There are many complex strategies and counting systems that can help players increase their chances of winning at blackjack but less experienced players often struggle to gain a good understanding of the basic, most important things in blackjack play. After learning the rules, some novices head to the nearest casino where they may easily lose their entire bankroll by following bad advice.
There are obvious things most blackjack players, even beginners, probably know well such as to avoid drinks at the blackjack table, not to use a credit card for gambling, etc. But there are also widely spread myths about the game of Twenty-One that many still believe in although these ideas have been proven to be false multiple times. The article below includes some basic tips for beginner players – how to start with blackjack, how to play certain hands, what to avoid, and more. We have included a few essential money management tips, which would be helpful for all casino gamblers, whether they play blackjack, roulette, or slot machines.
Basic Tips for Blackjack Players
With their idealistic depiction of casino gambling, Hollywood movies usually show how easy it is to win at the blackjack table but in reality, it is not an easy task to follow a strategy strictly, nor is the counting of cards. There are a few basic steps one should follow when entering the world of blackjack.
Learn the Game
Learning the fundamentals of the game is a must – under the traditional rules, the game is played with 1 to 8 standard decks of cards and each player receives 2 cards initially, whereas the dealer gets one card face-up and another face-down. The objective is to beat the dealer by getting blackjack (an Ace or a 10-value card) or a total that is as close to 21 as possible. Cards from 2 through 10 count at their face values, Jacks, Queens, and Kings count as 10, and Aces could be 1 or 11.
Players may request more cards or decide to play with the hand they already have. They can also double their bet, split a pair, or surrender their hand and lose only half of the bet. The correct decision for each situation could be easily found in the strategy cards that are available at casinos and online. These cards are simple charts that represent the so-called basic strategy for each variation of blackjack – the moves suggested there are determined by the specific rules of the game, the cards of the player, and the upcard of the dealer.
The best tactic for beginners is to memorize the strategy chart and practice it by playing blackjack online. Most online casinos offer not only real-money but also a free-play mode of their games. Playing just several rounds would not be sufficient, however – it is necessary to learn the strategy perfectly before starting to play for real money.
Manage Your Bankroll
Once blackjack players are confident in their knowledge of the game, they should focus on another aspect of the casino gambling and this is bankroll management. Bankroll refers to the fixed amount of finances dedicated specifically to playing blackjack – many recreational players end up losing huge amounts of money in a short period of time simply because they tend to gamble with all their money. Putting aside some sum only for blackjack play is a better tactic and the main principle novices should be guided by is to never gamble money they cannot afford to lose.
Another effective approach is to set up limits for the winnings or losses per session and once you reach the limit, you should quit. Beginner players should also determine the size of their bet per hand. Sticking to the table minimum is a good idea since this would guarantee that your bankroll would last for longer even if you lose most hands.
Experienced casino players also recommend adjusting the bet size to your bankroll – if, for example, your bankroll for one playing session is $300, you could divide it by 100 hands and you will have the safest bet size. The risk of losing a lot of money when betting only $3 per hand would be minimal.
Know When to Quit
One common mistake even seasoned players sometimes make is to try to recoup their losses. They would wager more, while keep playing their hands the same way – often, using the wrong strategy. This would only result in losing even more money. To avoid that, players should know when to quit. Many guides on gambling and blackjack repeat the same idea – to quit while you are still winning. This is a great principle in theory but in practice, very few players manage to assert control over their spending habits.
The concept of winning and losing streaks should also be considered. They are often misunderstood – some players believe that after a losing streak, they will somehow start receiving good hands and start winning. But winning and losing streaks are not an actual series of wins and losses that could be predicted. They are random and only appear as “streaks” and those who play a blackjack variation under favorable rules and with a perfect strategy should not be concerned with them. Instead, they should focus on winning every single hand in the game.
Avoid Progressive Betting Systems
Relying on progressive betting systems is always a bad bet. These systems could be positive, negative, or flat but the main idea behind them is to adjust the size of the stake based on whether you won or lost the previous hand. These betting progressions are extremely flawed but more importantly, they could be very risky – under the Martingale, for example, players should double their bet after every loss. If we lose five consecutive hands with an initial bet of $5, for instance, we would end up with a total loss of $155. This shows the high risk of such systems.
