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Blackjack - The complete guide

We've built a tool to teach you everything you need to know about playing blackjack. Blackjack trainer by Bojoko includes:

Blackjack free play

Our blackjack trainer will show you the ropes in a very practical and intuitive way. In addition, we've prepared an entire guide to blackjack, including:

Internet is full of blackjack guides. Many of them are written by people who don't really understand the game. Reading those guides won't help you play blackjack better.

Other guides are bulkier, but the format isn't user-friendly. Instead of giving you instant answers peppered with examples and videos, you'd have to read through hundreds of pages to get the info you're looking for.

Our approach is different.

This blackjack guide is the only one you need to read. It covers every topic from the basics to advanced strategies, in an easy to follow format.

To get the message through, we use:

Reading this guide will get you ready for the real tables.

Click on the orange tiles below to get started!

PART 1:

How to play blackjack


Learn the rules of blackjack. At first glance, blackjack appears to be a very simple game. Most people try to get their hand total as close to 21 without going over. Yet, you only need to beat the dealer's hand. If you dig deeper, you will find a complex and satisfying game underneath.

What is blackjack?

Here's a quick introduction to blackjack by Andrew Uyal, a pit boss turned blackjack pro. Andrew shares his 5 practical tips to play the game better and make your sessions more enjoyable:

Blackjack is a card game played against the dealer. The object of the game is to build a hand value that is higher than that of the dealer's without going over 21.

A hand of blackjack plays out as follows:

  1. You place a bet
  2. The dealer gives you two cards face-up
  3. The dealer receives two cards, one face-up and one face-down
  4. You assess the value of your hand and decide whether to take more cards or stand
  5. The dealer makes a move once you’ve finished.

The winner is the hand with a value that’s closest to 21 (or 21 exactly) without going over.

The overall objective in blackjack is to beat the dealer’s hand. If you get a total hand value of 21, then so much the better. However, you can beat the dealer with any number higher than what they have, as long as you don’t go over 21. You also win if they bust by going over 21 and you have any total under 21.

Sounds simple, right? Well, in theory, it is. However, there are certain subtleties that come into play. It’s these nuances that make blackjack entertaining and, importantly, a game where you can introduce various tactics and strategies.

In this guide, we’ll cover all of these features in more detail. However, before we do that, you need to know the basics and how to play.

Blackjack card values

Blackjack card values

The rules on card values in blackjack are very simple. Here's how they work:

  • Numbered cards are worth the face value on them: 5 counts as 5, a 7 as 7 and so on.
  • All of the picture cards (also known as face cards) count as 10. This includes the Jack, Queen and King.
  • The ace can count as either 1 or 11. It's the most versatile card in the pack.
  • Jokers aren’t included in this game.

Blackjack is played with a standard deck of 52 cards. The colours and suits of the cards don’t matter. All that counts is the value associated with the card.

How to work out the total of a blackjack hand

To get the total of any hand, you need to add up each of the cards in it.

EXAMPLE: You're dealt a 7 and an 8. This hand is worth 15. If you then get dealt a 3, the total goes up to 18.

If your total exceeds 21 at any time, you've gone "bust" and the hand is lost. The same rule applies to the dealer.

Determining the value of your hand really is that simple. The only time that things get more complicated is when you get an ace.

How to make a blackjack: the power of an ace

Blackjack pays 3 to 2

In blackjack, an Ace can be worth 1 or 11. Therefore, if you get a 10 and an Ace as your first two cards, your total is 21. This is known as "blackjack".

At other times in the game, an ace can be worth 1 or 11, depending on what works best under the circumstances. In these situations, the concept of "hard" and "soft" hands comes into play (see section below).

If you have a blackjack, you automatically win the hand as long as the dealer doesn't also have a blackjack. When you win with blackjack, your payout is 3:2 (in most variants) instead of the standard 1:1. In simple terms, 3:2 means you'll win 3 chips for every 2 chips you bet. Alternatively, you can say that blackjack is worth 1.5X your stake because 3/2 = 1.5.

EXAMPLE: If you wager £2 and hit blackjack at 3:2, your profit will be £3. You'll get 3 chips for the 2 chips you've staked. Since you also receive your stake back on a win, your total return will be £5 (£2 stake + £3 profit).

If the dealer also has a blackjack at the same time as you do, the hand is a tie. However, if the dealer creates a blackjack and you have any other total - including 21 built with three or more cards - the dealer wins.

When the dealer has an ace showing as an upcard, you can pay to take out insurance against them having a blackjack. If you do this and they have a blackjack, you'll receive a 2:1 payout on your insurance bet.

Hard hands and soft hands

You may come across terms such as "hard" or "soft". This tells you whether the cards contain an ace that counts as 11 or not:

Hard hands =

  • A hand that doesn't contain an ace

or

  • A hand where the ace can only count as 1

EXAMPLE:

  • 10 + 5 = Hard 15
  • 10 + 2 + Ace = Hard 13

Soft Hands =

  • A soft hand includes an Ace that can be counted as either 1 or 11

EXAMPLE: You're dealt 4 + 5 = 9. You take a third card: Ace. Your total is now either:

  • 10 = 4 + 5 + Ace (1), or
  • 20 = 4 + 5 + Ace (11)

There are two main reasons for understanding the difference between hard and soft hands.

The first one is that it affects the strategy that you use. If you look at the basic strategy chart, you will see that the decisions you make will differ between hard hands and soft hands. For example, if you have a hard 16, the strategy chart might tell you to stand. But a soft 16 could lead to you hitting.

The other situation is in terms of what the dealer does. Different casinos and games will have varying rules. For example, the dealer may have to hit on a soft 16 or stand on a soft 17 and so on. However, in most online variants, the dealer hits on all 16s and stands on all 17s.

Blackjack rules

The rules are simple. Anyone can learn how to play this game in little time - that's probably one reason blackjack has proved to be so popular over the years.

Placing a bet

To get started, you need to place a bet. This is usually done using chips that each represent a cash value. You simply place the amount that you wish to wager and wait for the cards to be dealt.

The chips are colour-coded and typically have their value written on them. Individual blackjack games each have lower and upper betting limits that you need to stick to. These are called table limits.

You may choose to play with two or more hands at once in some multi-hand versions of the game. This means placing a separate bet on another player position at the same table.

Blackjack is played against the dealer, not against other players. Other players' hands don't affect the results of your own hand.

Dealing the cards

The casino will use a dealing shoe that contains a number of decks in it. Normally, four, six or eight packs of cards are used. Standard 52-card decks without jokers are used in blackjack.

You'll get your first two cards face-up. The dealer's first card will be face-up; the second is dealt face-down. This means that you are partially aware of how strong the dealer's hand is.

At this point, you need to make a decision on what to do next. Depending on your hand, you can do one of these moves:

  • Hit = Take another card. Repeat if necessary.
  • Stand = Don't take any more cards and pass your turn to the dealer.
  • Split = If you have two cards with the same value, you can split them into two hands.
  • Double down = Double your stake and get one more card.
  • Surrender = Quit the hand and get back half of your stake.

Below, you'll find more detailed descriptions of each move.

Hit or stand

To hit is to ask for another card, to stand is to stick with what you have.

The closer you can get to 21 without going over it, the better. You can keep on asking for more cards until you are happy with your hand. When you stand, the play then moves onto the next hand, before finally reaching the dealer's turn.

The dealer doesn't make these decisions as you do. They need to follow set rules that tell them when to hit and when to stand.

In the standard version, the dealer hits on any value below 17 and stands on any value of 17 or more.

Splitting your hand

You can split your hand into two if you have two cards of the same value in it. This means making another bet to the same value as your original stake. You can then carry on playing with both hands.

You may be restricted to just one additional card after splitting a couple of aces. With other values, there usually are no such restrictions.

Doubling down

This lets you double the original stake. However, if you choose to do this then you will only get one more card added to your hand. This is an exciting move that adds to the risk but gives you the potential for a bigger win.

You can only double down on your initial two-card hand. Some rule variations only allow doubling down on certain hand totals, e.g. from 9 to 11.

Surrender

Surrendering means that you forfeit the game and lose half your initial stake. It can only be done at the start of the game before you ask for another card.

Not all casinos and blackjack versions have the surrender option, and it's especially rare in online blackjack.

There are two versions of the surrender rule:

  • Early surrender - you can surrender before the dealer checks their hand, meaning you can't lose to a blackjack hand.
  • Late surrender - the blackjack is resolved before the surrender, i.e. you will lose to a dealer blackjack.

Insurance

Insurance is only offered when the dealer's visible card is an ace. By taking out insurance, you protect yourself against the possibility of the dealer having blackjack. The amount you put on this is usually half of your stake. It pays out as 2:1 to you if the dealer has 21 in their first two cards.

Insurance is a sucker bet and should never be taken. Read our complete analysis of insurance odds and payouts to learn why.

Even Money

This is similar in some ways to the insurance option. Even money is a side bet offered when you have a blackjack hand and the dealer has an ace sitting face-up. If you accept this, then you receive an even money payout before the dealer checks their other card. This means that you are protected from a push if both you and the dealer have blackjack.

Just like insurance side bet, the odds for the even-money bet are not in your favour.

Blackjack payouts

blackjack payouts infographic

  • If you have a higher number than the dealer and have 21 or less, you win
  • If the total of your hand is over 21, you lose
  • If the dealer's hand has a value higher than yours but doesn't go over 21, you lose
  • If you are under 21 and the dealer is bust, you win
  • If your hand goes over 21, you bust and lose
  • Wins are paid out at 1 to 1
  • If you have blackjack and the dealer doesn't, the payout is 3 to 2
  • If you and the dealer get the same total, it is a push and your wager is returned to you
Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 2:

Blackjack etiquette in a brick-and-mortar casino


Blackjack is a game that has a clear set of behaviours and etiquette that should be followed at all times. These are designed to make it a safer, fairer experience for everyone involved. Learn how to signal your moves to the dealer.

Should you touch the cards?

In most blackjack tables, you shouldn't touch the cards at all.

The way that you touch the cards depends upon how they are dealt to you.

  • When the cards are dealt face-up, you shouldn't touch them at all.
  • If they are face-down on the table, you need to pick them up. However, this should always be done using just one hand.
  • Under no circumstances, should you move the cards out of sight of the dealer or the security cameras. This means not moving them under the table or anywhere else where they are hidden.

Hand signals

You can't use verbal instructions at a blackjack table, so it's important that you understand the hand signals that are used to tell the dealer what you want to do:

blackjack hand signals

Hit

  • In games where you don't pick up the cards: lightly scratch the table next to the cards to ask for another.
  • When holding the cards: make a beckoning motion or tap the table behind the cards to ask for a hit

Stand

  • When the cards are dealt face-up: wave your hand with your palm facing down.
  • When the cards are dealt face-down: place them carefully under your chips to indicate that you are standing.

Double Down

  • Hold up one finger.

Split

  • Split: hold up two fingers.

Other key points

Use chips instead of cash

You never use cash at the table, instead, you exchange it for chips either before or at the blackjack table.

Stack your chips in ascending order with the lowest value chips on the top and the highest on the bottom.

Once you've placed a bet, don't touch your chips until the betting round is over and the dealer completes the action.

Join the game between rounds

You can only join a game before a new betting round starts and never during a betting round.

Keep the table clear

You shouldn't place anything on the table except your stake. In most casinos, you will have a drinks-holder where you can safely place your drink while you play.

Be respectful to the dealer and other players

You shouldn't get angry with anyone else if the game isn't going the way you were expecting. Neither should you offer unsolicited advice to other players.

Just concentrate on your own game and enjoy it whatever happens.

Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 3:

Blackjack online


Card games first became available on the internet in the 1990s. Since then, blackjack has become one of the most popular games played online. It is no longer necessary to play at home with friends or to go to a local casino. Learn how to play blackjack online.

Reasons to play blackjack online

There are a number of reasons why many players prefer online blackjack over the brick-and-mortar variant:

  • The convenience factor: It can be played 24/7 and enjoyed across numerous devices
  • Highly regulated industry: Licensed operators must, by law, supply a safe and fair platform to players
  • Transparency: The rules are clearly explained and the software follows a clear gaming pattern.
  • Variations: There's a big choice of variants with different rules for you to choose from.
  • Blackjack bonuses: Welcome bonuses and promotions give you extra credits to play with.
  • Authentic casino experience: Play in a real-life casino atmosphere at a live dealer casino.
  • Competition: You can take part in online tournaments.

Play blackjack online for free

Free play is the perfect way to hone your skills before hitting the real tables. We've built a tool just for that:

Blackjack free play

Free blackjack app for mobile

You can download our blackjack tool as a dedicated app on your mobile. In addition to the free play mode, our blackjack trainer includes basic strategy and card counting drills plus a quick guide to the rules.

Blackjack trainer by Bojoko is available on Google Play and App Store:

Playing online blackjack for real money

In order to play real money blackjack online, you need to:

  1. Create an account in an online casino
  2. Verify your identity
  3. Make a deposit

We have explained all these steps in detail on our Best online casinos page.

Before you jump into the real money blackjack, it may be sensible to get the feel of the game by practising with play money. However, nowadays only registered players can access the play money version, so you have to create an account anyway.

You can also increase your gaming balance and take advantage of a blackjack bonus. More on that shortly.

Choosing your stake

Choose your stake size from a range of options. Blackjack games all have minimum and maximum wager levels. The system won't let you choose any amount that is lower than the minimum or higher than the maximum.

In most cases, you will see a pile of coloured chips of different values at the side of the screen. You need to click on the amount that you want to bet, which will then be transferred across to the betting area. If you make a mistake, you can change the amount before the cards are dealt.

If side bets like perfect pairs are available, they will have their own betting area. Place the chips here before the dealing begins. Additional bets to double down or split can be made when you are prompted.

Controlling your bankroll

It is important that you control your bankroll when playing online blackjack. You will see your balance rise or fall, depending upon whether you win or lose each hand. Your winnings are automatically added where appropriate.

In a lot of games, you have the option to simply re-bet the same amount on the next hand. This makes it easy to keep playing with the same stakes. If you are using a progressive system, such as Martingale where you double your bets after a loss, you need to remember to manually change the amount as needed.

As you play, you will want to keep a close eye on the balance. Remember, this is real money that you are using. Be particularly careful if you are playing with high stakes or making a lot of additional side-bets, as these soon add up.
Anyone who feels that they run the risk of betting too much can ask for a personal limit to be applied to their account.

Withdrawing your winnings

You should check the banking details on the site to see how you can withdraw funds from your account. This can normally be done using the same methods that are available for depositing money.

A reputable, regulated casino will pay your winnings without any fuss. Their site will tell you how long withdrawals take and whether there is a fee involved.

Online blackjack bonuses

Practically all casinos offer bonuses, but not all of them are aimed at blackjack players.

