Blackjack has always been one of the most popular casino games because it’s so easy to play. Yet, it’s largely misunderstood in terms of strategy.
Did you know that the house edge for the average blackjack player is 2.7%? That means that for every £100 staked on the blackjack table, players will lose an average of £2.70. Coincidentally, this is the same with French Roulette.
But if you play with what is known as the optimal blackjack strategy, you can bring that figure down to a player-friendly ~0.5%. If you’re playing at a live casino and getting free cocktails, it makes blackjack a wiser option than the vast majority of other casino games.
Reducing the House Edge
Gamblers should always look for an edge to improve their chances of making a profit. In sports betting, for example, you can tilt the edge in your favour through matched betting — which involves using free bets and promotions to your advantage.
Of course, you cannot entirely tilt the odds in your favour while playing blackjack. In any given session you always stand to win handsomely, or lose a lot (depending on how much you risk per hand, and your total stakes). Leaving the table with a profit is always a bonus rather an expectation. However, you can increase your chances of success by consistently making the right decisions.
So, how exactly can you reduce the house edge down to 0.5% and potentially save yourself cash over the long term?
The simple answer is to download one of many blackjack hand charts available online, which will give you the optimum play for any combination of your two starting cards, and whatever upcard is shown by the dealer. There are different charts for each variation of Blackjack.
However, it’s also beneficial to understand the basic logic behind the charts. This way you can improve your blackjack technique even if you don’t have a sheet to hand should you decide to play quick session at one of the top platforms offering live dealer blackjack.
The Power of Ten
The most critical thing to understand about blackjack is that you make your decision on whether to hit and take another card, or stand with your current total (or double down/split), based on two things:
- The strength/weakness of your starting two cards
- The strength/weakness of the dealer’s upcard
And you can judge the strength/weakness of your own cards, and the dealer’s card, on one simple thing: that it’s always most likely that the next card to be drawn will be valued ten. That’s because all tens, jacks, queens, and kings are valued ten, meaning there are 16 ‘tens’ in every deck of 52 cards instead of four of every other value.
With that in mind, you can begin to make smarter decisions by considering the dealer’s upcard. If it’s weak, you should be less aggressive. If it is strong, you must be more daring.
Let’s say the dealer’s upcard is 4, 5, or 6.
You can assume that his down card is a ten — since that is by far the most common card in the deck. Under this assumption, the dealer will generate a total of 14, 15, or 16. Therefore he will need to take another card that will likely send him over 21 to bust.
Being aware of this probable scenario is invaluable to you as a player because it means your best move (in this specific case) is to either double down or stand on a much wider range of starting hands. As per the strategy chart, you’ll double down on totals of 9-11 to capitalise. Or if your starting total is anything from 12 or above, you’ll stand to avoid the risk of busting.
Now, flip this logic on its head. Let’s assume the dealer’s upcard is a very strong 10.
In this case, you must assume that the dealer’s total could easily be 20, so you should open your range for hitting and taking another card in the hope of edging your way towards a high total yourself. You should not consider doubling down — unless your starting hand is 11 — because then you can hope to make 21 and have twice as many chips on the table.
Doubling Down and Splitting
Doubling Down is underused by risk averse and/or novice players. But Doubling Down at the optimal time is vital for playing the optimal strategy. Doing so puts more of your money on the table whenever there’s an expectation that you will win the hand given your cards vs the dealer’s. This goes a long way to reducing the edge of the casino.
Always refer to your blackjack advice chart for the exact recommendations for splitting. But it’s generally not a good idea to split if the dealer’s upcard is strong. Other important points to remember are:
- Always split aces
- Never split tens
- Split 8’s in almost all cases (depending on the version of blackjack).
It might be tempting to split tens, but why do it? You already have what is possibly a winning hand, so don’t risk breaking it up, doubling your investment, and potentially ending up with two losing hands.
Avoid Insurance and Side Bets
In many blackjack games, you will be offered insurance if the dealer’s upcard is an ace. The idea is that you pay a small fee, but if it turns out the dealer does have blackjack, you get your money and stake back. If, however, the dealer does not have blackjack, the hand plays out, and you lose your insurance money.
While it’s tempting to avoid the frustration of running into a blackjack — especially when you have a strong hand of your own — don’t do it. It’s a losing proposition in the long run and will cost you money.
In the same way, avoid the side bets that you can place on brick-and-mortar and online casino blackjack tables. Yes, playing Perfect Pairs or 21+3 is fun and can freshen up any long session; these two simply serve to increase the house edge –- exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
As casinos in the UK continue to open up after the pandemic, now is the time to brush up on your blackjack skills by getting to grips with the optimal strategy and memorising the difficult-to-remember decisions. Then, next time you venture out, you’ll be in a much better position to turn a session into a profitable one.
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