There’s no doubt that it is the favorite of all table games. Why do players like it so much? Well, for a number of reasons but mostly because it’s a combination of luck and skill. You get the crazy thrill of pulling a lever on the slot, but you need to know your game and think as well.
The skill part is what attracts some poker players to blackjack tables, and they are famous for looking down on most casino games. But the important thing to remember is that blackjack is still a game of chance.
To answer the initial question immediately: There are no ways to secure the win. However, you don’t just sit back and wait for deceiving luck to determine the outcome. Study and practice, and you can improve your odds significantly.
But before we can win, we have to know how to play, so let’s check out the rules.
How to Play Blackjack
The rules are very simple. There’s no need to spend a lot of time studying before you take a seat at the table. Also, no particular skill set is required, just a little bit of focus.
- You are playing against the house, so other fellow blackjackers are not your opponents. Everybody at the table is trying to beat the host.
- After everybody places their bet, you will get two cards facing up.
- The dealer gets two cards as well, but one of them is facing down.
- You should aim for the value of 21 or get a value higher than the dealer.
- If the dealer has a higher value, you bust.
- If you go over 21, you bust.
- The dealer is the last one to play, and if they get over 21, they bust. If their cards have a lower value than yours, you win.
The next thing to understand is the value of the cards. You play blackjack with a standard deck, and you can use anywhere from one to eight of them.
- You count cards from two to nine by their face value.
- All face cards have a value of ten. Ten is also a ten.
- Ace can be either one or eleven, depending on the score it makes with other cards.
Now, you know the rules and card values. Let’s get into a bit of blackjack slang. If you want to be able to follow what the other players are talking about, it’s essential to know what a soft or a hard hand is.
- A soft hand is any hand with an Ace because we can count an Ace in the way that suits us.
- A hard hand is a hand without an Ace or the one where it has to be counted as one because otherwise, we would bust.
Piece of cake you would say? And it is — that is if you just want to let destiny take its course and enjoy the ride. If you want to navigate through it like a player, there is much more to learn.
Oh yeah, blackjack is an elegant game. It’s part of the appeal. The strict etiquette is there for a good reason, but it still makes it cooler than other games. The code of conduct is mostly there to avoid any confusion between the host and the player. Also, every action happening on the casino floor is being recorded. In case of any misunderstanding, it’s easy to go back and check what happened.
There’s a multitude of signs that you use to signal your actions. You should never give money directly to the host. There is a designated area for the chips, and you should be careful not to scatter them around. The signaling system is crucial during the game, and we will explain it thoroughly later.
It is a social game as well. Since the players are not playing against each other, the atmosphere is not competitive. Many people take part in blackjack for its social aspect, so try to be polite and cool at the table.
Back to the Game!
The next step is decision-making, and this is when blackjack starts showing its other face. After placing a bet and receiving cards, there are decisions to be made regarding your next move.
- 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. To signal the host that you want a hit, tap the felt with your finger.
- Stand — this basically means that you take no action. Your cards are satisfying, and you are waiting for the dealer to make their move. You can signal this by waving your hand over the cards.
- Take insurance — This is not an option every time. You can only do this if the dealer’s upcard is an Ace. The possibility of the dealer having a 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. Hold your finger up and place the additional bet next to the initial one.
- 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. To signal that you want a split, make a V sign with your fingers.
- 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. The usual sign is drawing a line between your cards and the dealer’s.
The plot thickens, wouldn’t you say. And so does the excitement! We are not in roulette land anymore, and what we do and how we act matters. Sure, you can continue playing blindly, but that’s not what the game is about. There are things to do at this point to increase your chances and actually win.
There is nothing to guarantee your win, but there are things to do and apply that can help you in the game. Blackjack works like all other casino games. It means that the house keeps an edge and thus, makes money.
If we follow the logic of a poker player, and that’s not a bad thing to do, we can reduce this edge and come out as a winner. But only in blackjack. The blackjack basic strategy is a mathematical method that helps us decrease the house edge to 0.5%. This is truly awesome because playing randomly, as you would play slots, keeps this edge at 20%!
The disparity is staggering. Learning the basic strategy is elemental in keeping the edge down. No other casino game offers such an advantage for the player, so it makes perfect sense to play by these simple rules.
Without further ado, when making a decision on how to continue, ask yourself the following questions:
- Should I surrender?
- Should or can I split?
- Should or can I double down?
