Welcome to the blackjack strategy guide. We’d like to do something more than just tossing a basic strategy chart at you – but of course, we’re going to do that as well. We have our own chart, ready for you to download. We love blackjack so much that we’d like to take you on an in-depth journey through some of the available strategies, but also the don’ts, some history and the different famous personas of the blackjack world.
Blackjack has always been a very popular game in brick and mortar casinos around the world. What makes is so popular and absolutely beloved amongst the table game crowd both online and offline?
We’re not sure if the word “hype” can still be applied to a game that’s been widely popular for over a century. If a casino has any table games, they are more likely to have blackjack than let’s say – roulette or baccarat.
The game of blackjack is perhaps best known for two things, both of them very exciting for players:
Let’s say it’s your first time in a casino EVER. You walk in with a friend, and they whisper some game rules in your ear in the time it takes to mosey over from the front door to the back tables. Chances are that if you’re not too nervous and a good listener, you will know what to do when you take a seat in front of the dealer.
Of course, if you’re an intermediate player, or have played some games in the past, you can always up your strategy in order to have a better chance at winning. Blackjack is a great game to continue perfecting with multiple strategies, and an intelligent enough game that you can start creating your own unique strategies too.
The odds are better
This is truly music to any gambler’s ear. The odds in blackjack are indeed better as the house edge is a lot lower. For beginners – it’s always better when the house edge is lower because it means the house has a lower chance of winning.
If you like constant rewards, then blackjack is a great game to play – while it doesn’t mean that you’ll win all the time, it certainly means that you’ll keep on winning enough to be enticed, excited and practically on your seat’s edge throughout the whole game.
As you can see, there are great reasons to be “hyped up” about playing blackjack. There are other benefits to playing blackjack as well!
A game of blackjack is cheap to play – you can find a lower buy-in table much easier than roulette or poker. In most large casinos, there are 5$ tables to be found, and at some casinos, you can even play for 1$. Of course, in online casinos, you can have a much wider variety of possibilities anyway – so why is blackjack so great for playing online?
Fast gameplay – in blackjack, the pace is fast! You might not even ask for extra cards to be dealt and go with the original two – it hardly ever lasts beyond putting down 3 or 4 cards anyway. Losses and wins are counted, and it’s on to the next turn. You don’t have to stick around for the whole entire game, and you can walk away after only a few turns.
This is the perfect game and it forms a perfect relationship with the gambler – you don’t have to be committed, but you can if you want to. Those “committed” players are usually old pros that will attempt to have a few swipes at the art of card counting and go through the whole shoe being dealt out.
Basic Blackjack Rules
Here are the very bare-bones basic rules of blackjack that you will need to know:
All face cards and aces are worth 10
- The point of the game is to get more points than the dealer as long as it’s 21 or lower
- If you go over 21 you bust and lose
- If the dealer gets more points than you without busting you lose
- You get a “blackjack” when the first two cards you get are an ace and a 10 card.
- Insurance is a side bet that you can only make if the dealer is showing an ace. It costs half of your wager – take it if you’re worried that the dealer will get a natural blackjack.
- Even money is also a side bet that is offered when the player is the one who has an ace and a ten card – just in case the dealer gets an ace as a face-up card.
The Payouts Are:
- Blackjack – 3:2
- Insurance 2:1
- Win 1:1
- Even Money 1:1
- Push – Bet is returned to the player
Online Blackjack Variations
There are a few different options for playing blackjack in an online casino. If you’re just learning, it might be less intimidating to play in a non-live mode. If you decide to learn on your own, playing online is a great way to get a “feel” for the game.
One of our favourite blackjack games in the non-live format is definitely Blackjack by NetEnt. NetEnt is a superb software developer famous for creative and bold slot games, and for live studio table games. You can learn here, play for fun and practice before you start playing at a live casino for real money.
This game lets you play as three players, getting dealt three hands at a time. As you can see, the rules are “printed” on the blackjack green table felt, just as they would be in a real casino: Blackjack pays 3 to 2, Dealer must stand on 17 and must draw to 16, Insurance pays 2 to 1.
Why are these things always written in stone? Every casino’s rules are different, and these are all number one things to know about a table before you sit down. Don’t be surprised later, and make sure you read all the rules before beginning to bet.
Last great thing about NetEnt’s Blackjack – the jazzy and calming piano music. We don’t know about you, but it makes us want to pour ourselves a sophisticated adult beverage and lean back in our favourite armchair while making bets. This is a game that creates a superb VIP lounge atmosphere.
What kind of strategies are there in a game of chance, anyway?
