Out of all the casino games ever invented, blackjack might just offer the deepest well of instructional material from which players can study.
Basic strategy charts can be bought for a few bucks in any casino gift shop, and tons of experts have written books covering multiple aspects of blackjack strategy.
With such a wealth of knowledge already available to the gambling public, what secrets could blackjack possibly still hold?
Well, if you’re like the vast majority of recreational casino game players out there, blackjack has plenty of secrets up its proverbial sleeve. While most players can recite rules of the road like “always split aces and 8s” or “double down on every 11,” blackjack’s configurable rules and evolution throughout history combine to create one of the most complex casino games ever devised.
Don’t take my word for it, though; just take a look at the list of six amazing blackjack secrets nobody tells you about to see for yourself.
1 – Card Counting Isn’t Really a Crime
Ever since Edward Thorp’s seminal studies were published within “Beat the Dealer,” sharp gamblers have known that tracking exposed cards throughout a blackjack session lends the player a distinct advantage.
Thorp’s method of “counting” the cards was codified in the Ten Count system, and over five decades since, dozens of different alternatives have been devised. Of course, casinos aren’t known for spreading action that allows the player to enjoy any sort of edge, so they soon responded with countermeasures designed to eradicate counters.
But even as these wrinkles in the rules worked wonders in discouraging recreational players from counting, a few experts still used their memory and math skills to terrorize the tables.
One of those experts was Ken Uston, a legendary advantage play gambler who fought valiantly to preserve the rights of card counters everywhere during the 1980s.
After suffering massive losses to Uston and his team of card counters, Atlantic City casinos owned by Resorts International elected to nip the problem in the bud by banning the advantage players altogether. Uston appealed his ban to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission (NJCCC), and the subsequent case — Uston v. Resorts International Hotel Inc., 445 A.2d 370 (N.J. 1982) — wound up reaching the New Jersey Supreme Court.
After examining the Garden State’s gambling regulations, along with Uston’s conduct, the Court issued a decisive 5-0 ruling defending his right to count cards. The following is a direct quote from the court proceeding:
“In sum, absent a valid Commission regulation excluding card counters, respondent Uston will be free to employ his card-counting strategy at Resorts’ blackjack tables.
There is currently no Commission rule banning Uston, and Resorts has no authority to exclude him for card counting. However, it is not clear whether the Commission would have adopted regulations involving card counters had it known that Resorts could not exclude Uston.
The Court therefore continues the temporary order banning Uston from Resorts’ blackjack tables for 90 days from the date of this opinion. After that time, respondent is free to play blackjack at Resorts’ casino absent a valid Commission rule excluding him.”
Uston wasn’t surprised, though, as he had previously told People magazine that advantage play was a Constitutionally protected right.
“Barring me for winning is like the major leagues saying they won’t play ball with anyone but minor league players.
Somebody has got to show these guys that it’s not unconstitutional to win.”
The precedent established by Uston’s quest remains in place today, so while casinos can “frown” on counting cards, they can’t ban players or withhold winnings.
2 – Single-Deck Blackjack Isn’t Extinct
If you prefer to play blackjack the old-fashioned way, using a single deck of 52 cards shuffled after every three or four hands, modern progress hasn’t been your friend.
Corporate casinos with no shame about tilting the blackjack odds and house advantage even further in their favor largely rely on six- and eight-deck shoes to discourage would-be card counters. As a result, most blackjack tables in Las Vegas — or any casino industry in the country, for that matter — will use multiple-deck shoes.
But that doesn’t mean single-deck games, which offer a much lower house edge of only 0.17% for basic strategy players, have disappeared entirely.
The list below highlights Las Vegas casinos where single-deck blackjack can still be found, along with the number of tables at each venue.
|Las Vegas Casinos with Single-Deck Blackjack Tables|
|CASINO||NUMBER OF TABLES|
|Main Street Station||2|
|Santa Fe Station||2|
|SLS Las Vegas||4|
3 – Online Blackjack Doesn’t Have to Be Digitized
By now, everybody knows you can hop on the internet and risk real money gambling via online casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks.
But while the bulk of these online venues transform your favorite table games into pixels and animated graphics, a few go the extra mile.
Using a dedicated casino studio, live dealer blackjack connects players on their laptop or smartphone straight to human dealers working with genuine tables and cards.
It’s not quite the same as experiencing the sights and sounds of Sin City, but live dealer blackjack definitely beats the sterile digital alternative.
4 – Blackjack Can Be Played in Tournament Form Just Like Poker
The poker boom may have petered out a decade ago, but tournaments still captivate the average gambler’s imagination.
Believe it or not, blackjack tournaments are an increasingly popular niche that appeals to a certain subset of players.
You can see how blackjack tournaments work in the clip below from the now-defunct World Series of Blackjack (WSOP):
Once you learn the ropes, inquire with your favorite casino operator to find out if their properties run weekly or monthly blackjack tournaments.
5 – Casinos Will Gladly Teach Gamblers How to Play
If you’re not quite comfortable playing for real money just yet, don’t hesitate to take the casinos up on their offer to teach you blackjack free of charge.
The following Las Vegas casinos offer daily blackjack lessons that don’t cost a penny:
- Circus Circus: 10:30 a.m. – Daily
- Excalibur: 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. – Daily
- Golden Nugget: 12:00 p.m. – Daily
- Luxor: 12:00 p.m. – Daily
- Palazzo Venetian: 11:30 a.m. – Monday through Friday
6 – Surrendering Doesn’t Have to Be a Sucker Play
Every so often, you’ll see a fellow player get the dealer’s attention, slide their cards forward, and take back half their bet.
This curious maneuver is known as the “Surrender” blackjack play, and it’s a much-maligned move amongst self-styled blackjack experts.
Here’s how it works.
When the dealer shows a 10-value or an ace as their up card, they’ll scan their down card to see if they have blackjack. When they don’t make a natural 21, players can let the dealer know they’d like to surrender, or forfeit the hand right then and there in exchange for exactly half of their bet being returned.
Betting $10 only to send $5 of it directly to the house without a fight puts many players off, so plenty of people have sworn surrendering off altogether.
But as you can see in the table below, which outlines win and loss probabilities when you hold a hard 15 against a 10, surrendering is actually the best option available.
|Win & Loss Probabilities When Holding 15 Against 10|
|ACTION||WIN RATE||LOSS RATE||AVG. LOSS (PER $100 BET)|
|Surrender||50% of bet||50% of bet||$50.00|
Sitting on a hard 15 against a 10 is one of the worst situations in blackjack, as hitting and standing both leave little room for success. Thus, taking the path of least resistance and surrendering leads to the lowest expected loss rate.
Along with hard 15 vs. 10, you should also surrender with a hard 16* vs. 9, 10, or ace.
Blackjack holds its best secrets close to the vest, as this list of obscure revelations makes clear. Nonetheless, once you’ve gained access to these invaluable insights, you can take your 21 game to the next level.
Loopholes in the rules, seldom used strategies, and wider knowledge of blackjack law are all essential skills wielded by experts.