Introduction to Blackjack


When most people think of a casino, they think of Blackjack, which is also known as "21". Blackjack is -- by far -- the most popular "table" game in the casino. People play Blackjack because it is easy to learn, and they feel they have some control over their destiny, i.e., by good play they can actually "beat" the casino. Indeed, more books have been written about Blackjack than any other casino game, and on a Friday or Saturday night it is often difficult to wedge into a seat at any of the relatively low-dollar Blackjack tables.
And in the background, there is a feeling that Blackjack is the game that the average person can play to really whack the casino for the big pile of gold. After all, it is well known that people "count cards" in Blackjack, and that the casinos are so worried about card counting that they take elaborate measures to prevent the practice, and even bar players for life from playing Blackjack in their casinos.
Even if you can't -- or won't -- count cards, there is a feeling that if you just learn the "basic game" that you can pretty much play the casino even long through the night. Long enough, that is, until the casino showers you with free comps.
In the next few pages, we'll show you the casino odds, and how the casino employs some very subtle tactics to entice you to make bad bets. We'll show you the true "basic game" and discuss why probably less than 1/2 of 1% of Blackjack players know the "Basic Game" well enough to do any real damages. We'll even teach you how to count cards, but explain to you why it isn't the Big Advantage that it is made out to be (hint: The casinos actually love card counting because the aurora that Blackjack is beatable causes lots and lots of people to play and lose more than the card counters could ever hope to make).
And, in the end, we'll show you some practical tips and things which will give you a higher likelihood of holding your own against the casino at everyone's favorite game.
So, have a seat, put down a chip . . . and let's play Blackjack!
The Rules
The Rules for Blackjack are pretty simple.
Face cards (Kings, Queens, Jacks) are worth 10. Other cards are worth their stated value, except for the Ace, which can be worth either 1 or 11.
First, you make your bet by placing your chips in a round circle on the table in front of your seat. Once you have made this bet, you cannot take it back off the table. You can bet any amount you like, subject to the table minimums.
Second, you get a card face up, but the Dealer gets a card face down. Then you get another card face up, and the Dealer also gets another card, but this one is face up. So, you each have two cards, both of yours exposed for all to see, and the dealer with one exposed card and one card which is face down so you don't know what it is.
Next, you make a decision -- based upon your two cards and the one card of the Dealer which is showing -- whether or not you want another card. If so, you move your index finger towards you, and the Dealer gives you another card face up. You then get to decide whether to take another card, and so forth and so on. You can take as many cards as you want, until you move your hand right and left to signify no more cards (called "stay"), or until the face value of your cards exceeds 21 ("goes bust").
If you stop short of 21, then the Dealer flips over the face down card, exposing its value. If the total of the dealer's two cards does not reach 17, then the Dealer must take another card (and another and so forth) until the Dealer either reaches at least 17 or goes Bust by exceeding 21.
If you lose, the Dealer simply takes all the chips you have bet, and then you bet again and another hand is played. If you win, the Dealer returns to you your original bet plus an equal amount, i.e., if you bet $5 then you get $10 back, for a $5 profit to you.
Blackjack, 21 or Natural
If the first two cards you draw are an ace and a face card or a ten (and thus equal 21), then you have what is known as a "Blackjack". If the Dealer doesn't also have a Blackjack, then the Dealer will return to you your original bet plus 1 and 1/2 times your original bet, i.e., if you be $10 then you get $25 back, for a $15 profit.
If the dealer draws a Blackjack in two cards, then you automatically lose unless you too have a Blackjack (in which case you have a "Push", see below).
Push
If after the Dealer had drawn (and not busted), and your hand equals that of the Dealer (for example, you both have 17), then the situation is known as a "Push". In a Push, you simply get your original bet back, and neither you nor the Dealer wins.
Splits
If you are dealt a "Pair", i.e., two "8" cards, almost every casino will allow you to "split" the hand by making two separate bets. To do this, you say "split" and put down an additional bet, equal to the original bet. With the two 8 cards, for example, you have a terrible hand at 16. However, you can split the two 8s and have a chance of having two good hands (or at least one good hand and one bad hand) as opposed to the terrible 16.
Knowing when to split pairs is critically important in playing the casino close.
Doubling Down
After you and the dealer have each received two cards, you have the option of doubling your bet by placing more chips on the table equal to your original bet. The dealer will then deal you one more card (and only one more card -- you can't ask for more cards).
Knowing when to double down is critically important in playing the casino close.
Surrender
Some casinos will let you "surrender" after both you and the dealer have been dealt two cards, meaning that you get to take half your bet back off the table, and you lose the other half of your bet.
Knowing when to surrender is critically important in playing the casino close.
Insurance
If the dealer is showing an ace, you will be asked if you desire "insurance". Insurance is sort of a side bet that the dealer's other card which is face down is not a face card or a 10.