A vast majority of casino bonuses have wagering requirements that tell you how much you need to play before the bonus money is converted into withdrawable cash. Unfortunately for blackjack aficionados, blackjack and other casino table games don't fulfil the wagering requirements as fast as online slots do.

Here are the main mechanisms casinos use:

  • Partial contribution: bets placed in blackjack only count as 10% of their worth towards meeting the wagering goal.
  • Exclusion from wagering: you can play blackjack with bonus money, but none of these bets contribute to wagering.
  • Forbidden games: you can't play blackjack at all when you have an active bonus.

However, there are actual online blackjack bonuses too. These bonuses are a perfect fit for a blackjack player:

TIP: Remember to check the casino's terms and conditions carefully. Blackjack players need to pay extra attention to wagering requirements and restricted games lists.

The best blackjack bonuses

A great bonus will let you play more games with free money. This makes it important for you to understand what makes up a good blackjack bonus.

  • A high percentage. Casino bonuses are often expressed as a percentage. If you get a 100% bonus on your deposit, then you end up with double the amount you started with.
  • An upper limit that suits you. You will want this to be high enough that you get the bonus applied to your full deposit.
  • Low playthrough requirements. The lower this figure, the less you have to stake before you can request a withdrawal. The average playthrough in the UK is 30X-40X.
  • No maximum cashout. Some casinos will restrict the amount that you can win using bonus funds.
  • Enough time to use it. You want as long as possible to meet the playthrough otherwise you can lose your bonus.
  • Games that you want to play. There is no point in having bonus funds if you can't use them in your favourite games.

You can find the best bonuses for blackjack players on our list of blackjack casinos.

Are online blackjack games rigged?

Thankfully, online games are too well-controlled and regulated for this to be the case. While rigged games are something that players have been wary of ever since the first games were released, there's actually every reason to believe that playing on the internet is the best way to ensure absolute fairness at all times.

On Bojoko, we only feature regulated casinos with a gaming licence from the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC). These casinos are committed to fair play and need to follow some of the strictest licensing conditions in the world.

The results in all casino games are randomly generated. There are specialist, independent firms who test the software to make sure this is the case. Look for details of the game's random number generator and how it is tested. More on these below.

RNG blackjack

All virtual blackjack games online are powered by a random number generator (RNG). The counter to these games are live dealer tables (see section below).

RNG games are tested and certified as fair by third-party agencies, but what does this actually mean?

RNGs are programs that use complex algorithms to produce random results. Technically, online gaming results are pseudo-random. The results are close enough to random that they can't be guessed or generate a discernible pattern. However, the entire sequence of results is determined by a fixed number known as the seed.

The seed helps casino operators control the overall payout percentage. It also determines the house edge.

In a standard game of online blackjack, the return to player (RTP) is around 99.5%. This 0.05% is made possible by the seed within the game's RNG. Now, this doesn't mean results aren't random. They are. It basically means that each round of blackjack is random but within a certain framework i.e. within a set of limits defined by the seed.

The benefits of RNG blackjack games are:

  • Random results without the need for cards or dealers.
  • Random results in a split second thanks to fast processors and algorithms.
  • Lower costs than live dealer games, which means you can play for lower stakes.
  • By altering the seed, game developers can introduce new rules and payout potential.
  • You can play demo games for free because RNG software can be used to host multiple games. This makes it cheaper to run, overall, than live dealer games.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to RNG blackjack games:

  • The lack of a live presence can be off-putting for some players.
  • There's not as much atmosphere as you can't see or hear the dealer.
  • Some players don't understand RNG technology and have concerns about fairness.
  • It's impossible to count cards because you don't have the same information available as there is in a live game.

Live dealer blackjack

Get the perfect blend of online blackjack and live casino experience. Live dealers give you the best of both worlds. You get all of the convenience and security of online playing, with the added drama of the cards being dealt in front of you.

The action is streamed directly to your computer from a land-based casino or studio. This means that you can watch every move that the human dealer makes in real-time. It adds excitement, as you watch the cards being dealt one by one. Some games even zoom in on the cards at crucial moments.

You can find numerous different live dealer blackjack games online. These include straight-forward variants together with others that introduce more unusual rules.

Several of the biggest game developers have their own studios or casinos where they film these games. In some cases, blackjack is available in several different languages, with native-speaking dealers.

Blackjack blitz NetEnt

Blackjack Blitz is a common draw variant of live blackjack. All players are dealt the same hand.

How to play live dealer blackjack

Live blackjack games online replace virtual dealers with real ones. Alongside standard variants, live dealer blackjack can include extra dynamics such as Common Draw (all players are dealt the same cards) and Bet Behind (you bet on the outcome of another player's hand).

Here's how you play a round of live dealer blackjack:

  1. Dealer calls for new bets - You typically have 15 seconds to act.
  2. You make a bet within the table limits.
  3. The countdown timer hits zero and the dealer deals the first set of cards.
  4. Once all of the cards are dealt, you're given the option to hit or stand. If you have a pair you can split (by paying an extra bet) and if you have a total of 11 or lower, you can double down (by paying an extra bet).
  5. Once all the players at the table have acted, the dealer will play their hand.
  6. The result is recorded by the RFID trackers and transmitted to a central database. All payouts are then credited to players accordingly.

Mobile blackjack

Another modern way of playing blackjack is on a mobile device. This gives you complete freedom to place your stakes wherever you are.

Bigger tablets give an impressive display due to the larger screen. However, the best games are also highly optimised to look good even on smaller smartphones. So, it doesn't really matter what type of device you use.

How to play blackjack on a mobile device

Playing mobile blackjack is no different to betting via your desktop. In practice, the only real change you'll notice is that mouse clicks are replaced by touches and swipes.

  1. Swipe up, down, left or right to find the blackjack variant you enjoy the most.
  2. Tap on an empty seat to join the game.
  3. Tap on a chip denomination and then tap inside the betting circle to add as many or a few chips as you like. (You must play within the table limits).
  4. Once you and the dealer have received your starting cards, you can act.
  5. The dealer will act after you/the final player.
  6. If you win the round, your payout will be automatically credited to your account.

High stakes blackjack

Are you a high-roller? You can easily find games to put high stakes on if this is what you want.

There is no doubt that placing a large wager on the table is thrilling. But it isn't right for everyone. This is why there are special high-roller games at some casinos. These variants let you play with higher amounts. Although each blackjack site will have its own limits, it's often the case that high stakes blackjack tables allow you to wager between £100 and £1,000+ per round.

Who is likely to want to play high-stakes games of blackjack?

  • Someone with a large bankroll that can afford to play within the table limits.
  • An ambitious player who is looking to win a lot of money.
  • Someone who can afford to lose the money they have on the table.
  • Someone who loves the thrill of playing for high stakes.
  • A player who has a strategy that is based on high stakes.

Low stakes blackjack

One of the great things about online blackjack is the fact that you can play using very small stakes if you prefer. This is ideal if you are new to the game and want to get started gently.

Each game will tell you the lowest amount that you can stake. You can usually start playing from as little as £0.10 per round. There aren't many games specifically aimed at low-stakes players. However, the majority of standard blackjack titles let you choose a modest wager amount.

Of course, with lower stakes, you will win less when you beat the dealer. Your winnings are directly related to the amount you wager, so you should adjust your play style based on what you're aiming to get out of the game.

Low-stakes blackjack is best suited to the following players.

  • Someone who just wants to play for fun, with no risk of losing a lot of cash.
  • A newcomer who wants to start gently, until they are comfortable.
  • Someone who plans to play a lot and wants to stretch their funds out as far as possible.
  • A player with a strategy based on low stakes, possibly increasing progressively.

Best blackjack sites

Thankfully, most good casinos have a wide selection of blackjack games on them. You can expect to see a range of titles with different variants, such as those using European and American rules.

Most of the best online casinos also now have live dealer blackjack as well as interesting variants such as Blackjack Switch, Spanish 21 and Super Fun Blackjack.

What to look for

What do you need a blackjack site to offer? The following points are all things to look for.

  • A big selection of different blackjack titles.
  • A good bonus that meets your needs.
  • Live dealer or mobile blackjack options if these approaches interest you.
  • A properly regulated and licensed casino that demonstrates its fairness.

Fortunately, there are many top casinos that meet all of these requirements comfortably. By checking out the latest casino reviews, you can see the latest sites to launch and the types of bonus that they provide.

A few sites to try

At the time of writing, these are some of the biggest and best blackjack sites. Some of them also offer live casino bonuses:

New casinos are launched regularly, often with tempting bonuses. It is worth checking out what is new. You might even find that switching between a few different sites to keep things fresh makes sense.

Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 4:

Blackjack basic strategy


The casino will always have an edge. However, you can reduce the casino's advantage by making the right moves. In this guide, we'll show you how to think critically about blackjack by using something known as basic strategy. Find out when it’s best to stand, hit, split and double down.

Winning at blackjack is all random, right? Well, there is some truth in that. However, this doesn't mean you can't play it smart. There are proven tips and strategies that can improve your chances of winning.

Here's Steve Bourie from the American Casino Guide explaining the basics of the blackjack basic strategy:

Basic strategy trainer

The best way to learn the basic strategy is to practice. We have built a tool for that.

Our blackjack basic strategy trainer helps you master the perfect way to play. It gives feedback on your every decision and lists areas of improvement at the end of the game.

Basic strategy drill

Blackjack basic strategy chart

The following blackjack basic strategy chart is based on standard rules you'll often encounter online. The house edge with these rules is 0.61%. This equals a return to player or RTP of 99.39%.

  • 8 decks
  • Dealer stands on all 17s
  • You can double down on any initial hand
  • One split per hand
  • Split aces get only 1 card
  • No double down after split
  • No surrender

blackjack basic strategy chart

How to adjust the basic blackjack strategy to rule changes

If you don't know what you're up against, you can't devise a potentially winning strategy. Therefore, before you implement any basic blackjack strategy, you should ask the following questions:

  • How many decks are being used?
  • Does the dealer have to hit or stand on soft 17?
  • When can I double down?
  • How many re-splits do the rules allow?
  • Can I surrender?
  • Are there any exotic rules, such as the dealer winning with a total of 22 (i.e. in Blackjack Switch)?

Every rule variation tweaks the winning odds of each card combination.

The importance of basic blackjack strategy

The aim of basic blackjack strategy is simple: to maximise the amount of money you win, while minimising your losses. By using a strategy backed by mathematically-sound probabilities, you have the chance to turn the tables on the dealer. Over time, you can give yourself a better chance of winning if you can answer these questions:

  • Should I hit or stand?
  • Should I split my pairs?
  • Should I double down?
  • Should I take out insurance?
  • Should I surrender my cards?

Elements of the basic strategy

For reference, you can use blackjack charts to guide your play. These charts will tell you exactly when to hit and stand based on variables such as your hand, the dealer's up-card and the number of decks in play. However, to really get the most out of blackjack charts, you should know a bit about the theory behind them.

What is a strong hand?

A strong hand in blackjack is one that's worth 17 or more. The probability of being dealt a hand worth between 12 and 17 (without an ace) is approximately four in ten. That means that you'll be an underdog in 40% of the hands you play. Because of this, you need to know when to make a move and that comes down to the strength of your hand and the dealer's.

Strength is relative in blackjack. You know the value of your hand in isolation but that doesn't tell you whether it's strong or weak in context. To establish the strength of your hand, you need to look at your starting total and the value of the dealer's face-up card.

Depending on how strong the dealer is, the power of your hand can change. The only way you can do that is to assess your hand and the strength of the dealer's card. When the dealer's first card is showing, you can say whether they're weak or strong using the following rules:

  • The dealer is strong when they hold a card worth between 7 and ace.
  • The dealer is weak when they hold a card worth between 4 and 6.
  • The dealer is neutral when they hold a 2 or 3.

The above points are true because the dealer has to draw to a score of at least 17. So, if the dealer's first card was a 6, there's a very strong chance they will have to draw a third card. Why? Because an ace is the only card that would generate a score of 17. Whenever anyone, including the dealer, has to draw a card, there's a certain amount of risk involved.

If we take this a step further, we know there are more cards with a value of 10 than any other. Therefore, when the dealer is showing a 6, we can assume they're likely to hit 16. Using this information, we can start to determine whether we're strong or weak. This, in turn, gives us a basis for hitting, standing, splitting and doubling. Or, in other words, basic blackjack strategy.

Hitting and standing

Using the information above, we can come up with the following rules for hitting and standing:

  • If the dealer is strong and your total is weak (i.e. lower than 17), you should hit.
  • If the dealer is strong and your total is strong (i.e. 17 or higher), you should stand.
  • If the dealer is weak and your total is weak, you should stand.
  • If the dealer is weak and your total is strong, you should stand.

As you can see, you should always stand when the dealer is weak. Even if you've got a total of 12 and the dealer is showing a 6, your best move is to stand. Because you're both at risk of busting with a third card, it's better for you to play it safe and put pressure on the dealer.

Examples of when to hit and stand

Let's expand on our discussion of hitting and standing by looking at some examples and the reasons for making a move:

  • A hard 2 to 11. Always to hit on this total. There is no way that you can go bust.
  • A hard 12. Stand if the dealer has 4, 5 or 6. Hit if they don't.
  • A hard 13 to 16. You will want to stand if the dealer has anything up to 6.
  • Hit on soft 11 to 17 (soft meaning a hand that contains an ace). You have a good chance to get a better hand without any risk of going over 21 here.
  • Stand on hard 17 or more. This is a decent total and there is a high risk of going bust if you are too bold.
  • Stand on soft 18, unless the dealer has a 9, a 10 or an ace. Those cards represent a strong position for the dealer and you will probably want to attempt to improve your own hand.
  • With soft 19 or above, you should always stand.

Splitting

The rules for splitting are simple: if you are dealt a pair of cards in your hand, you can split them into two separate hands at the cost of an additional unit stake. But remember that this is optional. You can play the two cards of the same numerical value as one hand just as you normally would.

When it comes to splitting, trusting your instinct isn't always a good idea. For example, if you split a pair of nines, you might think that at least one of your hands will, ultimately, total 19. However, why double your investment when you have a solid 18 in the first place?

To answer these types of questions, you need to assess the dynamics of the hand.

Tips for splitting

The decision whether to split a pair should be based on the basic strategy. Here are some easy to remember rules of thumb. However, remember to check the basic strategy chart for any exceptions to the rule. Table rules will also affect your decision making.

Always split:

  • A - A
  • 8 - 8

Never split:

  • 10 - 10
  • 5 - 5
  • 4 - 4

Sometimes split:

  • 2 - 2 (Split against dealer 4 to 7)
  • 3 - 3 (Split against dealer 4 to 7)
  • 6 - 6 (Split against dealer 3 to 6)
  • 7 - 7 (Split against dealer 2 to 7)
  • 9 - 9 (Don't split against dealer 7, 10 or A)

Doubling Down

One of the most intriguing moves in blackjack is doubling down. The premise here is simple:

You double your initial bet and get one more card - no more, no less.

