Blackjack 101

Blackjack 101

The casino's edge over a typical unskilled blackjack player is around 5 to 10 percent. This means the player stands to lose on average about 5 to 10 dollars for every 100 dollars bet. This doesn't seem like much but consider the fact that a blackjack player will on average be dealt about 60 hands per hour.

Let's also assume our player is betting on average 10 dollars per hand. This means he will be making 600 dollars worth of bets per hour at the blackjack table. If he plays a couple hours like most blackjack players, he will be making a total of 1200 dollars in bets. He will win some of those bets and some he will lose. But the casinos expected win is based on the total amount of money you bet not on how many hands you win or lose. Assuming the casino has a 5% edge over our unskilled player, the casinos expect to win $60 after the 2 hours of play. Sometimes our player will lose more and sometimes he will get lucky and lose less or he could even walk away from the table a winner. But over many two playing sessions, our unskilled player will average a $30 loss per hour. Factor in the many hours of blackjack this player will play in his lifetime and you get the picture-blackjack will be a very expensive form of entertainment for him. But blackjack doesn't have to be expensive. In fact, if you play your cards right, you can even beat the casinos at their own game.

First things first. If you do not know the basic rules of blackjack you shouldn't be playing in a casino in the first place. This sounds trivial but you would be surprised how many play without a clue to what the game objective is. Think I'm kidding. Just watch how most blackjack players play their hands. Many keep hitting and hitting no matter what the dealer's upcard is. Others believe the best playing strategy is to follow the strategy of the dealer - after all he seems to be winning all the time. And there are those that play on hunches and espouse to the "I'm due to win the next hand" theory.

To put it in simple terms the objective in blackjack is to beat the dealer by either having your hand total higher then the dealer's hand, or to have 21 or less when the dealer breaks. You want to try if possible not to exceed a total of 21. The reason for this has to do with how the casino creates its edge over the masses of players who play blackjack. They have the edge because you must act on your hand before the dealer acts on his, and if your hand exceeds 21, you automatically lose even if he subsequently breaks. Get the picture? You break and he breaks and you still lose. It's this simple playing rule that creates the house edge.

OK let's get back to the basic rules. If you do not know what double down or pair splitting or insurance is all about, you had better get yourself a good book or instructional video on blackjack and learn the basics before you risk any money in a casino. Or review some of the basic articles on blackjack that are posted on If you instead decide to learn how to play in a real casino with real money (your hard earned money) trust me that this will be a very expensive lesson. Take my advice and read up about the game BEFORE you risk any money playing it.

For one, all blackjack games are not created equal. Casino managers have a certain amount of latitude to modify the rules as they see fit. Usually, casinos offer players better rules when there is stiff competition from other nearby casinos. It's important that you understand which rules are more favorable for you and which favor the casino.

Here is a rundown of the player favorable rules:

double down allowed on any two cards (vs. on only 9, 10 or 11)

double down allowed after pair splitting (vs. not allowed at all)

multiple pair splitting allowed (even better if allowed with a pair of aces)

dealer stands on soft 17 (vs. hitting)

player can surrender their hand (vs. no surrender allowed)

the least number of decks the better (single or double deck games are generally better then 4,

(6 or 8 deck games)

But be careful when it comes to playing with single, double, or 6 or 8 deck games. Sometimes, casinos do well and offer a single or double deck game but then they screw things up by adding a bunch of player unfavorable. The net result is that what you think is a good game could in fact be a poor one. So check out all the rules in effect before you play and given a choice, play blackjack in casinos that offer the better rules (or subscribe to the Blackjack Insider Newsletter on for up-to-date playing conditions).

Your next task to reduce the casino's edge is to learn the basic playing strategy. These strategies are derived by computer analysis of blackjack and they represent the mathematically correct way to play every hand dealt to you. For example if you were dealt an ace and 7 (total of 18) and the dealer's upcard were a 5 would you stand, hit, or double down? The mathematically correct basic strategy for this hand is to double down. You will win more money over the long run when you double down on this hand compared to the other playing options.

You will not win every hand following the basic strategy simply because in some situations no matter what strategy you follow the dealer's chance of beating you is high. However, by following the basic playing strategy, you will be winning more money and losing less vs. an intuitive, seat-of-the-pants playing strategy.

You can find the complete basic playing strategy in most blackjack books including my Blackjack: Take The Money and Run and it involves about 25 rules that tells you when should hit, stand, double down, pair split or surrender for every hand. To get you started, I've simplified the complete basic strategy into 7 rules. This simplified basic playing strategy is not as accurate as the complete basic strategy but it is easier to learn and it will reduce the casinos edge from the 5 to 10 percent to about 1 percent (that's an 80 to 90 percent reduction!).




12 to 16                stand on 2 to 6, hit on 7 to ace

17 to 21                stand

10 or 11                double on 2 to 9

soft 13 to 17       hit except double on 5,6

soft 18 to 21       stand except double soft 18 on 5, 6

pair 8's and aces               always split

pair 2's, 3's, 6's, 7's, 9's   split on 2 to 7; stand if dealer shows a 7

pair 5's and 10's                never split

never make the insurance bet   

Do not, I repeat, do not play blackjack in a casino until you at least learn the above simplified basic strategy. Better yet learn the complete basic strategy. It will only take you a few hours to learn it. However, if you insist on playing blackjack without learning the basic strategy, I suggest you stay home and just mail a check to the casinos. Over time the results will be the same. Trust me on this.