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In order to deliver a thorough blackjack online or in-person overview, it’s important to look at the rules of the game and the possible factors that affect the odds. Before you start memorizing basic blackjack strategy or committing to a specific card-counting system, it’s vital to understand the basic mechanics of the game. Once this has been accomplished, you can move on to more advanced concepts.

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What Are the Rules of Blackjack?

Blackjack can be played with one to eight decks. Aces are worth 1 or 11, face cards are worth 10, and all others are worth their printed value. The goal of the player is to get closer to 21 than the dealer without exceeding this total.

Card Value in Blackjack

The players begin by making their wagers. Once this has occurred, the dealer starts on his left and gives each player two face-up cards. The dealer then receives two cards, one facing up and another facing down (the hole card). In Europe and Australia, the dealer’s second card may not be drawn until just before the conclusion of the game.

If the player’s first two cards equal 21, then he has a true blackjack and receives a payout. If the dealer also has a blackjack, then it is considered a tie and the player gets their wager back. 

Once the cards have been dealt and any blackjacks have been resolved, each player has a number of options. They include:

Player Options
  • Hit – The player receives an additional card.
  • Stand – The player takes no additional cards.
  • Surrender – If this option is available, the player can give up their hand and get back half their initial bet.
  • Doubling Down – Player receives one additional card and can increase their bet up to double the initial amount.
  • Split – When the first two cards are the same value, the player has the option of splitting them into two individual hands. Each receives an additional card, and the player must also place a wager on the extra hand. From there, the hands are played out as usual.
  • Resplit – The player may split cards more than once. This isn’t always allowed, so be sure to check the house rules.
  • Insurance – The player may purchase insurance if the dealer’s card is an ace. In the case of a dealer blackjack, the player’s insurance wager (up to half their initial bet) pays 2:1. Most experts advise passing on this option.

Once all players have completed their hands, the dealer reveals their hole card and adds up the totals. Payouts are issued for anyone who beats the dealer’s total without going over 21. The house keeps all losing bets.

What Kind of Blackjack Strategy should I use?

When most players talk about blackjack strategy, the term is synonymous with basic strategy. This is a fixed method of play that examines the player’s current hand total, compares it to the up-card of the dealer, and then arrives at a prescribed course of action.

While Lady Luck can still come along and cause you to lose, using this strategy normally reduces the house edge down to a manageable 0.5 percent. When you consider the initial low cost of most blackjack hands, this makes the game well worth seeking out.

How do I Read a Blackjack Strategy Chart?

A blackjack strategy chart shows you the optimal play based on your hand and the dealer’s face-up card. But before you can begin to use this handy tool, you need to be able to properly read it. Fortunately, it’s just a matter of understanding a few simple abbreviations, and that’s what we’ll be covering in this section. 

Blackjack Abbreviations
  • H – Hit
  • S – Stand
  • SP – Split
  • SU – Surrender (if this isn’t an option in your game, the player should hit)
  • Dh – Double (if this isn’t an option, the player is advised to hit)
  • Ds – Double (if this isn’t available, the player is advised to stand)

Simple Blackjack Strategy

In order to provide you with an example of basic blackjack strategy, here’s an easy-to-understand chart that works if the player is allowed to double after splitting, and four, six or eight decks of cards are being used. The hand total of the player is listed first, followed by the suggested course of action.

Basic Blackjack Strategy
  • 5 through 8 – Always hit
  • 9 – If the dealer has a 3 through 6, double down. Otherwise, the best option is to hit.
  • 10 – Double down on a dealer 2 through 9. Hit on any other dealer total.
  • 11 – Double down on a dealer 2 through 10. Hit if the dealer shows an ace.
  • 12 – Stand on a dealer 4 through 6. Otherwise, the player should hit.
  • 13 through 16 – Hit on anything other than a dealer 2 through 6. In the case of these totals, the player should stand.
  • 17 through 20 – Always stand
  • 2/2 or 3/3 – If the dealer has a 2 through 7, then the player should split. In any other case, the player should hit.
  • 4/4 – Split if the dealer has a 5 or 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
  • 5/5 – Don’t split a pair of fives under any circumstances. Double down on a dealer 2 through 9. Hit on a dealer ace or 10.
  • 6/6 – Hit if the dealer has anything other than a 2 through 6. In the case of those cards, the player should split.
  • 7/7 – Hit unless the dealer has a 2 through 7, in which case the player should split.
  • 8/8 – Always split. It doesn’t matter what card the dealer is showing.
  • 9/9 – The player is advised to split on a dealer 2 through 6 or 8 through 9. Stand if the dealer’s up-card is an ace, 7 or 10.
  • 10/10 – Always stand, regardless of what the dealer is showing.
  • A/A – No matter what card the dealer shows, always split a pair of aces.
  • A/8 through A/10 – Stand when you have one of these two-card hands.
  • A/7 – Double down if the dealer has a 3 through 6. Stand if he’s showing a 2, 7 or 8. If an ace, 9 or 10 is visible, always choose to hit.
  • A/6 – Hit on anything but a 3 through 6. If the dealer has one of those cards, the best play is to double down.
  • A/5 and A/4 – Double down if a 4 through 6 is showing. Otherwise, hit on anything else.
  • A/2 and A/3 – Hit on anything except a dealer 5 or 6. In those cases, go ahead and double down.