You only get one more card when you choose to double down. After you've received it, your hand automatically stands. So, it's imperative that you only double down in the right circumstances.

FACT: Some blackjack versions let you double down in any scenario. Others only allow it when you are dealt certain combinations of cards, e.g. hard hands that total 10 or 11.

When to double down on hard hands

A hard hand in blackjack is one that doesn't contain an ace or where the ace can only be counted as 1. For example, 8-6-A is a hard 15.

When you have a hard hand, you should think about doubling if these two conditions are in place:

  • You'd make a strong hand if you draw a ten or ace.
  • The dealer's card is weak.

TIP: Any hand with a value between 8 and 11 gives us a strong chance of making a total of 18-21. Therefore, if the dealer has a low card (2-7), you should always consider doubling down. This move has a positive long-term expectation, i.e. it should show a profit in the long-run.

When to double down on soft hands

A soft hand includes an Ace that can be counted either as 1 or 11. Doubling down strategy for soft hands is a bit tricky. You should double down on a soft hand, when:

  • You'd make a strong hand if you draw a ten or ace.
  • The dealer's card is weak.
  • You have a weak hand, the dealer is weak and you want to use an aggressive strategy.

The final condition is the most interesting. Although it's not typically advisable to double down on a starting total such as soft 6/16, it's one that can work if the dealer is weak. As well as the fact you can't bust, you're hoping that the dealer will. Therefore, you want to try and put more money on the table when you're in a strong position.

Should you take out insurance?

NO!

Insurance is an option that's available when the dealer gets an ace as their face-up card. If you take out insurance, you are protecting yourself against the dealer getting a blackjack. If the dealer hits blackjack and you've taken insurance, you'll receive a 2:1 payout on your insurance bet (not main bet).

In principle, insurance looks like a great offer. However, when you look at what this bet does to your overall win rate, it quickly loses its appeal. To understand this, we need to look at implied odds. In betting circles, odds can be displayed as percentages.

When insurance offers you odds of 2/1, the house is suggesting that there is an implied probability of 33.3% that the dealer will have a ten as their hole card. However, the odds for the dealer actually having a ten are 30.77%, at best. This comes from dividing the number of tens and faces by the total number of cards in play, i.e. 16/52.

If the dealer has an ace showing, the odds of them having a blackjack are still fairly low. If you take an insurance bet, you end up losing more than 2 out of every 3 bets. This is going to cost you. That makes insurance a bad bet.

Should you take even-money when offered?

NO!

The even-money blackjack strategy isn't a winning play. In fact, this point builds on what we've established with insurance bets.

You have been dealt a blackjack, but then you look up and notice that the dealer is holding an ace. The best-case scenario is they don't have blackjack and you win the hand. The worst-case scenario is that they have blackjack and you tie.

In some games, you might be offered ‘even money' by the dealer. If you accept, your blackjack will be paid out as a winner but at even-money (i.e. less than the standard 3:2).

Even money is a losing play for the same reasons insurance is a bad idea. So, our advice is to never use an even-money strategy.

Should you surrender in blackjack?

Yes and no. Some players instinctively keep away from the surrender option, thinking that it is better to be brave and carry on. This is a valid strategy. However, there are times when surrendering is the best way of dealing with a bad hand.

The concept of surrendering is simple:

  1. You believe your chances of winning are poor, based on your hand and the dealer's card.
  2. You give up your hand and fold (surrender).
  3. You lose half of your stake.

As you can see, surrendering is a defensive tactic, but that's not to say it's a negative move. Protecting your bankroll is important. If you have the option and it seems like a good idea, surrender, move on and apply the basic strategy on the next hand.

When to surrender

  • If the dealer has an ace, consider surrendering on hard 5, 6 or 7, as well as a hard 12 through to 17.
  • Pairs of threes, sixes, sevens and eights are also weak enough to make it a good idea to surrender against an ace.
  • When the dealer has a 10, surrender on a hard 14, 15 or 16.
  • If you have a pair of sevens, surrender against a 10.
  • If you have a pair of eights, surrender against a 10 except in single-deck games.

Dealing with the worst hand in blackjack

The toughest hands to work within blackjack are those with a value of 12 through to 17. Regardless of the dealer's first card, it is difficult to win with any of these totals.

The single worst hand is considered to be 16. This is made even worse when the dealer has 9, 10 or an ace showing. How do you deal with it?

  • In the case of a pair of eights, always split.
  • A hard 16 (with no ace) against a dealer card of 6 or lower. You should stand.
  • In the case of a hard 16 against 7 or above, you should hit or surrender.
  • If you have a soft 16 your chances are a bit better. You should always hit on this, as the ace will become a 1 if necessary.

Any of these strategies will probably still see you lose more than you win. However, it will help you to limit your losses in the cases where you are unlucky enough to get dealt a 16.

Perfect blackjack strategy

What is a perfect blackjack strategy? You can now see that there is no such thing as a blackjack strategy that works every time. Therefore, a perfect strategy isn't something that guarantees you win after win. Instead, it just means making the right move at every opportunity. No matter how strong or weak your hand is, you must make the most of it.

In this way, you can win more and reduce your losses. Naturally, you'll still suffer bouts of bad luck and lose hands you expected to win or vice versa. But, overall, you will have more structure and potential when you use blackjack strategy.

Moreover, a perfect blackjack strategy will greatly reduce the house edge. If you play regularly then this will make a huge difference to your profits. Even a swing of 1% on the house edge can add up over hundreds or thousands of hands of blackjack. Therefore, if you're looking for tips on how to win more at blackjack, make sure you implement the tactics outlined in this guide.

Additionally, check out the next chapter on blackjack odds to find out other ways you can reduce the casino's advantage.

Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 5:

Blackjack odds - how to reduce the house edge


Reducing the house edge should be a top priority for every blackjack player. There will always be a house edge, but a player can ensure that they are taking home as much as possible from their blackjack session. Learn the odds of blackjack and how to improve your chances of winning. Pay attention to rule variations and comps to come up on top.

There are many things affecting your odds at the blackjack table. The house edge will vary from house to house and from table to table. The rules used at the table can give the house more advantages, or they can work in the player's favour.

Promotions and coupons can eliminate the house edge, if only for a single hand. A blackjack player has to always look at the bigger picture, where a bonus chip or a 0.1% drop in the house edge can have a massive impact. However, the most effective way to reduce the house edge is something that has an influence on every hand you play: using the basic blackjack strategy.

Practical tips for reducing the house edge

In Chapter 4, we breakdown the basic blackjack strategy. This guide explains the theory of optimal hitting, splitting and doubling down in blackjack. You can combine basic strategy with tips on how to win at blackjack listed later in this chapter. However, before you start absorbing these tips, you need to understand some fundamentals.

This is where you take the concepts of expectation, ROI and house edge and apply them to your decision-making process. By running the numbers, you can get a better understanding of which situations are better in terms of overall expectation. So, with this in mind, here are the blackjack odds and statistical concepts you need to know.

Blackjack Return-to-Player (RTP)

The return-to-player rate indicates how much money a casino expects a player to be paid back over a period of gaming.

EXAMPLE: A 95% RTP suggests that a player should receive £95 from £100 of stakes.

Of course, it doesn't always work that way. If you stake £100 on your first blackjack hand and make £150 profit, it doesn't mean that you'll continue with an RTP of 250%! In the long term, casinos expect players' staking outcomes to trend close to their RTP line.

With blackjack, the RTP often starts at around 99.5%, where the casino expects a blackjack player to get back £99.50 from every £100 staked. At least, that's what the casino expects the perfect blackjack player to do. 99.5% is a very generous RTP for the player, with roulette offering 97.3% and some slot machines ranging as low as 85% RTP.

Why are casinos willing to give themselves a house edge of just 0.5% at the blackjack table?

Blackjack is a game of strategy. While the element of chance is present in every draw of the card, the player has to respond tactically to a multitude of situations. This strategic element is less present in roulette and slots, where the mechanics of the game take over.

With its 0.5% house edge, the casino is essentially making a bet. It is banking on players making the wrong strategic decisions and unwittingly increasing the house edge. Fortunately, there are ways for both rookie and veteran blackjack players to try and bring the house edge as close as possible to that ideal 0.5% level.

How does RTP differ from the house edge?

If RTP is the amount a player can expect to win in the long run, house edge is the amount the casino expects to win over time. In essence, house edge is the partner of RTP or, if you like, it's the other side of the coin.

Therefore, if the house edge is 1%, the RTP will be 99% and vice versa. Like RTP, house edge is a theoretical long-term return rate that's typically calculated over 10,000 hands or more.

6 tips for how to win at blackjack

Now we've outlined concepts such as house edge, it's time to use them in a practical way. By taking what you know about blackjack odds and the in-game dynamics they create, you can implement some tactics that could help to improve your win rate.

If you read through the rest of our guide to blackjack, you'll find that we cover all of the following points in much greater detail. However, by way of a quick overview, here are six tips on how to win at blackjack.

1. Bankroll management

Whenever you play blackjack or any casino game, you need to manage your money. Without a plan for how much you're going to stake, you risk going broke. According to serious blackjack players, you should only take a small percentage of your bankroll into any given game. The guidelines on this will vary depending on who you ask. However, it's generally accepted that you shouldn't take more than 5% of your total bankroll to the table.

Once you've sat down, you then need to set your bets accordingly. Again, it's possible to work in percentages. If you assume that you want to make at least 50 bets, you should wager no more than 2% of your in-game funds on a single round of blackjack.

EXAMPLE: If your total bankroll is £1,000, you should take no more than £50 into a game. If you sit down with £50, your maximum bet per round should be, approximately, £1.

In Chapter 6, we go deeper into the math behind blackjack bankroll management.

2. Card counting

For a detailed breakdown of card counting, take a look at Chapter 6. Card counting is a way of tracking the dynamics of a deck/s. As a player, it's advantageous to know when there are more high cards left in the deck/s and when there are more low cards. By assigning values to different cards, you can establish a count that allows you to determine just that.

In simple terms, you assign values of +1, 0 and -1 to cards in the following way:

  • Cards from 2 to 6 = +1
  • Cards from 7 to 9 = 0
  • Cards from 10 to Ace= -1

While counting cards, you need to keep a mental tally of the cards played and their total sum, according to the score system explained above. This number tells you when the deck is in your favour (more high cards) and when it's not (more low cards).

To get an accurate idea of how advantageous the situation is for betting big, the card counter needs to know how many decks are left in play. By dividing the running count with the number of decks, you get the "true count". This number tells you how many MORE big cards there were compared to small cards, if the game used only one deck.

3. Using basic blackjack strategy

Chapter 4 will tell you all you need to know about basic strategy. Basic blackjack strategy should be seen as a mathematically sound guide on when you should hit, stand, split and double down. Basically, using a combination of blackjack odds and statistics, basic strategy shows you how to play all hands in all situations. To make basic blackjack strategy even more accessible, there are charts that show you exactly what to do in all situations.

4. Playing in 3:2 tables instead of 6:5 tables

One important thing to consider before you start playing is whether the game will pay out at 6:5 or 3:2. These ratios can have a huge impact on your winnings. The more you play at a 6:5 table, the more you will lose out to the house.

EXAMPLE: If you're playing at a 3:2 table and bet £10, blackjack earns you a £15 profit (i.e. 1.5X your stake). This, plus your stake back means your total return is £25. Bet £10 at a 6:5 table and blackjack earns you a £12 profit (i.e. 1.2X your stake).

When you compare 3:2 and 6:5 blackjack tables, the former offers a better overall return rate. Indeed, based on payouts, you'll earn 0.3% more at 3:2 tables when you hit blackjack.

TIP: Where possible, ensure you play blackjack at a table that pays 3:2, not 6:5.

5. Playing with fewer decks

The more decks in the game, the greater the house edge. You might think that more decks equate to more chances of hitting blackjack. After all, there are more cards that could make blackjack. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Imagine that you are dealt an ace as your first card. What are the chances of hitting a ten on the next card to get a 21?

  • One Deck: There are 51 cards left, 16 of which have a value of 10 - a 31.4% chance of making a blackjack.
  • Two Decks: There are 103 cards left, 32 of which have a value of 10 - a 31.1% chance of making a blackjack.
  • Six Decks: There are 311 cards left, 96 of which have a value of 10 - a 30.9% chance of making a blackjack.

That decreasing probability might not seem like a big deal. However, anything that reduces your likelihood of getting a blackjack should be avoided where possible.

6. Using blackjack bonuses and comps

Due to the popularity of blackjack, there are always bonuses, promotions and ways to get something extra. You should use this to your advantage at every opportunity.

We cover online casino blackjack bonuses in Chapter 3. In addition, land-based casinos offer blackjack bonuses in the form of bonus coupons.

Here's Steve Bourie, the author of the American Casino Guide, explaining the use of casino comps systems:

Blackjack coupons are an effective way to reduce the house edge. Casinos give coupons to players, usually first-time visitors or regular faces. By sacrificing the house edge for a short time, casinos hope that they can encourage people to stick around and continue playing.

Blackjack Bonus Coupon: This coupon does exactly what the name suggests: it gives you a bonus if you make blackjack. This often takes the form of a 2:1 payout on your first blackjack in a session. A 3:2 table pays out at 1.5x and a 6:5 table pays out at 1.2x. However, with this coupon you'll earn 2X more for hitting blackjack.

Matchplay Coupon: A matchplay coupon allows you to double one of your bets. If you placed a £20 bet, a matchplay coupon worth £20 would allow you to match it. If you hit blackjack for a 3:2 payout, your standard bet should net you a £30 profit, as would your matchplay bet. This means your total profit would be £60.

Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 6:

Blackjack card counting


Practice to track the dynamics of the deck by using card counting. Don't worry: you won't need to remember every card played. Keep a mental tally of cards that improve or worsen your changes to see when the deck is hot.

Most players know that the casino has a statistical advantage over them before they begin to play. This is known as the house edge. This is covered in more detail in the previous chapter.

But what if there was a game where clever strategy and brain training could help tip the odds back in your favour? Blackjack is that game. You just have to learn how to count cards first.

Card counting trainer

Learning card counting takes some time and patience. We wanted to make this easier and that's why we've built a card counting trainer to help you master this skill.

Card counting drill

How card counting works in blackjack

With a little practice, anyone can count cards when they play blackjack. You might think that card counting means you have to memorise every single card that comes out of the dealer's card shoe. In reality, it only requires you to keep a tally of specific cards while the game proceeds.

The ability to know how many cards of a certain value have already left the deck is invaluable in blackjack. This added information can give you a nod as to when to bet big.

The deck is ‘hot' when there are more high-value cards left in the deck. These cards will:

  • help the dealer go bust, and
  • give you a better chance of getting a natural blackjack

You can then use this information to determine your bet size: bigger bets when the odds are in your favour, smaller bets when the deck is cold.

