You don’t have to be a mathematical genius like the MIT students portrayed in the movie 21 to win big at blackjack. In fact, you can increase your odds of winning before you even take a seat at the table by avoiding a few pitfalls.
Avoid Games with Multiple Decks. Most lower-limit blackjack tables deal cards from large “shoes” that can hold up to eight decks of cards. The more decks used in a game, the higher the house advantage. If you can find a game where the dealer holds the deck(s) in their hand, your odds improve tremendously.
Avoid Games with a “6 to 5” Payout on a Natural. A “natural” is a two-card hand totaling twenty-one, typically an ace with a ten-value card. Until recently, most casinos paid 3 to 2 on a natural; if you bet $10 and made a natural, you would win $15. With the 6 to 5 rule, the same $10 bet would only get you $12. Some casinos with more “exotic” rules only offer even-money payouts on a natural blackjack. Find games that offer a 3 to 2 payout, even if they are at higher limits. The extra advantage that such a payout offers should make up for the higher minimum bets.
Avoid Games Where the Dealer Can Hit on a Soft 17. Any rule that allows the dealer to take extra cards works in the house’s favor. Unfortunately, the rule that allows dealers to hit on a “soft” total of seventeen (e.g. Ace/Six) has become a standard among Las Vegas casinos.
Avoid Games that Limit When Players Can Double Down or Split Pairs. Conversely, any rule that prohibits players from taking more cards or increasing their bets in advantageous situations also hurts the player. Locate games that allow for multiple chances to split hands and allow for double down bets after a split.
More Strategies for Winning at Blackjack
It is common knowledge that blackjack is the casino game with the smallest edge for the house; should players correctly follow basic blackjack strategy, that edge will usually be less than 1%. This is obviously good news for the gambler, as it offers the greatest chance of winning, but can that edge be further reduced?
Of course, the answer is yes. Here are three examples of common mistakes made whilst playing blackjack, that if eliminated from a player’s game, can trim that house edge even further.
Playing 11 against the dealer’s 10: A starting hand of 11 is obviously the time to double down and against a 3 or a 6 for example, no-one would think twice about doubling. Against a 10 though, many players can lose. There is really no need.
Simply hitting results in the player winning 56% of the time, while doubling wins just 54% of the time, but that doesn’t tell the full story. 56% of the time with a $10 bet represents $560 in winnings and $440 in losses, for profit of $120, but doubling the bet and winning 54% of the time means $1,080 in winnings and $920 in losses, for profit of $160. Never be afraid to double!
Splitting eights: It is something of a blackjack cliché, but it is founded on sound mathematics: “Always split aces and eights”. Splitting aces seems fairly obvious; two aces total 12, not the best blackjack hand, whilst splitting provides two hands worth 11, offering two good chances to double down. Why split eights though? A hand of 16 seems a likely loser, but two hands starting with 8 don’t look much better and who wants to double their losses?
There is method in the perceived madness. Although neither case looks too pretty, a blackjack player will lose less by splitting those eights. Against a 10, a $10 bet on a hand of 16 will lose an average on 40c per hand. Two hands of 8 in the same situation will lose a total of 32c (16c each). Splitting eights is clearly not a winning move, but it does lose less often. A penny saved is a penny earned.
Splitting nines against a nine: A similar example to splitting eights, this is another case of losing less often. 18 wins against the dealer’s 9 around 40% of the time, representing a long term loss, but a 9 against a 9 wins just short of half the time. It may seem crazy to double your bet on a likely loser, but percentage wise, the chances of winning look a lot better.
Some Winning Rules
Blackjack is of course a game of chance, but it is also very much a game of skill. Through a combination of a good card counting strategy and a good betting plan, the savvy player can do a lot to tip the odds in his or her favor. While there is no one tip, or combination of tips, that can make every hand a winner, there are a number of tried and true, proven blackjack strategies that can greatly increase the odds of winning. We hope the tips listed below can help increase your chances of enjoying a winning day at the online or brick and mortar blackjack table.
- The best strategy is for the player to double-down if he or she is holding a two card combination totaling the following:
- 9 if the dealer is showing a 3, 4, 5 or 6
- 10 if the dealer is showing anything other than an Ace or a 10
- 11 if the dealer is showing anything other than an Ace
- The insurance offered by the house is seldom worth it. Unless the player is absolutely sure of his or her ability to count cards, it is best to pass on such insurance.
- No matter what card the dealer is showing, the player should always split a hand consisting of two Aces or two eights.
- A hand consisting of a pair of tens or face cards, on the other hand, should never be split.
- The player should hit on a soft 17 if the dealer is showing a 10 as his or her up card. Standing on a hand of 17 or less means the player will have to rely on the dealer going bust in order to win the hand.
- The player should hit on a soft 13 through a soft 17 if the dealer’s up card is a 7 or higher.
- If the player is holding a hand of three or more cards, he or she should not hit on a soft 13 through 17.
- If the player holds a two card hand totaling a soft 13 through 17, the player should double-down on the hand if the dealer’s up card is a 5 or a 6.
- If the player is holding a soft 17, the player should double down if the dealer’s up card is a 3.
Of course the odds of any or all of these tips resulting in a winning hand will rise when these tried and true betting strategies are combined with a solid card counting system. There are many card counting systems out there, and every blackjack player will have his or her favorite strategies. The odds of winning at blackjack can be solidly tipped in the player’s favor by a combination of a great betting strategy and a system that can accurately predict which cards are next to emerge from the deck.