Insurance is statistically a lousy bet (a/k/a a "Sucker Bet"), so don't ever buy insurance (unless you are counting cards and have kept a good "ace count").
Variations in Rules
Every casino has slightly different Blackjack rules. Before you play Blackjack at any casino, you should first ask one of the Blackjack supervisors or pit bosses for the Blackjack rules (they are positively glad to provide these to gamblers as they help prevent later misunderstandings about the rules.
Note that the variations in the rules can substantially impact your long-term gambling return. A casino which allows you to double down after splitting is giving you slightly better odds than a casino which doesn't -- and that "slightly better" can be very important over the long haul.
THE THREE COLD HARD TRUTHS
There are three Cold Hard Truths about Blackjack that even experienced Blackjack players don't know, or are unwilling to come to grips with. These three Cold Hard Truths absolutely must be addressed if you expect to become a truly sophisticated Blackjack player:
The Cold Hard Truth About Blackjack #1
You probably do NOT understand the Basic Game,
even though you think you do.
Ask anybody who has ever played Blackjack if they understand the "Basic Game", and they will say Yes. Ask any of the "high rollers" (i.e., those who regularly get comp'd in advance by the casinos) if they understand the "Basic Game" and they will also say Yes.
The "Basic Game" is NOT simply knowing the rules and playing in a sensible fashion. It is instead knowing all the precise combinations of plays to make, and applying them with robotic consistency, without any heed to whether the cards seem "hot" or "cold" or any other factors.
While everybody claims to know the "Basic Game" probably only about one-half of one percent (less than 1 in 200 players) even understand that there is a mathematical "Basic Game" or play anything close to it.
And if you don't play the "Basic Game", then you shouldn't play Blackjack at all, because the odds are tremendously in the House's favor and you have very little chance of winning.
The Cold Hard Truth About Blackjack #2
Card counting is the greatest thing for the CASINO.

The Cold Hard Truth About Blackjack #3
If your play is too good, the CASINO will cheat against you.
The (Real) Basic Game
As we mentioned in our introductory page to Blackjack, just about everybody thinks that they play the "Basic Game", but in fact probably less than 1/2 of 1% of all Blackjack players really know what the "Basic Game" is, or -- more importantly -- play it with any kind of consistency.
Indeed, the phrase "Basic Game" is a misnomer. The real phrase should be "Advanced Game". Just about anybody knows that they should stand if they have two face cards against the dealer's 9. But what if you have a 12 against the dealer's 18?
The (Real) Basic Game is based on a mathematical series of calculations for each combination of hands. Playing the (Real) Basic Game is simply memorizing those combinations and the right plays, and the executing them with robotic precision. All feelings that luck is "with you" or that the "deck is cold" have NO place in the (Real) Basic Game. You simply look at the Dealer's card, look at your cards, and then play the hand required by the combinations. THAT is the (Real) Basic Game, and if you haven't memorized each and every possible play according to the best odds, then you do NOT know the "Basic Game" no matter how many times you have been to the casinos.
In the pages which follow, we will NOT dwell on the mathematical underpinnings of the right plays. Instead, we will try to present the combinations, and how you play them, in a fashion which will be easy to you to remember under pressure, while heavily intoxicated, or both.
Focus on the Dealer's Card
First, you should always focus on the Dealer's card, and ignore you own cards until you have made an assessment of the Dealer's chances of winning. You see, one of the beautiful things about Blackjack is that the Dealer is required to draw between 17 and 21. If the Dealer doesn't draw a 17, then the Dealer must draw until at least a 17 is reached, or the Dealer goes bust. This means that there is a good chance on each hand that the Dealer will go bust -- even if you are comatose and never take cards!
Looking at the Dealer's cards, here's what you should see:
Ace or 2 3, 4, 5, or 6 7 or 8 9, 10 or Face
Dealer May orMay Not Win:Caution(No Surrenderingor Doubling Down) Dealer Will Probably Lose:Draw Cautiously,Bet Aggressively(Double Down?) Dealer May orMay Not Win:Caution(No Surrenderingor Doubling Down) Dealer Will Probably Win:Bet Cautiously,Draw Aggressively(or Surrender)
Dealer Has Ace, 2, 7 or 8 -- Showing these cards, the Dealer may or may not win -- you just can't tell. You'll have to look carefully at your own cards to determine your odds. But whatever your cards, this will be an uncertain hand so don't double down or think about surrendering.
Dealer Has 3, 4, 5 or 6 -- With these cards, the most likely thing that will happen is that the Dealer will go Bust, and you will win. Thus, when drawing cards, don't take any chances. Instead, think about doubling-down.
