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Card games are some of the most popular options you’ll find on offer in an online casino, and they don’t come any more popular than blackjack.
The love for blackjack comes from the fact that it’s simple enough for beginners to learn quickly but complex enough for more advanced players to continue to have a fun and exciting challenge for the rest of their lives.
If you like the sound of what this incredible card game has to offer, then here is everything you need to know about playing blackjack.
A quick overview of the Blackjack rules
In blackjack, you compete against the dealer to make the strongest hand. The process for doing this is much simpler than in games like poker, as there are no combinations to remember; you need to add up the values of the cards.
So, if you have an 8 and a 7, you have a hand of 15. In the case of picture cards (J, Q, and K), these are worth 10, while the A can be both 1 and 11 (whichever is best for your hand).
Your aim is to make a hand of 21, or as close to that number as you can get without going over (bust). You can do this with any combination, though a picture card and an ace will beat all other blackjack hands that make 21.
The game starts with both you and the dealer being dealt two cards. Both of yours will be placed face up on the table while at least one of the dealer’s will be face down.
You then have the choice of whether you want to stand (not take any more cards) or hit (receive another card from the shoe). You can request as many additional cards as you like, but it’s rare to take more than a couple of extras.
Once you have a hand you’re happy with, the dealer will follow the same process as you, taking more cards until they have a strong hand.
The only difference between you and the dealer is that they will have instructions to stand if their hand is at or above a certain number. This number varies, but it is usually 17. This means they’ll always take an additional card if they are holding a hand worth 16 or less. If they’re at 17 or above, then they’ll stand.
Unlike games like roulette, where your chances of winning are always fixed, blackjack odds vary depending on your behavior. Roughly, the house edge in blackjack can be as high as 8% (if you play badly), but the more efficiently you play, the lower this can become. If done correctly, you can bring the edge down to just 0.5-1%.
Some Basic Blackjack Strategy for beginners
To lower the house edge in this game, you need to use a blackjack strategy. There are a few different approaches you can take, but here are some of the things to consider as a beginner:
- Don’t buy insurance
- Stand on hands between 12 and 16 whenever you see the dealer has an up card of between 2 and 6
- Hit on hands between 12 and 16 if you see the dealer has an up card of 7 or higher (including A)
- Always split pairs of As and 8s
- Double (double the size of your bet but only being allowed to take one extra card) on 11 whenever the dealer as a 2-10 upcard
- Hit or double whenever you have A-6
There are handy tables you can download that tell you what to do in each scenario. When you’re starting out, you can refer to this to help you get to grips with this basic strategy.
Outside of counting cards, this basic strategy is the best way to reduce the house edge and improve your chances of winning in a game of blackjack. Of course, it’s still not a guarantee.
Some other essential things to think about when starting out with blackjack are:
- Take your time, don’t feel forced to decide quickly if you’re still working out whether to hit or stand
- Set a bankroll limit and stick to it
- Start with small wagers so you can manage your bankroll more effectively
- Don’t worry about anyone else; only you and the dealer are playing together, so it doesn’t matter what hands any other players are holding
- Don’t forget to factor in the dealer’s up card
The casino house edge depends on how well you play blackjack
Unlike in some casino games, the house edge in blackjack depends on your performance.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing in a land-based casino, an online casino, or a live casino version of the game, the principle remains the same.
Deploying the basic strategy described above can help reduce the edge down to 0.5%, but most players will deviate from it in some way, which can increase or decrease that percentage.
The most advanced players will deploy more complicated strategies. The most famous of these is counting cards, a complex process of keeping a running tally in your head of how many high and low-value cards have come out of the shoe.
Some people believe that this is somehow illegal or against the casino rules. In reality, it is neither of these things (provided you only use your brain and work alone), and some casinos even sell books that cover the topic of card counting in their gift shops.
The most effective card counters can reduce the house edge to (or very close to) zero.
On the other hand, some beginners won’t use a strategy at all and will make their decisions based on intuition. This can push the house edge up much higher for these players.