Blackjack, or 21, stands as the world’s most popular casino game – in part because it is perceived as a beatable game. And the odds bear it out, with the blackjack house holding one of the smallest inherent advantages, as compared to other casino games. In fact, when opposing blackjack hands are properly executed the house advantage can be brought down to less than one-half of one percent.
Strategically, the name of the game is minimizing the house advantage to direct more chips to your stack. And it isn’t done through wildly innovative card playing that blazes new trails across the collective strategic tenets of blackjack. On the contrary, success in blackjack strategy is based on mathematical features of the game that are exploited through consistent, regimented, predictable reactions to card scenarios that arise during play.
How the Game Works
The basic premise of blackjack is to accumulate cards with point values that are as close to or equal to 21 as possible without going over (bust). Your sole opponent is the dealer, so the other players at the table are irrelevant to the way your individual hand unfolds.
Suits do not influence the outcomes of hands, only the designated point totals of each card. Aces are worth 11 or 1, and face cards are each worth 10.
A significant strategic consideration in the game of blackjack is that the dealer is bound by rules that do not leave room for individual interpretation. In other words, the dealer’s next move is always known to the opposing players. Most of the time, the dealer is required to stand at 17, meaning no further cards may be taken once the dealer’s card total is 17 or greater. At the same time, the dealer must continue to take cards until he or she reaches 17.
Predictability allows opposing players to execute calculated moves to their greatest advantage, but the dealer actually enjoys a full-time positional edge. The dealer’s opponent always acts first, which might lead to a bust and dealer win.
Blackjack games vary from live multi-deck shoe games to hand-held card games and online blackjack. The unique nuances of specific venues require dialed-in strategies, but basic options are the same wherever you go.
After placing bets, players get two cards and then face a series of decisions based on the specific cards they are dealt. The most desirable player outcome is for the first two cards to total 21, which requires an ace and a 10 card. Blackjack, or a ‘natural’ pays 3:2, which means a $10 bet takes home 15 bucks. If the dealer also scores a blackjack, the hand is considered a tie or ‘push’, and no money is exchanged.
If you don’t have 21 on your first two cards, you are allowed to surrender, or fold, your hand – but it will cost you half the amount of your original bet. Surrendering is an effective strategy when it is well-placed and not over-used.
If you stay in the hand, your next call is to take a ‘hit’ (additional card) or stand with the cards you have. Before you declare your intentions, you can opt to ‘double down’. By placing an additional bet equal to the original – doubling down, you are allowed to draw one additional card from the dealer. For example, if your first two cards total 11, you may wish to double down in hopes of hitting 21 with your single additional card. Doubling down has the potential to grow your stack quickly.
If you pair up your first two cards, you’re allowed to split them and play them like two distinct hands. Like other blackjack strategies, when to split cards can be reduced to a statistical success ratio. In some cases, it couldn’t be clearer; as with 8’s, which should be split immediately to kill the 16 hand. Splitting Aces is a unique proposition, because if you split them some casinos limit your draw to one additional card for each ace. Even so, it is always a good idea to split your Aces.
As you log hours at the blackjack tables, playing strategies that bolster your own odds become second nature. The path to success is paved with consistent, mathematically sound play that uses percentages, rather than intuition, as a guide.