Dealer Has 9, 10 or Face -- Mathematically, the odds are that you will lose. So don't even think about doubling down. Instead, think about aggressively asking for cards. If you can at least get a push you are that much farther ahead. In some cases, you will want to think about Surrender, if the Casino allows it.
Looking At Your Cards
Keeping in mind the dealer's card, you can now glance at your own cards, and determine what your play is (there are plays NOT involving Aces, or where you have a pair, i.e., two 8s, which plays are considered on the next page):
Ace or 2 3, 4, 5, or 6 7 or 8 9, 10 or Face
Dealer May orMay Not Win:Caution(No Surrenderingor Doubling Down) Dealer Will Probably Lose:Draw Cautiously,Bet Aggressively(Double Down?) Dealer May orMay Not Win:Caution(No Surrenderingor Doubling Down) Dealer Will Probably Win:Bet Cautiously,Draw Aggressively(or Surrender)
8 or Less Hit Hit Hit Hit
9 Hit Double Down Hit Hit
10 Hit Draw Draw Draw
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20 Stand Stand Stand Stand
21 Stand Stand Stand Stand

Blackjack: Splitting, Doubling Down and Surrender
After receiving your two cards, you may have four choices to make, in addition to hitting or staying, before proceeding to play your hand: split pairs, double down, surrender, and take insurance.
Splits
If you are dealt a "Pair", i.e., two "8" cards, almost every casino will allow you to "split" the hand by making two separate bets. To do this, you say "split" and put down an additional bet, equal to the original bet. With the two 8 cards, for example, you have a terrible hand at 16. However, you can split the two 8s and have a chance of having two good hands (or at least one good hand and one bad hand) as opposed to the terrible 16.
It's very important to know when to split pairs and when to leave them together. You should learn all the split plays on the basic strategy chart, but if you wish to truly become a better player you must learn the following as well:
Always split aces. This move has commonsense appeal. The split gives you two promising hands rather than a soft 12. (Remember, however, that you'll usually be able to take only one card on each ace.)
Never split 5s. Starting off with a hand of 5 is hardly exciting, and the total of 10 will give you plenty of opportunity to get smart money on the table by doubling down.
Never split 10s. Don't get greedy. Sure, a 10 is a nice base to work from, but it's not worth breaking up a powerful 20. Let the existing strong hand bring in the money. Some players think they're being clever by splitting 10s against a weak dealer card like a 6. That seems sensible: start with a 10, exploit the dealer's vulnerability. But, in this case, a bird in the hand is more valuable. Standing on 20 will make you a meaty $70 profit per $100 bet. The split will double your risk and drop your earnings down to $56.70.
Always split 8s. A lot of players, novice and veteran alike, are confused by the obligation to split 8s. It's particularly a mystery against a strong dealer up card. In some instances we can provide a commonsense rationale for splitting, but in others (like this one) we have to defer to the all-knowing computer.
There are three reasons why we split cards: We do it to win more, lose less, and, best of all, turn a loss into a win. A quick perusal of the strategy charts will bring some non-shocking news: We're aggressive with our splitting when the dealer has a stiff card, especially 5 or 6. Even among those splits, some are defensive in nature (lose less) while others are offensive (win more). Here's a bevy of examples that reveal how splitting has a split personality.
8-8 vs. ace. Is splitting this the essence of insanity? Nope. We know 16 is an awful hand. That's part of the reason why we always split 8s. Still, starting out with an 8 against an ace may not seem like a preferable alternative. Neither scenario is good, but yes, splitting is better. And here are the numbers to prove it: Playing it as a 16 we'd expect to lose 51.4%, which is $51.40 lost for every $100 bet. Playing it as two hands we'd expect to lose 19.3% on each hand. Multiplied by two (for our two hands), we get a net loss of 38.6% of the original bet. So we can save $12.80 in this unsavory situation.
9-9 vs. 9: A pair of nines sure seems formidable and, in most cases, it's a moneymaker. However, against a fellow 9, we split in order to lower our losses. Standing on 18 vs. 9 will cost us $18.50. The split knocks that down to $9.50.
9-9 vs. 6: A hand of 18 is perfectly fine against a 6. Stand on it and you'll make $28 for every $100 bet. But split it and you'll be making $38.70 (when you can't double after split) or $43.90 (when the double after split option is available). All splits of 9s and aces against dealer's 3 through 7 improve on already profitable hands. And, yes, you have to split 9s versus 8. Playing for the "tie" by assuming the dealer has 18 will win you $9.90. Going for the jugular will improve that to $21.20.
4-4 vs. 6: Fours are in need of a little boost to make them worth splitting. That boost comes in the ability to double down after you split. When a split 4 is blessed with a 5, 6, or 7, you need the ability to cash in with the double.
Knowing when to split pairs is critically important in playing the casino close.