If you play an appropriate card counting strategy at the blackjack tables it can improve your chances of winning by 1%. Although this might not sound like a lot, over several hours of gameplay and hundreds of hands, this can have a serious impact on your blackjack bottom line.

There are several card counting strategies for blackjack, some of which we'll go into in greater detail now to give you the best possible chance of beating the dealer.

Learning the Hi-Lo card counting systems

Arguably the easiest and quickest card counting strategy to learn for playing blackjack is the hi-lo system. Every card in a 52-card deck is assigned a value of -1, +1 or 0. This is a system that is most commonly used by amateur blackjack players that want to dabble with card counting strategy for fun.

The hi-lo card counting strategy is known as a ‘balanced system'. That's because if all cards in a 52-card deck were counted, the eventual balance would be zero. Here's how each card is valued:

blackjack HiLo card counting

+1 cards

  • 2-6 – the lowest cards in the deck – get a value of +1.

0 (neutral) cards

  • 7-9 – the cards midway through the deck – get a value of 0. These are neutral cards that don't affect the count.

-1 cards

  • Tens, faces and aces – the highest cards – get a value of -1.

If you choose to adopt the hi-lo card counting strategy, you must keep a basic mental tally of three groups of cards. You'll need to memorise the values attributed to each card that can come out of the deck before you can master the running count.

How to learn the running count

Once you have memorised the values for each playing card in blackjack, you can try to practice the hi-lo running count needed. The most basic practice technique for mastering the running count is taking a 52-card deck and counting the cards one by one using the hi-lo card values above. Once you have reached the end of the deck, your count should be at zero.

FACT: The hi-lo card counting strategy is a balanced system.

In an ideal world, you should be able to accurately count a 52-card deck and reach zero within half-a-minute or less. That speed will be vital when you implement the hi-lo card counting strategy for real at the blackjack tables.

How to improve your counting technique

Another clever technique to improve your hi-lo running count is to remove a random card from the 52-card deck without spotting its value. Proceed to count the rest of the deck and you should be able to recognise whether the card you removed was a +1, neutral or -1 card. If you've calculated incorrectly by the 51st card, you haven't practiced hard enough!

Once you feel confident that you have grasped the hi-lo running count, get a friend or family member to play the dealer role and play numerous one-hand rounds against them. After several one-hand rounds, there should still be multiple cards left in the deck. In order to monitor how well you've been keeping a running count, add your latest running count to the cards left in the deck. If the end number is zero you've mastered it. If not, practice makes perfect.

TIP: Card counting at blackjack tables in land-based casinos is frowned upon (but not illegal). Try to avoid making it obvious that you are keeping a running count during each hand, as this could lead to your dealer alerting the pit boss.

How to use true count for betting in multi-deck games

Learning to keep the ‘true count' is an useful skill for blackjack card counting when you play multi-deck games in casinos.

True count gives you a better idea how "hot" the deck is. It incorporates the remaining decks to your running count via a simple calculation:

True count = Running count ÷ decks remaining in the shoe

If you don't factor the remaining decks into your calculations in a multi-deck game, you'll have an overly optimistic view of your chances to win.

True count tells you how many MORE high cards there are compared to the small cards, if there were only one deck remaining in the game.

The true count at a multi-deck blackjack table will require you to accurately determine how many decks remain in play.

EXAMPLE: If your running count is +8 and there are four decks remaining in the shoe, you will divide your running count of eight by four remaining decks, resulting in a true count of +2 (8 ÷ 4 = 2).

If your calculation ends in a decimal number such as +3.25 or +3.50, you must always play the hand as if the true count is +3 and -3 for a negative count. Never round up your decimals as this will limit your risk exposure and prevent you from betting big too early in case the true count is inaccurate.

How to use the true count to vary your playing strategy

There are ways you can deviate from basic blackjack card counting strategy and the hi-lo system to vary your gameplay, particularly in multi-deck games where the ‘Surrender' option is available to players.

The Fab Four

There are four true count variations known to experts as the Fab Four. These variations were devised by a blackjack professional named Don Schlesinger, who sought ways to improve his profit where Surrender was an option.

According to the Fab Four strategy, you should surrender when:

  1. You have 15, the dealer has 9 and the true count is +3
  2. You have 15, the dealer has 10 and the true count is 0
  3. You have 15, the dealer has A and the true count is +2 (dealer hits soft 17) or -1 (dealer stands on all 17s)
  4. You have 14, the dealer has 14 and the true count is +4

Mr Schlesinger also devised 18 additional variations to basic blackjack strategy that are considered by experts to help execute "perfect play".

The Illustrious 18

The "Illustrious 18" are advanced blackjack moves requiring even more concentration and effort to perfect. There are 18 game decisions that players can make based on card situations against the dealer and table situations in terms of what is offered to the player e.g. insurance or surrender.

These variations have been known to yield greater profits at the blackjack tables than basic ABC hi-lo true count systems. The suggest moves outlined by the illustrious 18 are:

blackjack illustrious 18 chart

Unbalanced card counting systems

If you can't handle the mental arithmetic necessary to master hi-lo card counting, there's an alternative. An unbalanced card counting system does not add up to zero at the end of a 52-card deck.

Consequently, players of unbalanced card counting systems do not need to convert their running count into a true count, whilst still holding a minor edge over the casino. Here are a couple of the most common unbalanced systems:

The Key Card Count

Devised by Fred Renzy, the Key Card Count requires only a handful of cards to be counted in the following way:

  • All 4s and 5s are +1
  • All 10s are -1.
  • All black Aces are -1 (by choosing black aces, you're counting exactly 50% of the aces in play as -1)

The system is unbalanced as the sum of all low cards is +8 for each deck, while the total of all high value cards is -6, resulting in a +2 imbalance.

With this strategy, you begin your count at +18 once the decks have been shuffled. Whenever you spot a 4 or a 5, add one to your count and minus one from your count whenever a 10 or black Ace is dealt.

Based on your count, you should...

  • Increase your bet whenever the count is greater than 20.
  • Decrease your bet/bet your minimum when the count is lower than 20.

The Red 7 Count

The brainchild of Arnold Snyder, this system requires you to count cards in the following way:

  • Low cards e.g. 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s and 6s are counted at +1.
  • Red sevens are treated as low cards and are given a count of +1.
  • All 10s, face cards and Aces are given a count of -1.
  • The net total is +2, making this an unbalanced system.

To use this system, start your count at -2, multiplied by the number of active decks. If you're playing a six-deck game of blackjack, you should start at -12. Once the running count reaches zero or a positive figure, you have an edge and should raise your stakes.

But why red sevens? The logic to counting red sevens as +1 is to create an imbalance in the system. Under this card counting strategy, you count black sevens as neutral. Because there are an equal number of red and black sevens, this strategy creates an imbalance in the score. From this, you can work out the true count without the need for complex maths.

Is counting cards in blackjack illegal?

Card counting in blackjack is NOT illegal in any way, shape or form. In fact, you should consider card counting as a genuine skill rather than a form of cheating. Being able to use your brain and remember the count of active playing card decks is akin to thinking several moves ahead in a game of chess. It's merely a clever way to play the game.

In terms of legislature, there are no specific laws restricting the use of card counting strategies for playing blackjack, both offline and online. The reason why so many people think that card counting is illegal is that the strategy is frowned upon by land-based and online casinos. By counting cards, you are reducing the game's house edge and maximising your chances of winning at the blackjack tables.

Unfortunately, given that land-based casinos are private entities, the owners are within their rights to refuse entry to card counters. In a court of law, lawyers have long since argued on behalf of card counters that they are merely using their brain to determine the best way of playing a blackjack hand.

However, once an individual has been banned from a land-based casino, they are entering troubled waters if they attempt to re-enter at a later date. Banned players that re-enter a casino are deemed to be trespassing, something that is a criminal offence.

Countermeasures against card counters

These are the common countermeasures of card counting used by land-based casinos that you can watch out for at the blackjack tables:

Frequent card shuffling

Most land-based casinos will also counter the threat of card counting by shuffling their decks more frequently, particularly after players increase their bets. In some ways, casinos are hurting themselves with this card counting countermeasure, as more shuffling reduces the number of hands played per hour.

Technically, the point at which the cards are shuffled is known as deck penetration. If the dealer shuffles after 36 cards from a single deck have been used, this represents 70% deck penetration. Casinos will often have set percentages, such as 50%. However, this can change based on how players are betting and if card counting is suspected.

Increased decks per shoe

The addition of more playing card decks per shoe also makes card counting much more difficult. That's because the casinos are subsequently increasing the variables, making it harder to ascertain what's left in the shoe. Sometimes casinos won't make it clear just how many decks are in the shoe either.

Concealing the number of decks in play

Cards will appear sloped inside the shoe so as not to make it obvious when you are down to the final deck of cards.

Casinos will conceal their tray of cards that have already been dealt from the shoe.

Casinos may vary when they change the shoe. By replacing the shoe at random points, it prevents players from finding patterns.

Blackjack 6:5 games

In recent years, land-based casinos have taken the decision to bring single-deck blackjack to their tables. However, it might not be a good time to rejoice. That's because even though it might be easier to card count again, the odds of a natural blackjack – formed with an ace and a face card – have been moved in favour of the house. Traditionally, the payout of a natural blackjack is 3:2, but these new single-deck tables only offer payouts at 6:5, which is something to bear in mind.

Dealer interaction

When it comes to casinos catching individual blackjack card counters, the ‘pit boss' will encourage dealers to chat to you in between hands to break your concentration. If a dealer gets a feeling that you are ignoring their advances and focusing solely on the outcome of the cards, they may choose to alert the pit boss that you may be counting cards.

Enhanced surveillance and analysis

You might not know about it at the tables but land-based casinos are investing heavily in surveillance and computer analysis software to pinpoint suspicious behaviour on their floors, such as card counting. They can increasingly detect card counters based on their behaviour after winning hands, displaying stable emotions despite betting big on a hand.

Bankroll management and risk of ruin

The ultimate aim of a blackjack card counter is not to secure VIP loyalty bonuses or complimentary treatments from the casino floor. In reality, it's simply to make cold, hard cash. In order to achieve this aim, you need to have a sound understanding and awareness of the risk of ruin concept.

Typically, a blackjack card counter will calculate the risk of bankroll ruin as a percentage. It gives players clarity over the likelihood of losing their entire bankroll in a set number of blackjack hands.

EXAMPLE: A risk of ruin percentage of 5% means that a player has a one-in-20 chance of seeing their entire bankroll vanishing during a losing run, if they do not alter the size of their bets.

Risk of ruin percentage

Professional card counters will tend to aim for a risk of ruin percentage of 1% or even lower, if possible. Meanwhile, an amateur card counter may see a 5% risk of ruin as an acceptable level of risk for their evening's entertainment.

Most blackjack card counters will define a betting spread before they begin. This is a player's potential variation in the size of their bets based on whether the deck is ‘hot' or ‘cold'. As we've previously noted, a deck is hot if there are more high-value cards left to be dealt. In contrast, cold decks favour the house as there are more low-value cards left in play.

EXAMPLE: A player's biggest wager is £100. With a bet spread of 1 to 4, the base betting unit is £25. If the player resizes the bet spread to 1 to 10, the base bet would be £10 per hand. This is to ensure the risk of ruin percentage is unchanged throughout.

Card counting in online casinos

Card counting is significantly harder, if not impossible, to do in online casinos.

Following the launch of online blackjack tables, there was plenty of early criticism for the way they operated. Because the shuffling process was handled by algorithms and not humans, some players didn't trust the outcome of every hand. Most players felt as though the outcome would go against them each time they made a large bet. In reality, this isn't true thanks to RNG technology.

Random Number Generators (RNGs)

Online casino operators have tried to educate their players about how online blackjack tables work. For ultimate transparency, operators now utilise computerised algorithms to manage the outcome of every hand of online blackjack using random number generators (RNGs). RNGs help to ensure the random outcome of every hand of online blackjack, with no chance of the outcome being tampered with.

Although the use of RNGs is a positive step for online casino players in terms of fair, transparent gameplay, it's something of a nightmare for card counters. That's because most online blackjack games now shuffle their cards using RNGs after every single hand. Unfortunately, given that most online casinos use this technique of shuffling after each game, there is no effective use of card counting when playing their online blackjack games as the count is lost after every single deal.

Live dealer blackjack: visible action

The topic of card counting is also very popular among those who play the live dealer blackjack games. Although some live dealer blackjack tables operate a continuous shuffle machine, making it virtually impossible to count cards, others will let their dealers shuffle in the middle of shoe e.g. after four of eight decks have been played. This is still far from ideal for card counters.

When you combine that with the fact that the numbers of hands per hour on a live dealer blackjack table ranges from 20-50, it's a problem. Indeed, a professional card counters typically need between 100 and 300 hands per hour to make a steady profit.

Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 7:

Blackjack side bets


Side bets offer a higher potential payouts with a bigger house edge. Learn how different side bets work and whether they're good bets. Hint: they're not.

Many blackjack games, both in land-based and online casinos, now feature side bets on a range of outcomes. These extras have been created by mathematicians and game theorists with two goals in mind:

  1. Improving the house edge.
  2. Offering players the potential for large payouts such as 100:1.

For centuries, the game of blackjack remained untouched. It was a classic race to 21, with the player and the dealer going toe-to-toe in the pursuit of the best hand possible without busting. But in modern times, new additions like side bets have been brought in to update blackjack and add an extra dimension of trepidation into the mix.

Side bets have attracted a whole new audience to blackjack, particularly those for whom the traditional even-money payouts aren't enough. However, side bets also contain an element of risk as there's no skill involved. But, the generous rewards are worth it in many player's eyes.

In this chapter, we are going to look in more detail at four of the most popular blackjack side bets, namely:

  • Insurance
  • Even Money
  • Perfect Pairs
  • 21+3

Finally, we're going to ask whether these side bets are worth the risk?

Insurance

There's no worse feeling at the blackjack table: the moment the dealer's upturned card is revealed as an ace. Instinctively, you know that your chances of winning that hand have dropped significantly, although optimists won't be giving up completely at this point.

Of course, there is a chance that the dealer has the unbeatable blackjack hand. However, some games allow us to ‘insure' against this possibility by betting a half stake on it. If the dealer does have blackjack, you'll be paid out at 2:1.

Is blackjack insurance a smart bet?

No. Even though it may seem like a wise move to make, the numbers suggest that taking insurance in blackjack is a losing play. To show you why, let's run the numbers.

EXAMPLE: There are 52 cards in a deck. We know that the dealer has an ace, and we know the identity of our own cards (for this example, let's assume we don't have a ten card).

  • The dealer has 4x tens and 12x picture cards to make blackjack i.e. 16 cards will help the dealer
  • The odds for dealer blackjack are 16/49 – or a little less than one-in-three

However, this is under optimal conditions. If we add more decks to the mix, the odds change. Every time we add a deck, we add the probability of 16/52 into the mix. It's 16/52 instead of 16/49 because the new decks haven't had any cards removed.

