So, you’re ready to take your game to the next level? Great, because an understanding of blackjack betting strategies is the best way to do just that. While everyone and their mother claims to have discovered the ultimate playing tactic, you’ll only find the blackjack strategies that work here. In short, it’s all about knowing how to react optimally to any hand you’re dealt. Developing this knowledge will require plenty of practice and patience, but it will be worth your while in the long run.
Before you go about creating charts or fabricating flashcards, it’s best to lay the foundations of your game plan first. Strip things back to the basics and consider how much time and money you’re willing (and able) to invest in the game. Consider which blackjack variant you’d like to try as that will certainly influence how you play and what your wins will pay. Most importantly, set yourself realistic and reasonable amounts for the maximum you wish to win and the minimum you’re willing to lose.
A calculated plan of action is what separates a lucky player from a skilled one. If you’re serious about becoming the latter, then the discipline required is more than worth the reward. Keep the goals you’ve set for yourself in mind as the dealer distributes the deck and your playing experience will remain worthwhile throughout. Remember not to get caught up in any unexpected wins or losses. Take each round as it comes and learn from it – it’s what a pro player would do.
With that in mind, settle in and scroll on to discover what the best blackjack strategies are and how they can work for you.
The simplest way to hone your skills is to adopt basic blackjack strategy. In essence, this is based on assessing your hand and the dealer’s upcard before making the optimal decision – that is whether to hit or stand. To refresh your memory to hit means asking for another card, whilst if you choose to stand you won’t receive an additional one. This is the final decision you’ll make during a round and should only be taken after considering surrender and double down options (more on these later).
These decisions are mathematically proven and were developed using a computer simulation of millions of blackjack hands. One of the first of its kind was developed by Julian Braun, a computer genius and Blackjack Hall of Fame inductee. He used Edward Thorp’s calculations (more on this infamous blackjack player later) to improve upon his own playing techniques and thus develop basic strategy as we know it today.
Although the analysis of a casino game in such an in-depth way may seem intimidating, it’s easy to keep up with this approach and apply it as you play. Basic strategy is typically displayed in a table or blackjack strategy card (there’s one for you further down) that compares the player’s hand to the dealer’s upcard. More importantly, it lists the decision most likely to yield a successful outcome. You might be thinking “Great. Sounds simple enough but how can I memorise all these rules?”. Well, here’s the thing – you don’t need to. Since the dealer can’t actually see you when you’re playing casino games online, there’s no reason not to keep these cheat sheets handy. So, here’s your very own reference guide of the most rewarding ways to bet in blackjack.
H = Hit; S = Stand; D-H = Double if possible, otherwise Hit; D-S = Double if possible, otherwise Stand
The charts above apply to blackjack games with the following rules only:
Sticking to the recommendations in the table will offer numerous advantages to your game. Firstly, this is the simplest of all blackjack strategies to familiarise yourself with and apply. It’s simple and easy to pick up – essentially a handy how to play guide. Once you get the hang of using it, the application of correct and consistent strategy lowers the house edge considerably to around 1%. Proper application will also let you lose the least amount of money over time. So, be sure to master basic blackjack strategy before moving on as this method lays the foundation to playing the game like an expert.
The next step in developing your skills is mastering perfect strategy. The idea of perfection may seem unattainable but don’t let the name fool you. All this approach does is include rules for doubling down, pair splitting, and insurance and even money strategy. Let’s take a brief look at each one.
You may be thinking that the words surrender and strategy are contradictions of themselves. How can a blackjack strategy around giving up exist? Well, hold that train of thought, let’s explain. Sometimes, you may receive a weak hand against a strong dealer upcard and think you’re chances of winning are slim. If you were to apply the usual betting options – hit or stand – and lose the round, your full wager would be lost too. Should you have chosen to surrender, you’ll forfeit your right to play but only give up half your bet. See? Surrendering isn’t a sucker bet (check out the blackjack glossary for the full definition) if there’s reason behind it.
There are two types of surrender bets – early and late. If the early surrender rule applies, you must make a decision on your hand before the dealer reveals their hole card (when a 10 or Ace is showing). While late surrender specifies that the dealer peeks at their hole card before you’re able to act. This may sound advantageous but if the dealer has a blackjack, you’ll immediately lose your entire bet unless you too have a blackjack. So, if you have a choice between tables offering these two rules, choose early surrender as it’s more beneficial for players.
If you’d like to use surrender strategy the next time you’re at a blackjack table, keep the tables for early and late surrender strategy close by.
Early surrender: Played with up to 8 decks.
Onto the next strategy. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember the mention of the always split aces and eights rule in the how to play blackjack guide. Well, that rule is basically the foundation of pair splitting strategy. When the rule applies, and you’re dealt two cards of the same value, you’ll have the choice to split them into two separate hands by making another bet equal to the original one you placed.
Unfortunately, this approach to playing is often misunderstood by players who are just starting out and thus they split cards carelessly. Find out if the game includes the DAS or NDAS rule and then use the appropriate table below to guide your game.
The double down rule in blackjack allows you to double your initial wager once you’ve been dealt your first two cards. To compensate for this, the house will only allow you to receive one more card. Some casinos also impose restrictions on the cards which you may double down on so be sure to check that too. Whether you choose to apply this option or not will depend on the hand you’ve been dealt compared to the dealer’s upcard.
