Blackjack is a card game that requires both skill and luck to win. You need to draw the right cards to bring your hand as close to 21 as possible without going over it and this is (mostly) down to the literal luck of the draw. On the other hand, a certain amount of skill is required to become really good at the game. Quite what that skill is, though, is actually a bit more complicated than the similarly popular card game of poker – which is mostly about knowing how to read others and to keep your own feelings under wraps.
With that in mind, here are some of the most important skills you need to go from being a blackjack player who relies on luck to one that relies mostly on your own abilities.
Knowledge of the Game
This one is obvious but fundamental. The most basic skill you need for blackjack is an in-depth knowledge of the game and its rules. Fortunately, the game is fairly straightforward and this is a skill that anyone can master with really limited effort. Know the value of each card, how to split, how to double down, when the dealer needs to stop hitting on their hand. Even most blackjack players who rely entirely on luck tend to have this skill in their arsenal, but their understanding of, say, doubling down may be more limited than they should be.
Learning the Odds
The thing that skilled blackjack players have on their luck-oriented counterparts is understanding how odds and statistics work in the game. These odds usually take into account both the cards dealt to the player and the revealed card in the dealer’s hand and what the odds are of your hand being able to beat that card based on what the dealer’s facedown card might be.
Knowing the basic odds of each hand, especially those that result in splits or double-downs, requires quite a bit of memorization, but blackjack odds are actually an exact science and have been worked out for you, so only the most basic understanding of odds is needed.
Learning the Strategy of Each Major Hand
This one actually goes hand in hand with knowing the odds. While, it’s true that knowing the odds of all the variations of hands that turn up gives you a real versatility that will help you regardless of what cards come up, it can be a bit unwieldy and requires memorizing often seemingly arbitrary numbers.
Learning the strategies of each hand that comes up replaces knowing numbers with understanding how to play each of the major hands that turn up. Trying to learn the correct play for every possible hand is incredibly difficult, but learning the strategies of the major archetypal blackjack hands (what to do with pairs, hands with a value of 12 or 13, opening with two very low value cards) is both very doable and intuitive.
Now, this is more advanced but it takes all of the above skills and uses them to their maximum advantage. In short, card counting comes down to keeping track of the cards that have already been played and working out the odds of the remaining cards coming up with the next draw. In particular, keeping note of how many high cards have come up vs how many low (and by implication how many are left in the deck or “shoe”) is incredibly helpful in knowing when to bet high or bet low.
If, for example, it looks like mostly low cards have come up so far and you receive, for example, a picture card and an 8 (equalling 18) and the dealer’s upturned card is a 6, you can bet high and stay on your opening hand with the assumption that the odds are in your favor that the dealer with probably draw two high-valued cards that will have them bust before matching or surpassing your 18.
The problem with counting cards is that though it’s perfectly legal and entirely fair play, casinos obviously don’t want players armed with a skill that doesn’t so much beat the house advantage as completely and utterly obliterate it. Counting cards minimizes the luck required to win at blackjack significantly and, obviously, casinos would rather not have that happen.
As such, casinos may well kick you out, keep your winnings or, in the case of less, shall we say, reputable casinos, may resort to intimidation or worse if they suspect you of counting cards. This is grossly unfair, of course, as all you’re guilty of is playing the game properly, but it’s certainly not surprising.
It’s crucial therefore to not look like you’re constantly doing elaborate calculations in your head and you want to be very, very sure that you lose a few hands and don’t overstay your welcome at any table or at any given casino.
Do this and blackjack becomes the only casino game where the house doesn’t always – or even often – win.