In this game, the player and the dealer (the computer) are each dealt two cards. The player and the dealer both try to get their hands to equal twenty-one without going over. The hand that gets closer to twenty-one without going over wins the bet. In blackjack, you are competing only against the dealer, not against the other players. The rules of play for the dealer are strictly dictated, leaving no decisions up to the dealer.
In blackjack, the cards are valued as follows: An Ace can count as either 1 or 11, as demonstrated below. The cards from 2 through 9 are valued as indicated. The 10, Jack, Queen, and King are all valued at 10.
The value of a hand is simply the sum of the point counts of each card in the hand. For example, a hand containing (5,7,9) has the value of 21. The Ace can be counted as either 1 or 11. You need not specify which value the Ace has. It’s assumed to always have the value that makes the best hand.
How the dealer plays his hand
The dealer must play his hand in a specific way, with no choices allowed. There are two popular rule variations that determine what totals the dealer must draw to. In any given casino, you can tell which rule is in effect by looking at the blackjack tabletop. It should be clearly labeled with one of these rules:
“Dealer stands on all 17s”:
This is the most common rule. In this case, the dealer must continue to take cards (“hit”) until his total is 17 or greater. An Ace in the dealer’s hand is always counted as 11 if possible without the dealer going over 21. For example, (Ace,8) would be 19 and the dealer would stop drawing cards (“stand”). Also, (Ace,6) is 17 and again the dealer will stand. (Ace,5) is only 16, so the dealer would hit. He will continue to draw cards until the hand’s value is 17 or more. For example, (Ace,5,7) is only 13 so he hits again. (Ace,5,7,5) makes 18 so he would stop (“stand”) at that point.
Request another card. You can request a hit as many times as you like, but if your total goes over twenty-one, you will Bust and lose the hand.
If you have two cards of the same denomination, a Split button will appear. You can split the cards into two hands and play each hand separately. Your original bet will be duplicated for the new hand, and each hand will be played out as usual. The number above the currently active hand will turn yellow. The split option can only be used once per hand — you cannot split part of a split hand.
If you select this option, two things will happen: you will get exactly one more card and then your turn will end, and your bet will be doubled. When you use this option, you are betting more money that you will get a good score with just one more card added to your starting two.
Whenever the dealer’s up-card is an ace, the player has an option of taking insurance. If the player believes that the dealer’s down-card is a 10 ranking card, then the player is permitted to place a side bet of up to half the original wager as insurance. If the dealer does have a 10 ranking card, the player is immediately paid 2-to-1 on the insurance bet, but the original wager is lost unless the player too have blackjack and tie the dealer. Here player is not insuring anything, the player is simply betting that the dealer’s unseen card is a 10 ranking card.
Double Down and Split options will only be available immediately after you receive your first two cards. If the dealer has an ace showing, you will be offered a chance to buy Insurance for half of the amount you bet. When you buy insurance you are, in effect, making a second bet. You are betting that the dealer has a natural blackjack. If the dealer does have a natural blackjack (in other words, his down card is a ten or a face card), you will collect a payoff of 2 to 1 on your insurance. You will also lose your original wager, unless you have a natural blackjack too. If the dealer does not have a natural twenty-one, the rest of the hand is played out as usual and you will lose your insurance money.
How to Play
Blackjack is played on a special half-round table with six to seven spots that serve as the designated betting areas for the players. The game uses a standard deck of 52 cards. All designated cards numbered 2 through 10 are counted at face value. The court, or picture cards all count as 10s, with kings, queens and jacks having no special value. The same is true of the different suits: spades, clubs, hearts and diamonds are not relative to any of the game results. Aces are different from all other cards because they can be counted as either a 1 or 11. The choice of how to count the ace is up to the player, not the dealer. You will also find many casinos that used 2 decks for blackjack, and others who use a box-like device to deal multiple decks of 4, 6 and 8.
The game begins…
You must wager before any cards are dealt out by the dealer. Each player does this by placinghis or her bet in the centre of the designated spot in front of his or her position. The placard on the side of the table will alert you to the minimum and maximum bets for that specific table. The dealer begins by shuffling the cards and one player cuts the deck. The dealer then begins to deal cards from left to right, one card to each player and then one for the dealer. The dealer then deals a second card in turn to each player. Cards can be dealt either face down or face up. In single and double-deck games, they will normally be face down, but anything involving more decks are typically face up.
