21 Surprising Facts about Blackjack


Most people think they know all about blackjack already. Some of them are right, but many of them might be surprised by some of the things they don’t know.

In this post, I list 21 surprising facts about blackjack. If you knew all of them before reading this post, congratulations—you’re already a blackjack expert.

1- Blackjack Is the Best Game in the Casino

Blackjack offers more mental stimulation than most games because you must make decisions about how to play your hands. If you get good at making the right decisions, you can keep the house edge lower than almost any other game in the casino.

The house edge represents how much of an advantage the casino has over you. Games like slot machines might have a house edge of almost 10%. Roulette has a house edge of 5.26%. The best bets at the craps table have a house edge of 1.41%.

But if you learn how to play blackjack correctly, you’ll face a game with a house edge of less than 1%.

2- The Casino Makes More Money on Blackjack than the House Edge You Always Hear Stated

Many people know that blackjack has a house edge of between 0.5% and 1%.

But if you look at the publicly available statistics for how much money people gamble on blackjack in a casino and compare it with how much money is lost at blackjack, and you’ll see that the actual winnings are closer to 4% or 5%.

That’s because most of the players at the blackjack tables are making bad decisions repeatedly. Memorize basic strategy and follow it, and you’ll do better than most of these other players who are inflating the casinos’ winnings.

3- Some Blackjack Games Are WAY Better than Others

The rules for blackjack games vary from casino to casino and from table to table within a casino. Some of these rules differences have a minor effect on the math behind the game, but some of them make a huge difference.

Here’s one example:

Many casinos offer blackjack where a “natural” pays off at 6 to 5 instead of 3 to 2. This small, innocent-seeming change, adds 1.39% to the casino’s edge.

A natural is a 2-card hand totaling 21. It’s also called a blackjack, and it’s hugely important.

A 6 to 5 payout on such a hand means that someone betting $100 will win $120 if he gets a natural. In a standard game, the 3 to 2 payout on a $100 bet would result in $150 in winnings.

4- Card Counting Is Completely Legal

The casinos would love for you to believe that it’s against the law to count cards in blackjack.

But that’s just not the case.

Think about it.

How could it be illegal to think carefully about the game you’re playing?

That would just be crazy.

If you use some type of external device to help you with this process, you’re cheating, and that’s illegal.

But just counting cards, in and of itself, isn’t illegal anywhere I know of.

Casinos can and do sometimes ban customers if they suspect them of counting cards. That doesn’t mean it’s illegal. It just means the casinos are afraid of you winning.

5- Basic Strategy Is Easy to Memorize

You might think that it’s too much trouble or too hard to learn the correct play in every blackjack situation.

But the basic strategy is a lot easier to memorize than most people think. If you use a color-coded chart, and you’re a visual learner, you can learn basic strategy in no time.

On the other hand, if you learn differently, you can find plenty of posts on this site and others explaining blackjack basic strategy as a series of paragraphs with rules for how to play each total.

6- You Can’t Get an Edge by Just Using the Correct Basic Strategy

I always laugh at Clark Griswold in Vegas Vacation when he’s explaining to his son that just by playing with a perfect basic strategy you can get an edge over the casino. That’s not true.

With perfect strategy, you can reduce the house edge in blackjack to the lowest possible number. But the house still has an edge.

You need another advantage tactic ON TOP OF basic strategy to get a mathematical edge over the casino.

7- There Are Other Ways to Get an Edge at Blackjack than Card Counting

Most people who think of professional blackjack players think of card counters. But counting cards is not the only strategy people use to get a mathematical edge over the casino.

Shuffle tracking is another advantage technique commonly used by blackjack pros. Hole carding is another advantage technique that helps players get an edge over the casino when playing 21.

Some advantage gamblers probably have strategies that haven’t been revealed to the general public yet, too. I don’t know what those would be, but I’d bet money they exist.

