Blackjack is one of the most recognizable table games in the world and ranks as a favorite of millions of players at both web-based casinos and brick-and-mortar gambling venues. Also known as Twenty-One, blackjack is a game in which the player is competing against the dealer, and aims at obtaining a cards’ total that is greater in value than the hand of the croupier but without going over 21.
Unlike other table classics like roulette and craps, blackjack is not based merely on luck. Through advantage play and making informed decisions, players can exploit the game and eventually end their betting session on profit. The following article provides players with insights on the key aspects of winning at blackjack, including splitting pairs and knowing when to hit, stand or double down. Advantage play will also be mentioned in brief.
On Splitting Pairs
When the player’s starting hand consists of two cards that are numerically identical, they are provided with the option to split them or play each card in a separate hand by placing an additional, side bet. Splitting a pair can improve one’s chances of winning but it can sometimes weaken their hand as well. What face-up card the dealer shows also needs to be taken into consideration.
- As a rule of thumb, Aces are the best pair to split. Do keep in mind that in such cases players are dealt only one additional card on each of the Aces and are not allowed more hits afterward. If a 10 or a ten-value card falls on one or both Aces, the hands will be counted as 21, not as a natural or blackjack, which is to say the payout will be even money.
- Splitting a pair of 8s is also always a good idea, regardless of what the dealer is showing. This can be explained by the fact that a pair of 8s adds up to 16, which is considered the worst possible hand one can get in blackjack. When split, the 8s provide players with better probabilities, especially in instances when face-cards are drawn in both split hands.
- Generally, players are recommended to steer clear of splitting pairs, consisting of 4s, 5s, or 10s because these already constitute strong hands when unsplit, especially in the case with the 10s which add up to a value of 20. When holding a pair of 5s, players may opt for doubling down instead of splitting.
- Another general rule recommends players to split pairs of 2s or 3s, if the dealer shows 4, 5, 6 or 7 as this decreases their chances of going bust.
- If the dealer shows an up card of 6 or below, splitting pairs of 6s and 7s is a viable option for the player.
Hit or Stand?
Many less experienced blackjack players are often faced with the thorny dilemma whether to hit (draw more cards from the deck or shoe) or stand (play the cards they already have) on given hands. Yet, making informed decisions as to when to hit or stand is a pivotal aspect of blackjack. Here are a few basic tips to follow if you are new to the game of 21.
- Players are recommended to hit when their hand’s value totals 8 or 12 though 16 and the dealer shows 7, 8, 9, 10, or an Ace.
- Hitting on a total of 11 is a good idea whenever the dealer shows an Ace. The dealer showing an Ace is among the least favorable scenarios for players because there are four times as many ten-value cards in the shoe. This is to say, the chances of the dealer drawing more cards with an Ace without exceeding 21 are far greater. Because of this, players are recommended to adopt a more aggressive approach when their hand adds up to 11.
- Whenever the dealer shows 7, 8 or 9, players are recommended to hit instead of doubling down provided that their hand’s value is a total of 9.
- With the dealer holding an up card of 10, players should generally hit if their own hand is a total of 10 as well.
- Provided that the dealer reveals 8, 9 or 10, players are advised to hit on soft 18, which is a hand containing an Ace that can be counted as 11 without causing you to go bust.
- Standing is recommended whenever the player obtains a hand that totals 17 or higher, regardless of what the dealer is holding. The only exception to this rule are soft 17s when you hold an Ace, counted as 11 without the risk of busting.
- Standing is also a viable option for players holding a hand that totals 13 (or higher) in value, provided that the dealer shows a 6 or less. As a general rule, 4s, 5s and 6s are bad news for the dealer because their chances of busting with such up cards are greater as opposed to hands with 3s or 2s, especially on a hot shoe.
- Players are also advised to stand on pairs of 10s or other face cards with a value of 10. A total of 20 is already a good starting hand, so there is no need to ruin it by splitting your pair.
On Doubling Down
Doubling down is among the most favorite options of blackjack players. A double down is basically the player doubling the size of their initial wager after they have already been dealt their starting hand. After a double down, the player gets dealt only one additional card and is not entitled to draw more cards from the shoe or deck.
It is important to mention that this option is permitted only on certain hand values and the rules for doubling down vary, depending on the casino you play at. In some gambling establishments, players are allowed to double down on hands that total 11 only. We have outlined two basic rules to follow when it comes to doubling down in blackjack.
- Doubling down is a viable option for players with hands that total 9 whenever the dealer shows a bust card like 4, 5 or 6. Another option is to double if you hold an Ace with a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 and the dealer has 5 or 6. The line of thinking here is that the number of cards in the deck that can help you is greater. Besides, the chances of the dealer busting with his 5 or 6 are more substantial.
- Doubling down works to the players’ advantage whenever they hold a hand that totals 11 or 10. There is a simple explanation behind this – there are sixteen different ten-value cards in a standard 52-card deck, which is to say your chances of hitting 20 or 21 through doubling down are better.
Advantage Play and Card Counting
Card counting is considered a sure-proof way for players to swing the advantage in their favor and gain the upper hand (both literally and figuratively) in blackjack. It ranks among the most important aspects of advantage play and is incorporated by many skilled and experienced blackjack players. What is more, card counting renders blackjack one of the casino games that are actually beatable as it greatly reduces the house edge.
In most general terms, card counting is keeping track of the ratio of high-value cards as opposed to that of low-value cards, remaining in a shoe. The latter may contain anywhere between two and eight standard decks. The Hi-Lo is among the most popular card-counting systems. Cards between 2 and 6, including, are assigned a value of +1 while 10s, Aces, and picture cards are given the value of -1. The 7s, 8s and 9s are neutral and as such, are assigned a value of 0.
On the basis of this, the player keeps a running count which is based on the values of the cards that are dealt. The advantage player would then establish a true count on multiple-deck games by dividing their current running count by the number of decks left in the shoe.
Logically, it follows that advantage players would increase the size of their bets whenever the shoe is “hot”, i.e. the count is higher because there is a greater number of high-value cards to be dealt. When the count drops and the shoe “cools off”, the player’s edge decreases and they would adjust their following wagers accordingly, betting smaller amounts.
Keeping track on the cards that are removed from the shoe can help players make more adequate decisions and adjust their bets accordingly. However, mastering this form of advantage play is not for everyone, not to mention it requires a lot of time, persistence, patience and above all, practice. In addition, counting cards in online blackjack games (where the outcome is determined by RNGs) is impossible since the shoe is re-shuffled after each hand.