BlackJack is one of the most popular casino games and now it has gained even more popularity and reached an even broader audience since it is so accessible over the Internet to online players. Blackjack, also called 21, is a game in which each card has a number value assigned to it.
The cards 2 thru 10 are assigned their actual face value (i.e. a 2 is worth 2 points a 5 is worth 5 points). The face or picture cards, Jack, Queen and King are all worth 10 points just like the tens. Aces are special, an Ace can be worth 1 point or 11 points, whichever gives the player the best possible hand value without going over 21.
Hands that are comprised of an Ace and another card are said to be “soft.” That means that you can draw another card without fear of the hand’s point value exceeding 21. For instance, A7 is said to be a “soft eighteen” with the Ace being worth 11 points and the 7 being worth seven points.
It is called soft because there is no card we could draw that would make us “bust.” For example, if we drew a 10-value card (i.e. 10, Jack, Queen, King) our hand value would still be 18 because we would now use our Ace as a 1-value card, however it is no longer “soft.”
The object of Blackjack is to obtain a total of 21 points per hand or as close to 21 without exceeding 21. A hand comprised of an Ace and a 10-value card is called a “BlackJack” and is paid at 3-2. To win the player must beat the dealers hand without exceeding 21.
The player must act first, which *usually* gives the dealer the advantage (that’s how casinos stay in business!). Most often, the Dealer has to stand on any total of 17 or more and hits on anything less.
Basic Strategy for Blackjack:
Unlike some other casino games, BlackJack CAN be beaten and is often beaten. The first step to becoming a WINNING BLACKJACK PLAYER is to learn Basic Strategy.
Basic Strategy is the playing decisions that you make when you have no idea of what cards are left in the deck. In BlackJack, unlike other casino games, the cards that have BEEN played affect how the future hands WILL BE PLAYED.
That is because the composition of the remaining cards in the deck CHANGES as certain cards are used-up and taken out of play. You will see later, that Advanced Strategy takes advantage of this phenomena.
The main rules of Basic Strategy are summarized below:
- If your first two cards total less than 11, always draw another card (called taking a Hit).
- If your first two cards total 17, always stand. (Do not take a Hit).
- Normally it is correct to assume that the dealer has a ten hidden.
- If your cards total 12 to 16, whether you draw or stand depends on what the dealer is showing.
- If the dealer has a card showing between 7 and Ace you should draw until you are over 16 (since we are assuming a 10-value card in the Dealer’s Hole).
- If the Dealer is showing a card between 2 to 6 you should not draw another card (when your hand’s total is 12 to 16). Note: There is one exception to this rule: If you have 12 and the dealer is showing a 2 or 3 you should draw one more card only.
- When you have soft 17 or 18 (A6 or A7) it is a good idea to draw if the dealer is showing any card from a 9 to an Ace.
- Do not take Insurance, since you are betting that the dealer will receive a BlackJack (21). You are playing to beat the dealer not bet that he will beat you.
Below is a BlackJack Basic Strategy Chart:
Hit= H Stand= S Double Down= DD Split= SP
DEALER SHOWING: This is the exposed card in the Dealer’s Hand and appears in the first row
PLAYER’S HAND TOTALS appear in the leftmost column of the chart:
Even Advanced BlackJack Strategy begins with a sound knowledge of the BASIC STRATEGY so you must have the Basic Strategy mastered before attempting to tackle this section. Advanced Strategy combines the Basic Strategy and a method for keeping track of the remaining cards in the deck.
This is done through a routine called CARD COUNTING. Using a Card Counting method, the Player assigns either a -1, 0, or +1 value to the cards that have been observed (this is a different number from the point-value of the cards discussed above).
Typically -1 is assigned to 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace. The 0 is assigned to the cards 7, 8, 9 and cards 2 through 6 get a +1. As these cards are played, the player keeps a running total called the RUNNING COUNT.
This is done so that the higher the positive count goes, the greater the ratio of high cards vs. low cards there is left to be played (this favors the player) and the more negative the negative count goes, the greater the ratio of low cards vs. high cards there is left to be played (this favors the dealer).
Let’s try an example:
Starting with a new shoe, the hands currently exposed are J6 (card-counting value 0 because J = -1 and 6 = +1). AK (card-counting value -2), 75 (card counting value +1 since 7 is neutral) and AA (card counting value -2) so the total count at this time is -3 which tells us that of the remaining cards left in the deck there are 3 more +1 cards (low cards) versus -1 cards (high cards). How can this help us?
What keeping this count does is tell us when it is correct to DEVIATE FROM BASIC STRATEGY. When keeping the count it is correct to deviate from Basic Strategy according to the following rules (we are assuming a single-deck game):
- Hit Hard 14, 15 against the Dealer’s 2 through 6 when the count is -3 or greater
- Hit Hard 16 against the Dealer’s 2 through 6 when the count is -4 or greater
- Do NOT Split 8,8 when the count is -4 or greater
- Take Insurance when the count is +3 or greater and the Dealer shows a 10-value card
- Do NOT hit Hard 12, 13 against a Dealer’s 2 or 3 when the count is +2 or greater
- Do NOT hit Hard 14, 15, 16 against any Dealer card when the count is +4 or greater.
Advanced Strategy Considerations for Online Blackjack
Up until recently most (if not all) online casinos offered only single-player Blackjack utilizing one deck. Unfortunately, card-counting was not relevant because the deck was shuffled after each hand, thus the best advantage the online Blackjack player had was to employ perfect Basic Strategy and good money management.
When coupled with the excellent player Bonuses offered by most online casinos, the patient player could come out ahead by playing perfect Basic Strategy and taking advantage of these bonuses. The Basic Strategy afforded him an almost even game against the house and once he used up or cashed out his bonus money, the player could move on to the next online casino.
Recently, however, some online casinos have started employing multiplayer games. This was done to allow people to share the same camaraderie we do with the other players in a real casino. Interestingly, most casinos that offer multi-player games still use the single-deck that is shuffled after every round.
Unlike single-player games however, multiplayer games offer the advantage of seeing a large portion of the cards that have been played (assuming we are sitting at a full table) before we have to make our playing decision (as long as we sit in the seat immediately to the Dealer’s left when facing him-called Third-Base).
This allows us to view all the other hands as well as the cards drawn by all the other players before playing our hand. This gives the card-counting player a huge advantage because he will know such things as: all of the four Aces have been played so the Dealer can’t have BlackJack and thus there is no need to take insurance or the count is greater than +5 so I’ll have to alter my playing decisions based on the strategy offered above etc.