Most people have already heard that blackjack is the best game in the casino, odds-wise. You might even believe that if you follow the right strategy, you can get a mathematical edge over the house. This isn’t true, but you CAN get the house edge at blackjack low enough that it might seem that way.
In this post, I explain – in detail – how to increase your chances of winning at blackjack.
Learn the Rules Before Sitting Down to Play
All the basic blackjack strategy and card counting skill in the world won’t increase your chances of winning unless you already understand how to play.
Here’s the thing:
If you make mistakes, some of them will cost you money.
When I first learned to play blackjack, I ignored things like doubling down and splitting because I didn’t understand the rules for those. By leaving those out of my game, I lowered my chances of winning dramatically.
Luckily, you don’t have many options to understand.
When you’re playing blackjack, here are the only actions you can take:
- Double down
Everyone knows that to hit is to take another card.
Everyone also knows that to stand is to refrain from taking any more cards.
Doubling down is like hitting, but you double the size of your bet. You also agree to take one more card and then stand – that’s part and parcel of doubling down.
Splitting might be the most complicated move you can make, and it’s not the easiest thing to describe in text. It’s easier to understand once you’ve already done it in a real game.
Nonetheless, I’ll explain splitting.
Each of the 2 cards in your original hand becomes the first card in each of your 2 new hands.
That’s about all there is to splitting.
Finally, surrendering is like folding in a poker game. Only in blackjack, you only give up half your bet. Surrender is rarely the correct move.
Master Basic Strategy
Unlike some games, blackjack has been “solved.” We know the correct play to make in every possible situation. It’s just basic math.
You have no room for hunches or guesses in a game of blackjack.
The correct move is always the move that has the best expected value for the player.
You have 2 pieces of information in every blackjack hand:
- You know one of the dealer’s cards – it’s face-up.
- You know which 2 cards you have and what their total is.
There’s a mathematically optimal way to play every total versus every dealer face-up card.
Basic strategy encapsulates all those possible moves into a simple chart where your total is listed on one side and the dealer’s up-card is listed along the top. Cross-reference the 2 pieces of data, and the table tells you what the best move is.
You shouldn’t rely on a basic strategy table forever, though – you should memorize the right play in every situation.
But you could play with a basic strategy chart every time, if you wanted to. The casinos don’t mind.
After all, even with basic strategy, you’re at a mathematical disadvantage.
Find the Games With the Best Odds of Winning
Different casinos have different blackjack variants with different rules in place. The biggest rules change to look for is the payout for a blackjack.
A “blackjack” is a 2-card hand totaling 21 – it’s always a hand made up of an ace and a card worth 10 points.
In most casinos, a blackjack pays off at 3 to 2 odds.
This means if you bet $100 and get a blackjack, you get $150 in winnings.
But in some casinos – at some tables – blackjack only pays off at 6 to 5 odds.
This means if you bet $100 and get a blackjack, you get $120 in winnings.
Some casinos even take advantage of the mathematically illiterate by acting like they’re doing you a favor with the 6 to 5 payout.
Since 6 is a bigger number than 3, it sounds like a 6 to 5 payout is better than a 3 to 2 payout.
Of course, this ignores the fact that this is a ratio.
Avoid Side Bets at All Costs
All blackjack games feature a side bet called insurance. You should never take insurance unless you’re counting cards and know that it’s the mathematically optimal move at that point in the game.
How does insurance work?
When the dealer has an ace as her face-up card, you can place a side bet the size of half your original bet. This side bet wins 2 to 1 if the dealer has a 10 in the hole.
Of course, if the dealer has a 10 in the hole, you lose your main bet, so the insurance bet acts as a hedge against losing in this situation.
The problem with the insurance bet is that it’s a hugely negative expectation proposition.
Sure, there are more 10s in the deck than anything else, but the other cards still outnumber the 10s by a statistically significant margin.
If you’re counting cards, you might know when the deck has gotten lopsided enough for insurance to make sense mathematically.
But otherwise, just skip insurance.
You can also safely skip any other unusual side bet that the casino is offering. The house edge on those side bets is always high – especially compared to the house edge for the blackjack game itself.
Learn How to Count Cards
So far, all the advice I’ve offered will reduce the house’s edge to its lowest possible number.
That still won’t give you a mathematical edge over the casino.
To do that, you’ll need at least one advantage gambling technique.
Counting cards is the traditional advantage gambling technique used in blackjack. It involves keeping rough track of the ratio of high cards to low cards in the deck.
Since a blackjack is made up of high cards – 10s and aces – if the deck has more 10s and aces in it than lower value cards, you have a higher probability of getting that blackjack.
This can be as simple as mentally subtracting 1 from the count every time you see an ace or a 10 and adding 1 to the count every time you see a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.
You raise the size of your bet to correspond with how positive the count is.
You also adjust the count based on how many decks are being used.
Keep in mind, though, that casinos consider card counting cheating. It’s not illegal, but casinos sometimes back players off the blackjack table or even ban card counters from the casino altogether.
And always start the count over when the deck gets reshuffled.
If you’re playing in a blackjack game with a continuous shuffling machine, you can’t get an edge by counting cards anyway, so don’t even try.
Practice Playing at Home
If you’re serious about playing blackjack in a casino, you should practice at home – ESPECIALLY if you’re planning to count cards.
How you practice is up to you but be deliberate about it.
You can find plenty of blackjack software tools that will help you practice basic strategy and card counting techniques.
You can also enlist the aid of a friend and play practice hands with a real deck of cards at the kitchen table.
And most online casinos offer free, play-money, blackjack games where you can play for free and test your skills. Most of the time, at least when dealing with a reputable online casino, you face the same odds and probabilities you’d see at a casino with a real deck of cards.
Try Online Blackjack Games
I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll refrain from offering legal advice about playing blackjack for real money online. Suffice it to say that I trust you to analyze legalities and risk levels when gambling online for yourself and making an appropriate decision.
If you decide you’re comfortable with the risk or that it’s legal where you live to do so, give online blackjack a try. You can get in twice as many hands per hour as you’d see playing in a brick and mortar casino.
And sometimes online casinos offer better games with better odds than traditional brick and mortar casinos – especially if you’re playing for low stakes.
How do you increase your chances of winning at blackjack?
Start by learning the rules and follow that up with learning basic strategy. Don’t settle for games with rules that aren’t acceptable, like 6/5 blackjack games.
Finally, if you want to take it to the next level, learn how to count cards.
Increasing your chances of winning at blackjack is easy, but it does take some work.