While it is certainly true that the game of Blackjack favors the dealer over the player (if both you and the dealer bust, for instance, you’re the one who loses), there are various things you can do to increase your odds of winning. These are relatively simple things and they are worth noting (and memorizing) since they are pretty much clear-cut “do’s” and “don’ts” that won’t require a lot of thinking or deliberating over. With so many things in life (and poker) tinged with ambiguity, it is sometimes a pleasure just to have some simple rules to follow!
- Picking your table. Do not underestimate the value of picking the table that’s most helpful to you. What does this mean? For one thing, the minimum bet at the table you choose should be no more than 5% of your bankroll. For another thing, the rule variations should be those that are “player-friendly” – for instance, the doubling-down option, and the dealer being required to stand on soft 17 (a soft hand is one in which the ace counts as 11). Learn which rules favor the player and which favor the dealer so that you can eliminate certain tables right off the bat.
- Knowing when to hit (or, take a card). The dealer must hit on any hand of 16 or lower. With this information in mind, you know that you cannot win with less than 17 (unless, of course, the dealer busts). Therefore, you’re going to want to take a hit on any hand under 17 when you see that the dealer has any of the following cards: K, Q, J, 10, 9 or 8. If, on the other hand, he’s showing a 4, 5, or 6 (with these cards, the dealer will bust 40% of the time), you should stand on any hand above 11.
- The doubling-down option. This is an area where you can be proactive, so take advantage of it. Basically, what this option entitles you to is doubling your bet and getting one additional card. You will only exercise this option when you are very sure you’re going to beat the dealer by doing so. The hands you’ll want to double-down with are as follows: a) with a 10 against a 9 or lower, b) with any hand of 11, and c) with a 9, or with soft hands of 13-17, against a 4, 5 or 6.
- When to split. Let’s say the dealer deals you two cards of the same value. You can “split” this hand, double your bet and play the two hands you now have. But when should you do this? I’ll tell you exactly when, and under which conditions.
ALWAYS: split 8’s or 7’s against a dealer’s card of equal or lesser value.
ALWAYS: split 2’s or 3’s against a 4, 5 or 6.
ALWAYS: split aces.
NEVER: split 10’s, 5’s or 4’s.
NEVER: split face cards.
- Surrendering. This is when a player can decide not to play the original hand against the dealer, the downside being he’s got to forfeit half his bet. This is something that is not always allowed, but when it is, you should exercise this option when you’ve got a hard 15 against a dealer’s 10, or when you’ve got a 16 (not 8’s) against a dealer’s 9, 10 or Ace.
- Insurance. Never take it (unless you’re counting cards).
- Hard hands. A hard hand is one in which the ace counts as 1, and there are some pretty hard (excuse the pun!) and fast rules on how to play hard hands. A) If the dealer’s up card is 7 or lower, stand on hard 17 or higher.
B) If the dealer’s up card is 6 or lower, stand on hard 13-16. Hit if his up-card is 7-Ace.
C) If the dealer’s up-card is 2, 3, 7 or higher, stand on hard 12.
- Getting the dealer to bust. If you’re aiming to win in a situation in which you’re standing on 17 or lower, the only way for that to happen is for the dealer to bust. It is impossible to bust a soft hand with just one hit, so here are some guidelines:
- Dealer’s got 7 or higher? Hit soft 13 through 17.
- A hand of 3 cards or more? Ditto: hit soft 13 through 17.
- Dealer’s got 5 or 6? Double down with two-card soft 13-17. (Doubling down is only an option with the first two cards).
- Dealer’s got 3? Double down soft 17.
- Dealer’s got 4? Double down soft 15-17.
- Dealer’s up-card is 9, 10 or Ace? Hit a soft 18. Dealer’s up-card is 2, 7 or 8? Stand on soft 18. Dealer’s up-card is 3, 4, 5 or 6? Double down.
- On a soft 19 or higher, you should always stand.
- Be kind, and generous, to the dealer. You want the dealer on your good side. And not only that, you want to be a decent human being. So tip the dealer (or, in poker-speak, “toke” him), because frankly he’s working for pretty bad wages, he’s not part of any union, and he depends on “the kindness of strangers.” There are no hard and fast rules for how much to tip, but I’d say a dollar chip per every twenty hands is reasonable. If you put the tip right there in front of you with your wager, you basically turn it into a side bet on your hand, in which case the dealer’s tip will double if you win. Now there’s an incentive for the guy to root for you!
- Be observant. Do a careful study of the other players at your table. If you sense, in particular, that the last man at your table is either a novice or desperate, you should get up and move on.
- If you can join the deck from the beginning, you should; it’s to your advantage. If you lose in the first half, stay to full deck. If you’ve done well in the first half (i.e., made a profit), move on.