The True Secrets of Blackjack Revealed

Blackjack Table with Ace of Spades and Wild Bill Picture
The most mysterious thing about blackjack is why anyone would bother splitting 10s. Reams of advice, both good and bad, have been written on the topic. The most experienced gambler will solemnly tell new players not to do this but gladly talk about the time they did it and won.

Everyone learns from experience. Experience is a hard mistress to please, because she walks you through every rookie mistake you can find. The best blackjack secret is to learn from others’ mistakes.

It wouldn’t be gambling if you never took a risk. When you play enough blackjack, you become confident in your ability. It’s a game requiring skill as well as luck.

Although gambling writers love to talk about the house edge, that doesn’t always save the house. It’s the occasional story about someone who cleans out a casino that gives everyone hope of beating the odds.

Players and casinos have a love-hate relationship. That’s especially true in blackjack, where advantage players have forced changes in house rules around the world.

And with all their computers and experts and centuries of experience, the casinos should have a tight grip on the odds in blackjack.

That’s not always the case. The cards are cruel to both sides of the table. It’s up to the player to leverage that cruelty at the right time.

Is There Such a Thing as “Perfect Blackjack?”

Before you start counting cards, you need to play a lot of blackjack. You need to understand the rules of the game so thoroughly you don’t need to stop and think about what to do next.

People count cards because they want an advantage over the house. The house rules make winning a difficult challenge in the long run. When you’re dealt an ace and king, you have a good hand. When you’re dealt two 10s, you must make a good decision.

The truth about splitting 10s is that sometimes you do want to split them. The difference between recognizing an opportunity and making a mistake comes down to experience.

One of my favorite stories about blackjack is how Don Johnson broke the bank at three casinos. You can read the full story in this April 2012 article from The Atlantic.

One line from the article sticks in my mind every time I read it, “Tony Rodio, who succeeded [Mark] Giannantonio as the Trop’s CEO, says, ‘He plays perfect cards.’”

If you’re not familiar with Johnson’s story, you should read it. The article says the casinos tried to catch him counting cards. He wasn’t.

Johnson doesn’t need to count cards because he knows the game inside out. He also knew the casinos would take extraordinary risks to court a whale.

Johnson’s exploits in Atlantic City are legendary, but they prove that the need to count cards is a myth. That should give everyone hope because the casinos do whatever they legally can to ruin card counters’ advantage.

One of the Most Famous Blackjack Hands Came From Poker

Do you know what a “dead man’s hand” is? The dead man’s hand is a pair of aces and a pair of 8s. Some casinos offer a dead man’s hand style of blackjack. The rules might change a little from venue to venue, but they follow the same pattern.

The player makes two wagers, the regular bet on his hand and the dead man’s wager. To win the dead man’s wager, the player must be dealt a pair of aces or 8s as their first two cards. They lose if that doesn’t happen. But if the player gets a pair, the wager is still live.

To win the bonus bet, the player needs a dead man’s hand. The wager pays extra if the dealer ends with a blackjack. If the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack, the player has the option of splitting one pair to win extra.

The funny thing about the dead man’s hand is that it came from poker. Wild Bill Hickok was a famous lawman, gun fighter, and gambler in the Old West.

Wild Bill Hickok

One of Wild Bill’s rules in life was to “never sit with your back to the door.” He was usually very strict about that. He had a favorite seat at every poker table, one where he could see everything in the room.

In 1876, Hickok found himself in a mining camp called Deadwood in South Dakota. He spent some of his time playing poker at Nuttal and Mann’s #10 Saloon. On the night of August 1st, 1876 Hickok played against a man named John McCall.

Stories about the incident say McCall was so drunk he lost his money quickly. Hickok was generous enough to give McCall enough money to pay for a meal. McCall was insulted but took the money.

The next night, Hickok returned to the saloon to play poker again. This time, his favorite seat was occupied. After hesitating for a short time, Hickok reluctantly took the only seat left, with his back to the door.

McCall was nearby, quite drunk and nursing a grudge. He walked up to Bill and shot him in the back of the head. Hickok fell dead to the floor. He had been holding a pair of aces and a pair of 8s in his hand.

And that is how the two pair came to be known as a “dead man’s hand.” If the name can cross from poker to blackjack, it can cross over to any other game, too. Go fish!

Is Free Online Blackjack a Reliable Way to Learn Card Counting?

It’s become standard advice for gambling sites to advise their readers to practice playing games at online casinos before entering land-based operations.

That’s a reasonable suggestion for anyone who wants to play a casino-style game. It’s also beneficial for the online casinos because they can try to entice the players to sign up and play for real money.

Online Blackjack Screenshot

But how much can an online player learn about counting cards? Good card counting demands three conditions be met.

  1. The player must know the rules of the game thoroughly
  2. The player must know how to count cards quickly
  3. Counting starts over every time the shoe is changed or reshuffled

If you play enough blackjack, you should learn the rules. But as someone who has played online blackjack, I found myself paying less attention to studying the nuances of the game. It helps to have a strategy card or book open beside the computer.

Online games are okay for practicing the count, but the game uses random numbers to draw the cards. That means you’re not really playing from a shoe. You’re going through the motions of counting the cards.

It’s good to practice how to count, but your count won’t mean anything in an online game unless the game tells you it’s using a virtual shoe and deck.

In other words, playing free online blackjack will only take you so far in learning to count cards. Sooner or later, you’ll have to practice in a live casino. But a live dealer online casino might be good enough.


The player’s advantage in every game begins with knowing the nuances of the game. In blackjack, those nuances become most apparent when an edge hand, like a pair, is dealt.

Like the old song says, you need to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. That’s a poker reference that works just as well in other games, including blackjack.

I’m not sure everyone can become the next Don Johnson by merely practicing the game. I think the man’s brain is hardwired to play perfect blackjack. He may not have been born that way, but he played blackjack most of his life.

Guys like Bill Hickok might not have thought much of fancy modern casinos. He probably would have stayed with poker. But I imagine him smiling in a bittersweet pride every time a dead man’s hand is dealt.

He’ll never be forgotten because of his exploits in life, but he’ll always be remembered for how he died with a pair of aces and a pair of 8s in hand. You could definitely do a lot worse than that in blackjack!