Blackjack, along with video poker, is one of 2 games in the casino where you can get a demonstrable mathematical edge over the house. But it’s not enough to just play the hands correctly. You also need to learn a legitimate advantage technique like counting cards. Here are 10 tips for how to win at blackjack:
1. Learn how the house edge works
The house edge in blackjack varies based on the conditions of the game and the rules in effect. Some rules, like having fewer decks in play, benefit the player. Being allowed to double after splitting or being allowed to re-split also reduces the house edge. Knowing the effects of these rules and conditions can help you decide which game to play.
2. Memorize basic strategy
There are surprisingly few possible situations in blackjack. The dealer’s only going to have one of 10 possible up cards, for example. You’re going to have a 2 card total, too, but there are a pretty limited number of those, too. Some of the ways to play various hands are easy to memorize, too. For example, you always split aces or 8s. You never split 4s, 5s, or 10s. The house edge for a blackjack game is quoted assuming that you’re using perfect basic strategy.
3. Learn to count cards
It’s easier than you think, and if you do it well, you can get an edge over the casino of between 0.5% and 2%. Counting cards doesn’t require you to memorize the entire deck, either. You just keep a running count of positive and negative values based on the high cards and the low cards that have been dealt. You can find all kinds of methods for counting cards, but the most basic one that most card counters start with is called the Hi Lo count.
4. If you’re not counting cards, take frequent breaks
You’ll lose less money per hour if you take frequent breaks. That’s because your expected hourly loss is a factor of how many hands per hour you play. It’s also a function of the house edge and how much you bet per hand. If you want to minimize the amount you lose per hour, you’ll find ways to play fewer hands.
5. Sit at a crowded table
Don’t believe the nonsense about how other players can screw up your hand by making the wrong decisions. It’s not true. But when you sit at a table alone, you get in a lot more hands per hour than if you’re sitting at a full table. In fact, if you’re by yourself at the table, you’ll see 200 hands per hour. If you’re there with 6 other players, you’ll see 50 hands per hour. That means you’ll lose 4 times as much if you’re playing by yourself.
6. If you’re counting cards, reverse the last 2 tips
If you’re counting cards, you have the edge. So the more hands per hour you play, the more money you win. If you’re just a basic strategy player, your goal is to lose as little money per hour as possible. If you’re counting cards, your goal is to win as much money per hour as possible.
7. Ask for comps
One of the #1 rules of getting comps is that the first step is to ask for them. When you’re playing at the blackjack table, always ask if you can get a free meal or something. You probably won’t get anything of such value that it will make up for your losses at the table, but it’s worth a try.
8. Practice online
Many online casinos offer free blackjack games you can practice on. As a general rule, I don’t find that too helpful, but if you find one that has a basic strategy tutorial, you’re in luck. Many players can learn basic strategy faster with some kind of online training program than they could by memorizing a chart or reading a prose description of the right plays.
9. NEVER play 6:5 blackjack
A natural (aka a blackjack, a 2 card hand totaling 21) pays off at 3 to 2 at a standard blackjack table. Some newer variations have exotic rules, and some of them only offer a 6 to 5 payoff for a natural. Those games should be avoided at all costs, as the house edge skyrockets because of that change.
10. Avoid side bets
Every side bet at a blackjack table that I’ve ever looked at had an outrageous house edge. Some of these bets have a house edge of over 10%. This includes insurance, which is a sucker bet that the dealer has a blackjack. Just say no to all side bets to be sure, unless you’re counting cards. If you ARE counting cards, there are certain situations (when the deck is positive) that you will want to take insurance.