Here are the insurance odds for the dealer hitting a blackjack, based on the number of decks in play:

  • 1 deck: 16/49 = 32.65%
  • 2 decks: 32/101 = 31.68%
  • 3 decks: 48/153 = 31.37%
  • 4 decks: 64/205 = 31.21%
  • 5 decks: 80/257 = 31.13%
  • 6 decks: 96/309 = 31.07%

As you can see, your odds of winning the insurance bet we're not great to begin with. Every new deck makes the odds even worse. However, the 2 to 1 payout remains the same.

If you we're to place £100 worth of insurance bets in a 6 deck game, on average you'd end up losing £6.79. Don't believe me? Here's the math:

£100 (your total bets) x 3 (2 to 1 payout) x 31.07% (the odds of winning your insurance bet) = £93.21. Deduct the £100 you bet, and you're almost £7 in the red.

RESULT: You stand to lose 6.97% for every insurance bet placed.

In short, the odds offered on the insurance side bet do not tally up with the actual probability of it being a winner. In the long term, we are throwing chips down the drain. The dealer is likely to win with their ace after the insurance wager has been settled – whether they have blackjack or not.

It is simply better to cut your losses and hope for a surprise win rather than compounding your misery.

PRO TIP: Blackjack pro Don Schlesinger doesn't completely rule out taking the insurance. In his list of advanced blackjack moves, "The illustrious 18", Schlesinger recommends taking the insurance when the true count is 3 or higher. You'll need to be counting the cards, though.

Even money

Here's a curious side bet that looks to ‘insure' players who are dealt a blackjack but where the dealer's upturned card is also an ace. If the dealer has blackjack, then all you get is a ‘push', i.e. your stake returned.

The odds are interesting on this bet because you will be paid out at even money, as the name suggests. That basically means you can double your money. However, it's a tactic that has been devised by casinos to tantalise newcomers to blackjack and those that haven't worked out the math:

  • There are 52 cards in a deck.
  • We know that two aces are in play plus your ten-valued card.
  • That leaves 49 in the shoe.
  • There are 15 possible cards giving the dealer a blackjack.
  • That translates as 15/49, or less than one-in-three chance (around 23.4%).
  • So why on earth would you take even money!?

Those odds lengthen on a dealer blackjack for every deck added into the equation. In conclusion, do not take the even money side bet when you're playing in 3:2 tables! However, if you're at a 6:5 blackjack table, even money side bets can be profitable.

FACT: Most games pay out at 3:2 for hitting blackjack. So, clearly your best option is to not take out the even money insurance for a return on 1:1. However, at a 6:5 blackjack table, even-money is a +EV bet. In terms of mathematics, you'll end up with an overall loss of £83.26 for every £100 wagered when you decline even money at a 6:5 table. However, we have yet to see a 6:5 table offering even money.

Perfect pairs

This is a bet placed before any cards are dealt, and the outcome is based upon your two cards. You can win on the Perfect Pairs bet in three ways:

  1. Perfect Pair, e.g. A♠️ A♠️
  2. Coloured Pair, e.g. K♦️ K♥️
  3. Mixed Colour Pair, e.g. Q♦️ Q♣️

Of course, the Perfect Pair is made possible by the number of decks being used in your game.

FACT: the casino has a house edge of c.a. 5.79% on Perfect Pairs, depending on the exact payout structure. On average, you lose roughly £6 for every £100 wagered.

Perfect pairs payouts

The exact payouts of this side bet vary between casinos and game providers. As an example, we use the following payout structure:

blackjack perfect pairs side bet

Should I place a perfect pairs side bet?

No. It's a harsh reality but, like other blackjack side bets, perfect pairs have a negative expectation. In other words, you stand to lose, on average, more than you'll win.

To explain why this is true, let's consider your odds of winning and your potential returns:

EXAMPLE: The Mixed Colour Pair bet pays at 5:1.

QUESTION: What are your chances of landing this bet in a six-deck game?

THE MATHS: There are four of each card value in a deck (4/52). If you multiply that by six decks, you get 24/312.

RESULT: So, you have a roughly 1-in-13 chance of landing the Mixed Colour Pair.

CONCLUSION: The payout does not match the statistical likelihood of the pair hitting. So, by placing this side bet you will be a long-term loser.

The same principles are true for the Same Colour Pair (odds = 1-in-26, payout of 10:1) and the Perfect Pair (odds = 1-in-52, payout of 30:1).

Although the same perfect pairs side bet covers all of these possible combinations, the total payouts aren't high enough compared to the low odds of getting a pair. These are negative expectancy bets for the long-term, discerning blackjack player.

21+3 blackjack

The 21+3 blackjack side game requires players to wager on the possibility that the three ‘known' cards on the table – the player's pair and the dealer's upturned card – will form a strong poker hand.

The rules of 21+3 blackjack

Prior to any cards being dealt, you will be able to place your 21+3 side bet. Then the four cards are dealt as normal: your two and those of the dealer. The idea is to create a recognised poker hand from your two cards and the dealer's upturned card. If they do, you will win! Once the 21+3 bet has been settled, the rest of the game will play out with standard blackjack rules.

Blackjack 21+3 payouts

You can earn a handy payout if you land one of the five different poker combinations available, with those prizes outlined below.

blackjack 21 + 3 side bet

The number on the left dictates how much you win to a single stake, e.g. if you wagered £10 on your 21+3 side bet and won with a flush, you would earn £50 in winnings and get your £10 stake back.

The 21+3 blackjack payouts are as follows:

  • Suited three of a kind (100:1)
  • Straight flush (35:1)
  • Three of a kind (33:1)
  • Straight (10:1)
  • Flush (5:1)

Is 21+3 a good bet?

Of course, you can only establish whether these bets are potentially positive or not when you compare probabilities and payouts. If we use the above payouts and a game with six decks, the probabilities of making ranked hands are:

  • Suited three or a kind – 0.02% chance of hitting – 100:1 payout – RTP 2.07%
  • Straight flush – 0.20% chance of hitting – 35:1 payout – RTP 7.23%.
  • Three of a kind – 0.50% chance of hitting– 33:1 payout – RTP 16.63%.
  • Straight – 3.10% chance of hitting –10:1 payout – RTP 31.02%
  • Flush – 5.84% chance of hitting – 5:1 payout – RTP 29.21%.

As you can see, the potential of hitting any single ranked hand is fairly low. When you add them together, you get a total RTP of 95.86%, which translates to a house edge of 4.14%.

Compared to the RTP of c.a. 99% of the base game played with the basic strategy, this isn't great. However, in a game where potential returns and excitement also matter, blackjack side bets do inject a little spice into the game.
Using the house's money

Side bets are fun wagers that add a bit of extra excitement into your gaming, but long-term they do not yield positive results. That's not to say you can't profit from them because if you have a particularly lucky session then you can win and win well, but ultimately that would prove only to be short-term variance.

Blackjack side bets are gambles, whereas basic blackjack strategy enables us to get the house's edge down to a minuscule percentage when applied correctly.

Our advice? If you are having a good session and want to try something different, place your side bets only with the house's money, i.e. funds you have won from them. That way, there is no real risk to go with the obvious rewards.

Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 8:

Blackjack variants


We'll show you the most popular blackjack variants out there. From the traditional to the innovative, the following rundown will show you exactly how far the game has come since its inception.

By adding subtle twists, game developers have found ways to keep blackjack feeling fresh and play to the skill aspect of the game. Unlike other casino offerings, blackjack's dynamics allow skilled players to use certain strategies to improve their potential win rate. With this being true, different types of blackjack make it possible for you to try new moves.

Overview of different blackjack variations

The basic rules of blackjack are seen in many different versions of the game. Many of them simply add extra side bets or slightly different rules.

American or European rules?

American and European blackjack mainly vary in how the dealer receives their second card.

In American rules, the dealer's starting cards are placed face-down while the other is face-up. The dealer can peek to see if they have blackjack.

In European rules, the dealer only gets one card at the start. Their second card only comes after the player has taken their turn.

There are some additional differences between the two variants, but these are subtle. The main difference you'll notice is how the dealer receives their cards at the start of a round.

Other popular variants

Here's a quick overview of the most popular blackjack games. Each link will take you to a more detailed description.

  • Spanish 21: There are no tens in the pack (although J, Q and K remain). While this lowers your chance of winning, the rules are tweaked in other ways to help you. For example, you always win with 21, even if the dealer has the same total.
  • Blackjack Switch: This variant gives you the useful option of switching your cards between different hands. This makes it easier for you, but to even things out the dealer beats you with 22 and blackjack only pays out at evens instead of at 3 to 2.
  • Free Bet Blackjack: This variant was invented by Geoff Hall and the main premise is that you can split and double down on certain hands for free. The house edge for this game is 1.04%.
  • Super Fun 21: This is a laid-back version with some rule changes to help you out. Among them, you can double down and split your cards more freely. However, a blackjack hand only gives you an even money win unless it is with a set of diamonds.
  • Blackjack Poker: This game combines the basic concept of poker i.e. making a ranked hand and combines is to traditional blackjack. The winner is determined after a comparison of the player and dealer hands. The highest-ranked hand wins.
  • Pontoon: Pontoon is a British version of blackjack. In general, the main rules are the same. However, little tweaks such as five-card Charlie (winning with five cards) and 2:1 payouts for hitting pontoon (10+A) make this game a unique proposition.
  • European Blackjack: A classic, European blackjack has an extremely low house edge and this variant offers a classic ruleset that includes 3:2 payouts, doubling, splitting and insurance.
  • American Blackjack: American blackjack is almost identical to its European counterpart. The only slight differences are the way the dealer receives their cards and the types of starting hands a player can split and double down on.
  • English Blackjack: This isn't really a type of blackjack. Instead, English blackjack is a type of crazy eights where the aim is to get rid of your cards before everyone else does.

Universal blackjack rules

  • Here are some of the basic rules you'll find across all types of blackjack:
  • Dealer must hit to a total of 17 or higher.
  • You can split pairs.
  • You can double down i.e. double your bet and receive one card.
  • If you/the dealer gets a total higher than 21, you/they go bust.
  • You can take insurance at 2:1 if the dealer is showing an ace.

General blackjack payouts

Before we move into specifics, let's quickly highlight the general payouts you can expect in a standard game of blackjack:

  • Payout for a non-blackjack winning hand = 1:1
  • Payout for a blackjack winning hand = 3:2
  • Payout for a draw = push (i.e. your stake back)
  • Payout for taking insurance and the dealer has blackjack = 2:1 on your insurance bet

Other common blackjack rules

Below are some rules that are only available in certain types of offline and online blackjack. Before you play, make sure you ascertain whether these rules are in play:

  • Late Surrender: Once the dealer has checked they don't have a blackjack, you can give up your hand, and receive 50% of your stake back.
  • Double Down Rescue: This option allows you to surrender after doubling down, as long as you haven't gone bust. If you use this option, you lose your stake but keep your double down bet.
  • Five-card Charlie: Some games allow you to win if you collect five cards without going bust.

Spanish 21

Described by some as the best variant of blackjack, Spanish 21 is characterised by a low house edge. Although specific rule variants can alter the casino's edge, most dynamics result in an advantage of just 0.40%.

The rules of Spanish 21

  • There are no tens, so it's played with a 48-card deck
  • You can surrender late (i.e. you can give up your hand and receive some of your stake back after the initial deal).
  • You can surrender after doubling aka Double Down Rescue.
  • You can double after splits and re-split aces.
  • You can double after any number of cards.
  • A player's blackjack beats a dealer's blackjack
  • A player's 21 beats a dealer's 21.

Spanish 21 blackjack payouts

  • The other distinguishing features of Spanish 21 blackjack are its payouts and jackpots.
  • Standard wins receive a 1:1 payout.
  • Blackjack wins receive a 3:2 payout.
  • If you make a total of 21 using a 6-7-8 or 7-7-7, you'll win a 3:2 payout.
  • If you make 21 using 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 and the cards are the same suit, you'll win a 2:1 payout.
  • If you make 21 using 6-7-8 or 7-7-7 and all the cards are spades, you'll win a 3:1 payout.
  • You'll win a Super Bonus (a progressive jackpot) if you hold a suited 7-7-7 combination and the dealer's up card is a seven.
  • 21 with 5 cards pays 3:2
  • 21 with 6 cards pays 2:1
  • 21 with 7+ cards pays 3:1

Blackjack Switch

Blackjack Switch was invented and patented in 2009 by Geoff Hall. Under the rules of Blackjack Switch, you can swap your starting cards between hands. In general, when six decks are in play and standard rules apply, the house edge for Blackjack Switch is 0.58%.

The rules of Blackjack Switch

  • Except in cases where they don't apply, classic blackjack rules are in play.
  • Six or eight decks are used.
  • Dealer hits on soft 17.
  • Blackjack pays out at even money (1:1).
  • You can make blackjack by switching.
  • You can double on any two cards and re-split up to four times.

To play Blackjack Switch, you'll need to place two bets of equal size. From here, you'll be dealt two hands consisting of two cards each. Before you decide whether you want to hit or stand, you can switch the second cards of each hand if you want.

EXAMPLE: You're dealt 8-J and A-2, you could switch the J and 2.Doing this would give you a total of 10 and 21. At this point, you can stand on 21 and hit 10 (which is better than hitting the soft 13 you previously had).

As you can see, with the right cards and knowledge, Blackjack Switch gives you the chance to turn weak hands into positive opportunities. Of course, this advantage doesn't come for free. In addition to the rules listed below, all non-busted hands are classed as a tie if the dealer makes 22 (i.e. the dealer doesn't bust on 22).

Blackjack Switch payouts

The RTP for Blackjack Switch is 99.42% based thanks to the above conditions and the payouts below:

  • Standard wins receive a 1:1 payout.
  • Blackjack wins receive a 3:2 payout.

Side bets

Blackjack switch often offer a Super Match side bet. If the 4 cards in player's two starting hands include the following combinations, there are some handsome payouts:

  • One Pair at 1: 1
  • Three of a Kind at 5:1
  • Two Pairs at 8:1
  • Four of a Kind at 40:1

Free Bet Blackjack

Invented by Geoff Hall, Free Bet Blackjack is attractive to casual players because, as the name suggests, you can make bets for free. As per the rules of Free Bet Blackjack, the house will pay for you to split or double down on certain hands. Yes, that's right, you can split or double for free.

The rules of Free Bet Blackjack

General blackjack rules apply, except:

  • You can't surrender.
  • Dealer hits on soft 17.
  • If the dealer makes a total of 22, all non-busted hands are classed as a tie.

Under standard conditions, the house edge for Free Bet Blackjack is 1.04%. That's higher than some variants. However, the free bets do provide a unique dynamic.

