Blackjack seems like a simple game. Just hit 21 without going over and you win, right? While the basic rules of blackjack make it an easy game for everyone to just jump right in and play, if you want to actually win at blackjack—and win on a regular basis—you’ll need a solid system. The following 8 tips to win at blackjack will take your game to the next level.
1) Scout the Tables
All blackjack games are not created equal. Before you dive into any kind of winning blackjack strategy, you need to know which game of blackjack you are playing. There are many variants of blackjack out there, and most of them offer different rules and different odds of winning. The best way to win at blackjack is to know which type of blackjack you are playing.
Once you know which type of blackjack table you are dealing with, you’ll be able to spot which tables are player favorable, and which ones are dealer favorable. Know this: while it may seem exciting to have a wide variety of blackjack variants to play, the serious player understands that the more types of variants, the easier it is for the casino to trick you.
Choose your blackjack table based on player advantage. Many casinos offer a 6-5 payoff when you hit blackjack, but this is a terrible payout. This payout increases the house edge, so you want to look for a 3-2 payout table. Also, some tables prohibit players from doubling down or splitting pairs.
The best table for players is one where you can split hands or double your bets under favorable conditions. The dealer cannot split or double down, so this type of table is player favorable. Once you’ve chosen the blackjack table with the highest player advantage, this lowers the house edge, which means a higher chance of your winning over time. Now you’ll need a basic blackjack strategy.
2) Learn Basic Blackjack Strategy
Kenny Rogers said you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. But he was singing about poker, and there’s rarely any running in blackjack. But the moral of the Gambler song is that there are basic rules and knowledge for success. Learning the basic set of rules for better blackjack is the only way to win at blackjack in the long run.
You don’t have to be the Rain Man or hold an MIT PhD in math to excel at blackjack. The important thing to remember is that for every hand in blackjack, there is a specific way to bet that hand. Players who ‘trust their gut’ or use their feelings when playing blackjack are not serious players, and they are doomed to fail in the long run.
If you want to win at blackjack, you need to follow a consistent betting strategy for each type of blackjack game you play. Some games may involve a single deck or cards, but many tables deal from 4 to 6 decks, which changes the odds considerably. Fortunately, some math minds have done the heavy lifting for us, so following these simple blackjack strategy charts is the best way to start.
3) Don’t Drink the Free Alcohol
At land-based casinos, they give you free booze as long as you’re sitting at a table gambling. While this may be a great incentive for a college kid just turned 21, the serious blackjack player never drinks alcohol while playing cards. While the booze may be free, the cost is high: impaired judgment, impulse retardation, and lack of focus is what they are pouring you. If you need to get the free drinks, get an energy drink or a soft drink.
The name of the game is winning. There is nothing wrong with visiting Vegas to have a wild time drinking, gambling and eating, but the serious players know that winning at blackjack is a discipline. There are plenty of other freebies you can take advantage of at the casino that won’t rob you of your focus and concentration—or your wallet.
4) Take Advantage of Comps
Comps (short for complimentary gifts) are the freebies given by casinos to reward regular players. In the old gambling days, casinos would shower gamblers with free gifts to entice them to stay in their casino. Free drinks, free rooms, free shows, and free buffet dining comps ruled the day. But now that the casino industry faces such intense competition, the bean counters have limited the amount of freebies a player can collect while gambling. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for comps.
Comps are paid mostly by a player’s club card issued by a casino. Get one (or one for each casino). The card tracks your spending within a casino. At first, a casino won’t give out many comps to low rollers or newbies, but if you plan to win at blackjack, it takes time and effort to see progress. And all the while you are perfecting your strategy, you should also rack up some casino comp points.
Any comp a casino gives you is one less thing you need to spend money on while you are gambling. So become a regular at one casino (or chain), get their rewards card, tip your dealer, and start earning those comps. Once you’ve become good enough at playing the comp game, you can even negotiate a loss rebate, where the casino returns a small portion of your losses to encourage your return.
5) Apply Advanced Strategy
Once you’ve become familiar with the blackjack betting charts, you’ll need to develop an advanced strategy for betting at the blackjack table. Knowing what split bets and double down bets are is one thing, knowing when to use them for maximum advantage is another skill altogether.
Basic blackjack strategy charts detail the types of moves to make when you encounter certain cards at a blackjack table. The basic chart tells you what to do (usually hit, stand, split, or double down) based on the cards you and the dealer are showing. However, many advanced blackjack strategies are composition dependent, meaning they are followed based on the composition of your hand—how many cards you hold, and their value. Every strategy you use in blackjack has one purpose: to chip away at the house edge, thus increasing your odds of winning.
A fairly common deal is a 16-10, your 16 against a dealer showing a 10 card. While this may seem ominous, as the dealer could easily hide an ace for a blackjack, there are still a series of steps you can take in that situation. There is a difference between a 16 made up of 2 cards or 3. If you have a 2-card 16 (i.e. 9-7), always hit. If you have a multi-card 16 (i.e. 4-5-7), always stand. The reason is because your hand of three or more contains low-value cards that are no longer available in the unplayed deck. This increases the chances of a dealer bust when she is forced by house rules to hit on a 16.
6) Bet in Proportion to Your Bankroll
An amateur gambler will often double their bets after losing, based on some errant strategy they read about. They figure (wrongly) if they double down after losing, eventually their losses will be returned. But losing streaks happen, and the only surefire way that doubling your bet after every loss works—is if you have unlimited money. As this is not usually the case with most of us, it pays to keep your bets in proportion to your bankroll.
Once you have mastered the basic betting strategy detailed in the blackjack strategy tables, your bets should be tailored simply to your odds of winning your current hand; not the next one, or the one after that. Depending on the table rules, you can increase your winnings by smart application of side bets such as splitting pairs, or doubling down when your hand warrants it.
7) Don’t Sweat the Losing Streaks
Gambling is a game of probability. Even after you have followed the blackjack strategy tables, learned some advanced betting methods, and you got your first casino comp, you’re still bound to hit a losing streak. The important thing to remember is that the streaks will end eventually, so it’s important to keep your cool and not increase your bets. Bet the minimum to get through the streak, follow best betting strategies, and in the worst case, leave the table and return another day.
8) Learn to Count Cards
Right about now you’re thinking “That’s CRAZY! Counting cards is illegal.” That is a common myth that is completely untrue. Counting cards is legal, as long as you do not use an external device. This means you can use your brain to keep track of the cards dealt, apply a point system (mental math) for each card, and use this information to increase your odds of winning.
If you think that some well-dressed thugs are going to catch you counting cards, take you out back and administer an ass-whooping—you’ve seen too many movies. It is true that a casino may ask any player to leave for any reason (like drunkenness or abusive behavior), much like any business can refuse service. However, savvy players who count cards know they won’t get their faces rearranged by goons, and they have lawyers to get them paid if they did.
For every casino set up out there to relieve us of our bankroll, there is an expert with a solid strategy to win playing blackjack—whether online or in a land-based casino. Take the time to learn the tables to improve your strategy, don’t throw good money after bad, and remember the most important rules of all: have fun and good luck!