Gambling isn’t a sport – you can’t practice getting better odds. Your odds will always be the same, no matter how long you play for. But is that really the case with games like blackjack?
First of all, your chances rise once you know what you’re doing and you’re making informed decisions. Most gamblers adopt strategies that help them keep their heads about them. Remember the sign on the table when you first decide to sit down and play? “Dealer must stand on 17 and must draw to 16” – this isn’t just a whim. It’s a carefully calculated strategy that gives the house the best odds possible.
Your odds depending on what the cards in front of you are. You have a higher chance of not getting over 21 when you draw on a 10 than if you draw on a 17. In fact, when you draw on a 17 it means you’re really taking a gamble because there’s a very real chance that you’re going to go bust.
It’s pure math. Some people love to go with their gut and make dangerous bets – and sometimes it pays off. But sometimes, they have to suck it up and deal with the consequences. What kind of gambler are you? The only way you’re going to find out is after practicing your game for a while and trying out some great strategies.
Why Does Blackjack Basic Strategy Work?
This isn’t a test! Casinos allow you to bring “cheat sheets”, or what’s commonly known as the blackjack basic strategy guide. You can even get them at gift casino gift stores if you’re in a place like Niagara or Vegas. This information will inevitably get in your head the more you play, and you will become natural.
Don’t worry – no card counting here. This is all about thinking clearly and determining what your best odds are in a particular hand. If you play exactly like the dealer, the odds are still against you because the dealer plays last, and has the informed decision advantage. Not to mention that when you both bust you lose. The house advantage in this scenario ends up being 5.5%.
The basic strategy works on a few presumptions that are all based on simple statistics. Of course, they are “assumptions”, not mind reading tools, so while your move will be statistically sound it might not always work out the way you want it to. The idea is to let you have the most statistical advantage. But – like with any gambling games, luck is still king. Here are a few “musts” when it comes to blackjack strategies:
- If the dealer is showing more than 7, he will most likely have a good hand. This means that the player should try to get into the space between 18 and 21 as much as they can, even though it might be riskier.
- If the dealer is showing anywhere from 2 to 6 he is more likely to bust – this assumes that his other hand is a 10 (or any face card). They will have to take one more card in order to get past 16, and are more likely to lose. If this happens, you don’t have to take riskier bets.
- If your hand is 11 or less you should always hit and take another card.
- If your hand is 17 or higher and the dealer is showing less than 7, always stand.
- Hit on 17 if you have a “soft” ace (an ace can count as either 1 or 10, depending on what you’d like to do with it!)
Dr. Tamburin Tutorial
Here is a great tutorial by Henry Tamburin Ph.D. You know it’s serious when you’re getting schooled at one of the world’s most popular gambling games by a mathematician with a doctorate in chemistry! Gambling is all about numbers and chemistry, isn’t it?
Dr. Tamburin is one of our favourite blackjack players because he wrote one of the most respected books on the subject: Blackjack: Take the Money and Run, which encompasses everything you need to know about blackjack strategy and how to play blackjack. He is celebrating his 80th birthday soon, but still an ultimate blackjack force to be reckoned with.
Counting Cards - Can It Be Done?
Aaah this is the question that every blackjack player asks sooner or later. And why not? When you’ve been playing blackjack for a while, you hear stories and come to realize that card counting isn’t an old wives tale. It might actually work to give you an upper edge in this already generous game if you do it right.
The fact of the matter is, there is no one right way of counting your cards. Actually, forget “more than one” – there are too many to list here. Everybody has their own method, and none of them actually expect you to magically remember the order of the cards.
A lot of new players are a bit confused by what “card counting” really is – so let us explain.
Is card counting illegal?
It depends. Is it really “illegal”? Will you be fined and sent off to jail? Absolutely not. It’s not considered cheating at all. Do casinos dislike when you do it? Well – yes. It really brings down their profits if you keep on winning, doesn’t it? If they are sure you’re counting cards, you may be asked to leave the table. Or the casino!
How can they catch you? Casinos use a lot of ways to throw off players who they think are counting cards. Anything from facial recognition, to adding more decks to the shoe or having an employee distract them. It’s always possible that you’re just lucky and not card counting at all, right? Card counters usually stay at the same tables and don’t make rookie mistakes. A card counter will not follow basic strategy when they know they’re going to win.
MIT Blackjack Team
Before we get into some card counting tricks, we have to mention the MIT Blackjack Team. This “team” was a group of graduates and students from some of the top universities – MIT, Harvard, Stanford and others. They developed advanced card counting strategies and recruited and trained new members with the goal of creating a fortune.