Free Doubles: If you've got a hard total (i.e. a total without an ace) of 9, 10 or 11, you can use a free bet to double down. Doubles on other totals are allowed but you have to pay for them yourself. If you lose or tie, you only lose your original wager. If you win, you receive your original wager back plus a payout equal to double the free wager.

Free Splits: You can split any pair, except tens, for free. When you use a free split, the house token is replaced with real chips and you play out the round as if you'd paid for the split yourself. If you use a free split, you're still entitled to free doubles and free re-splits.

The cost of these free bets is that you lose certain benefits and the dealer has a little more flexibility, as you'll see above.

Free Bet Blackjack payouts

  • Standard wins receive a 1:1 payout.
  • Blackjack wins receive a 3:2 payout.

Bonus Bets

  • Hot 3 (value of player's cards + dealer's up card)
    • 19 pays 1:1
    • 20 pays 2:1
    • unsuited 21 pays 4:1
    • suited 21 pays 20:1
    • three sevens pays 100:1.
  • Pairs
    • unsuited player pair pays 8:1
    • suited player pair pays 25:1.
  • Bust It (pays out on the number of cards it takes the dealer to bust)
    • 3 cards pays 1:1
    • 4 cards pays 2:1
    • 5 cards pays 9:1
    • 6 cards pays 50:1
    • 7 cards pays 100:1
    • 8 or more cards pays 250:1.

Super Fun 21

Particularly popular in Las Vegas, Super Fun 21 blackjack is designed to live up to its moniker. The rules of Super Fun 21 are more liberal than classic variants. You have more options when it comes to betting, hitting and standing.

The rules of Super Fun 21

  • The game is typically played with one, two or six decks of cards.
  • Dealer hits on soft 17.
  • You can split up to four times, even if you have aces.
  • You can hit and double down on split hands, including aces.
  • You can double down at any point in a hand i.e. even if you have more than two cards.
  • You can surrender on any number of cards and if you double down (known as Double Down Rescue). When you surrender, you end the round early and give up half of your bet.
  • If you make a hand totalling 20 or less with six cards, you win the round automatically.
  • If you make a hand totalling 21 with five or more cards, you win the round automatically and receive a 2:1 payout.
  • If you make blackjack and the cards are diamonds, you win a 2:1 payout. All other blackjacks receive 1:1 payouts.
  • If you hit blackjack, you always win, even if the dealer makes blackjack.

The rules of Super Fun 21 means the house edge can be:

  • A single deck and dealer hits on soft 17 = 1.16% house edge
  • Two decks and dealer hits on soft 17 = 1.30% house edge
  • Six decks and dealer hits on soft 17 = 1.40% house edge

Super Fun 21 payouts

The trade-off for better betting conditions is that blackjack (an Ace and a 10/picture card) only pays out at 1:1 rather than 3:2.

Blackjack Poker

A mash-up of blackjack and poker, this variant essentially takes the scoring system of the former and combines it with the showdown dynamics of the latter.

Blackjack Poker has a hand ranking system that takes inspiration from poker. Your job is to try and make the best-ranked hand that outranks the dealer's hand. If you can do that, you'll receive a payout in accordance with the value of your hand.

How to play Blackjack Poker

A round of blackjack poker flows in the following way:

  1. The dealer gives each active player two cards.
  2. The dealer takes two cards from the deck.
  3. Players can choose to take additional cards to improve their hand ranking and the dealer can do the same.

When everyone has completed their turn, a showdown takes place and the following rules apply:

  • If the player and dealer both have two aces of hearts, the result is a draw.
  • If the player and dealer both make 21 or less and have the same total, the result is a draw.
  • If the player and dealer have 21 or less but different totals, the hand closest to 21 wins a payout based on the list below.
  • If anyone holds two aces of hearts, this trumps all other hands.
  • If the player has 21 or higher and the dealer has a three-card hand totaling 26, the result is a draw.
  • If the dealer has a three-card hand totaling 26 but the player doesn't have 21 or higher, the player loses.

Making a hand in Blackjack Poker

You define the value of your hand by adding up the card values together and comparing this total sum to the dealer's hand. This is where the blackjack element comes in. Scoring a hand is based on the standard blackjack card values:

  • Tens and faces = 10
  • Ace = 1 or 11
  • 2 – 9 = pip value

When you combine the above with the hand rankings below, your two-card total determines the payout you recieve. To win the hand, you need to have a combination that ranks higher than the dealer's.

Blackjack Poker hand rankings:

  • Ace of Hearts + Ace of Hearts = 3:1 payout
  • Blackjack (Ace + any face card/ten) = 6:5 payout
  • Ace of Heart + Ace of Hearts after a split = 1:1 payout
  • Ace + Jack, Queen, King or 10 after a split = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 21 = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 20 = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 19 = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 18 = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 17 = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 16 = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 15 = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 14 = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 13 = 1:1 payout
  • Total value 12 = 1:1 payout

Pontoon

When it comes to blackjack variants, Pontoon may be the most interesting. As well as offering better dynamics than many of its counterparts, there are two versions: Australian and British.

Australian Pontoon

In Australia, Pontoon is virtually identical to Spanish 21. We won't run through the rules of Australian Pontoon as you can check them in the Spanish 21 section. However, the one rule that's worth noting is the late surrender. If the dealer's up card is a ten or an ace, you can late surrender but will lose your entire bet if the dealer makes blackjack.

British Pontoon

In British Pontoon, the general flow of play mirrors classic blackjack. However, there are some rule changes listed below.

The main feature you need to be aware of is five-card trick, a.k.a. five-card charlie. Make any total with five cards without going bust (i.e. over 21) and you'll win the hand and a 2:1 payout.

The rules of Pontoon

  • Eight decks are in play.
  • Pontoon is the same as blackjack (i.e. a total made from an Ace and a 10/picture card).
  • Hitting pontoon pays 2:1
  • The dealer's opening cards are dealt face-down. The dealer will peek at their cards and expose them instantly if they have pontoon.
  • You can double if you hold up to four cards but only once per hand.
  • You can split any pair, including aces, but you can only re-split once.
  • You can make pontoon after splitting.
  • You can only stand on totals of 15 or more.
  • You can stand on any five-card trick (five cards without going bust).
  • Five-card-trick wins pay 2:1.
  • If you tie with the dealer, you lose.

European Blackjack

European Blackjack would be described as one of the classics. In other words, it's a variant that's been around for decades and, in general, uses the basic rule set players have come to expect from blackjack.

European Blackjack has a fairly low house edge of 0.62%. This takes into account strict rules regarding doubles and splitting.

The rules of European Blackjack

  • The game is typically played with six decks.
  • You can only double down on hard totals of 9, 10 or 11.
  • In some games, you can't split a pair of fours, fives or tens. This is often the case in UK Blackjack.
  • You can double after a split.
  • The dealer doesn't check the face-down card until players have made their moves.

The defining feature in European Blackjack is the "no peek" rule. In certain types of blackjack, one of the dealer's cards will be exposed and one will be face-down on the table. To speed up the game and provide you with some more information, the dealer will peek at the unexposed card if their up card is an ace. If the dealer has blackjack, it's exposed immediately and the round is over (i.e. you lose, or tie if you also have blackjack).

But in European Blackjack, the dealer doesn't check for blackjack if they have an ace exposed. Therefore, you have to make your moves and wait to learn your fate. Other than that, the rules of European Blackjack are standard.

European Blackjack payouts

  • Standard wins pay 1:1
  • Blackjack wins pay 3:2
  • Insurance pays 2:1

American Blackjack

Otherwise known as the "main" type of blackjack, American games are what you'll find in virtually every casino in the world. There are technically two main types of American Blackjack: Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

We'll outline the rules for each variant below. American Blackjack requires the dealer to stand on soft 17 and you can double down after splits.

Las Vegas blackjack rules

  • The dealer must stand on all totals of 17+.
  • You can double any starting total and split any pair.
  • If you split aces, you only receive one card per hand.
  • You can double after a split.

Atlantic City blackjack rules

  • The dealer must stand on all totals of 17+.
  • You can double any starting total and split any pair.
  • You're limited to a maximum of three re-splits.
  • Late surrender is available.
  • All other standard blackjack rules apply.

American Blackjack payouts

  • Standard wins pay 1:1
  • Blackjack wins pay 3:2
  • Insurance pays 2:1

English Blackjack

English Blackjack is a term that's often used to describe the game Crazy Eights. Despite sharing a name with the likes of American Blackjack, English Blackjack doesn't involve a race to 21. Instead, the aim is to play against four, five or six opponents and clear your hand.

At the start of a game, each player receives five cards (seven cards if there are only four players). The remaining cards are placed in the centre of the table and one is turned face-up.

At this point, the player to the left of the dealer has to follow suit. In other words, they have to discard a card from their hand if it matches the suit or the value of the one in the middle. If they can't, they have to pick up a card from the deck and the next player has to act. If they can follow suit once, play moves on. If they can follow suit and create a run, e.g. they lay the 5 diamonds, then the 6 diamonds and so on, they continue until their run stops.

To add some spice to the game, eights are wild and make the next player miss a turn (additional eights make them miss additional turns). Kings change the direction of play. Aces change the suit and can be played at any time. A deuce makes the next player skip a turn and pick up two cards. A black jack means the next player has to pick up five cards unless they can lay a red jack. Finally, if you lay a queen, you can cover it with any card. The benefit here is that you can use the queen to start a new run.

The first player to clear their cards is declared the winner. Simple!

Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 9:

Blackjack Tournaments


Tournament blackjack differs greatly from conventional casino blackjack. In this section, we'll cover the dynamics of the tournaments and effective strategies for winning a cash prize at the end of it.

There may be instances where land-based and online casinos advertise blackjack tournaments to their customers. These large-scale events are designed to involve multiple blackjack players at once, as they battle for supremacy and a chance to finish 'in the money'.

Tournament blackjack rules

As the rules for regular blackjack differ from casino to casino, the structure and rules of each blackjack tournament will vary. Yet, there are some common aspects of all tournament events.

Typically, blackjack tournaments feature a round system. During the early rounds, the top two players with the most chips at each table move to the next round until a final table is set.

This move typically occurs every 25-30 hands of blackjack. This prevents card counters from gaining an edge in the tournament and also ensures engaging, quick-fire action.

As regular blackjack games are largely influenced by the number of decks in play, specific tournaments will also deem whether:

  • players can double down
  • when or if they can split
  • if they can surrender
  • whether or not the dealer hits a soft 17

In the latter stages of a blackjack tournament, the format may change somewhat, with only one player from each table advancing to the next round.

Some tournaments will narrow their structure down to a heads-up game between two players. Others will have a full "final table" of players to do battle and get the most amount of chips to become the outright winner.

How do blackjack tournaments work?

At the beginning of a blackjack tournament, all players start with the same number of chips at their respective tables and will play the same number of hands.

At the end of each round (a predefined number of blackjack hands) the players that have the highest chip stacks will advance to the next round.

This will sometimes be the top two players with the highest chip stacks, while other tournaments will focus solely on the top player per table.

What are the differences between casino and tournament blackjack?

  • In tournament blackjack, it's your hand vs. the dealer's. However, the wider aim is to beat everyone at the table by winning more chips/hands than they do.
  • In tournament blackjack, you can win a serious amount of money in a single session. While it's unlikely to win big sums of money at a blackjack table with a modest bankroll.
  • Casino blackjack has no ceiling on what you can win or lose per session.
  • Tournament blackjack is a good starting point, as players can pay a set fee and experience how the game works.

You don't need to increase your chip stack that much to progress through a blackjack tournament. Depending on how aggressive your fellow players may be, you might simply need to survive and preserve your chip stack to outlast those who take big risks with their chips and fail.

Even if you end up with fewer chips than you started with, it's still possible to make progress in a blackjack tournament.

Many fans of blackjack also like the concept of blackjack tournaments as it's a great way of enjoying their favourite table game whilst limiting their risk. Losses made in blackjack tournaments are restricted exclusively to tournament entry fees alone.

Gaining an edge in blackjack tournaments

Another sizable difference between casino and tournament blackjack is the way in which players can get an edge over the game. In casino blackjack, you can count cards and master keeping track of the running count of the game, so that you know when to bet big.

However, card counting is not the most effective way to gain an edge in tournament blackjack. That's because your opponent is not the dealer, it's the other players at the table. Learning how to play better than your opponents is the most important edge in blackjack tournaments.

Blackjack tournaments can be staged in a variety of formats. Take a look at the most popular tournament formats below and see which ones you like the sound of most:

Blackjack elimination tournaments

The most common format of tournament blackjack is an elimination-style event. In this format, you will play against the other players at your table, with only those with the highest chip stack at each table progressing to the next round, and all others eliminated.

In some cases, these elimination tournaments will permit a 're-buy' allowing players to re-enter once for the cost of the entry fee again.

Blackjack accumulation tournaments

This format of blackjack tournaments does not involve players being eliminated at any stage of the game.

Players must simply accumulate as many chips as possible by the end of a predetermined number of rounds.The tournament leaderboard is highly visible throughout to ensure players know how many chips they need to win.

Live-money blackjack tournaments

In the vast majority of blackjack tournaments you play with chips that do not have fiat currency value. By contrast, live-money blackjack tournaments require players to pay in cash for their tournament chips at the table.

This eradicates the ceiling on players as they can spend as much as they wish on chips to chase tournament victory.

Weekly and daily blackjack tournaments

Some land-based – and online – casinos will stage weekly and even daily blackjack tournaments with predetermined prize pools and relatively low entry fees by comparison with major tournaments with six-figure prizes.

Sit ‘n' Go blackjack tournaments

Some land-based casinos will also stage sit ‘n' go blackjack tournaments in the same format as sit ‘n' go poker games. Once all seats at a blackjack table have been filled the tournament can begin.

These are particularly popular with casual players that can't commit to entering major tournaments at specific dates and times.

Blackjack tournament strategies

Here are some practical tips to make your way to the final table.

Choose blackjack tournaments with prize pools that exceed the entry fees

You'll want to be selective with the blackjack tournaments you enter. Be sure to choose those that offer the best equity in terms of prize money. There will be some events where the prize pool is less than the combined sum of entry fees. But there are also plenty of others that offer more bang for your buck.

The easiest way to find out the percentage of entry fees that are included in the overall prize pool is to ask the tournament director.

The figure should be transparent and, if it's not, this should be a red flag to you. Ultimately, try to enter tournaments that return as near to 100% of the sum of entry fees as possible.

Familiarise yourself with the tournament rules before you begin

Before you give over your hard-earned cash, be sure to read through the tournament's playing rules. There are many examples of players that have blindly entered blackjack tournaments only to make expensive strategic errors during the game, resulting in their elimination or fall down the leaderboard.

Legitimate blackjack tournaments will offer a clear, concise list of rules, including:

  • How many hands are dealt per round?
  • How many players advance to the next round?
  • What are the betting limits?

