Blackjack is a popular game found in most casinos around the world. It’s a simple game to learn, but you need to know how to find the best games and how to play them the right way to keep the house edge as low as possible.
This list of 10 things you should know about blackjack serves as a guide to help you win more at the blackjack table.
1. The Rules Change the House Edge
The basic rules for blackjack are the same in every game, but the secondary rules vary from game to game. Some of the rules are good for the casino and some help you.
When you look for a blackjack game you should find games that have more rules that are favorable to you than the casino. This lowers the house edge.
Here’s a list of rules that are favorable for you:
- Dealer stands on a soft 17
- Blackjack pays 3 to 2 or better
- Can split aces four times or more
- Can split other pairs four or more times
- Can double after split
- Can double any two cards
- The fewer decks the better
Here’s a list of rules that are favorable for the casino:
- Dealer hits on a soft 17
- Blackjack pays 6 to 5 or worse
- Can split to only two or three hands
- Can only double on totals of nine to 11 or worse
- Can’t double after split
- No surrender
You won’t be able to find games that have all good rules, but games with more good rules than bad ones are available in most casinos and online.
2. Strategy Changes the House Edge
Blackjack is played with one or more standard decks of playing cards. This means that it only uses 52 different cards and because suits don’t matter you only have 13 different card ranks to deal with.
The simplicity of having a set number of cards and ranks means that the best play based on your cards and the dealer’s up card can be calculated for every situation at the table.
Computers have generated the single best play for every situation. This means that every hand you play has a best way to play it. If you play a hand any other way than the single best way you increase the house edge.
The good news is that strategy charts or cards are available for blackjack so you don’t have to figure out the best play.
3. Side Bets Suck
Many blackjack games also offer one or more side bets. Most of these side bets are designed with a higher house edge than the regular blackjack game.
It’s not always easy to figure out if a side bet is a good one or not. Because most side bets are at a higher house edge than the normal game I recommend avoiding all of the side bets.
Some of the popular blackjack side bets are:
- Over / Under 13
- Perfect Pairs
- Bet the Set
- Bonanza Blackjack
- Royal Match
- Royal 20’s
4. Counting Cards Isn’t Illegal
You can learn how to count cards while playing blackjack to change the house edge. By raising your bet when the deck has more high cards than low cards you can even swing the overall edge in your favor.
This isn’t easy to do, but many players have been able to master it and play with a long-term edge.
The casinos don’t want you to count cards and can stop you from playing if they think you’re counting. They want people to think that counting cards is illegal. But card counting isn’t illegal unless you use something other than your mind to do it.
This means that you have to do it in your head, not using a phone or other mechanical or electronic device.
Remember just because it isn’t illegal doesn’t mean the casino has to let you play. Casinos are considered private businesses in most parts of the world and they can refuse service to anyone for any reason.
If you’re playing blackjack and the casino asks you to stop playing don’t argue. Simply gather your chips, cash out, and leave the property.
If you count cards you need to do everything you can to avoid the casinos figuring out what you’re doing. This is called camouflage.
Casinos identify most card counters by watching if they raise their bets when the count is in the player’s favor. Most casinos have people who watch for this and some have computer programs that count to help them identify possible card counters.
In order to make the maximum amount of money from counting you need to be able to bet as much as possible when you have the advantage. But jumping from a small bet to a large one alerts the casino to potential counting.
This means you need to make your bets progressively bigger instead of using big jumps.
Other things that card counters do that give them away are never taking insurance until the count is highly in their favor and jump from game to game often. Counter also change their strategy based on the count and smart casinos know which plays to watch for.
One way to avoid being labeled as a counter is work with one or more other players as a team.
One or more players play and keep the count. They always make small bets and don’t alter their bets. When the count is favorable they secretly alert another team member to join the game. The new player starts making big bets as soon as they start playing but since they don’t vary their bets they don’t look like a counter.
Another way to do this is watch a game and count and not join the game until the count is favorable. Some casinos have put no mid-shoe entry rules in place to keep players from doing this.
6. Never Take Insurance
Insurance is a bad bet unless you count cards and the count is heavily in your favor. Many players look at insurance as a hedge bet that can help them lose less.
But the insurance bet has nothing to do with your hand. It’s simply a bet whether the dealer’s down card is a 10 or face card.
