layers, all of which add a different dimension to the table. If you’re looking to take the step up from being a casual player to a blackjack master, it’s going to take plenty of know-how and patience. We’ve given you the blueprint of how to make the most of your time at the table right here, but the rest, that’s up to you!