Always keep a keen eye on your opponents' chip stacks

In a tournament, there are two things to focus on. Firstly, you need to try and beat the dealer as you would in a standard game. However, beyond that, you also need to think about your position at the table. Because your aim is to accumulate more chips/wins than everyone else, you need to have an awareness of what's going on at the table.

As that is the case, you should always stay on top of how many chips your opponents have at the table, as well as your own. By keeping track of your opponents' chip counts, you can determine how to size your next wagers so as not to jeopardise your position at the table, or on the overall leaderboard.

You also need to know how to assess the potential outcomes of an opponent's hand after the deal. For instance, if it's clear that their hand is at risk of going bust or being too low, you will know when the time is right to strike and increase the size of your own bet to boost your chip count.

The importance of the betting position

In these tournaments, the first person to bet on each hand moves around the table with each hand that's played, rather like the dealer button in poker.

Once it's determined who will be betting first in the first round, you'll need to be aware of your own betting position final round - where you'll need to know how aggressively to bet.

Those with the dealer button, when it comes to this stage of betting, are always at a disadvantage as they can only view the wagers made by their competitors after they have acted.

What to do when you become the 'chip leader'

Some players in blackjack tournaments also experience something of a quandary when they enter the chip lead. When you are dubbed chip lead, many players decide between trying to build on their lead or sitting tight and allow others to wilt under the pressure.

The easiest strategy is to keep a close rein on your nearest challenger. What we mean by that is you should always try to match the wager of your rival.

This way, if you win, they win and if you lose, they lose. There's no way for them to overtake you – unless their hand wins and yours doesn't, of course.

What to do during the last hand of a tournament round

If you are behind the chip leader going into the final round of a blackjack tournament, you will need to try and wager more than the table leader, which may result in doubling down on your initial bet size.

The strategy itself is rather simple. There is a saying among blackjack tournament fanatics that goes: "if in doubt, put it out". If you're unsure whether the time is right to bet big, go for the jugular and try to reassert your position at the table.

Free online blackjack tournaments

Although they are few and far between, some land-based and online casinos arrange freeroll blackjack tournaments for their customers.

Freeroll tournaments do not require players to pay to enter. They offer beginners to blackjack or tournament blackjack a chance to hone their skills before entering bigger events.

There are some freeroll blackjack tournaments that will also offer up a modest guaranteed prize pool, which can be hugely beneficial to build up your own blackjack bankroll.

Whichever way you look at it, blackjack tournaments are a fun, engaging way to experience blackjack; whether you are a first-timer or someone that has played conventional casino blackjack for many years and fancies a different competitive challenge.

Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 10:

Blackjack legends


We pay homage to some of the best blackjack brains in history. Learn how blackjack has evolved during the last 5 centuries and how it has achieved the analytical and scientific attention it deserves.

Blackjack has come a long way since the days of sailors playing for matchsticks to pass the time on lengthy voyages.

In the intervening 500 years or so, blackjack has gone from a pastime to a billion-dollar industry in its own right, with university professors and mathematics geniuses coming up with strategies to help players get one over on the casino.

In this chapter, we will quickly explore the origins and history of blackjack, from those humble beginnings through to the technical revolution of the 2000s.

We'll also take some time to pay homage to the major contributors of knowledge in blackjack and the hall of famers, while revealing more about the annual Blackjack Ball, which brings together the game's sharpest thinkers for a yearly summit with one common aim: taking down the house!

Who invented blackjack?

Blackjack dates back to the late 1600s, although its actual origins are unclear. In his book Historia Del Juego En España, author Marc Fontbana notes that Miguel de Cervantes first wrote about blackjack in his book Novelas Ejemplares.

Cervantes referred to the game as 'veintiuna' and certain historians believe this was the first indication that blackjack was played in the 1600s.

Historians such as David Parlett believe the French game 'Vingt-et-Un', played in the 18th century, is a more accurate precursor to modern blackjack. Just like "Ventiuna", also Vingt-et-Un literally translates as '21'. It was common in gaming establishments during the 19th century.

A short history of blackjack

French colonists took Vingt-et-Un to North America in the 1800s, where it quickly grew in popularity despite gambling still being prohibited. The game also made its way to the UK in the 19th century. Many didn't realise it was actually French and pronounced it ‘Van John'.

Around the time of the First World War, blackjack was renamed as Pontoon in the UK. In the US, it is believed that Vingt-et-Un became blackjack in underground games houses in the early 1900s.

When gambling was legalised in Nevada in 1931, the game became a focal point of the first casinos to be built in the state. Still the world's betting capital to this day, millions of dollars are wagered on the felt each and every day in Las Vegas, with blackjack remaining ever popular.

When we talk about the legends of the game, the earlier pioneers are important to note. Everyone who made an impression – from travellers transporting the game to new lands, to the casino owners – deserves a place in the spotlight.

Of course, in the modern era, there are also people who have helped the game. Through a combination of strategies, tactics and innovations, today's blackjack heroes are also an important part of the game.

How did blackjack get its name?

According to David Parlett's History of Card Games, blackjack got its name in the US back in the 1930s. The story goes that casinos promised a special payout if they were dealt the ace of spades and a black jack (spades or clubs). As you'd expect, the hand was known as 'blackjack'.

John Scarne also claims that the name "blackjack" was inscribed on tables in Chicago as far back as 1919. However, there's no material evidence to back this up.

Major contributors to blackjack

Throughout the annals of time, and especially in the past century, a number of canny operators have come along and changed the way we look at – and play – blackjack.

One of the first legends of the game that we have to mention is Julian Braun, who in the 1960s became the forefather of what we know today as basic blackjack strategy. He was an IBM programmer and a mathematician. He figured out that the house's edge could be minimised if people played 'perfectly'.

This meant playing the percentages that gave them the best possible chance of either a) winning or b) minimising their losses.

Thanks to Braun, we now have blackjack strategy charts that tell use when to hit, stand, split and double down. However, we can trace the origins of blackjack strategy to the 1950s, where the fantastically-named 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' changed the way that players thought about the game.

The four horsemen of blackjack

Roger Baldwin, a private in the US Army and a mathematics graduate, joined forces with three of his colleagues at the Aberdeen Proving Ground: Wilbert Canley, another maths grad, Herbert Maisel, who would go on to become a professor at Georgetown University, and James McDermott, who had a maths Masters degree.

Together, they penned the book Playing Blackjack to Win, which is still revered to this day. One chapter involved an introduction to card counting, which has become the casino's Achilles heel to this day!

The best blackjack authors: Griffin, Thorp and Revere

A number of other authors have also served up their blackjack expertise in their writing.

Peter Griffin – No, not the Family Guy patriarch – Griffin was a mathematician and blackjack player. He wrote the famous book, The Theory of Blackjack. This book is widely considered to be the Bible of blackjack and one that all aspiring players should read.

Responsible for a number of game-changing insights, Griffin calculated that the disadvantage of the ‘average' blackjack player was 2% per hand.

Edward O. Thorp - The leading authority on card counting in the early days was Edward O. Thorp. A PhD holder in mathematics, Thorp was convinced that players could gain an advantage in blackjack. He believes that there was an edge in games where the deck wasn't shuffled after each round. Thorp created a numerical counting strategy that is still widely used today.

Lawrence Revere - Revere was one of the first professional blackjack players – his book, Playing Blackjack as a Business – offered tips on how others could follow suit. He had a background working in casinos, so knew how the betting floor worked, and he went on to become something of a master in avoiding detection while utilising a variety of card counting techniques.

Blackjack Hall of Fame

The Blackjack Hall of Fame was established in 2002 and can be found at the Barona Casino in San Diego, California. It is home to the best players, writers and thinkers of the game in history, with 24 inductees at the time of writing in December 2019.

Finding blackjack's best

All of the characters we have mentioned above are present in the Blackjack Hall of Fame, from the Four Horsemen and Julian Braun to Lawrence Revere, Peter Griffin and Edward O. Thorp. Started in the early noughties, originally 21 experts from the world of blackjack were nominated for induction into the Hall of Fame, with a public vote taking place on the web to see who got the nod.

The final voting was completed at the Blackjack Ball, an annual gathering of the biggest names in the industry, and seven initial members were chosen. From then on, attendees were able to nominate and vote on inductees.

From 2006 potential candidates have been nominated by Hall of Fame members and voted on at the Blackjack Ball. There were two new members inducted per year until 2006, when it was reduced to one. An exception was made in 2007 when all four of the Horsemen were inducted.

Card counting legends

As you may be aware, card counters tend to work in teams to maximise their advantage. And a number of inductees into the Hall of Fame have 'earned' their place through their work in these teams.

Al Francesco, one of the founding fathers of counting teams. He was among the inaugural inductees alongside Ken Uston, a vocal defender of the rights of card counters who has sued Atlantic City casinos in the past. Also hailed as a legend is Tommy Hyland who famously managed his own team of card counters.

The 2019 inductee was Rob Reitzen, a modern blackjack guru. He's believed to have won more money playing the game than anybody else. A card counter, shuffle sequencer and algorithm specialist, Reitzen once won more than $500,000 in a single weekend from Caesars Palace. He was also a founding member of the CORE player-banking operation.

The Blackjack Ball

The Blackjack Ball is an annual gathering of players, writers and mathematicians to celebrate the year in blackjack. It features a dinner and social events, as well as voting for the next nominees into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Five finalists also compete for the 'World's Greatest Blackjack Player' title.

The Blackjack Ball was founded by Max Rubin, a former casino worker turned blackjack pro who penned the book Comp City. He wanted to bring together the best thinkers in the game in one place, as well as celebrate excellence in the preceding year on the tables. Since 2017, he has been joined on hosting duties by Richard Munchkin, an advantage player in his own right, co-host of the seminal 'Gambling with an Edge' podcast and author of Gambling Wizards: Conversations with the World's Greatest Gamblers.

The Ball is invite-only. Rubin hands out around 100 invitations per event to the top advantage players and those who have contributed to a wider understanding of the game. The invite list is vetted and signed off on by Hall of Famers.

Why is the Blackjack Ball a secret event?

At the Blackjack Ball, the best players from around the world share their success stories and tips for beating the house. So, if the event was attended by a casino employee, for example, they would learn how these game-changing players were able to maximise their advantage, and it might even lead to a change in the rules etc.

As a consequence, the location, time and date of the Blackjack Ball are kept as a sworn secret, while security staff are employed to check attendees for recording devices and so on.

Each invitee has to ‘donate' two things to the Blackjack Ball:

  • A bottle of chilled premium champagne
  • A $100 levy which is used to pay towards expenses and fund the Calcutta pool

Failure to do so results in refusal of entry and being placed on the barred list. The Calcutta is a pari-mutuel betting pool in which attendees bet on who they believe will win the 'World's Greatest Blackjack Player' competition.

Incredibly, the Blackjack Ball is sponsored by the Barona Casino in San Diego, but on one condition: players in attendance have to agree that they will never play blackjack at the Barona!

The casino also offers lifetime complimentary entry to Blackjack Hall of Famers, which includes accommodation, meals and drinks, again on the proviso of never setting foot on the gaming floor.

What is the world's greatest blackjack player competition?

At the Blackjack Ball, the best players compete in a one-off tournament. Named the Grosjean Cup, after James Grosjean (three times winner of the World's Greatest Blackjack Player) this event is also hotly contested. Winners receive a 15-litre bottle of Luc Belaire Rose Champagne courtesy of Hall of Famer Don Johnson.

Both Grosjean and Richard Munchkin, who also won the contest three times, have now been barred from entering following their monopolisation of the competition.

Blackjack - The complete guide

Blackjack has left its imprint on western popular culture. Ranging from books to movies and documentaries, the game has been covered extensively. We have collected the best works on the topic.

Best blackjack books

Blackjack Skill and strategy books

These are the books that most blackjack enthusiasts hold in high regard. They contain explanations of strategy and useful theory to help you beat the dealer online or at a table.

Our list starts off with books for beginners and moves to the more technical and advanced stuff. If you're new to blackjack, start from the top and make your way down. More experienced players will most likely want to start near the bottom.

The World's Greatest Blackjack Book [Beginner]

It may seem like a generic title that these days would be considered 'click-bait', but The World's Greatest Blackjack Book by Lance Humble is the best place for any would-be blackjack player to start. The book is hailed as the ‘Bible of Blackjack.'

It teaches you everything that you need to know, covering a whole range of strategies. The book recommends the still useful Hi-Opt 1 system.

It's a nice way to develop your skills as it's not too heavy in its material and mixes in plenty of extra tips.

Real World Blackjack [Beginner]

This book takes a different approach to most blackjack titles. As the title suggests, it doesn't focus on counting cards. This can come in handy for a beginner who sees the practice as a rather tricky skill to learn.

The book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the industry and comes from John Lucas' research and observations as a blackjack dealer.

The book's primary concerns are bankroll management, wise betting, and strategy that applies to the modern game. This is instead of a statistical model focus.

Dynamic Blackjack [Intermediate]

If The World's Greatest Blackjack Book is the original Bible, Dynamic Blackjack – The Professional Approach is the new testament. The book by Maverick Sharp addresses the changing times of blackjack in the 21st century.

It's a big book, some 600 pages long, but it includes all the vital information of the classic books updated for the modern player. It also includes a look at online casino blackjack play.

Quite possibly the best element of the book is the specialised strategy that the author created, the Dynamic Matrix Pro Strategy.

Dynamic Blackjack can be a great place to start, but we suggest reading the older titles first. Sharp's comprehensive book is more effective on top of base knowledge.

Blackjack Attack [Expert]

While there is plenty for the novice to consider in Blackjack Attack: Playing the Pros' Way, the book is geared towards experienced players. It features over 400 charts to build on basic blackjack concepts with a high level of sophisticated thinking.

Written by Don Schlesinger with the help of some of the finest blackjack experts and researchers, Blackjack Attack is an examination of the mechanics of blackjack.

It is also a very comprehensive strategy and skill reference guide. It's all about winning and giving the player every tool necessary to be a perfect all-rounder in the game.

Professional Blackjack [Expert]

Stanford Wong is one of the most revered blackjack players and blackjack book authors around. His book Professional Blackjack is the ultimate read for those who want to perfect blackjack.

It's very pleasant to read a book that's not only a helpful blackjack guide but is also a good read. Outside of his writing in the book, the charts included are also helpful.

Wong has covered all counting strategies you'd need to know. There is also a bunch that you may have never even heard of before.

Burning the Tables in Las Vegas [Live players]

The modern blackjack player may not have a need for table skills anymore. Live blackjack online is a couple of taps away after all.

But anyone that wants to beat the dealer in person must read the following book. It concerns important supplementary blackjack skills.

Ian Andersen's Burning the Tables in Las Vegas is crucial reading for high-stakes blackjack players. The book follows on from Turning the Tables on Las Vegas.

Burning the Tables shares anecdotes and a lot of important information on how to stay camouflaged in a casino. Andersen explains the surrender option and the psychology of casinos to keep you under the radar.

