Blackjack – or 21 as it is sometimes known – is one of the most popular card games ever and blackjack tables are always among the busiest at any casino. It’s not hard to see why. A nice mix of skill and luck, a game of blackjack can be a tense, exciting battle of wills between player and dealer that can result in huge losses or big wins.
For beginners, though, blackjack can seem a bit daunting to learn, but it’s actually remarkably easy – just as long as you know the rules and understand what the best practices are to keep your wins up and your losses manageable.
Step 1: Play Responsibly
Before looking at the ins and outs of the game itself, one of the biggest tips I can give you for mastering blackjack is to gamble responsibly. This is true for all gambling games and however much part of your success with blackjack will come down to skill, it is still a gambling game. Most importantly, it’s a gambling game where the wagers tend to be fairly high and you can lose.
As such, it’s crucial to protect yourself from losing more money than you can afford and especially to prevent yourself from ever getting in debt from what should be, first and foremost, a fun game. As such, whether you’re new to the game or an old hat at it, keep the following basic tips in mind:
- Set a budget and stick to it.
- Never gamble on credit.
- Don’t play expensive tables if you can’t afford it.
- Don’t hide what you spend on blackjack and other games from your significant other
- If you find yourself obsessing over it and are unable to control your spending, you may have a gambling addiction and should seek professional help straight away.
These are simple, common sense rules to keep in mind before spending a cent on a game of blackjack.
Step 2: Learn the Basics
Now that you’re ready to play the game responsibly, the next step obviously is to learn the basics of how to play a round of blackjack.
First, the basic objective of every hand of poker is really very simple: to come as close as possible to having the value of the cards in your hand equal 21. Go over 21 and it’s an immediate bust and you lose the round and your bet. But if you don’t get close enough to 21 you may lose to the dealer if they end up with a higher-value hand. As such, each round of blackjack is about measuring your hand against the dealer’s and figuring out the best strategy to have enough points to beat the dealer but still equalling 21 or less.
More on particular strategies in a second, but for now, here’s a breakdown of any given round of blackjack from the initial deal to the ultimate showdown between your cards and the dealer’s:
- Place your bet.
- The dealer deals you and each player at the table 2 cards, face up.
- He or she then deals themselves 2 cards, one face up, one face down.
- At this point you can choose whether to stay (not ask for any more cards), hit (ask for another card), split (if your 2 cards are of the same value, you can create two new hands out of them with the second hand’s bet the same as the first) or double (get one more card and immediately double your bet).
- Keep hitting until you’re satisfied with the value of your hand, at which point you stand, or until you go bust.
- If you haven’t gone bust, the dealer then shows their full hand by revealing the face down card and then, if necessary, adding cards to their hand until their hand is valued at 17 or more, or they go bust.
- If the dealer wins, you lose your bet. If you do, you double your bet.
Step 2a: 3 Practical Examples
To understand how the above works, let’s take a look at 3 possible rounds of blackjack:
- You bet $5.
- You are dealt a 2 and a Jack (all picture cards are equal to 10). The dealer deals themselves a Queen.
- The dealer clearly has a hand valued at 12 or more (a Queen and an ace would be an immediate blackjack and an immediate win for them), which is equal to yours. Though any ten-value card added to your or the dealer’s hand will result in a bust, you decide to “hit” and you get another card.
- That card turns out to be a 10 so you’ve bust and will lose that bet.
- You bet $5.
- Same as above. A 2 and a Jack for you. A Queen for the dealer.
- You hit and you get another 2. You hit again. You get a 3. You try your luck and you hit again and you get a 3. You stay.
- The dealer reveals a Jack to go with their Queen.
- You’ve won, so you get $10.
- You bet $25
- You are dealt two aces. The dealer deals themselves a Queen.
- You split your hand. You now have two hands with an ace as a starter, each with $25 on them.
- On the one hand, you draw a 10 to go with your ace. On the other a 9.
- You stay on both.
- The dealer reveals a King to go with their Queen.
- Your hand with the ace and the ten is a blackjack and you win $50. Your other hand is a draw with the dealer, which is called a “push” so you just get your bet of $25 back.
Step 3: A Few Key Strategies
Now that you know how to play, it’s time for some deeper strategies. Here are 5 of the best:
- Only split when you believe there’s a very high chance of winning on both hands. Like if you have 2 aces. Splitting on two 8s when the dealer has a 10 showing, though, would be foolish.
- Staying on a 12 can often be the smart movie if the dealer has, say, a 3 showing. If the next card drawn is a 10, you could go bust, whereas the dealer’s other card can well be a 10 and they have to draw until reaching at least 17, so they would then pull the ten and they would go bust.
- 20 out 52 cards are valued at 10 (the 10s plus all picture cards), so always count on the high chance that the next card drawn may be – but is not necessarily – a 10.
- Unless you’re pressed for time, keep your bets to the minimum amount of that particular table. Best case scenario, all rounds are only 50/50 in your favor, regardless of how you play, but actually there’s a slight house advantage so even that 50/50 is pushing it. Incremental wins aren’t always the most satisfying, but they keep you in the game longer.
- Keep an eye on the hands of other players at the table. Casinos may be set up to prevent you from “counting cards” but you’re more than welcome to make reasonable estimates of the likelihood of certain cards coming up based on what cards are in play on the rest of the table.
And there you have it. Blackjack really isn’t difficult and keep these simple rules, tips and strategies in mind and you can have a blast at the blackjack table at your local casino or online – or even with friends at home. And who knows, you may even win some money!