8- What the Other Players Do Doesn’t Affect Your Chances of Winning

This is a common myth. People think that when another blackjack player at the table makes a mistake, like hitting when he should have stood, he messed things up for the entire table.

In fact, when such a player hits and gets a 10 that would have busted the dealer, it’s easy to fall prey to this fallacy.

The reality, though, is that one player’s mistakes have no effect on your edge in blackjack. It just doesn’t make a difference, mathematically.

9- Blackjack Is the Most Popular Table Game in the Casino

At one time, roulette was the #1 earner in the casino. Craps eventually caught up with roulette and overtook it.

But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Edward Thorp and other advantage players went public with some of their techniques for getting an edge over the casino by counting cards.

This stimulated interest in the game.

Most players didn’t develop the skill-set necessary to win at blackjack in the long run. The casinos’ paranoia was probably unnecessary.

At any rate, blackjack is still more popular than any other table game in the casino, even though it’s a distant 2nd to slots in terms of revenue generated.

10- But Blackjack Is Still Way Less Popular than Slot Machines

When I first started writing about casinos and gambling 10 or 15 years ago, the oft-quoted statistic was this:

Slot machines make up 65% or 70% of the casinos’ revenue.

I’ve read more recent materials that suggest it’s worse than that, though.

I’ve seen estimates that 80% of a casino’s revenue is generated by the slot machines.

I believe that statistic, too.

11- The Dealer Doesn’t Affect Your Chances of Winning

Some people think that the dealer has some kind of control over whether you win or lose.

This isn’t true.

A deck of cards is random. It’s unimaginable that a blackjack dealer would use card mechanic techniques to chat players.

That’s not even necessary, in fact.

Dealers can, however, thwart card counters in a simple way. The dealer gets to decide when and how often to shuffle the deck. If the counter starts shuffling the deck more often, she eliminates the edge that you might have gotten by counting.

12- Most Blackjack Dealers Give Lousy Strategy Advice

One piece of blackjack advice you’ll hear consistently from almost every blackjack dealer is that you should take insurance when it’s offered.

That’s an example of lousy advice that the casino has instructed the dealer to give you.

Insurance is a sucker bet, and I’ll explain why in my next bullet point.

But that’s not the only bad advice you’ll get from a blackjack dealer. Sure, some blackjack dealers understand basics strategy, but not all of them do.

I have a friend who used to deal blackjack at the Winstar. She’s a sweet lady, but she still operates under the assumption that one player can screw everything up for all the other players.

13- Insurance Is an Awful Bet, Unless You’re Counting Cards

Here’s how insurance works in blackjack:

If the dealer has an ace showing as her up card, you have the option to “take insurance.” This is actually a side bet that’s only allowed in this situation. The amount on this side bet is specific, too—it must be half the size of your original bet.

Insurance pays off at 2 to 1 if the dealer has a 10 in the hole.

Since you’ll lose your original bet, the 2 to 1 payoff on insurance means that you’ll break even in this situation.

But insurance is still a negative expectation bet. There just aren’t enough 10s in the deck to make insurance a positive expectation wager in this situation.

If you’re counting cards, though, you’ll know when the deck has a higher than usual percentage of 10s left in it. Sometimes insurance will be a +EV bet in that situation, but that’s also a big clue to the casino that you’re counting cards.

14- Not All Blackjack Books Offer Good Advice

I love to go to printed books for advice about how to play casino games. And I’ve read a lot of good ones:

  • Sklansky Talks Blackjack by David Sklansky
  • The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book by Lance Humble
  • Play Blackjack Like the Pros by Kevin Blackwood

But not every book that gets published is worth reading.

One example is John Patrick’s Blackjack. The author’s gambling advice is so awful that many people think he’s just a shill for the casinos.

The correct basic strategy for playing blackjack isn’t a new thing. You can find the right way to play the game in almost any good book on the subject, and basic strategy is available on countless websites, too.

