Always one of the most popular table games in any casino, blackjack is one of the few games that requires some knowledge and skill, versus just random good luck, to make you a winning player. Whether you’ve played before and want to improve your odds against the house, or are a neophyte venturing onto a blackjack table for the first time, the following blackjack strategy guide for beginners offers some great tips, as well as some additional reference sources, for you to up your game.
To begin, you must understand what drives the hands at a blackjack table (or on a virtual table online, where the game is basically the same). Blackjack is a numbers game, literally; by understanding this and using it to your advantage, you can reduce the house edge from what experts estimate to be from 1.5% to 5% (depending on number of decks used and several other variable factors) down to a much more favorable .5%.
Basics of Blackjack
First, let’s take a look at the basics of the game. Blackjack (also known as “21”) is a game that pits the player’s hand against the dealer’s (the house), meaning that you are only trying to beat the house, not any other players at your table per se. Anywhere from one to eight decks of 52 cards are used, with the object of the game being to reach 21 points (ideally), or to reach the score closest to 21 points and beat the dealer’s score, without exceeding that number.
Players are dealt an initial two-card hand, and add the total score of their cards; all face cards (Jacks, Queens and Kings) are automatically ten points, whereas an Ace can play as either eleven points or one point, depending on which is more favorable to the hand. After the initial two cards, players have the option of getting “hit,” meaning they receive an additional card from the dealer’s deck(s). Players can continue taking “hits” until they decide to stop, based on how close they are to 21. If a player’s hand exceeds 21, they automatically go “bust,” and lose their bet. Conversely, if the dealer busts by going over 21, any player against them will win as long as their own hand has stayed at or below that number.
Whereas a player always has the option to take a hit or stay pat, the dealer must take a hit until his cards total 17 or more points. Should the player and dealer end up with the same point score for any given hand, it’s considered a “push,” and the player neither wins nor loses money on that hand.
Understanding Blackjack Odds
Sounds pretty simple, right? And on the surface of it, it is; to consistently put the odds in your favor, the game becomes a bit more complex, however.
So, what do you need to know to master basic blackjack strategy? As we’ve said before, it’s a numbers game, and you will need to have some fundamentals locked in, in order to successfully carry that strategy out and bring those house odds down to that desired .5%. Refined over the years via intensive research and computer simulation, the basics shift with only slight variations depending on the exact type of blackjack you play, and how many decks are being used; the latter can be anywhere from one to eight.
Rather than fill this page with a lot of charts that are easily available online or in any basic blackjack strategy book, just know you will want to memorize these so that you can quickly and easily decide on your play while sitting at the tables or playing online. Some people struggle with memorization; our best tip is to find patterns in the charts that make sense to you to help this information stay locked into your brain. If you are really a beginner and don’t trust your ability to memorize at all, there are basic strategy laminated cards that most casinos will allow you to use while playing; be aware that anything like this that a casino allows is probably not highly advantageous to you, as casinos are not in the business of helping their players beat them at their own game.
Most important to understand about mastering basic blackjack strategy is that it will not guarantee a particular winning session. It is a guide to making statistically and mathematically correct decisions that, over the long run, should pay off for you. On any given night, however, variance can run for or against you. Nonetheless, consistency is crucial in the long run for a winning game, so resolve to make the correct mathematical play and avoid playing hunches, no matter what.
You’ll probably want to look at a variety of sources to form your own perfect strategy, so following are some handy resources to help you hone your blackjack game and turn you into a winning player:
Books on Blackjack:
There are literally hundreds of books on blackjack strategy if you search online, but a few that are well-known and respected include:
- Basic Blackjack by Stanford Wong
One of the most comprehensive books on blackjack strategy, includes advice and discussion of proper play for all rule variations. His more intensive book, Professional Blackjack, contains a complete reference on the Hi-Lo card counting system and is a more serious foray into the game for advanced players.
- Knock-Out Blackjack by Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs
This book describes the Knock-Out card counting system created by the authors in an easy-to-understand and use format. Specifically designed for the novice player.
- Blackjack Wisdom by Arnold Snyder
Covering many topics not typically found in blackjack strategy books, this volume includes chapters on team play, shuffle analysis, camouflage and other subtler aspects of card counting.
Almost everyone is familiar with the true story of MIT students and their hard-driving professor who cleaned casinos’ clocks counting cards back in the 1980s, eventually becoming a virtual gambling conglomerate, replete with investors. For anyone interested in seeing card counting and other blackjack techniques in action, this popular film could be informative; bear in mind that it is a fictionalized account only loosely based on the true story, however.