Blackjack is probably the most preferred casino game among casino fans from all parts of the globe and there are several good reasons for this. First of all, blackjack is a casino game that combines the elements of skill and luck, so if you know the game well, you can increase your advantage over the dealer. Secondly, the game has one of the lowest theoretical house edges of all casino games, which puts you in a good position to win big payouts. And thirdly, if you pick a blackjack game with optimal rules, as well as use the appropriate blackjack playing strategy, you can have a significant effect on the game’s house edge.
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How to Play Blackjack?
The goal of a Blackjack game is to beat the dealer’s hand and avoid “busting”. In a game of Blackjack, the highest ranking hand is a 21. Any player who goes over this value, will “bust”, i.e. lose the bet.
So, the first objective is to avoid going bust, while the second, and just as important, is to beat the dealer by getting a higher ranking hand. If neither you nor the dealer gets a 21, whoever has the higher hand will win the bet.
When you start playing, both you and any other player at the table will receive two cards, while the dealer will have only one face-up. Once you do, you will have the following options, depending on the table rules:
- Hit – receive another card from the dealer.
- Stand – choose to stand pat with the hand you have.
- Double Down – double your bet and receive one more card.
- Split – when you have a pair, you can also choose to double your bet and split your two cards into two separate hands. You will then get one card for each hand and you can then decide to stand, hit, or double down both hands, per the rules.
- Surrender – most casinos allow you to surrender your first hand and receive half of your wager back. There’s also a late surrender option in some variations, which is allowed when the dealer has a 10 or an Ace, i.e. high chances of getting a Blackjack.
Hand Values in Blackjack
In Blackjack, all number cards are counted as is. The Ace can also be counted as 11, apart for 1, and every 10 and face card is counted as 10. The value of each hand is a sum of all cards in the hand. So, if you have a hand of K – 7 – A, your hand’s value will be 18 (10+7+1), while a hand of 5-9 will be a 14, etc.
The value of the Ace cards is usually counted according to the hand. So, if your Ace could make you go “bust” when counted as 11, its value will be considered as 1, and vice versa.
Hard Hands & Soft Hands
There are two types of hands in Blackjack: soft and hard. A “hard” hand is one without an Ace, or one where the Ace is counted as 1. For example, a hand of K-4-A-2 is considered a hard 17, just as a hand of 10-7 is. On the other hand, hands where the Ace is valued as 11 are called “soft” hands. So, if you have a hand of A-6, this is also called a “soft” 17.
Finding Optimal Rules
When speaking of Blackjack rules, most people mean the rules that apply to how the dealer plays his hand and which actions are you allowed to perform. The more liberal the rules, the more chances you have of lowering the casino’s house edge.
But what exactly are optimal rules? Well, in short, the following are the most important rules to look out for:
- Doubling Down – most casinos will allow you to double on any two cards, but there are also some that only allow doubling on hands of 9, 10, or 11. Being able to double on any hand is better than the second option.
- Doubling after splitting – some casinos don’t allow you to double down after you’ve split a hand, which is not a very good rule and one that’s becoming rarer in today’s industry.
- Re-splitting aces – some Blackjack versions allow you to split a pair of aces, while others don’t. The more liberal rules are always better.
- Re-splitting hands – casinos usually allow you to re-split up to 2 hands, but there are also those who offer better rules that allow up to 3-4 hands.
- Dealer stands/hits on Soft 17 – depending on the version, the dealer might hit (draw another card) or stand on “soft” hands of 17. Naturally, it’s better to have the dealer stand, rather than hit.
Different Blackjack Variations
When it comes to variety, you will literally be spoiled for choice in today’s online casinos, as some offer dozens of different Blackjack variations. Most of these will be similar to one another, with minor differences in the bet sizes and certain rules.
The following are only some of the more popular Blackjack variations:
- Spanish 21 – one of the most popular versions among land-based casinos, the Spanish 21 is played with decks that have the 10 cards removed. To make up for the disadvantage to the player, Spanish 21 games normally have liberal rules like re-splitting aces, late surrender and doubling after splitting (even aces). There are also different payout tables for different Blackjack hands.
- Vegas Strip – the classic game of Blackjack as it was commonly found on the Strip. Vegas Strip rules allow for splitting up to 3 times, doubling after a split, and doubling on any two cards, among other things.
- European Blackjack – a 4-8 deck variant with insurance and 3:2 payouts, as opposed to 6:5 payouts available in some variations. Doubling is only allowed on hard 9-11s and you can double after splitting.
- Multi-hand Blackjack – a popular online version that allows you to play several hands at a time.
- Triple 7s Blackjack – a Blackjack game with a progressive jackpot. The biggest jackpot can be won by placing a side bet on you getting three 7s in a same suit, with other jackpots available for other combinations of 7s.
- Blackjack Switch – A Blackjack variation that allows you to place double bets and thus play double hands, right from the start. You can also switch the second card in both hands between the hands, thus the name. However, this version also involves getting even money when you get a Blackjack and considers a dealer’s 22 as a “push”.
The Importance of Blackjack Strategies
While it’s true that Blackjack has one of the lowest theoretical house edges among casino games, it’s also true that the low house edge is only possible if you know how to play very well. In other words, with each wrong move you make, you are only giving the casino more advantage.
That’s why Blackjack playing strategies are considered so vital to any player who is looking to do well at the Blackjack table, be it beginner or pro. These strategies are compilations of the right responses for specific card combinations which were produced by complex mathematical computer calculations, and thus need to be learned by heart and always followed, no matter what.
The following is an example for an optimal strategy that applies to multiple Blackjack variations. However, you are advised to look for the exact strategy that applies to the variation and rules you are playing with, for best results. For example, if you’re playing a 6 deck game where the dealer stands on soft 17 and re-splitting is allowed, use that exact chart, and so on.
When to Hit?
- When you have a hard 4-8 and the dealer’s card is 2-A (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, A)
- When you have a hard 9 and the dealer’s card is 7-A
- When you have a hard 12-16 and the dealer’s card is 7-A
- When you have a soft 13-15 and the dealer’s card is 2-A
- When you have a soft 16-18 and the dealer’s card is 7-A
When to Stand?
- When you have a hard 12-16 and the dealer has a 2-6
- When you have a hard 17-21 against a dealer’s 2-A
- When you have a soft 19-21 against a dealer’s 2-A
When to Double Down?
- Double down on a hard 9 against dealer’s 2-6
- Double down on soft 16-18 against a dealer’s 2-6
When to split?
- When you have a pair of 2s, 3s, 6s, 7s, or 9s against a dealer’s 2-6
- When you have a pair of Aces or 8s against any dealer’s card
- Avoid splitting 10s, 4s, and 5s