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Next to poker, blackjack is the most popular card game in casinos. It is played with a classic deck of 52 cards in which there are four colors with 13 values each. The colors and symbols of the cards are not relevant in blackjack; only the values of the cards count. Blackjack can be played alone, against the dealer and with multiple players. Over the years players have developed different blackjack strategies to increase their odds of winning. The most famous one is the so-called “Basic Strategy” which helps to decrease the house edge to a very thin margin. But before we’re getting into the strategy part of this article we want to cover some basics for beginners to get everyone set up properly.
Overview of the rules of Blackjack
In order to implement a proper strategy in your game you first have to understand the rules. The objective of the game is to get as close to 21 points as possible with the cards dealt to you. The values of your cards are added up and you win the round if you have better cards than the dealer. Each player and the dealer start with two cards. Except for the dealer's second card, all cards are face up on the table. After each player has received their playing cards, they can individually decide their options (more on this later). Then the dealer reveals his previously hidden second card. If your cards do not exceed 21 and have a higher total than the dealer then you win the game. Each player is checked individually to see whether he wins or loses against the dealer.
The role of the dealer
The dealer plays an important role in blackjack and influences your strategy. While he tends to be passive in other card games, he is actively involved in blackjack. The difference between the dealer and player is not just that the dealer is the bank. While the player can play at his own discretion, the dealer is bound by fixed rules and must act according to these.
When all players have made their moves during the round, the dealer must reveal his second card. If the total value of both cards is below 17, he must continue to draw cards until it is at least 17. If he exceeds 21, the player wins automatically. This is important to know so that you can pick your strategy accordingly.
The value of the cards
All cards from 2 to 10 have their respective face value. The jack, queen and king are each worth 10 points. The ace is worth either 1 or 11 points, chosen in favor of the player.
Important blackjack vocabulary
In blackjack, you will come across the same technical terms over and over again so it’s good to know the following game-specific vocabulary:
- "Blackjack": The name of the game also stands for the best combination of cards. An ace and a 10 add up to 21. This is blackjack. With this combination of cards, you can no longer lose the game. You can only tie if the dealer also has a blackjack. A blackjack only ever consists of two cards. A score of 21 out of three or more cards loses in direct comparison to a blackjack.
- "Up-Card" and "Hole-Card": Up-Card is the name of the dealer's first open card. The hole card is the face-down card.
- "Push": Push stands for a draw in blackjack. This happens when your cards and the dealer's cards have the same value. With a push, you get your stake back, but you don't make a profit.
- "Bust": The total value of your cards is over 21. This means you lose automatically and you are “Bust”.
The course of the game
Before the cards are dealt, all players place their desired bet. Then the dealer distributes the first cards, which are all laid out face up. The dealer then distributes the second round so that each player and also the dealer have two cards in front of them. However, the dealer's second card is face down. When all players have their cards, they take turns in deciding their moves:
- "Stand": You are satisfied with your cards and pass it on to the next player.
- "Hit": You want to draw another card. You can draw cards as many times in a row as you wish until your total value is as close to 21 as possible. If your score goes over 21 on a hit, you have lost and the dealer collects your chips and cards.
- "Split": If you have been dealt two identical cards (a pair), such as two kings, you can split your cards. The dealer then separates your two cards and adds one more to each. For the new hand, however, you also have to make a new bet, because the hands play independently of each other.
- "Double Down": You have the option to double your bet before you draw another card. This is called "double down". In a double down, you can only draw one card. Then your turn ends.
- "Surrender": If you have a bad hand, you can reduce your losses by giving up. The round ends for you and you only lose half of your stake. The "surrender" option is not offered in every casino.
- “Insurance”: If the dealer's first card is an ace, you can take out an insurance. For this you have to pay half of your starting stake as a bet. If the dealer then has a blackjack, you win the "Insurance Bet" and receive the profit from the insurance. This is always double your stake.
Blackjack Strategies and Tips
Blackjack is easy to understand, but it offers many possibilities because the game is relatively complex. There are several Blackjack strategies that can help you win. Here we want to cover some of the basics that every player should know before hitting the tables.
When to hit or stand?
Should you draw another card or do you prefer to pass? You will often ask yourself this question in blackjack. Concentration and strategic thinking can help you: if your cards total 11 or less, you should definitely draw another card. A bust can only occur if your cards are over 11 points. Only when you have a total of at least 12 do you have to consider drawing another card. The dealer's up card plays an important role in this. He has to get at least 17 with his cards. Because of this, the chance of the dealer busting increases if the up card is of low value, as he will likely have to draw multiple cards.
If the dealer's card shows a value of 2 or 3, you should only draw a card if your cards total 12 or less. If the dealer's up card is high, he will likely have a higher score too. So you have to take a bigger risk to win. If the dealer has a 7,8,9 or 10, you should draw when your card total is 16 or less. If the dealer has an ace, you draw if the card total is 17 or less.
The right time to Double Down
You should only double down if you have either a 9, a 10, or an 11. 11 is the optimal number of points for a double down, as you can not go over 21 with an additional card and you can get to exactly 21 with a cared valued 10 points. Double down on 9 or 10 is the same as hit or stand. If the dealer's up card is 4,5 or 6, you can double down.
Splitting your hand effectively
Just because you got a pair doesn't mean you have to split your cards right away. In general, there are two pairs that are really worth splitting: two aces and two eights. If you split two aces, you have a good chance of hitting a blackjack or at least a high score. Splitting aces is so effective that not all casinos allow it. Splitting eights is also worthwhile. 16 is not a good value because the chance of busting is good. If you split the two eights, however, you have a good chance of a high result like 18 or 19 on both hands.
Should you buy insurance?
The dealer is obliged to offer you an insurance bet or even money in certain situations. Although it is called "insurance" and is intended to "protect" the player from a dealer blackjack, it is nothing more than a side bet. If you win the insurance bet you will get the insurance bet back twice - but you will likely lose your starting bet.
It sounds like you can prevent a loss but in fact, in the long run, it is the bank that wins. Ultimately you bet that the dealer has covered a 10-card. If this is not the case, you lose this bet and the game continues as normal. If you then also lose the round regularly, your loss is one and a half times as large as your actual stake. In the end, insurance bets are not profitable for the player in the long run. The chances of winning are too low compared to the considerable risk of losing.
Advanced Blackjack Strategies
In this article, we covered the basic rules and gave you an overview of some of the fundamentals of the most basic blackjack strategies. This should only serve as an overview. If you are interested in improving your skills you can find plenty of articles with more advanced tips and tricks when it comes to blackjack strategies and other casino games.