They even formed the Massachusetts Limited Partnership in order to finance the team. This was almost like an organized crime unit – except that, of course, card counting isn’t illegal. Most of the team members were eventually banned from most casinos, the partnership ended a year later, in 1993.
There are several books, films and television series based on the MIT Blackjack Team. If you’re curious about how they did it, here is a tutorial by the man himself – Mike Aponte, who was one of the leaders of the MIT Blackjack Team.
As you can see, the strategy of card counting in any blackjack game isn’t about the individual cards at all – but rather about predicting where the high cards and low cards will land. Starting afresh deck of cards means that you begin at zero, and as the cards are dealt, you can keep count of how many low and how many high cards are still in the shoe.
Mike Aponte does a great job explaining this strategy for us mere mortals.
Other Card Counting Strategies
There are a lot of card counting strategies, all developed by different people at different times. Mike Aponte uses the Hi-Lo strategy, which is simple and pretty reliable. The other ones are:
- Hi-Opt I
- Hi-Opt II
- Omega II
- Red Seven
These are the most popular card counting systems. None of them actually require you to memorize all the cards but are rather systems for keeping track of which cards were dealt and the chance of beneficial and harmful cards appearing in your draw. If you’d like to practice any of these, it’s good to start with a single deck at first. The more decks, the more difficult it is to keep track of your cards.
Bankroll management refers to planning your game well before entering a casino. Nobody plans on loosing, but you should be prepared to tell yourself how much is “enough” and when you should walk away. Bankroll management is simply planning out your money strategy and trying to overcome the house edge when you play blackjack.
Risk of ruin – when you read about the rules of bankroll management in blackjack, you’ll see a lot of references to “risk of ruin”. This does not mean that you will literally be “ruined” – it simply means that you will lose the money that you chose to gamble with.
Units – you need to calculate your gambling time using units. A unit can be any number of any type of money, whether it’s Canadian Dollars, American Dollars, British Pounds or Euros. A single unit can be 5$, 10$ or any other value. The amount of hands you can play depends on your total bankroll and how many units you divide it into.
Most players don’t come into a casino as they come into work – they don’t expect to make money, but stay as long as possible, have a great time, be social and finally, yes – walk away with some cash. But if you come in with 500$, bet in units of 50$ and have a losing streak, or play a game with a high house edge, you won’t be enjoying the game for long.
The best strategy for money management in any casino game is to plan ahead of time and have the discipline to stick to your plan.
Things You Should NEVER do When Playing Blackjack
As with any game, there are some things that you should never do when playing. Technical rules aside, there are some etiquette matters to pay attention to, especially if you’re playing at a brick-and-mortar casino, as we know a lot of you enjoy doing. Thankfully, most of these problems aren’t an issue when you play online.
Don't play if the casino is using a continuous shuffle machine
this is a trick that might look “fair” to newbies – after all, the cards are shuffled fair and square – but in fact, what it does is decrease your chances of getting a natural blackjack than when you play the blackjack game dealt out of a normal shoe.
Don’t touch the chips once the cards are being dealt, and do not touch the cards. This isn’t poker, and any hands-on-cards action will make other people uncomfortable and will make them think you are up to no good.
Don't drink a lot
A lot of people go into a casino with the intention of letting it loose, relaxing, having fun and going for a few cocktails. But remember – when you have a few too many, you’re likely to make poor decisions. You might not only gamble more than you meant to, but you might not make safe choices when doing so.
Don't distract others
People like the social aspect of playing table games like blackjack, but if you’re yelling, being loud and distracting, getting in their way or screaming – you ruin it for everyone. A blackjack game is usually quick, with little chatting and yelling. It’s one of the many attractive things about it.
Best Places to Play Blackjack in Canada
While there are incredible casinos all over Canada – in places like Casino Niagara, Hard Rock Casino in Vancouver, Caesars, Casino de Montreal, River Rock Casino, Fallsview, (the list just goes on!) online gambling is becoming more and more popular.
Maybe we’re biased, but we really believe that you get your best blackjack options online – and let’s face it. Some people aren’t going to be ready to go outside for quite some time. Gambling shoulder to shoulder at casinos is a great social activity, but playing online doesn’t mean that you have to “gamble alone”.
There are multiple casino game developers that have been taking the lead in developing live studio games for quite some time now. You will get a chance to interact with some of the best-trained dealers in the world, and have access to them 24/7.
Not only that but playing online means playing on your terms. You get more choices, more buy-in options, and you can even cross the language barrier and play with native speakers from France, Germany, Russia or Spain amongst many other.s