When you are learning to play blackjack, keep in mind that the object is to have cards that equal or are as close to 21 without going over 21. In the casinos, you play against the dealer even though a table seats six players. This is different than in a blackjack tournament, but we will address that later.
In blackjack, face cards are worth ten points, aces are worth either 1 or 11, and other cards are worth the number they show, i.e., 10 are worth 10, 2 are worth 2 and so forth. Before the deal, all blackjack players place an initial bet. Each blackjack player is then dealt two cards face up. The dealer is dealt one card face up and one facedown. If anyone is dealt 21 – called blackjack, they automatically win 1.5 times their original bet – unless, of course, the dealer has blackjack. If no one has blackjack to start, then each player decides whether to take more cards to get closer to 21 or to stay with their original two cards. At this time a second round of betting decisions are made, as well.
As a rule: if the dealer has 17 or higher, then he does not take or by rule, cannot take another card, but if he has 16 or less, then he does or must.
After the dealer settles his hand, anyone who has more points than the dealer wins an amount equal to their bet. Blackjack players showing lower points than the dealer lose their bet. If the dealer goes over 21 – or busts – then everyone wins.
The basics of learning to play blackjack are pretty simple, but it does get more complicated when you add betting and strategy into the mix.
Blackjack Betting Strategy
Before we discuss the blackjack betting strategy, let’s go over the betting options and terminology involved in blackjack:
Insurance: This is a side bet when you think that the dealer has a good chance at making blackjack with his original two cards. You can bet up to half the amount of your original bet if the dealer’s showing cared is an ace. If the dealer does in fact have a face card and makes a natural blackjack, then you win double your bet. If he does not, then you lose your insurance bet.
Surrender: If you decide to forfeit your hand, this is called a surrender and you only lose half of your bet. If you surrender before the dealer looks at his card to check for blackjack, then this is called an early surrender. However, if you wait until he looks at his cards, then this is called a late surrender. The risk of a late surrender is that if the dealer has blackjack, then the option to surrender is eliminated.
Double Down: If you have a strong position after the first two cards are dealt, you may bet double down, meaning that you double your first bet. However, you can only receive – or hit – one more card.
Even Money: If you are dealt a blackjack and the dealer has an ace face up, you may choose even money, meaning that you will get a payout ratio at 1:1. This means that you will keep your original bet plus the house will give you the amount of your bet.
Split Hand: If your first two cards are of equal value, you can make two separate hands and play each of them separately. The second hand requires the same initial bet as the first.
Hard Hand: A hand that cannot change value is called a hard hand. Because aces can count as 1 or 11, if you have no ace or if your ace must be played as an 11, you have a hard hand.
Soft Hand: A hand that has an ace that can be played as either 1 or 11 is a soft hand.
When it comes to blackjack, betting strategy can be quite helpful when combined with card counting. The house’s advantage when you bet without strategy is 7%, but with strategy and card counting, the house advantage drop to less than 1%.
How to Win Blackjack
As with most cards games, you could just get lucky. However, Darrin Gleeman advises, “If you want to consistently raise your chances of winning blackjack, you should consider card counting.” Some people think that card counting is only a choice for savants with photographic memories, but most seasoned blackjack players just think of it as a strategy to use to win the blackjack game. Note: Card counting in most casinos is not allowed.
The basic theory behind blackjack card counting is that if there are more high-cards (Aces, face cards and 10s) left in the deck, then the odds are better for the player. However if there are more low cards left in the deck, then the odds are better for the dealer.
In order to improve your chances at winning your blackjack hand by learning to count cards, there are a variety of slight variations to consider. However, blackjack enthusiast Darrin Gleeman suggests an easy plan: “Start each game with a count of 0. Each time a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 comes out of the deck – in any player’s hand or the dealers, you add 1 point to your mental count. Anytime a 10, jack, queen, king, or ace comes out of the deck, you subtract one point from your count. If your count is positive, then you have the advantage, and the higher your count, the better advantage you have.”
Blackjack tournaments are not as popular as poker tournaments and not as expensive to enter as craps tournaments – they generally require a small entry fee. Occasionally you can find a free tournament or you can look into invitational tournaments. Darrin Gleeman tells us that “the most important thing to remember when you take on a blackjack tournament for the first time is that you are playing against other players rather than the house.”
If you are playing blackjack for fun, then you should select your tournament based on location and entry fee. However, if you are looking to make money, there are several factors to consider. The prizes and the time invested should be worth your trouble and your entry fee. Even if the blackjack tournament is free, casinos often schedule the first round in the mornings and the final rounds much later. This makes sure that entrants will stay around and gamble during the down time, which is fine, but you should be aware of the structure. If a blackjack tournament is not upfront about the rules, betting minimums and maximums, and the prizes, before you register, you may want to look for another tournament.