The Ultimate Beginners Guide To Blackjack
Blackjack is by far the most profitable table game found on the casino floor. And while the initial return of 1:1 is not exactly enticing, savvier gamblers will utilise the low house edge of this skill-based game and make it work to their advantage.
This guide has been designed to turn the complete novice — like you — into an effective blackjack player.
Everything you need to know will be covered in this article:
- How to play blackjack
- Everything you need to know about house edge and why it’s important
- How to use basic strategy while playing blackjack
Once you’ve read through this guide you’ll be bankrupting casinos like Don Johnson, (not the Hollywood actor) who managed, in just under six months, to wipe $15 million from three major casinos in Atlantic City.
So, since time is money, let’s get down to it and learn how to play blackjack.
How to play Blackjack
When you play blackjack you’re playing against the house, which is represented by the dealer. It is their responsibility to manage bets (stakes), returns (payouts) and to deal the cards. Each player will be dealt two cards, where the aim of the game is to get as close to 21 without a player going over this amount, or ‘busting’. You gain cards by ‘hitting’, with each card possessing an individual value:
- Numbered cards from 2 — 10 represent the value they show (2 of clubs, for example, would be worth ‘2’)
- Any royal cards, such as the jack, queen or king are worth 10 (king of spades, for example, is worth 10)
- The ace is worth either 1 or 11; the player gets to decide the value
Once all the cards have been dealt, each player will have two cards face up, whilst the dealer will show one. The dealer only ever reveals one card, which is the standard across all varieties of blackjack, adopted by nearly all casinos worldwide.
Starting from the left of the table, the dealer will then ask each player if they want to ‘hit’ or ‘stick’. If a player chooses to ‘hit’ they will receive another card. If the value of the three cards is still below 21 they have the opportunity to ‘hit’ again, and so on… once a player is confident their hand is strong enough, they can ‘stick’. Once this occurs they will no longer receive any more cards and the game moves on to the next player. If a player goes over 21 he will ‘bust’, or lose the game.
If a player is dealt 21 straightaway this is known as blackjack. He automatically wins — unless the dealer also has blackjack — receiving an enhanced return or 3/2 (depending on the game).
Should the dealer and the player have equal values at the end of play, ‘push’ is called and the player’s stake is returned.
So, this is blackjack in a nut shell. Not so difficult once you break it down.
House Edge and why it’s Important
‘House edge’ or ‘house advantage’ is a relatively simple concept.
When playing against the house, every table game is weighted in the casino’s favour. That’s how they make all their money. The house edge is expressed as a percentage, which represents the amount of money a player is expected to lose over a period of time. While short term gains are inevitable, and something that casinos account for, over a longer period of time players are statistically bound to lose more then they win.
The table below shows the house edge of four popular casino games:
|Blackjack||0.28% – 0.6%|
American roulette provides the casino with the highest house edge, which stands at 5.26%. This means for every $100 staked, they are likely to lose $5.26. Over a short period of time, this may not be the case, as a player could win $3600 from one spin; but once a player has staked around $10,000, statistics show they are likely to lose more than win.
Furthermore, we can see that blackjack has the lowest house edge. The expected loss over a period of time in blackjack is around 50 cents for every $100 — much less than the rest. This is because blackjack contains the least amount of variables that impact the result of the game.
Usually, the less control a player has over the outcome of a game, the higher the house edge.
Each variant of blackjack has a different house edge, but this depends on a few factors; how many decks are used, whether you can hit on split aces (being able to hit on split aces decreases the house edge by 0.16%) or whether the dealer has to stand on seventeen (the soft seventeen rule). Use this calculator to work out the house edge of the game you’re playing.
The one advantage the dealer has is that they only show one card whilst the player shows two. This may seem like a big advantage at first; basic mathematics can be used to work out the range of values the dealer has. From this we can work out the best course of action. This will be explored in the third section of the guide, so no worries if you don’t quite understand this yet.
Since blackjack is weighted less towards the house, a player can utilise this and swing the odds further in their favour. This is why blackjack is such a profitable game and as such has become a popular game for gambling enthusiasts.
A general rule of thumb is that the more decks in use, the higher the house advantage. Each casino will have a different policy; find the one that suits you best.
When a player starts out playing blackjack they simply want to get as close to 21 as possible. Although hitting 19, 20 or 21 will increase your odds of winning, busting will always result in you losing. Knowing when to stand is just as important as knowing when to hit, and if utilised correctly, will result in your profiting much more than if you consistently play aggressive.
The Blackjack Cheat Sheet
This section will teach you the most effective basic strategy for novice players.
When you’re learning the best course of play it’s always handy to use a cheat sheet. This is particularly useful when you’re playing online as you can use it as a constant reference point. It’s probably best to leave the cheat sheet at home though, as most casinos won’t want you holding up play when referencing this chart.
Please note that using this cheat sheet is not cheating, it’s a perfectly legitimate way to learn how to play blackjack — just be sneaky about it!
The cheat sheet may look complicated at first, but once you’ve used it a couple of times it will become second nature.
How to use the Cheat Sheet in four easy steps
- Identify the value of your cards and the value of the dealer’s card
- Find the cells where the two values meet
- Use the key at the bottom to determine which action you should take
- Profit (maybe)
The cheat sheet is not a guaranteed way of winning blackjack, it’s just the best course of action a player can take. By using this cheat sheet you’ll start to win more games and winning more games results in more profit — it’s that simple!
You can further increase your chances of winning by using a blackjack hand calculator — using this will provide you with a quantifiable value of losing in any given situation. The lower the value, the less chance you have of losing.
Ultimately, the probability of being dealt a hand is not important – it’s all about how you play the hand — which is why it’s important you reference the cheat sheet.
Splitting and Doubling — What They Mean
- If you’re dealt two of the same cards you can split them; this will bring two new hands in play, essentially doubling your stake but doubling your chance.
- You can opt to double your bet when all cards have been dealt, but you’ll only receive one more card; this is known as the ‘double down’ rule.
A pair of aces should be split regardless of the situation. This is universally agreed upon throughout the blackjack community as the most effective move a player can make. Any opportunity to split aces again should be taken, but a number of casinos restrict the number of times a player can do this.
The same action should be taken with a pair of 8s, since a two card score of 16 is a particularly weak hand — especially coming up against a strong dealer hand. Instead of potentially busting, split the 8s — it’s the best strategy in this situation.
The only time a player should split 2s, 3s or 7s is when the dealer is showing a 7. Anything else is too risky and should be avoided.
No player should ever split 10s. 20 is a great starting hand and splitting would only risk receiving two hands that are low value. For example, splitting 10s and being dealt a 2 and a 6 would put a player in a much worse position, with a 12 and 16 instead of a 20.
So, in summary:
- Always split aces
- Always split and re-split 8s
- Only split 2s, 3s and 7s when playing with the soft seventeen rule
- Never split 9s and 10s, unless coming up against a 2 or a 3
- Never split 4s, 5s or 6s
When to double
It all depends on a couple of things really:
- What the dealer is showing
- What the value of the your two cards are
Should you have a total score of either 10 or 11 then double down, unless the dealer is showing a 9 or a ten. If this is the case, then hit as normal.
If the dealer is showing a low value card such as 2, 3 or a 4, then you should double down if you hold a low value card as well. There’s a good chance the dealer will bust anyway.
Doubling down on anything above 11 is an absolute no go. If you double down and bust you’ve lost twice your stake.
Well, that’s pretty much it for blackjack. Once you’ve taken all this in, head to the tables and put all this information to good use. If you’ve got any hints or tips for any of our aspiring blackjack players, then share your secrets in the comments section below.