It is also important to note that one of the dealer’s cards will be turned face up, and the other face down. This is important to you when it comes to make decisions about what action needs to be taken with your hand. After the cards are dealt, each player is given the opportunity to play his hand in turn, starting at the dealer’s left and going around the table from left to right. After all players have acted on their hands, the dealer will play his hand.
Helpful hint: Always look at the two cards that have been dealt to you and then look at the dealer’s up card.
>How to win the game:
Some people think the object of the game is to get 21, or to get closer to 21 than the dealer without “busting,” which means going over 21. This is incorrect! The real objective of the game is to beat the dealer. There are 3 ways in which a player can beat the dealer:
The player receives an ace and a 10-value card for blackjack.
The player gets closer to 21 than the dealer.
The dealer goes over 21 and the player, regardless of what the total is in his hand, does not.
Ever wonder why blackjack is so popular with the masses?
In roulette for instance, the odds against you are pretty standard for every bet on the board, at a somewhat nasty 5.26% house edge. This means the house will win 5.26% more of the bets on the table than they lose. Of course, if you’ve been paying attention at the casino you’ll realize it’s more than this. Say you bet on two columns on the same spin at the roulette table, the odds are you’ll win 24-14. So how is it that the casinos don’t go broke? There is another factor that has to be considered, and it’s called the payoff. The house’s advantage stems from the fact that a payoff for a winning bet is a bit below the odds. Basically, if you bet on two columns in roulette for 12 bucks each (24 bucks total) and win, you get paid $12. But on odds of 24 to 14 the casino should pay back 14 dollars, on an even playing field. The casino knows it can profit properly even against the odds if it matches its payouts appropriately. The casino profits by taking $24 when you lose, but only paying $12 when you win.
Perhaps in an effort to confuse the masses, casinos often evaluate house edge in three or four different styles, each of which corresponds to a term you might find more familiar. There is of course the house edge, and also the return percentage, the vigorish (or vig), and the hold. While they all essentially refer to the same thing, understanding the perspective each phrase is spoken from is helpful. Lets talk about each of these and you will see easily how they relate to blackjack odds.
The house edge is what we call a theoretical number, and is never calculated on real world empirical experiences. It is the theoretical fraction of the overall amount bet that the casinos would keep if every set of decisions were to fall exactly into a statistical row. This is where the roulette example may become clear. As per our two-column roulette table example, in 38 spins the house expects to win 14 rounds at $24 profit each for $336 profit in all; at the same time they expect to lose 24 rounds at $12 a pop, totaling $288 dollars of loss. The total bet is 38 multiplied by $24: $912, while the take is $48 (the difference between the $336 profit and $288 loss). The edge is $48 divided by $912, which equals 5.26%. Keeping in mind that I used the qualifier “expected” for the house, and although 38 rounds may not land 24 wins for the casino, 38 million rounds will net a number that is statistically insignificantly different from 24 million. And of course, there are millions of spins, so the house does indeed rake in its 5.26% edge.
Another theoretical number is the ‘return percentage’ or ‘pay out percentage’ (a familiar term to slots fans). Basically the return percentage is just that, the percentage of the money bet that would be returned to the players, again if everything fell into a perfect statistical row. Return percentages are no mystery to slots fans who know it is simply the compliment of the house edge. This just means that a 95% payout rate means 100 minus 95, or a 5% house edge.
The Vig, or Vigorish, is a slightly different concept these days in casino gambling. The Vig is a fee the casinos charge on certain bets. In some instances the casino applies a vig as a bet is being placed, and therefore it is collected regardless of a win or loss, and other instances like in Baccarat, where a Vig is only charged on a win (the winning banker hand in baccarat).
