Blackjack and craps are my two favorite casino games. When I’m asked which game I recommend to casino gamblers, I always point them to real money blackjack.
This post explains why I do that. Why is blackjack the best casino game of them all?
Blackjack Is Easy to Understand and Play
Anyone who knows anything about casino game design knows that one of the challenges of creating a new casino game is making the game simple enough that the average gamblers can understand how to play in just a few minutes.
Few games have accomplished this better than blackjack. The rules are dead simple, you get two cards. They’re worth the amount on the face of the card, with the jack, queen, and king worth 10 points each. Aces are worth 1 or 11, whichever is better.
You want to get a higher total than the dealer, but you also want to keep your total to 21 or lower. Any total of 22 or higher is a losing hand.
You play your hand first, deciding when to take additional cards and when to stand on your total. The casino plays their hand next, and they do so according to a prescribed set of strategies. They usually have to hit any total of 16 or lower, and they have to stand on any 17 or higher.
If your total is higher than the dealer’s, OR if you’re still in the game when the dealer busts, you win even money.
And when you get a card worth 10 with an ace, you get a blackjack, which pays off at 3:2. You have some other options, but they’re mostly just variations of hitting and standing.
The basics are so simple that a second-grader can learn how to play.
Blackjack Has the Lowest House Edge in the Casino
One way to compare casino games is by looking at the house edge for each game. This is the amount the casino expects to win from each bet expressed as a percentage. It’s based on comparing the odds of winning to the payout odds for that bet.
The house edge is a long-term expected win. The less time you spend playing, the more likely you are to see results different from the mathematical prediction. (Casino games are still random.)
The longer you play, though, the closer your results will eventually come to the mathematically predicted results. Most casino games have a house edge of close to 5%.
Most blackjack games, though, have a house edge of between 0.5% and 1%. Every time you bet $100 on blackjack, the casino expects you to lose between 50 cents and a dollar. That’s a big difference in the cost of your entertainment.
Blackjack has one catch when it comes to the house edge, though. To get the low percentage that I quoted, you must play with the correct strategy. More on that in the next section.
Blackjack Has “Basic Strategy”
Imagine if you were playing with a blackjack player who hit any total of 20 or lower – in other words, he tries to get exactly 21 on every hand.
Now, imagine being a player who mimics the house strategy of standing on any 17 or better and hitting any 16 or lower. Which of you would lose more money during an hour of blackjack?
That example clearly illustrates that there’s a strategy to blackjack. Neither of those two strategies are optimal, by the way. They’re just great at illustrating how much money you can lose by not making the correct decisions at the blackjack table.
Basic strategy is the comparison of every possible total you could have with every possible dealer up-card and what the mathematically best move to make is in every one of those situations.
You can find a card with basic strategy in the gift shop of any hotel and casino. You can also learn basic strategy online. Not only does basic strategy lower the house edge on blackjack, but it also makes the game more interesting. It takes time and effort to memorize basic strategy, but it’s worth it.
If you ignore basic strategy, you’ll face a house edge of between 2% and 4% higher than otherwise. It depends on how far your personal strategy deviates from the correct basic strategy.
Blackjack Is Available for Low Stakes
One of my favorite things about blackjack is that it’s available for relatively low stakes. Combine that with the low house edge, and you have an affordable way to while away the hours enjoying some gambling entertainment.
You can find blackjack games with betting minimums of $5 or $10 per hand throughout Vegas, but be careful. Some of the lower stakes games, especially on the Strip, only pay out 6:5 on a blackjack (or a “natural”) instead of 3:2. Don’t dignify a game like that with your presence.
You can find blackjack for $3 per hand in some other casinos in Vegas, but usually not on the Strip. You can also find low limit blackjack games online and in other gambling destinations.
When you figure that you’re probably only going to play 100 hands or so per hour, and maybe even less than that, you’re talking about putting only $500 or so into action per hour.
If you’re playing with basic strategy and mediocre rules where the house edge is 1%, you’re only looking at an average hourly loss of $5. That’s as cheap as watching a movie, and you’re an active participant.
You Can Count Cards in Blackjack
Counting cards isn’t for the faint of heart, but it isn’t illegal, and it isn’t cheating. The casinos want you to think it is, but that’s their problem, as long as you don’t get caught.
You don’t have to memorize a deck of cards to get an edge at blackjack by counting cards either. All you have to do is keep a rough estimate of how many low cards and how many high cards are left in the deck.
How does this get you an edge? You get a 3:2 payout for a natural, right? And the only way to get a blackjack (or natural) is to have an ace and a 10, right?
Those are the high cards in the deck. As those get dealt, your probability of getting a blackjack lowers. But as the lower cards in the deck get dealt out, your probability of getting a blackjack increases.
And because of the nature of a random, shuffled deck of cards, you’re going to have an uneven distribution some (or a lot) of the time.
When that uneven distribution favors you, when there are a lot of high cards left in the deck, you raise the size of your bets. The easiest system for counting cards is to add 1 to the count every time you see a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 get dealt. Then, subtract 1 from the count every time you see a 10 or an ace.
When the count is positive, raise the size of your bets. The higher the count is, the bigger your bet should be. The only trick after that is to not get caught.
Even though counting cards is legal, casinos don’t like it, and they reserve the right to keep you from playing their blackjack games. Some of them will even trespass you from their property altogether.
Blackjack Players (and Dealers) Tend to Be Friendly
I know that not everyone is as social as I am, but if you are, blackjack can be even more fun because of the other players at the table. Just don’t socialize so much that you hold up the game. The other players will hate you for that.
You’ll understand how annoying that is once someone does that to you. The other important rule of etiquette is to occasionally tip the dealer. You don’t have to tip amazing amounts, but you should tip a few bucks an hour. That dealer is a service professional, and she’s relying on your tips to make her living.
Blackjack is my favorite casino game, and it should probably be yours, too. The reasons are clear, but the biggest one is that blackjack gives you the best probability of going home a winner.
The house still has an edge, but it’s the lowest edge in the casino.