Once you’ve selected the basic strategy that works for you, do your best to commit it to memory. Once you start getting the hang of it, there are plenty of free online programs that present you with hypothetical blackjack hands and then grade your decision-making skills.

Blackjack Odds

While the rules of blackjack are similar from one casino to the next, the blackjack odds can change based on the payouts, number of decks being used and several other factors. Before you can determine accurate blackjack odds for a game, you need to take the following into consideration:

Rules to Consider
  • On a soft 17, does the dealer hit or stand?
  • How many decks are used? This usually ranges from one to eight.
  • In the case of a player blackjack, what payout is offered by the house? The most common are 6 to 5 or 3 to 2.
  • If the dealer gets a blackjack, does the player lose their entire wager or just the initial bet?
  • What’s the resplit limit for a player?
  • After splitting cards, is the player allowed to double down?
  • Is the surrender option offered?
  • If the player splits aces, can they choose to hit afterwards?
  • Are aces eligible to be resplit?
  • Is the player using basic strategy or just winging it?

As for how the number of decks affects the game, here’s a breakdown of how the house edge increases with each new deck that’s added. If the house uses fewer decks, expect them to alter certain rules to compensate.

Blackjack House Edge

House Edge Per Deck Used
  • One Deck – 0.17%
  • Two Decks – 0.46%
  • Four Decks – 0.60%
  • Six Decks – 0.64%
  • Eight Decks – 0.65%

In a perfect world, the available rules can be so favorable that they give the player an actual edge over the house. Before you get too excited, however, keep in mind that no sane casino on the planet is going to offer blackjack odds that favor the customer. If they did, it wouldn’t be long before they went out of business. 

Even if the worst possible rules are used, the house edge usually maxes out at just over two percent. While this percentage might not be good enough for advantage players, it’s still far superior to the odds offered by most slot machines.

Is Blackjack Card Counting Illegal?

Blackjack card counting isn’t as simple as Hollywood makes it out to be. In order to master this skill, an aspiring counter has to play thousands of hands and know their chosen system inside and out. And even if you do everything right, there’s still the risk of getting barred from the casino or suffering through a terrible streak of luck.

What are the Basics of Counting Cards?

The goal of card counting is to keep track of all the cards that have been played, assign them numerical values and arrive at an overall total. When this value favors the player, larger wagers should be made. When it favors the dealer, however, the player knows to be more conservative. 

The general premise is that low cards favor the dealer, as common blackjack rules require the dealer to hit with less than 16. If they receive low cards, then they’re more likely to get near 21 without busting.

High cards, meanwhile, often favor the player. They can result in the dealer busting, as well as increasing the odds of a player blackjack. Tens and face cards are also useful when deciding to double down, which allows the initial wager to be increased by up to 100 percent in exchange for one additional card.

