So now that you're at the table and playing, what to do and what not to do? If you're new to the game have some faith that the dealer will help you out when you need the help, and don't hesitate to ask. Just say, 'hmmm, what would you do here?' and the dealer will let you know what basic strategy would suggest. If you do happen to have a dealer who isn't helpful, I'd simply get up and walk away. You're paying for entertainment right? Part of that is a helpful and entertaining dealer, in my opinion anyway. If you're playing online of course, you can simply reference a web-site such as this one.
Blackjack rules differ from one casino to another, and your odds of winning usually change with respect to those differences. Blackjack has what's known as a variable house edge. This means that as you differ your strategy and decision's, the house edge changes along with the quality of your play. For this reason it's best to learn the basic strategy that has been proven to be best mathematically. We cover basic strategy on our blackjack strategy page, which you should read next.
Each card in the deck is worth the value printed on it. Face cards are all worth ten, and Aces are worth either 11 or 1, whichever is better for your hand. When you have an ace in your hand and only one other card, it's called a soft total. Say you have a 6 and an Ace, you have a 'soft seventeen'. If you have a ten and a 7 it's a hard seventeen. When you have a soft total, unless it's eighteen or more, you should generally hit it, as you can't bust. A soft sixteen for instance, if hit by a ten, will give you a hard sixteen, which is no worse off.
The suit of the card doesn't matter in blackjack, only the point value. With that in mind, paying attention to your potential total on the next card is the main thinking part of the game. A rule of thumb that often applies is, since there are more 10 valued cards in the deck, you have to assume your next card will be worth ten. Most basic strategy is based around this concept. It's an oversimplification to assume that every unseen card is a ten however, and you should only use the concept while you're learning the proper basic strategy decisions. 10's make up 30.8% of the deck, that's why when a dealers up-card is a 6 it's considered to be showing busting cards, but if they are showing a 2, there are still plenty of cards left in the deck to help them out without busting.
A Natural winner
There is no way to win automatically in blackjack; the closest you can get is being dealt a 21 with your first two cards while the dealer doesn't. This of course is simply called getting blackjack, or getting a natural blackjack, or sometimes simply called a natural. If both you and the dealer happen to get blackjack, it's a push and you don't get paid, you just get your money back. If you win on a natural blackjack you are paid a bonus, which is usually 3 to 2 on your bet. So if you bet 10 bucks, you'll get paid $15 instead of the usual $10 for a win.
Double your money
Part of learning to play blackjack well, or as some call it, becoming an advantage player, is learning when to bet more and when to bet less. As I mentioned earlier, blackjack is a game with a variable house edge, and the amount of money you walk away with isn't determined by unalterable numbers each time (as would be the case in a game of roulette). This house edge fluctuation is only useful if we know how to take advantage of it, and there is one area where most people fall short, that area is doubling down.
Doubling down is the player's ability to increase their bet mid-hand if they feel they have a particularly good opportunity to win. This is the major variable that lets blackjack be played at a near 0% house edge. The problem is, people don't often take advantage! Without taking advantage of when you should double down, the house edge soars as high as many games you'll be warned to never play. Why is this? I think it lies in a little simple psychology. When people are presented with an opportunity to double down (when basic strategy suggests it) it's natural for them to think 'oh, that must mean I have a good chance of winning, and since I'll win either way, I don't really need to double my bet, I'll be happy with just winning, I don't need to risk more'. So you get people not doubling down when it's smart to do so. But what they don't realize is that the house edge of the game that basic strategy offers you is only attainable if you take advantage of those double down situations. In the end, if you ignore doubling down, you're putting yourself up against a 5% or large house edge, instead of one that can dip down below 1%. Blackjack rules don't offer a better opportunity to truly make some money than the double down.
To double down on your bet, you wait until you have two cards, then you slide more money right up beside your first bet. The amount of money you put down can be as much as your original bet, but not more. You will be dealt one more card. If you win you're paid even money.
Learn more about blackjack rules including splitting and insurance.
ęCopyright Ted Knuden 2023.
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