More leisurely blackjack books

Sometimes, you don't want to read a big fat book about statistics, card counting strategies, or how to avoid detection; you just want an enjoyable read that recounts some tales of the classic card game.

These books are much more leisurely reads. While they don't teach blackjack skill, they will teach you some lessons along the way.

Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions

Even though the full title of this book is far too long, it is a very entertaining novelisation of real-life events. As the title says, Bringing Down the House is about the MIT blackjack team that counted cards in Las Vegas to win millions of dollars.

Written by Ben Mezrich, the book gives an inside look at the team's infamous rise, but some say that it contains many fictional elements. There is a fair bit of fluff, but that helps to make it entertaining.

There are two movie versions of Bringing Down the House: a Hollywood filmatization "21" from 2008 and a Canadian production "The Last Casino" from 2004.

Blackjack Autumn: A True Tale of Life, Death, and Splitting Tens in Winnemucca

Many blackjack books come from the past experiences of the author. Here, you get the feeling that Barry Meadow set off on a journey of playing blackjack to write the book itself.

Blackjack Autumn by Barry Meadow is a fun read, following the adventure of Meadow as he ditches his regular life for two months to play blackjack in every casino in Nevada.

Whether you need to enhance your blackjack skills or want a good fun read that takes you into the world of blackjack, there's one up there for you to enjoy.

Blackjack movies & documentaries

Most entertaining blackjack movies

The action may be over-the-top, but you can't deny that the use of blackjack in these movies is very exciting.

From Academy Award winners to smash-hit comedies, these are the best blackjack movies for your entertainment.

Rain Man (1988)

Rain Man swept up at the 1989 Academy Awards, reeling in Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Barry Levinson), Original Screenplay, Best Writing, and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Dustin Hoffman).

Now a classic piece of cinema, Hoffman's portrayal of a Ray, who has autism and savant syndrome, earned praise across the board. In the movie, Ray has an incredible recall and a mental calculator that far surpasses the ability of most people.

As such, when times get tough, Ray and his brother (Tom Cruise) turn to blackjack to count cards and stack chips. Rain Man ticks all the boxes as a great film and one that has a very entertaining blackjack sequence.

Check out our Top 10 Gambling Movies post for a more complete analysis of Rain Man.

Swingers (1996)

Before he embarked on a long line of comedies, and even before he was in Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Vince Vaughn co-starred in Swingers alongside Jon Favreau – who also wrote the script.

The first film released under Favreau's pen, Swingers helped to propel Vaughn and Favreau to stardom as well as fellow stars Heather Graham and Ron Livingston.

It takes place during the swing revival of the 90s. Swingers focuses on the lives of two best friends and fellow actors (played by Favreau and Vaughn) trying to make it in Hollywood.

Blackjack doesn't become the focus of the film, but the blackjack scene in this comedy-drama delivers some laughs. It will be of particular amusement to those in the know as the source of the hilarity is the bad advice to always double down.

The Hangover (2009)

The Hangover is a superbly funny film that managed to please audiences and critics alike. The sequels didn't do as well with critics, but the first movie has everything. The Hangover has comedy, action, drama, blackjack, a lost baby, a tiger, gangsters and Mike Tyson.

Taking place in Las Vegas, the protagonists (played by Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) blackout on a stag-do, losing the groom in the process. So, they have to go about Sin City retracing their steps. The blackjack comes in when they find out that their inebriated selves became indebted to a gangster.

Alan, played by Galifianakis, has been reading a book called "The World's Greatest Blackjack Book" (sound familiar?). With the knowledge from the book, Alan counts cards at the blackjack table in an attempt to save the day. It's a fun little nod to Rain Man.

The Last Casino (2004)

Drawing much of its story from the infamous MIT blackjack team, many say that The Last Casino is a better rendition of the tale than the Hollywood movie 21 (2008).

The Canadian movie follows the story of a mathematics professor who gets banned from a casino for counting cards. In debt, he decides to create a team of card counters comprised of students from his university.

Blackjack is the central focus of The Last Casino. It sees the players go around Ottawa and Quebec to win at the classic card game by using their card-counting prowess. As far as blackjack movies go, this is the best of the more blackjack-focussed ones.

Best blackjack documentaries

Sometimes, you don't want to kick back, relax, and enjoy a movie. Sometimes, you want to gain insight or learn a little something about the great game of blackjack.

So, here are some intriguing documentaries on the matter of blackjack.

The Player: Secrets of a Vegas Whale (2014)

This blackjack documentary follows Don Johnson as he discusses his infamous $15 million winning streak in Las Vegas. It looks at Johnson's strategies of tipping casino promotions and goodwill in his favour. He uses very straightforward methods, collecting thousands in free bets.

As the documentary progresses, Johnson's primary fuel behind his streak becomes him paying very close attention to dealers. He calls them out on mistakes and is generally a nuisance. It's a very intriguing look at how much power the player can have at a blackjack table.

The Hot Shoe (2004)

Consider The Hot Shoe as your kind of cover-all documentary about blackjack. The focus is on the strategy of card counting, interviewing those who have found success as well as casinos who claim to be battling the practice.

It gives a special look at behind-the-scenes casino surveillance rooms and how the MIT blackjack team prepares. As a very nice bonus for beginners, The Hot Shoe also has a little section of tips and tricks for blackjack.

Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians (2011)

The title of this documentary is enticing enough to lure in even the most casual of blackjack fans. Quite surprisingly, the subject of the documentary – Church Team – was one of the most well-funded blackjack teams and yet consisted of almost all Christians.

In 2011, the team disbanded, with the documentary revealing some of the troubles that they had at casinos. The primary focus does lean towards the conflict between Christianity and gambling. But it's still an engaging watch for any blackjack player.

There are the best blackjack movies and blackjack documentaries out now. If you burn through those, check out the likes of Croupier, The Cooler, and Breaking Vegas.

Blackjack - The complete guide
PART 12:

Blackjack terms glossary


Blackjack is a game with a rich and diverse vocabulary. Whether you're hitting or splitting, drawing or going bust, it is important that you know exactly what you're saying – and what other people are saying to you. Learn how to talk the talk with the common terms used in blackjack.

You might get worried that someone is insulting you when they're actually calling you the 'anchor'. Similarly, you don't want to get confused when you've got a 'push' with the dealer. Before you first sit down at the blackjack table, familiarise yourself with our glossary of the most important blackjack terms.

Learning the language of blackjack is as important as developing your strategy. In fact, the terminology and tactics of blackjack basically go hand in hand. The only question is, are they soft hands or hard hands? Find out below.

Blackjack glossary

Ace

A card which can count for a value of either 1 or 11. When worth 11, an ace is an essential part of a natural blackjack. When worth 1, an ace is a desirable card that allows the players to keep building their hand.

Action

The sum of money bet by a player over the course of a blackjack session.

Anchor player

The player sitting to the right of the dealer; e.g. the last one to play the hand. Also known as the third base.

Back counting

The strategy of counting cards as a spectator rather than a player. By keeping track of the cards, a back counter can sit down at the table at a favourable moment. Also known as wonging.

Bad beat

When you have a strong hand in a strong position but the dealer pulls a miracle card/s to win, that's a bad beat.

Balanced counting

A system where positive and negative cards have equal weight. Once the final card of a deck has been dealt, a balanced count would produce a net total of zero.

Bankroll

The sum of money that a player is willing to use for betting. A player may have a session bankroll for use on one day and a bigger bankroll for general blackjack use.

Basic strategy

A set of tactics that is statistically the most effective way for someone to play blackjack. The basic strategy determines what a player should do at each in-game situation, with successful completion of these tactics reducing the house edge as much as possible.

Break

When a hand reaches a total that is greater than 21, and the player therefore loses. Also known as bust.

Burn cards

The cards discarded by the dealer over the course of a game.

Bust

When a hand reaches a total that is greater than 21, and the player therefore loses. Also known as break.

Buy

This term for doubling a bet is traditionally used in pontoon, a variant of blackjack.

Buy in

Entering a game of blackjack by converting money for chips.

Card counting

A system in which a player keeps track of the cards which have been played and those that have been discarded. This allows the player to establish which cards remain in the deck. A card counter uses probability to determine which card will be next out of the deck and makes their bet accordingly.

Chip

A token with cash value that can be staked on a hand of blackjack. Online casinos will still use chips as a visual guide for bets, despite not requiring the physical transaction of money and tokens.

Cut

An act by a dealer that splits the deck after a shuffle.

Cut card

A plastic card inserted in the deck that marks the next time a dealer will shuffle.

D'Alembert system

A progressive betting strategy, also used by players in other casino games like roulette. A player following the system raises the size of their bet by one unit after each loss and reduces their bet by one unit after each winning hand.

Deal

The distribution of cards to the players, completed by the blackjack dealer.

Deck

A standard collection of 52 cards. A blackjack game can use several decks.

Deck penetration

The proportion of cards that has been used before the dealer undergoes a new shuffle. Also known simply as penetration.

Deviation

Tactically moving away from the basic blackjack strategy, usually to take advantage of a favourable moment in a card counting system.

Double

To make an extra bet at the same value of the original stake. A player can choose to double after seeing their first two cards, at which point they are dealt a solitary additional draw card. Also known as doubling down.

Down card

A card that is dealt to be facing down on the table.

Early surrender

A player can forfeit their hand before the dealer has an opportunity to look for a blackjack in their cards.

Eighty-six'd

When a player is ejected from a casino or prohibited from entering in the first place. Also written as 86'd.

Even money

A player can be paid out at this rate when they have achieved a natural blackjack and the dealer's upcard is an ace. The player can take a payout of 1:1 before the dealer has the chance to reveal a blackjack of their own. This acts as a form of insurance.

Face cards

The cards that have a face on them – jacks, queens, and kings. Also known as court cards or picture cards.

Face-down game

A variation on classic blackjack in which a player's cards are dealt facing downwards on the table.

Face-up game

A variation on classic blackjack in which a player's cards are dealt facing upwards on the table, so each player can see the quality of each other's hands. The standard way to play blackjack.

First base

The seat immediately to the left of the dealer. The player at first base is first to act on a hand. This term is borrowed from the baseball position of first base.

Five-card Charlie

An automatic victory in some blackjack games, where a player manages to draw five cards to their hand without surpassing a total of 21. This rule is not present in all games of blackjack.

Flat bet

Wagering the same value of chips on consecutive hands in a session of blackjack.

Hand

The cards that have been dealt to each player and to the dealer.

Hard hand

A hand that uses an ace with a value of 1, rather than the value of 11 used in a soft hand. Hard hand can also be used more broadly to describe any hand without an ace.

Hit

When a player requests that the dealer draws them another card.

Hole card

The card in the dealer's hand that is placed face down on the table, only to be turned over once each player has acted on their hand.

House edge

The advantage that the casino has over the player. The house edge is the percentage that a player is expected to lose from their wagers in a session of blackjack. For example, a house edge of 2% indicates that a player should return £98 from £100 of stakes. The house edge is theoretical and naturally affected by a player's strategy at the blackjack table.

Insurance

A player can make an insurance bet when the dealer's upcard is an ace. This side bet can be up to 50% of the value of their main bet for this hand. The side bet pays out at 2:1 if the dealer has blackjack. The bet loses if not.

Late surrender

A player can forfeit their hand after the dealer has an opportunity to look for a blackjack in their cards.

Martingale system

A progressive betting system, often used in other classic casino games. A player doubles the size of their bet after each loss, before returning to a standard stake size after a win.

Natural

Being dealt two cards with a cumulative value of 21 at the beginning of a hand. This consists of an ace (with value 11) and either a 10 or a face card. Also known as a blackjack or a natural blackjack.

Negative count

When a card counting system takes a value below zero. This indicates that the cards are not in the player's favour.

Pitch game

A variation of blackjack where the dealer only draws from 1 or 2 decks of cards. The dealer holds these cards in their hand. This contrasts with a shoe game, which often uses as many as 8 decks of cards.

Pontoon

A variation of blackjack which similarly descended from the ancient card game, twenty-one.

Positive count

When a card counting system takes a value above zero. This indicates that the cards are currently in the player's favour.

Progressive system

A betting strategy determined by the success of the previous hand.

Push

When the player has the same value in their hand as the dealer. In a push scenario, the player neither takes any winnings nor loses their stake. Also known as tie.

Raw

To receive another card from the dealer.

Resplit

When a player splits again after an initial split, if dealt another hand that includes a pair. A player's original hand becomes two hands after the split, then becomes four hands after the resplit.

Risk of ruin

The mathematical probability of a player losing the entirety of their bankroll.

Running count

The value of a card count at any given moment. The running count starts at zero with a new deck, then gains and loses value from there.

Session bankroll

The total of funds that a player has designated for a session of blackjack.

Shoe

A device that the dealer uses in blackjack games with more than 4 decks. The shoe holds the cards until use and gives its name to a shoe game.

Shoe game

A variation of blackjack where the dealer uses cards from several decks. A shoe game often consists of 4, 5, 6 or 8 decks, with the dealer dealing the cards from a shoe. This contrasts with a pitch game, which uses just 1 or 2 decks.

Soft hand

A hand that uses an ace with a value of 11, such as in a natural. This differs from a hard hand, where an ace has a value of 1.

Split

When a player receives a hand with two cards of equal value, they have the option to turn this into two hands of equal value. The player can then bet on each hand separately.

Stand

When a player opts against drawing more cards. Also known as stay.

Stay

See stand.

Stiff hand

A hard hand that has a value between 12 and 16. The player could exceed 21 and go bust if they choose to draw another card on a stiff hand.

Surrender

A player decides to fold rather than play through a hand, receiving half of their bet back. This can take the form of an early surrender or a late surrender.

Tell

An act by the player or by the dealer which gives an indication about the strength of their hand, or that reveals their strategy.

Third base

The last player to act before the dealer reveals their hand. This contrasts with the first base, who acts first and, like that term, is borrowed from baseball. Also known as anchor player.

Tie

When the player has the same value in their hand as the dealer. In a tie, the player neither takes any winnings nor loses their stake. Also known as push.

True count

The running count divided by the number of decks that are yet to be dealt. This gives a card counter a more accurate idea of what cards remain in the shoe.

Twenty-one

A card game first recorded in 17th-century Spain, which has inspired the creation of games like blackjack and pontoon. The key objective of scoring 21 remains central to modern blackjack.

Twist

The equivalent to 'hit' in pontoon, where a player asks to be dealt another card.

Up card

The dealer's card that is placed face-up on the table, with the other card in the dealer's initial hand placed face-down. The up card or upcard enables players to predict the quality of the hand that the dealer might have.

Wager

The bet made by a player.

Wonging

The strategy of counting cards as an observer rather than a player. By keeping track of the cards without actually betting, a player can pick a favourable moment in the shoe to sit down at the table and start wagering. Also known as back counting.

Blackjack - The complete guide

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