Of all the card games that you’re going to find being played in a casino, blackjack is probably the easiest. While poker relies on skills like bluffing and baccarat can be a little confusing this is a game that has neither of these issues.
Instead, you’re just trying to reach a score nearer to 21 than the dealer or, ideally, 21 with just two cards.
But just because it’s a simple game that hinges on the cards that you’re dealt it doesn’t mean that you can’t follow some basic tips and strategies that are going to maximise your chances of winning more often.
Many of them simply rely on tipping the laws of probability slightly more in your favour. Others are more like basic common sense. All should be easy to put into practice once you’ve read what follows.
Memorise the basic strategy
The best strategy of all if you aim to become an accomplished player is to put in a few hours committing something called the basic strategy to memory.
This is a system that was devised by a group of US army soldiers in the 1950s, some of them mathematics graduates. Given the knowledge that in most casinos the dealer has to stick on 16 or 17 they realised that it would be possible to work out the statistically most advantageous way to play after getting sight of your hand and the dealer’s first card.
Since its invention the basic strategy has been further legitimised by having many academic papers written about it so you can rest assured it’s based on sound foundations.
The information is presented in table format generally with the dealer’s hand shown across the top of the table and yours down the side. The square on the grid in which they meet has one of three main symbols, H (hit), S (stand) and SP (split if you have a pair).
It’s not a surefire method, and it has been further refined over the years, but it’s a key weapon in any serious blackjack player’s armoury.
Copies of it are easy to find online and you can even get small “cheat sheets” that most casinos will allow you to have by your side when you play.
The team who devised it, affectionately known as the Four Horseman, went unrecognised for many years until 2008 when they were finally inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
Know when to double down
For the uninitiated, doubling down in blackjack simply means that, before being dealt another card, you double the bet that you’ve already put down. It might seem like a bold move, but there is reason behind it.
You only do it when you can see that you have a better than average chance to win a hand, and, if you do win, you’ll have automatically doubled your winnings too.
There are a number of well-established situations when it’s a good move including these examples:
- On a hard 11 (that’s when neither of your cards is an ace) whatever the dealer’s up-card.
- On a 10 when the dealer’s up-card is 9 or less
- On any hand consisting of an Ace along with a 2,3,4,5,6 or 7 when the dealer’s up-card is a 5 or 6.
To split, or not to split, that’s the question
Another strategy to deploy in blackjack games is knowing when to split a pair. This will mean that you’re playing two hands against the dealer’s one – giving you double the chance to win if it’s a sensible split in relation to the dealer’s hand.
In this the answer is a fairly simple one. If you find yourself with either a pair of 8s or a pair of Aces, always split them whatever the dealer’s up-card might be. This might seem counter-intuitive with the 8s, after all 16 can easily be a winning hand if the dealer busts. But an 8 is a great card to hold on its own, and one more card won’t take it over 21 but it could take you as high as 19.
However, if you find yourself with a pair of 5s or 10s never be tempted to split them. The tens give you a very strong hand that’s hard to beat and starting with two single fives in a hand is most likely to either give you a lowish score or bust you completely.
A couple of final tips
It shouldn’t logically happen, but you’ll find yourself in the middle of winning streaks when you play. Learn to recognise when these are happening and raise the stakes accordingly.
The other tip is not to play for too long in each session. If you’re using all the advice we’ve given you here you’ll have to be concentrating hard, and you need to quit before that concentration starts to wane.
So there you have it, a quick guide to successful blackjack. Now it’s time to put it all to the test.