There is a much more effective system – players should bet more when there are more high cards than low ones left in the dealer’s shoe. This is one of the basic principles in card counting and advantage play in blackjack. There are several counting systems that are relatively simple and should help even less experienced players to roughly determine the ratio of high to low cards in the shoe.
Playing Basic Strategy
Unlike other casino games such as roulette, for example, where you could guess the winning number, blackjack is a game of mathematically correct and wrong ways to play hands. Based on the probability of certain cards being dealt, researchers have calculated the optimal decisions in every possible situation. These, of course, will change, depending on certain rule variations in the different blackjack games – one important rule to consider is whether the dealer is required to draw an additional card to a soft 17 (an Ace and a 6) or not.
For example, players should always draw more cards (a move called Hit) to hard hands of 11 or less. Hard hands are those without an Ace or with an Ace, which can be counted only as 1 – if the Ace can be 11 without busting the hand, then this is a soft hand. In addition, players should always Hit on soft totals of 17 or less.
If they have a good hand, however, they should pat or Stand, as it is called in blackjack and play with their two cards against the dealer. Of course, they should always Stand on hard 17 or more, as well as on soft 19 or more. They should also refuse more cards on hard 12 against dealer 4-6 but if the dealer has another total, they should Hit. Players should also Stand on hard 13-16 against dealer 2-6 – otherwise, they should Hit. The basic strategy also suggests to Stand on soft 18, except against dealer 9, 10, or Ace.
These are the basic rules for Hitting and Standing but players have a few more options to choose from – they can Double Down on their bet, they can Split if they have two cards of the same rank, and they can Surrender under certain conditions. Below, we have listed the specific situations when each of these actions would be correct.
When You Should Split Pairs
Splitting is available when the player receives a pair, i.e. two cards of the same denomination such as a Queen of hearts and a Queen of spades. Some games allow unlike 10-value cards like a Queen and a Jack to be split. Usually, players can make up to 3 splits per round but sometimes, only one split is allowed.
- Always split Aces and 8s.
- Never split 5s and 10s.
- Split 2s and 3s against a dealer 4-7; against a 2 or 3 if Double after a split (DAS) is allowed.
- Split 4s against dealer a 5-6 only if DAS is allowed.
- Split 6s against a dealer 3-6; against a 2 if DAS is allowed.
- Split 7s against a dealer 2-7.
- Split 9s against a dealer 2-6 or 8-9.
When You Should Double Down
When players decide to Double Down, they double their bet and draw one final card to their hand. Usually, casinos allow doubling after a split but certain games may restrict this option.
- Double hard 9 against a dealer 3-6.
- Double hard 10, except against a dealer 10 or Ace.
- Double hard 11, except against a dealer Ace.
- Double soft 13-14 against a dealer 5-6.
- Double soft 15-16 against a dealer 4-6.
- Double soft 17-18 against a dealer 3-6.
When to Surrender
It is also important to know when to Surrender. This option may not always be available and casinos determine different conditions for it. Typically, players are given the option to Surrender half their bet when the dealer shows an Ace or a 10-value card. In some games, it is allowed at any time and on any dealer upcard.
Of course, there would be many situations where it would seem safer to Surrender instead of risking losing your entire stake. Some players actually overuse this move, whereas it should be preferred only in the following cases:
- Surrender hard 16 (except a pair of 8s) against dealer 9, 10, or Ace
- Surrender hard 15 against a dealer 10.
Don’t Buy Insurance
Players are sometimes offered Insurance, which is quite a controversial topic among blackjack players and researchers. This option is available when the dealer shows an Ace and the logic behind is that the hole card is likely to be a 10-value card, thus forming a blackjack. There are indeed more cards with the value of 10 than any other cards in the deck (since face cards are counted as 10) but this does not mean that a dealer blackjack is guaranteed.
On the contrary, the odds for that would still be against dealer blackjack – or around 9 to 4, which means that the Insurance will lose more times than it will win. Even if it wins, the player loses his original bet and breaks even since the Insurance bet costs half of the bet size and pays 2:1. Overall, Insurance is considered a sucker bet and it should be avoided unless the player is an exceptionally skilled card counter.