Keep the tables below as your reference guide once you find a blackjack table with the double down rule available. Just make sure the rules of the table and those of the game are identical.
Insurance and even money are side bets offered to players to safeguard their hand against a dealer blackjack. Both of these are the same at their core. If you receive a natural, you’ll be offered even money, whereas in all other cases, you’ll have the opportunity to take insurance. These decisions will be made before you decide on whether to hit, stand, surrender, double down or split.
Insurance pays 2:1 while even money pays at odds of 1:1 however, both bets increase the house edge to around 7.47% in an eight-deck game. This is the reason why most pro players actually recommend avoiding them altogether. If you consider the mathematics behind insuring, there is a 70% probability that you will give the house half your original wager. The only way to benefit from taking insurance is if you apply a suitable card counting technique (there’s more to come on this strategy).
Phew, you’ve made it through all those tables. Don’t worry if it seems a little overwhelming at first, it’s all a matter of practice. Keep the charts on one screen and the game on another and you’ll soon master how to bet better whilst playing blackjack. The in-game rules should inform you of which strategies you can apply and you’ll be able to perform the action at the click of a button.
Remember the name Edward Thorp from earlier on? Well, here’s your formal introduction to the father of card counting. As a knowledgeable mathematics professor and blackjack enthusiast, he realised how careful calculations and tracking could debunk the myth that the house always wins. This blackjack system is used to determine whether the next hand will be favourable to the dealer or the player by keeping track of all the high, middle and low-value cards that have been dealt. Based on this count, you should bet less when the casino has the advantage and more when the cards are in your favour.
As you’re probably aware, live blackjack is played with between six to eight decks which is up to 416 playing cards in a single shoe. But what popular gambling films often fail to showcase is that learning card counting for blackjack isn’t as complex as it’s made out to be. There’s no need to memorise specific cards. Instead, a point or score is assigned to each card such that you’re able to keep a running tally of the cards that have been dealt so far.
Since Throp’s original system, many variations of this technique have developed. While the basis of the approach remains the same, different methods assign unique values to the cards, which of course, alter the running count. Another thing to consider is whether you’d like to use a simple system that’s less effective or one that’s more complex but more rewarding. Again, this comes down to the time and money you have to allocate towards understanding how card counting works.
Check out the assigned values of some popular methods below:
No matter which one you end up settling on, follow these steps as you play:
1. Assign a value to every card based on the card counting method of choice.
2. Keep a running count of the values of the cards as they are dealt by adding or subtracting accordingly.
3. Calculate the true count (i.e. the number of high, medium or low cards remaining per deck) as True count = Running Count /Decks Remaining
4. Increase your bets as the true count rises and decrease them as it falls.
Card counting is perfectly suited to playing live blackjack online. Without the hustle and bustle of a land-based casino, you’ll be able to concentrate on the count. If you manage to maintain focus, you’ll be able to bet more with less risk and minimise your losses as the count changes. Making better decisions throughout the game will allow you to decrease the house edge too. Take the time to learn a Level 1 counting system (that is one that assigns either +/-1 to the cards) first as they’re the most straightforward.
Shuffle tracking is another mathematics-based blackjack strategy that’s typically used with card counting. The aim of this method is to keep track of individual cards and sequences throughout the shuffles in an attempt to predict which cards will be dealt. If that sounds a bit complex, it’s because it is. Even Geoff Hall (famed player and game inventor) admits that it took him a few years to perfect this skill. Don’t be put off though, shuffle tracking for beginners is broken down bit by bit below.
Remember shuffling from your introduction to blackjack? If you do, you’ll know that the decks are shuffled in any casino card game to ensure randomness. While this is necessary practice, rearranging the cards thoroughly is time-consuming especially in a land-based casino. To save time and money, live casino providers take this process off-camera and perform card shuffling in designated rooms. Others choose to show the process live in studio however a person other than the dealer is responsible for the shuffle.
Now onto the method. The first step is to analyse how the cards are shuffled by the dealer. There are numerous techniques which they may use so pay attention. As the casino employee is rearranging the cards, keep track of the slugs (groups of cards) that contain ten-value cards and aces as well as the cards around them. This process is called shuffle mapping and the sections are referred to as tracking zones. As the game begins, keep track of the cards that you, the other players and the dealer receive. With the slugs from earlier firmly in your mind, you’ll be able to notice when play zones that contain cards from the tracking zone come up. If your memory serves you well and you maintain focus throughout subsequent shuffles, you’ll be able to increase and decrease your bets as groups of high and low cards come into play.
Shuffle tracking requires eagle eyes, a photographic memory and unwavering focus. Ticking all three boxes is a difficult feat, especially since this method is more applicable to land-based casinos. It sounds logical in theory but the fact that even the tiniest human error will throw the entire strategy off makes it unreliable. But if you’re up for the challenge, give it a go.
Ace Sequencing is another form of shuffle tracking developed by Al Francesco, inventor of the Big Player and Blackjack Hall of Famer. The method’s all in the name as it involves keeping track of aces by noting key cards around them. As with shuffle tracking, the idea is to increase your bet in anticipation of receiving the ace. Unfortunately, this betting strategy is time consuming to learn and it’s not always possible to use it in practice. It’s good to know it exists but the systems mentioned earlier are far more beneficial.
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