How’s it possible that a book like John Patrick’s Blackjack can include at least a dozen basic strategy mistakes?

15- Losing Streaks Can Be Far Worse Than You Ever Thought Possible

A lot of people think it’s next to impossible to lose 7 or 8 hands of blackjack in a row.

The truth is, long losing streaks (and long winning streaks) are both not only possible, but likely.

That’s part of why the casino can stay in business. If people weren’t able to walk away a winner, they wouldn’t play.

So the game must have enough randomness to allow people the chance to hit long winning streaks.

And any game with long winning streaks must also be random enough for long losing streaks, too.

16- Most of the Other Players at the Table Don’t Know What They’re Doing

Remember earlier how I mentioned that blackjack is, in effect, a game with a 4% or 5% edge for the casino?

That’s because most of the players at the table don’t know basic strategy. Some players know basic strategy but ignore it in favor of hunches.

Either way, if they knew what they were doing, the casinos’ hold percentage for blackjack would be a lot closer to the mathematical expectation.

17- Home Blackjack Can Be Surprisingly Fun

Playing blackjack at home isn’t as common as it used to be, but if you host a home poker game, you might give it a try to see what your poker buddies think about it.

The rules for home blackjack games are significantly different from what you’ll find in the casino, too. That’s because one of the players must take the role of the dealer (and banker). This changes the limits that can possibly be played for.

One of the big differences between casino blackjack and home blackjack is that the dealer in a home blackjack game can decide how he’s going to play his hand. He doesn’t have to follow a casino’s instructions for how to play various totals like a professional dealer would have to.

18- Your Goal Isn’t Really to Get as Close as You Can to 21 without Going Over

Your goal is to beat the dealer.

Many times, if the dealer has what looks to be a “stiff hand,” your best strategy is to stand on a hand that you would try to hit if you were solely focused on getting as close as you can to 21 without going over.

In those cases, your goal is to stand so that you don’t bust. You’re then hoping that the dealer will bust.

The correct play in every situation is determined by basic strategy.

19- Betting Systems Don’t Work in Blackjack

Some people try to use betting systems like the Martingale System in blackjack. They don’t work.

In the Martingale System, you double your bet after a loss. You continue to double the size of your bet until you eventually see a win.

The Martingale System underestimates the likelihood of a long losing streak. Also, you’ll often need to make large bets with the hope of recovering your losses.

And chasing your losses is always a bad idea.

Other betting systems involve raising or lowering your bets based on wins or losses on previous hands. Their goal is the game. They want to capitalize on a losing or winning streak.

It can’t be done, because you can’t predict a winning or a losing streak or when it begins or ends.

Card counting, by the way, isn’t a betting system. It’s a legitimate advantage strategy that takes advantage of the changing composition of the deck.

20- The Basic Strategy Changes Based on the Rules Conditions in Place

Most basic strategy decisions are the same from one game to another, but some of these decisions change based on the situation.

For example, the basic strategy for a game with a single deck is often slightly different from the basic strategy for a game being dealt from 8 decks.

You can find customizable basic strategy charts where you can input the game conditions to get an accurate chart at any number of sites.

21-The Money You Win at Blackjack Is Taxable Income

Some people don’t realize this, but if you win money gambling, that’s considered taxable income. In fact, if you win enough money, the casino is required to report your winnings to the IRS.

The implication of this is clear, though:

If you can be taxed on your blackjack winnings, you can also count your losses as expenses.

This is one of the reasons I always suggest gamblers should keep careful records of their gambling activities.


Blackjack looks like it will continue to be the most popular table in American casinos for a long time to come. This is for the best, as it’s a great game with a better chance for a player to win than most.

The trick is becoming a real expert at blackjack. If any of the facts in this post surprised you, don’t stress out about it. Maybe you’re just not as much of an expert as you thought you were.

Then again, if this was all old hat to you, you might have something to teach me.

I’m ready to learn.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.