House hold, or hold percentage, is the real world equivalent (non-theoretical) of the house edge. If the house edge were to hold steady and all events were to go to a statistical T, then the hold and the edge would be equivalent. It can often be confusing though, because for games like a slot machine where there is no variation, the hold is actually the real counterpart of the house edge, it’s simply based on tallies rather than probabilities. At the tables, considering blackjack odds for instance, there is a little more variance in play, which affects the amount of the edge the casinos are actually pulling at any one point in time. The hold takes on a slightly different meaning when it comes to the blackjack table. It is the amount of cash the casino actually keeps out of the total dropped on the table. It is a counted real number, not a theoretical one such as the house edge, but it is directly analogous to the house edge. The variance is caused by variables such as how long players continue to bet from original buy-ins and how big their wagers are relative to bankrolls, etc.
So how does this all relate to our blackjack odds? Well it puts you in the know about house edges around the casino, and lets you see quite clearly how and why blackjack has an obvious advantage for the players, a player-controllable variable house edge. At this point you understand that the goal of any gambler is to effectively reduce the house’s hold during their session at the table. The only way to practically go about this is by altering your playing style so that the predictive house edge will be statistically lower (as that, in turn, will decrease the house’s hold). Players who use perfect basic strategy can reduce the blackjack odds so much they are playing very nearly even with the house. It’s easy to find and play a blackjack game with a house edge of 0.5% or less once you know what to look for and how to play it right. If you don’t know basic strategy, and are just playing on impulse, you’re looking at a house edge of anywhere from 2-5%. Many people are of the opinion that being presented with the same old ‘use basic strategy’ quote is being presented with an absence of tips.
The fact of the matter is, basic strategy is just one big long list of perfect tips, which will always be statistically superior to any other decision you could make in the instance described. So instead of taking on the mindset that ‘basic strategy’ is only for basic play and not the ‘advanced strategy’ you are looking for, understand that each ‘tip’ presented by basic strategy has been worked out ahead of time to be the very best possible statistical decision in that case. This will effectively lower the house edge for your hand, and in turn lower the house’s hold over the game. Play with basic strategy and over the long run you will always win more than if you had played without. This is of course over the long run, and although many people do indeed play with basic strategy decisions, much of the time they won’t double-down when basic strategy suggests it, working on the notion that even if they don’t, they still have a good chance of winning the hand. The catch here is, basic strategy can only really affect the house’s hold if you take advantage of double-down situations to help your profit margins. The extended low edge is next to meaningless if you don’t double down at the right times, because it simply won’t translate into a lower hold for the house (ie, a bigger profit for you).
Single Deck Blackjack Single deck blackjack is usually better than multiple deck blackjack for card counters, basic strategists, and the clueless. Additional decks make busts less likely, since one can draw to hands like 2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2 (for 18) which are improbable/impossible in single deck. Busting less often helps the dealer’s hand more than yours, since the dealer is forced by the rigid rules to hit more often than you. Blackjacks are also less frequent, which is bad since you get paid 3 to 2 for those. All in all, multiple decks will cost a basic strategist nearly 0.5% in advantage, which is more than all but the very best package of favorable extra rules will give you.
Blackjack rules differ slightly from area to area and/or from casino to casino. Therefore, it is important to research what the rules are for the area/casinos you plan on playing in.
Blackjack table seats a dealer and one to seven players. The first seat on the dealer’s left is referred to as First Base, the first seat on the dealer’s right is referred to as Third Base. A betting square is printed on the felt table in front of each player seat. Immediately in front of the dealer is the chip tray. On the dealer’s left is the deck or shoe and beside that should be the minimum bet sign, which you ought to read before sitting down to play. On the dealer’s immediate right is the money drop slotwhere all currency and tips (chips) are deposited. Next to the drop slot is the discard tray. Play begins after the following ritual is completed: the dealer shuffles the cards, the deck is “cut” by a player using the marker card, and the dealer “burns” a card. Before any cards are dealt, the players may make a wager by placing the desired chips (value and number) into the betting box.
Occasionally a player may sit out a hand or two for various reasons. I have sat out a couple of hands at times when the dealer was getting extremely lucky and everyone was losing. If you attempt to sit out too many hands especially if there are people waiting to play at your table, you may be asked to leave the table until you are ready to play.
Once all the bets are down, two cards (one at a time) are dealt from left to right. In many Vegas casinos, players get both cards face down. In Atlantic City and most every where else the player’s cards are dealt face up. Should the cards be dealt face up, don’t make the faux pas of touching them! They are dealt face up for a reason, primarily to prevent a few types of player cheating.