Beware of Gambler’s Myths
Blackjack players are known as reasonable people who rely on logic, strategy and rational thought but there are dozens of superstitious beliefs in gambling and some of them could be overheard at the blackjack table, too. Novices could also be easily confused by unfounded theories and concepts that range from simply speculative to downright false and misleading. Here are several common gambler’s myths blackjack players should always be skeptical about.
”Hot” and “Cold” Dealers
The concept of “hot” and “cold” dealers and tables is pure superstition – if you see a table where everyone seems to be losing, this says nothing about the table or the dealer. It means that they are probably bad at playing blackjack or sometimes that the rules of the game favor the house. Dealers, on the other hand, are required to play by the house rules and are not allowed to make any decisions regarding their hands.
It is also important not to believe that something such as a favorite dealer or table will bring you luck since there is no such thing. Players who win consistently at blackjack are not lucky – they win because they apply optimal strategy and possibly track the cards in the shoe. Lucky charms are also useless – unlike strategy cards, which can be used both online and in land-based casinos.
Players Due to Win
This myth is closely related to the winning and losing streaks mentioned above. Some players think that after losing several hands, they are “due” to win – a belief that is more commonly shared by patrons who play slot machines or roulette. In reality, these games are random and random outcomes may sometimes be perceived as streaks of wins or losses.
In blackjack, however, the outcome of every round is strongly influenced by players’ decisions, which is why relying on streaks is unproductive. Believing that you are due to win is equally nonsensical, especially when a player decides to apply a progressive betting system.
Good and Bad Betting Positions
The importance of seats is among the most common beliefs in blackjack and some players would never sit on the so-called “first base”. Others are confident that the decision of the third base is the most important one since this is the player who is the last to act. You would sometimes hear that a player took the dealer’s bust card or your winning card but in reality, it is impossible to know what card will be dealt next.
Moreover, such concepts are utterly unnecessary when playing online blackjack when you play solo against a computer. However, when playing at a land-based casino, patrons who act last may have an advantage since they see what cards have been dealt to the others before them. This gives them information about the composition of the cards still left in the shoe.
Avoid Continuous Shuffling Machines
Many players recommend that tables with continuous shuffling machines (CSMs) should be avoided because, with them, the dealer continuously takes the cards that have already been played and places them in the shuffler. This process guarantees constant randomization of the cards and, therefore, eliminates any advantage gained by card counting.
However, most blackjack players are not card counters and the majority of those who try to count and predict the next cards are not very successful. Players who use basic strategy should not be concerned about whether the casino uses a CSM or a regular automatic shuffling machine. The constant randomization of the cards will not affect their odds and strategy. Besides, CSMs are still quite expensive so they are used only by a small portion of the casinos.
Is Card Counting Necessary to Win?
1What is Card Counting?
Card counting is a technique of tracking the cards that have been dealt on the table and assigning them certain values in order to calculate roughly what cards are still in the dealer’s shoe. There are various systems for counting but the simplest ones differentiate two or three types of cards – low and high, or low, middle and high. One of the most common card counting systems, the Hi-Lo, assigns +1 to low cards (2-6), 0 to middle values (7-9), and -1 to high cards (10-Ace).
2Basic Counting System
Based on these values, card counters simply keep a track of the ratio of low to high cards rather than memorizing every single hand that has been used in play. Depending on the count of these values, players decide whether to increase or decrease their stakes. This is the simplest, most basic version of a counting system and it could be applied by everyone. It also does not provide a great advantage over the house. The systems that guarantee to change the odds in favor of the player are much more complex and learning them requires concentration and practice.
3Easiest way to win
Very few players manage to generate solid winnings by counting cards at blackjack tables. It is extremely difficult, demanding, and risky since casinos do not allow card counters – although the practice is not officially illegal. For the majority of players, a much more effective option is to apply basic strategy at a table with more liberal rules. Moreover, using a composition-based strategy reduces the house edge even further. In conclusion, card counting is not necessary in order to win at blackjack – players should simply learn the fundamental concept of the game and the basic strategy if they want to be successful.