When the dealer has an ace face up they offer the players the chance to make an insurance bet of half their original bet. If the dealer has a 10 value down card the insurance bet pays 2 to 1. This means that you lose your original wager and receive double your insurance bet.
To see why insurance is a bad bet let’s look at the numbers.
If the dealer has a 10 value card you win and if they have any other card you lose. This means that four card ranks win; any 10, jack, queen, or king cards, but any two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, or ace, makes you lose.
This makes a ration of nine to four. Since the insurance bet only pays two to one, this is a bad bet. Nine to four is worse than two to one. Insurance would have to pay 2.25 to 1 for it to be a break-even bet.
7. Never Play with Less Than 3 to 2 Blackjack Pay Outs
It used to be rare to find any blackjack game that paid worse than 3 to 2 for a blackjack. But more and more casinos are offering games that only pay 6 to 5 for blackjacks.
A blackjack game that pays 6 to 5 increases the house edge by 1.39% over one that pays 3 to 2. This is such a large increase that even with many other favorable rules it’s still a bad game.
If the only blackjack games available pay worse than 3 to 2 you should go somewhere else to play or play something else.
A few blackjack variations pay less than 3 to 2 and aren’t terrible games, but they’re called something else and have different rules and strategies. Spanish 21 is a variation that can offer a low house edge, but it uses a special deck and many different rules than traditional blackjack. It also requires a different strategy than regular blackjack.
8. The Dealer Can Be Your Friend
It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally you may play at a table with a dealer who does things to help you. I’m not talking about help with the rules or even the dealers who try to tell you how to play your hands.
The most common way a dealer can help you is when they have an ace and check their down card. Most casinos don’t have their dealers check their down cards before offering insurance, but some still do.
When a dealer checks their down card and offers insurance, pay attention to how they offer insurance. A dealer might offer it quickly and move around the table at a fast pace when they don’t have a blackjack and pause longer when they offer insurance when they have a 10 value down card.
This is something that can get a dealer in trouble or fired, but if you pay close attention you may be able to pick up on it. When you find a dealer that has a tell like this when they offer insurance you can learn when to take the bet.
If you find one of these dealers make sure to tip them a little extra for the help. Just don’t tip them extra on the insurance hand. Do it a few hands later so you don’t raise suspicion.
9. Low House Edge Doesn’t Mean Low Bankroll
When you play blackjack games with good rules and use the best strategy you can often play with a house edge of less than a half percent. This makes it one of the best games offered by the casino.
But just because you’re playing with a low house edge doesn’t mean you can play with a small bankroll.
Most gambling games, including blackjack, have a great deal of short-term variance. This means that in the short term you can win or lose no matter what the house edge is.
Because of this, you need to have a bankroll large enough to ride out the short-term variance. Even with a small house edge of a half percent or lower, you’re going to lose in the long run. But you can lose a great deal more when you hit a streak of poor results.
Even card counters who can play with a long-term edge have losing streaks. You need to make sure your bankroll is big enough to ride out any negative short-term runs.
10. Get Comped
When you play a low house edge game like blackjack it helps if you have more winning sessions than other games. But in the long run, the house edge always works the way it’s supposed to. But you can do things to help offset your losses.
You’ve learned about many of these things on this page. But one of the best ways to help offset your long-term losses is to sign up for the player’s club and receive comps for your play.
Casino player’s clubs give you back a percentage of your play. Often these comps are in the form of free meals but you can also earn free rooms, free flights, cash back, show tickets, and other rewards from some clubs.
The bottom line is anything you get in return for your play reduces the amount of money you need to spend on something else. This isn’t exactly the same as winning more, but it is the same as losing less.
The only reason you might not want to sign up for the player’s club is if you count cards and don’t want the casino to have your contact information. But this is another way that some casinos identify card counters.
If you make big bets and don’t have a player’s club card it can raise a red flag. It’s up to you whether or not you want to sign up for the player’ club if you count cards. But in most cases, it’s probably a good idea to sign up.
This is against the club rules and may be illegal in some areas so do this at your own risk. But one option is to get a friend or family member to sign up for the club and you can use their card for comps.
The 10 things you should know about blackjack on this page can be used by anyone who plays blackjack in a casino. Most of them are helpful to online players as well.
Always look for games with good rules and make sure to use the best strategy. Consider learning how to count cards if you want to try to turn the tables on the casino. And finally, always get comps for your play.