The dealer receives one card down and one card up. The numerical values of the cards are: (10, J, Q, K) = 10 ; (Ace) = 1 or 11 ; (other cards) = face value (3 = 3). Since a casino can be very noisy, hand signals are usually the preferred method of signalling hit, stand, etc.
>If the cards were dealt face down and you want a hit, lightly flick the cards across the felt two times. If the cards were dealt face up, point at the cards with a quick stabbing motion. You may also want to nod your head yes while saying “hit”. The best way to indicate to the dealer that you want to stand regardless of how the cards were dealt is to move your hand from left to right in a level attitude with your palm down. Your hand should be a few inches or so above the table. Nodding your head no at the same time helps, while saying “stay” or “stand”.
Single deck games are pretty much restricted to Nevada casinos. In the casinos that have one-deck games, the tables are usually full. Multiple deck games typically consist of an even number of decks (2, 4, 6, 8) although a few casinos use 5 or 7 decks. There are two main reasons many casinos use multiple decks: They allow the dealer to deal more hands per hour, thereby increasing the casino take, and they reduce (but in no way eliminate) the player advantage gained from card counting.
The rules the dealer must play by are very simple. If the dealer’s hand is 16 or less, he/she must take a card. If the dealer’s hand is 17 or more, he/she must stand. Note that some casinos allow the dealer to hit on soft 17 which gives the house a very small additional advantage. The dealer’s strategy is fixed and what you and the other players have is immaterial to him/her as far as hitting and standing is concerned.
The player can do most anything he/she wants as far as hitting and standing goes. Should a player get a Blackjack (first 2 cards are an Ace and a ten) the payoff is 150% more than the original bet ie, bet $10.00 and the payoff is $15.00. Doubling down is restricted to 2-card hands, usually totalling 9, 10, or 11 although some casinos allow doubling down on any 2-card hand. If your first two cards provide you with the appropriate total and your cards were dealt face down, turn them over and put them on the dealer’s side of the betting square. If your first two cards provide you with the appropriate total and your cards were dealt face up, point to them and say “double” when the dealer prompts you for a card and simultaneously put an equal amount of chips next to (not on top of) those already in the betting box. The dealer will give you one more card only, then he/she will move on to the next hand.
If you have a pair that you want to split and your cards are dealt face down, turn them over and place them a few inches apart. If your cards were dealt face up, point to your cards and say “split” when the dealer prompts you for a card. The original bet will go with one card and you will have to place an equal amount of chips in the betting box near the other card. You are now playing two hands, each as though they were regular hands with the exception being that if you have just split two aces. In that case, you only get one card which will hopefully be a 10. If it is a ten, that hand’s total is now 21 but the hand isn’t considered a Blackjack. That is, you are paid 1:1 and not 1:1.5 as for a natural (Blackjack). Combined example of above two plays: Say you are dealt two fives. You split them. The next card is another 5 and you re-split them. Three hands have grown out of one and you are now in for three times your original bet. But wait. Say the next card is a six. So one hand is a 5,6 which gives you eleven; another just has a 5 and the other hand has a 5. You decide to double down on the first hand. You are dealt a 7 giving 18 which you stand on. Now a ten is dealt for the second hand and you decide to stay at 15. The last hand is the lonely third 5, which is dealt a four for a total of nine. You decide to double down and get an eight giving that hand a total of 17. You started with a twenty dollar bet and now you are in for a hundred! Better hope the dealer doesn’t end up with a hand more than 18 lest you lose a C-note.
It was dangerous to split two fives because you are replacing a hand that is great for drawing on or doubling down on, by what will probably be two poor hands.
Insurance comes into play when the dealer’s up card is an Ace. At this point all the players have two cards. The dealer does not check his/her hole card before asking the players if they want insurance, as the dealer can’t give away the value of the hole card if the dealer doesn’t know what the hole card is. If a player wants insurance, half the original amount bet is placed on the semicircle labeled “insurance” which is printed on the table. If the dealer has a Blackjack the player wins the side bet (the insurance bet) but loses the original bet, thus providing no net loss or gain since insurance pays 2 to 1. If the dealer does not have a Blackjack, the side bet is lost and the hand is played normally. If you are not counting cards, don’t bother with insurance. The proper Basic Strategy play is to decline. The time to take insurance is when the number of non-tens to tens drops below a 2 to 1 margin since insurance pays 2 to 1.