- Should I stand or hit?
It is utterly important not to deviate from the order in which the questions should be asked. If you think them through, the chances of winning go up, and the house will not be such a formidable adversary.
To better understand your options, here are some tactics to apply during the game. Again, the order is fundamental, so stick to it religiously.
It sounds lame, but sometimes, it is the best you can do. You lose half the bet, but what you need to understand is that your cards can just be not good enough. This has a lot to do with luck, so don’t beat yourself up. The trick is to realize when to stop and make the most out of an unfavorable situation.
You should always make your decision based on the value of the cards. Leave superstition at home.
The logic behind the surrender is that of a marathon and not a short race. There will be voices against this decision, but it is the best tactics if you do want to squander your resources.
You should split your cards if the action will result in one of the following:
- You can win more on average.
- You can lose less on average.
- You can turn the hand from a losing to a winning one.
You should make a decision based on the number of decks and the rules of the game. The game can allow a double down after splitting (DAS), or forbid it (NDAS.) This is a vital piece of info when deciding, so make sure you have checked it.
Splitting is not always a good idea, and the math behind it is complex. Take your time to study this option as it can make a lot of difference during the course of the game.
As we have said, one of the host’s cards is facing down, so your play in blackjack is mostly defensive. With this option, you are trying to play in an offensive manner at the best possible time. You should go for it when the dealer is vulnerable (has a high chance of busting) or when your hand has the edge.
Most players avoid doubling down when they have a soft hand. However, the reason for the action is to get more money on the table when the host is close to busting. Again, the math is not simple, and you should study the charts to be able to make the right decision when you play.
Hit or Stand
Last but not least, be very thoughtful when making this decision. There are a lot of variables, and you should check all of them to make sure you understand the logic.
DAS or NDAS have no influence at this point. The important factor to consider is whether you have a hard hand or a soft hand. The worst-case scenario in the game is to get a hard 12 through 17. Unfortunately, this is the most common one. You will be dealing with these hands 40% of the time.
This is why understanding the basic hit/stand strategy for soft or hard hands should be on your list of things to learn before you start betting real money.
Though it can seem like a good move, it rarely is. To be more precise, it isn’t a good move. It’s a side bet and has no influence on the original bet. You really do not improve your odds in any way. It’s like a game within a game and can only be distracting.
How to Learn?
There is a variety of online and offline ways to learn and practice blackjack. Though the most convenient one seems to be the internet, we recommend you go old-school and get one of the many excellent books that cover the topic.
You can find charts and examples that explain when and what to do to stay on top of the game. It may be bewildering at first, but it is practical and above all, handy.
Some of these books are pure gold penned by the best and most experienced blackjack players in the world. Don’t be lazy and check the following. It’s not a mindless game, so you need to step up!
Blackjack for Blood by Bryce Carlson
The famous “Card Counter’s Bible” is excellent because it’s all practical. Carlson tries to explain the basic strategy in a way that everyone can understand. Both beginners and experienced players can benefit a lot from Carlson’s work.
The Big Book of Blackjack by Arnold Snyder
Another excellent study by Arnold Snyder offers insight into the game from his 25 years of experience at the table. From the introduction to the game to advanced strategies, this one has it all. Snyder included a bit of the game history too, so it’s an easy read. His focus on winning tactics is combined with an effort to remind us that the most important part of playing is having fun.
The Player’s Advantage
Yes, as you will see if you do your homework, even this is possible. The thing is called card counting, and it can give you an edge over the house. However, this is a special skill and not an easy one to master.
And no, you don’t literally count the cards! It’s a system that enables you to keep track of the high-low card ratio during the game. There are a couple of them, but you should consider them only after you learn the basic strategy by heart.
Again, try to follow the logic of: novice, advanced, pro! Building your knowledge and skills step by step is vital in keeping it cool and together at the table.
Also, practice as much as you can! Try to apply the rules while you play. This will make them more understandable and familiar.
To Sum Things Up
Blackjack strategies are mostly about reducing the casino edge. Beating the host in their own game has a specific appeal and makes the victory so much sweeter.
The best advice is to explore, learn, and play as often as you can, no matter whether it is live blackjack for fun or mobile blackjack for real money – it is up to you! The more you know, the better you become, that is why having practice is so important. And try to manage your bankroll rationally. This will keep you in the game longer.
And as we have already said, it’s a marathon, so don’t burn out too quickly!