By Dan Dubey
Blackjack is one of the oldest casino games and has a pleasingly low house edge, but it’s also challenging to master. Here are some pro tips to improve your chances of coming out on top and winning at blackjack.
Don’t be Short-Changed
This is more of a casino selection point than a game-playing tip but it does fundamentally alter how profitable the game can be, so it is worthy of inclusion on this tips list. Blackjack (the hand) should pay out at 3:2, or 150% of your stake. And it usually does. But sometimes a casino will try and steal a little of the player’s blackjack profits by reducing the rate to 6:5 (120%). Just be aware that can happen, and avoid games like that.
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On a similar note, and there are variations in the rules and these tend to increase the chances of the house finishing ahead. Because blackjack is an ancient game it has a lower house edge than the vast majority of casino distractions, and one way the house tries to increase its edge is by adding small tweaks (the most obvious of these actually happened in roulette with the double zero version that substantially increases the house edge). Simple and straightforward games are the best way to go.
Doubling is a slightly different method of advancing your hand because it means the player gets one more card (and one only) but can double their stake. Obviously, this can mean twice the loss, but the player does have the knowledge to make an informed decision and, in the right circumstances, it can be a smart move.
With a hard (no ace) 10 or 11 doubling down is almost always a good idea (for the dealer having 2-9, and, versus hard 11, a 10 as well). The hard 9 also has a variety of doubling opportunities, from 3-6. And if you have a soft 17-18 then doubling should occur if the dealer has 3-6.
As with all the advice offered here, these tips are based on mathematical averages. In common with all betting, good or bad luck can rescue poor positions or mean even the smart play leads to a loss. So do not be discouraged, or get too giddy, if you find yourself with a streak of luck, whether good or ill.
Hitting With an Ace – Aye or Nay?
Hands with aces (where that ace can stand for 1 or 11 either way) are considered soft, which can make it tricky to choose whether to stand or hit. However, aces do make things more flexible (you’re much better off with a soft 13 than a hard one).
Whether soft or hard, everyone should hit on 11 or less as there’s no downside. But there are some soft cases where hitting (or doubling in some cases) makes sense, but doing so when hard would be foolish. On soft 17 or less it’s always worth at least hitting. And if the dealer has a 9, 10, or ace face up then a soft 18 is also worth hitting on.
Insurance: Just Say No
In most walks of life (especially when it comes to the home and car), insurance is not merely a good idea, it is a necessity. And the name implies a certain measure of putting safety first, a prudent hedging of bets. In blackjack, insurance is offered by the dealer when they have a face up ace, allowing players to make a side bet in case the dealer has blackjack. For the player, that’s an automatic defeat (unless fortunate enough to also have blackjack).
But the numbers do not stack up. If you buy insurance at each opportunity then, over the course of a session, the player will end up losing more than they win. If you are going by the numbers, then insurance in blackjack is something you should never opt for because it will decrease your chances of finishing ahead.
When to Split, or Not
Splitting is sometimes the most obvious thing in the world, and sometimes incredibly tricky. Aces and 8s, for example, should always be split. Given how many cards have a value of 10, the odds of getting 21 are pretty good if you divide aces. Fives, by contrast, never should be, because you are likely to replace a strong three-card hand with a pair of inferior two-card hands. (Hopefully, this need not be said, but 10s likewise should never be split).
However, often the decision to split or not cannot be made solely by contemplating your own hand. The dealer’s hand must be considered as well. Is the dealer likely to go bust? Do you already have a pretty good hand (a pair of 9s, for example)? As always, basic strategy gives us a useful indication of when to stick with a pair, and when to split it (in those circumstances when the answer is not obvious).
When the dealer’s face card is between 2 and 6, then players with pairs of 6s, 7s, and 9s should split (for 9s, players should also split facing an 8 or 9 from the dealer, and for 7s if the dealer has a 7 that should also be cause to split). A pair of 4s should only be split if the dealer is showing 5 or 6, and a pair of 2s or 3s should be split when facing 2-7.1)This discussion of pair splitting assumes a multi-deck game where double after splitting is allowed. Also, any discussion of basic strategy will depend on the number of decks and the rules of the game.
Manage Your Bankroll Calmly
Last on our list of tips is something that applies to betting generally and certainly is important for wagering on blackjack. Players should not get carried away or despondent and should exercise financial discipline when betting. If you jump in betting 20% of your funds as a starting stake you can quickly lose the lot. Make modest wagers, perhaps a percent or two of your bankroll, so there’s some resilience if luck’s against you.
Also, do not fall into the trap of pursuing a Martingale style strategy. This involves doubling the stake whenever a loss is incurred (and doubling again if another loss happens). While this does decrease the odds of finishing behind, the fatal flaw with this approach is that any loss that is suffered is monumental. And any win is small (just one stake).
Blackjack’s a great game to play, straightforward enough to get the gist in a first session but complicated enough that making the right call can be surprisingly difficult. Follow these tips, and things should go a little more smoothly for you.