Surrenderis a fairly obscure option that originated in Manila in 1958 and isn’t available in many casinos. There are two versions, “early surrender” and “late surrender”. Early surrender allows players to quit two-card hands after seeing the up card of the dealer. This option provides the player an additional 0.62 percent favorable advantage (significant) and therefore the obvious reason why many Atlantic City casinos abandoned the option in 1982. Late surrender is the same as early except that the player must wait until the dealer checks for a Blackjack. If the dealer does not have a Blackjack then the player may surrender.
Hole Card Rule:
Different Blackjack games may have one of the following hole card rules or none at all.
US Hole Card Rule: After the dealer has dealt the initial cards if the dealer is showing an Ace or a 10 he will check for blackjack. If an Ace is showing then you can buy insurance first. This is an advantage for the player because you either immediately loose to the dealers blackjack or know the dealer doesn’t have blackjack. Immediately loosing means you effectively cut your loses incase you were going to split or double up.
European Hole Card Rule: The dealer only checks on an Ace but otherwise the same as the US Hole card Rule.
Blackjack Betting Systems
Simply put, a betting system is a way of using money management to maximize your profits. No matter what technique or method you use to give yourself an edge at the blackjack table, if you don’t manage your money properly you will probably walk away as a loser.
Card counting and cluster counting, as mentioned elsewhere on this site, includes its own type of betting system. IE: Increase your bet size two to three times your original bet when conditions favor the probability of receiving a winning hand.But what if you are strictly a basic strategy player? Besides the obvious bank roll increases experienced by doubling down and splitting your cards, what method should you use to increase your chances of walking away a winner? Below are 3 betting systems. The first is a common system which I don’t recommend, but I include on this page as it is one which has been recommended by certain, so called ‘blackjack experts’. The last two are systems which are worthwhile to use depending on your starting bankroll.
1.) Cluster Counting Betting System
2.) Martingale Betting System
3.) Progressive Betting System – 2 Level
4.) Progressive Betting System – 5 Level
5.) Basic Strategy
Cluster Counting Betting System
Another method for determining the probability of a higher than normal percentage of high point cards being dealt (which is an edge to the player) is known as cluster counting, or shuffle tracking.
This method is based on the observation that cards tend to “cluster” in certain parts of a multi deck shoe, and that the shuffling of the cards at the conclusion of a shoe can be tracked by a player so that he can determine which portions of the next shoe will be high in player friendly cards. A breakdown of this method follows.
When playing a new shoe make note of the flow of cards while mentally dividing the shoe into sections equal to one deck.
Now you need to observe which portions of each section that are high in Aces and ten-point cards.
Rate each section as being rich or poor in high cards and then make note of how the cards are placed in the discard box.
At the end of each shoe, watch how the dealer shuffles the new shoe. Keep track of where the clusters of high cards are located, and where they will surface in the dealing of the next shoe.
When playing this next shoe, increase your wager when you reach those sections of the shoe that are rich in high point cards, and decrease your wager when the deck is rich in low point cards.
Unfortunately, shuffle tracking is very hard to master, and casinos have taken measures to defeat its effectiveness. Some counter measures used by casinos include using two discard racks, changing the pattern of the shuffle, and by using automated shuffling machines. You may still run across blackjack tables where this method can be used, and if you are willing to practice and learn the technique, it can be effective.
In blackjack, there are ways to greatly increase your odds. One way is to use blackjack systems. There are many systems that the game has for users to learn and use to their advantage; however, most cost money to gain access to. In the following section, we will explain the Matrix System for you. If used properly, this system will be an almost sure-fire method to decrease your chances of losing money in the casino!
The Martingale Betting System
This betting system, which was invented over 200 years ago, instructs the player to double his bet each time he loses, on the assumption that he will eventually win and show a profit from the initial wager.
With a beginning wager of $5.00 you would double your wager with each loss. IE: $5, $10, $20, $40 $80, etc. After a win your wager would drop back to $5.00. All wagers are recovered when you win a hand.