Doubling Down
After you and the dealer have each received two cards, you have the option of doubling your bet by placing more chips on the table equal to your original bet. The dealer will then deal you one more card (and only one more card -- you can't ask for more cards).
Some casinos allow you to double down only if your first two cards total 9, 10, or 11. Other casinos will allow you to double down on any total for your first two cards. The best way to find out the casino's rule is to ask the dealer (or read the online casinos' game rules section). Doubling down is adding to your initial wager. You may double the amount of your wager or you may "double down for less." The dealer then deals you a third card. You cannot stand on the two and you cannot take another hit. For example, let's say that you wager $25, you get an eight and a two (a total of ten), and the dealer has a six showing, so you decide to double down. You put a $25 chip next to your initial wager (doubling down) and you receive one card. By deciding to double down, you feel your hand has enough chance to beat the dealer's hand that you want to increase your potential winnings. By letting you double your bet, the house gives you only one single additional card, not the usual unlimited hits or the option to stand on two cards. Doubling down can be a very powerful tool for the players when used at the appropriate times and used according to basic strategy, doubling down will increase your profits in the long run.
Take a quick look back at the basic strategy charts. There are two things to note about double down decisions. First of all, we double on our strong hands of 10 and 11 because if we get a 10, we'll have a very powerful hand. In that way, we capitalize on our strength. But we're also focused on taking advantage of the dealer's weakness. We often double down against the dealer's weak cards-particularly the creampuff 5 and 6. We can't be timid about putting more money out on the table in a favorable situation. The right doubles are crucial to increasing your overall profit expectations.
It's important to note that some casinos restrict doubling down to hands of 10 and 11. This is an unfavorable rule, but it still leaves us with the bulk of doubling down opportunities. If you ever come across a game where you can't double at all, make sure you walk away on the double.
Interestingly, in terms of percentage, you often lose more when you double down than when you simply hit. Lose more? Didn't we just assure you that proper doubling down will increase your profits? Well, both statements are true. Let's say you make a $100 bet. You receive a 10 and the dealer gets a 7 up. If you simply hit (the wrong move), you'd have a 29% percent advantage, which means you'd expect to make a $29 profit on average. If you double down, you would only have a 23.5% advantage on your bet. Why the decrease? Because you're restricting yourself to only one card. In the case where you hit, you'd have the option to draw more cards if need be. However, the 23.5% double down advantage is on twice your bet. That means an average profit of $47($200 x 23.5%).
A smaller edge on more money means more money in your pocket, which is what we count up (not percentage points) at the end of the session.
Let's look at a few hands that may make you do a double take:
11 vs. 10: This is a costly way to wimp out. Yes, the dealer has a big card, but so do you. Sure you'll make $11.70 per $100 when you hit, but you'll turn that into $17.80 when you double down.
11 vs. 6: If you're afraid to put more money on the table for this hand, it's time to find another game. Just hitting will profit you $34. Doubling makes a mockery of that decision: it earns you $68 per $100 on average.
Surrender
Some casinos will let you "surrender" after both you and the dealer have been dealt two cards, meaning that you get to take half your bet back off the table, and you lose the other half of your bet.
The proper strategy for "late surrender" in multiple-deck games is as follows:
· Surrender 16 (but not a pair of 8s) against a dealer's up card of 9, 10 or ace.
· Surrender 15 against a dealer's up card of 10.
For single-deck games the rules are the same with one exception-don't surrender your 16 against a 9.
What's the reasoning for when to surrender? It's rather simple. Since you're giving up half your bet, you should surrender only in situations where your expectation is less than 50%. As the limited strategy shows, this doesn't happen as often as you think. In fact, surrender can be very detrimental to fatalistic players who use it every time they have a possibility of busting.
Even a pair of 8s against a 10 isn't enough of a loser to warrant surrender. It's close-you'll lose about $49 on average-but it's still better than throwing in the towel. Here's another way to look at surrender: It applies only to hands that you win 25% of the time or less. This is just a different way of looking at the expectation. If you win 25% of the hands, the dealer wins 75%. Therefore, your net loss would be 50%, which is equal to the forfeit you make when surrendering.
It's highly unlikely that you'll find a casino that offers "early surrender," but if you manage to find a casino running a promotion offering this golden rule, add these moves to your basic strategy:
· Surrender any hard hand and pair totaling 5 to 7 or 12 to 17, against an ace.
· Surrender hard hands and pairs totaling 14 to 16 against a 10.
· Surrender hard 16 against a 9
Insurance
If the dealer is showing an ace, you will be asked if you desire "insurance". Insurance is sort of a side bet that the dealer's other card which is face down is not a face card or a 10.
Insurance is statistically a lousy bet (a/k/a a "Sucker Bet"), so don't ever buy insurance (unless you are counting cards and have kept a good "ace count").