There are dozens of card-counting systems out there, but the following seven are the most popular:

Card Counting Systems
  • Hi-Lo – Add +1 to the count for the 2 through 6 cards, 0 for 7 through 9; -1 for aces and 10 for value cards
  • K-O – +1 for 1 through 7 cards; 0 for 8 and 9; -1 for aces and 10 for value cards
  • Halves – +.5 for the 2 card; +1 for 3, 4 and 6; +1.5 for 5; +5 for the 7 card; 0 for 8; -5 for 9; 1 for 10s and aces
  • Omega II – +1 for 2, 3 and 7; +2 for 4, 5 and 6, 0 for 8 and ace; -1 for 9; -2 for 10s
  • Zen – +1 for 2, 3 and 7; +2 for 4, 5 and 6; 0 for 8 and 9; -2 for 10s; -1 for ace
  • Hi-Opt I – 0 for 2, 7, 8, 9 and ace; +1 for 3, 4, 5 and 6; -1 for 10s
  • Hi-Opt II – +1 for 2, 3, 6 and 7; 0 for 8, 9 and ace; +2 for 4 and 5; -2 for 10s

Casino Tactics Againsst Card Counting

Casinos have developed a number of defensive techniques for when they run into a skilled card counter. However, you’d have to be Rain Man for the casinos to be concerned with your card-counting proficiency.

Casino Defensive Techniques
  • Distraction – An employee might be instructed to start a conversation with the player in order to distract them, or a pit boss might stand nearby and glare in their direction.
  • Frequent Shuffling – The dealer will shuffle frequently to interfere with a high count.
  • Altering Stakes – By changing the stakes, the casino can make a table less appealing.
  • Banning – If the player is too good, they may be asked to leave, which is perfectly legal on the part of the casino).

It might seem as though casinos hate blackjack card counting, but in most cases, they don’t mind at all. That’s because card players often lack the skills to do it correctly on a consistent basis, which leads them to lose just as much as the novice sitting next to them. In the hands of a disciplined pro or determined team, however, the art of card counting can destroy the house edge and create millionaires. 

What is the History of Blackjack?

Blackjack history is open to debate, especially when discussing the formative years of the game. Some argue that the gambling-obsessed Romans engaged in a version before BC gave way to AD. On the other hand, others point to a number of games from the 15th to 17th centuries that likely evolved into the blackjack that we know today.

European Origins

The Spanish game of Thirty-One goes back to at least 1440, and the objective was to reach a total of 31 by using three or more cards. Over the next few centuries, games such as Seven and a Half, Quinze and Twenty-One popped up in Italy, France and Spain. Each of those games requires a player’s cards to reach a certain sum (or close to it) in order to win.

The game known as Vingt-et-un (the French word for “twenty-one”) dates all the way back to the early 17th century when it was mentioned in a tale of gamblers penned by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. (You know, the guy who wrote Don Quixote, the book you probably had to read in high school and couldn’t finish so you rented the movie to write your book report…) In de Cervantes’ Rinconete y Cortadillo, the objective of this card game was to reach 21 points without going over, and the ace was valued at either 1 or 11 points.

As the years passed, 21 continued to grow in popularity across Europe thanks to the element of skill that was required. French colonists brought the game to America, although the rules at the time included a betting round between each card dealt to the players, as well as a dealer-only policy on doubling down.

Blackjack Comes to America

American players embraced the game and made it their own, altering some of the rules as they saw fit. The dealer’s up-card was now shown before a player made their decision, and dealers could no longer hit or stand as they pleased. Instead, they were forced to make decisions based on a strict set of rules.

While legal, house-banked games showed up in New Orleans in the 1820s, there were plenty of other less-than-legal games being conducted around the nation. Gambling houses sometimes offered special promotions to lure in customers, and one of these promised a 10 to 1 payout for a hand consisting of a black jack and the ace of spades. While the bonus didn’t last long, it did gain enough notoriety to result in a name change. From that point on, everyone referred to the game as blackjack. 

In 1932, Nevada casinos started offering games of house-banked blackjack. Now that it was legal, blackjack started the long process of becoming a respectable part of mainstream gambling culture.

The Modern Age of Blackjack

Native American tribes got into the blackjack business in 1988 thanks to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. This law allowed tribes to build and police their own casinos, and it wasn’t long before the money started rolling in. Around the same time, numerous states began skirting laws against land-based casinos by offering offshore riverboat gambling.

In the middle of the 1990s, the internet began its meteoric rise and online casinos weren’t far behind. Players were given the ability to wager from the privacy of their own homes, and aspiring blackjack pros could try to beat the house with a basic strategy chart taped to their PC. 

The Blackjack Hall of Fame was established in 2002 to honor the greatest players and experts in history. The following year, the Barona Casino in San Diego created a physical hall of fame and offered lifetime comps to members, with the only stipulation being that they never played blackjack at the establishment.