It’s a hugely popular table game, and we all love it. There are many great aspects to blackjack, and it appeals to numerous gamblers. Statistically, it among the top games that casinos offer. If we exclude slots, that is.
What is it about blackjack that is so attractive? Truth be told, there are many things. First of all, it’s a game with two faces. It can be as mindless and random as a slot, or it can be strategic becoming similar to poker. It depends on how you want to play it and what you expect to get out of it.
The rules are simple, and there is no particular skill-set that you need to acquire before joining the blackjack table. And they go something like this:
- The number of players is not important because you are playing against the house. Your only opponent is the dealer.
- You get two cards facing up (this is if you play at a casino).
- The dealer gets two cards as well, but one of them is facing down.
- The aim of the game is to reach the value of 21 or get a value higher than the dealer.
- If the dealer has a higher value than you, you bust.
- If you go over 21, you bust.
- The dealer is the last one to play, and if they have over 21, they bust. If their cards have a lower value than yours, you win.
Seems pretty easy, and it is. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to follow this card game. The only thing you need to know is the value of the cards. All cards 2–9 are counted according to their face value. Face cards are all counted as ten. An Ace can be either one or 11, depending on what is more convenient for the hand. We usually count it as 11, but if that would take us over 21, then we go for one. So there are two types of hands in blackjack.
- A soft hand is any hand with an Ace because we can count the Ace in two ways.
- A hard hand is a hand without an Ace or the one where the Ace has to be counted as one because otherwise, we would bust.
The house keeps its edge in the game of blackjack by dealer being the last to play. As we have said, your cards are facing up, and one of theirs is facing down. You have to decide how to continue before they reveal their down card.
The game probably seems as mindless as roulette up to this point, but the plot does thicken. When the bets have been placed, and all the cards are dealt, you need to decide what action you would like to take. Depending on the cards you have, you can choose among the following:
- Hit — this means that you take another card. If your card value is too low, you ask for more cards to increase the score. You can take as many as you like until you hit 21 (or over if you’re bad luck).
- Stand — this basically means that you take no action. Your cards are satisfying, and you are waiting for the dealer to make their move.
- Take insurance — This is not an option every time. You can only do this if the dealer’s up card is an Ace. The possibility of a dealer having blackjack is significant, and you can place an additional wager. If they indeed have a blackjack, you lose the initial bet but win back the insurance.
- Double down — you double your bet and get just one additional card. Why would you do this? With your first two cards equaling eight to 11, or with a soft 12 to 19, your chances of getting a blackjack increase, and you can take it.
- Split — if you get two cards of the same value, you can split them and play with two hands. You double your bet and continue playing. If both your hands win, you win double. If one wins you break even. If they both lose, you lose double.
- Surrender — in some casinos, you are allowed to give up half of your bet without playing. You are allowed to do this before taking any other action.
A bit more complicated than roulette? You bet! You can continue randomly, but that is really not the point of blackjack. And it will not be fun if you just leave everything to luck.
A Bit of Strategy
From the top of the head, the best advice is to (it’s essential to follow the order):
- Check if you should surrender;
- Check if you can or should split;
- Check if you can or should double down;
- In the end, decide whether to stand or take a hit.
The tactics you should apply while making these choices is always based on the cards you have and that one card that the dealer is showing. Never rely on gut feelings, dreams you had last night, or your horoscope for that day. That is if you are not in it to test your luck and instincts, but that’s a whole different story.
What you should remember is that the dealer cannot split, surrender, or double down. Also, they will follow a set of rules set by the casino and will not go off the beaten path. So if the host has 17 or more, they will stand. If the value is lower, they will hit. However, the house is the last to play, and you will not be able to know the score until they flip their card.
The whole strategy thing is there to improve your odds and does not guarantee your win, no matter how hard you study. But if you apply it and stick to it throughout the game, you reduce the house edge to a neat 0.5%. Compared to other casino games, this is fantastic, especially when you realize that playing randomly gives them a 20% advantage.
You should take the time to understand the strategy because that is the only way to play blackjack properly. Every card combination compared to the dealer’s card tells you what the best course of action is. There are tons of variations, and getting to know them separates the player from an amateur.
The best way to study is to read and practice. Try one of the books on blackjack (and there are many written on the subject). Beat the Dealer by Ed Thorp, Blackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder, or anything from Stanford Wong is essential reading for blackjack players and blackjack strategies.
While doing some reading, you will come across the term “card counting systems.” This is what you would call a special skill in the game. You should try it only when you’ve really mastered the basic strategy. It is tough, but it does not literally mean that you need to count how many Aces or 10s have been dealt. It’s a system you can use to keep track of the low-high card ratio during the game.
The good thing about card counting is that it can give the player an advantage and provide an opportunity to bet max when the chances of losing are the lowest. This can potentially be your goal in the end, but it’s a long road to get there. And a difficult one.
In Las Vegas casinos, card counting is not illegal, but it is frowned upon. They are not giving up their advantage easily, so people who know how to do it have to hide it. Also, in multi-deck games, the process is very complicated, and only a handful of players can actually do it.
If you decide to follow our advice and read some of the books we recommended, you will find the card counting system explained in detail. Give it a go, but remember, one step at a time. Basic, advanced, pro is the way to go!