Casinos have table limits to eliminate the effectiveness of this system. After a long losing streak you will eventually hit the table maximum, thus defeating the purpose of this system. Plus, a considerable amount of bankroll is needed to make this system work, and the payoffs simply aren’t worth it. If you started with a $5 dollar wager and lost your first four wagers and won your fifth, (without double downs or splitting your cards) you would be a measly 5 dollars ahead. This is simply not worth it, and if you are losing multiple hands in a row it is time to leave the table, not double your wagers. Also, losing double downs or splits can deplete your bankroll in a big hurry.
Progressive Betting System – 2 Level
This is the simplest betting system to use and still effective. To use this system simply decide on a minimum and maximum bet. Then bet the smaller amount after a loss and the larger amount after a win. For example, say you set your minimum bet at $5 and your maximum at $15. Start with a $5 dollar bet. If you win that hand you bet $15 your next wager. You then continue to bet $15 until you lose. After any loss you return to your minimum bet of $5.
This is a basic, put solid progressive betting system.
Progressive Betting System – 5 Level
This is another simple, yet effective system, based on a 1,2,3,5 back to 1 progression. Example: For a $5 player, the betting levels would be $5,10,15, and 25. With this system you start with your $5 bet and progress to the next level when you win a hand. If you lose a hand you drop back down to your original $5 wager. If you win four hands in a row you should then drop back down to your original $5 wager, hence the 1,2,3,5 back to 1 progression.
Lets take a look at how this works. This system is rewarding when you experience winning streaks but still doesn’t kill you with losing streaks. Lets say you lose your first three hands and then win your next three. Assuming a starting wager of $5 you would be ahead $15 at the end of six hands. If you were betting an equal amount on each had you would be even.
It should be noted that progressive betting systems such as these fail when you experience a win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, type of scenario. In a case like this, you would be better off betting an equal amount on each hand. However, this is the risk you take in your attempt to maximize profits on streaks of 3 wins or more. And in reality it is not as risky as simply using basic strategy and betting an equal amount each hand. The nature of blackjack is such that winning streaks and losing streaks frequently occur, and that is where progressive betting systems maximize your profits.
If the player plays according to the same rules as the dealer (that is, draws to 16 and stands on any total of 17 or greater), then, because the player plays first, the house takes is 8.9%. Given that the dealer must pay 3:2 on blackjack, the house take is reduced to 5.9%. Using Basic, the house stake is shaved down to almost zero.
The table will suggest the most efficient action to take when certain card totals appear. It gives you the choice to either ‘stand’ (do nothing and stay with what you have) ‘hit’ (take another card), ‘double’ (double the size of your initial bet) or ‘split’ (separate the two identical cards dealt to you and create two separate hands).
The basic blackjack strategy is the optimum way to play your hand if you are not counting cards. This strategy is derived by computer simulation where the computer deals out millions of hands, plays them in all possible ways, and then records and analyzes the results. The basic strategy is not based on guesswork or hunches. It is the mathematically correct way to play your hand against every dealer’s upcard.
What does the basic strategy get you?
The casino’s initial edge in the game of blackjack is about 5.75%, which includes the 3 to 2 payoff on player blackjacks. By employing the correct basic strategy plays it is possible to whittle down the casino’s edge to about 0.5%. Initial casino’s edge 5.75%
Correct hitting and standing -3.25%
Correct doubling -1.5%
Correct pair splitting -0.5%
Casino’s edge with basic strategy 0.5%
Of course it’s possible to lower the casino’s edge to less than 0.5% by playing in games that have very favorable rules. One of the best blackjack games is offered at the Slots-A- Fun Casino in Las Vegas. Here they deal a single deck game with the dealer standing on soft 17 and double after pair splitting is allowed. A basic strategy player has in fact a slight edge against the casino (ca. 0.1%) in this game
The basic playing strategy is slightly dependent on the number of decks of cards. Thus the basic strategy for a single deck game is slightly different than a six deck game.
To use the table, go across the top to find the dealer’s upcard and go down the first column and find your hand. Where the row and column intersect you’ll find the correct basic strategy play.