Black Jack Strategy

Play casino blackjack without losing your shirt. With this simple blackjack strategy, you can walk away a winner.

Walk into a casino in America, and you will likely find more people playing blackjack than any other table game. What makes it so popular? Not only is blackjack entertaining and easy to learn, but it happens to be the only casino game in which you have any chance of beating the house over the long run. By mastering some basic strategy, you could walk out no poorer than you came in. With advanced strategy, you could walk out a whole lot richer!

Casino bosses are well aware that a skillful blackjack player can seriously cut into their profits. To keep their money out of your pockets, casinos have come up with several ways to lower your odds of winning. The most important change was increasing the number of decks in the shoe, which is the box that holds the undealt cards. Casinos in Atlantic City, Reno and on the Las Vegas Strip typically use a six-deck shoe. Some places even use eight decks or more! If you can find a casino using only one deck, your odds of winning are much better. Downtown Las Vegas is a good place to look for these more player-friendly tables.

The rules for blackjack differ slightly from casino to casino. To improve your chances of beating the house, look for games that allow early and late surrender, double down on any two cards, double down after splitting pairs, multiple pair split and dealer stand on a soft 17.

Once you have decided where to play, the next step is to know how to play. First, each player places a bet. Then everyone is dealt two cards, including the dealer. One of the dealer's cards, the hole card, is dealt face down. The other card is dealt face up and is called the upcard. The goal is to get closer to 21 than the dealer does without busting out, or going over 21. If your hand ties the dealer's hand, it is called a push, and you get your wager back. Jacks, queens and kings count as 10 points. Aces can be either one or 11 points. All other cards have their face value. If you hold an ace and a 10-point card, it is called a blackjack, and it usually pays out at a higher rate than a regular win.

After you are dealt your two cards, you have the option either to hit, which means take another card, or to stand, which means keep your hand as it is. Depending on the house rules, you may also be able to split, double down, take insurance or surrender.

To decide whether to hit or stand, compare the point value of your cards versus the value of the dealer's upcard. If the dealer's upcard is seven or higher, then the dealer has a strong hand. You should draw cards until you have 17 or better if you are to have any hope of beating it. If the dealer is showing a card lower than seven, then the dealer's hand is weak, and it is very likely that the dealer will bust out. Thus, you would want to stand pat with any halfway decent hand to keep from busting out yourself. Therefore, stand when your hand equals 12 or higher.

If your two cards are paired, meaning they have the same rank, you may have the option of splitting them into two independent hands with separate bets on each hand. If house rules allow it, you should split aces and eights. You should never split fours, fives or tens. In general, if the dealer's upcard is a seven or lower, then split twos, threes, sixes, sevens and nines. More advanced splitting strategy is dependent upon the number of decks being used and other factors.

Many casinos will allow you to double down before your first hit. This creates a second bet equal to the amount of your original wager. You are then allowed to take only one hit. The time to double down is when you have a strong hand and are fairly confident you are going to beat the dealer. For example, it is good to double down when you have 10 or 11 points, and the dealer is showing less points than you have.

A hand that includes an ace is very flexible because you can count the ace as either one or 11 points. If you have an ace that can be counted as 11 points without the hand going over 21, it is called a soft hand. A soft hand can always take a hit without busting because the ace can be counted as one point if needed. There are specific strategies for playing soft hands. If the hand adds up to 19 or higher, stand. If it adds up to 18 and the dealer shows nine or above, hit. If house rules allow, double down if the dealer shows three through six. Otherwise, stand. If you have 17 or lower, hit. Double down if you have 17 and the dealer has six or below. Also double down if you have 16 or below and the dealer shows four, five or six.

Any hand without an 11-point ace is called a hard hand. That means all hands that do not contain an ace are hard hands, as are any hands where the ace must be counted as one. With hard hands, if you have 11 or lower, hit. If you have 12, hit unless the dealer shows four, five or six. If you have 13 through 16 points, hit when the dealer's upcard is seven or above. If you have 17 or more, stand. If doubling is permitted, double down when you have 11, unless the dealer has an ace. Double down when you have 10, and the dealer's upcard is nine or below. Double down when you have nine and the dealer shows three through six. If you are using only one deck, then also double down when you have eight and the dealer has five or six and when you have nine and the dealer has two.

If the dealer's face-up card is an ace, you may be offered the option of taking insurance on whether the dealer has a blackjack. The smart blackjack player knows that taking insurance is never a good bet! Insurance is not recommended unless you are using advanced card counting strategies.

Surrendering, on the other hand, can be a good bet if the dealer's hand is super strong and your hand is very weak. When you surrender, you give up your hand and receive half your original wager back. Because surrendering is such a good play, many casinos don't allow players the option. If you are playing at a multi-deck table and surrendering is allowed, it is a good idea to surrender when you have a hard 16 and the dealer shows a nine, ten or ace, or when you have a hard 15 and the dealer shows a ten. If you are playing with only one or two decks, do not surrender any hand because your odds of winning are good no matter what two cards you are dealt.

With this basic strategy, if you play your cards right, you can almost completely nullify the house edge. Depending on the house rules, you can expect to win or lose a dollar for every $100 you wager. For example, when playing typical Reno rules with a six-deck shoe, you stand to lose an average of 94 cents for every $100 bet. Whereas a one-deck game using typical Atlantic City rules and offering the lucrative early surrender option would win you an average of 77 cents for every $100. Add advanced card counting strategy, and you can make another dollar or two per $100 bet.

If you dream of quitting your day job and making your living at the blackjack tables, you will need either lady luck at your side or advanced card counting skills. You do not have to be Rain Man or have a photographic memory to count cards, but it does take some hard work to master. The courts have ruled that card counting is legal. Nevertheless, the casinos will do whatever they can to discourage you from doing it. In Las Vegas, casinos can bar anyone from their establishment for any reason. If they catch you counting cards, they will more than likely throw you out of the casino, possibly for life. Therefore, if you are going to count cards, you will need to learn how to hide what you are doing. Otherwise, as soon as you start raking in the big bucks, security will swoop down and end your run.

Whether you choose to master the fine art of card counting or just employ basic blackjack strategy, the next time you walk into a casino, you should be able to walk out with a smile on your face and more jingle in your step knowing that you beat the casino at its own game and your night's entertainment was "on the house"!

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