Blackjack is truly one of the world’s most nerve-wracking card games. If you’re a savvy player, a connoisseur of the game, you may have tons of tricks and strategies up your sleeve to try and gain that tiny, crucial edge on the house. You might even be good at card counting – a real blackjack genius who can track the odds in the blink of an eye.
Blackjack is a game steeped in myth and lore, featuring in books, movies, even songs. It’s the most popular gambling card game next to poker and it’s the one game where skills count in your favour. There is, unfortunately, also a lot of very bad information out there that could put a newcomer off the game entirely, or could mess with a veteran’s system.
In this guide, we’re taking a look at some of the myths and superstitions around blackjack, as well as a few strategies that actually work.
If you’re a newcomer to the game of blackjack, please read our How to Play Blackjack guide first, to ensure you have a good understanding of the game. You can also see our guide on card counting for more on this house-beating technique.
Now, let’s get into some Blackjack myth-busting.
Blackjack’s aim is to hit 21. That makes you a clear winner. Besides that, the goal is to beat the dealer’s hand without going over 21, or going bust. Here, it helps to understand how dealers play. Unless a casino’s rules explicitly state different, blackjack dealers will hit on 16, and stand on 17. That means, if you have 18, for example, and the dealer has 17, you have won the hand. There is no need at all to try and get closer to 21, as this could easily cause you to go bust. Landing on 21 is fantastic, of course, but focus on making the game about beating the dealer without busting.
Nope. Card counting is not only perfectly legal, it’s actually not a bad strategy, as long as you take the time and make the effort to get very good at it. Casinos used to try to prevent people from doing it, or remove suspected card counters. Today, however, they will only bother with the most obvious attempts, simply because most people don’t put in the effort to get good. While it is potentially lucrative for a player, it’s just not that big a threat to casinos anymore.
If you’re going to do it, be good at it, and keep it under wraps. Bragging to your table neighbour about how good you are is going to get you booted off the table.
This is a yes and no answer. The systems for card counting are actually simple. They’re not difficult to learn at all. You just need to be able to add and subtract the number 1, and remember which cards carry what value. We go in-depth into the how to in this guide.
It is, however, a lot of hard work and effort to become good at it. And you really don’t want to try card counting in a real money game before you’re quite good, otherwise it will just confuse you.
Blackjack is a game of counting, yes, but it isn’t higher grade calculus. Once you understand the basic rules of blackjack, and play a few practice hands, you will quickly get used to adding up the card values in your head. You certainly don’t need to be a maths genius to be good at the game – or even at card counting!
Many players will run scurrying from a dealer on a winning streak. Others will flock there, absolutely sure that the streak is about to break. The simple fact is, streaks are as random as in any other game of chance. There is only a very limited scope for skill to influence the outcome of a game. The dealer also has strict rules by which they must play their own hand. Whatever your reason for selecting a dealer and table, rest assured that, streak or no streak, your chances of beating a dealer are as good as at any other table.
If you’ve never heard of this before, you really must be new to gambling! It’s a theory some die-hard players will bet their last cent on, but wise gamblers avoid. It’s the belief that: you are due a win!
Come to think of it, this is a pervasive belief among gamblers and non-gamblers alike. In life, if things have been difficult for a long time, we might persuade ourselves that a break is just around the corner. As gamblers, some players refuse to acknowledge that they’re on a losing streak and should just stop playing. They are fully convinced that they are going to hit the win that is due to them any moment now.
The flames of this belief are fanned by those miracle jackpot wins, where someone plays their last few rands on a slot machine and hits the mega jackpot. What those stories fail to remind us is that just behind that one player, there are several hundred other players also plugging their last few savings into the bank of slots and losing everything.
If any of this rings true, we urge you to seek help or counselling for problem gambling.
There are hundreds of books and articles on gambling strategies for all kinds of games. Naturally, this includes blackjack. Card counting aside, there are other strategies that claim to offer a casino-beating method. Here are a few that don’t work for blackjack, and why.
Betting systems like the Martingale system, which encourage you to double your bets on a loss, are impractical for blackjack. Vingt-et-un (21) tables usually have a minimum and maximum betting limit, and if you follow this system, you will hit that threshold quickly if you lose a few consecutive hands.
As we’ve mentioned, the aim of blackjack is to beat the dealer’s score without going bust. Going bust can happen quite easily, so this strategy focuses on avoiding that. Practically speaking, however, this means not taking a card if your total is 11 or higher. Eleven through fifteen, however, are very easy to beat without going bust, which means this strategy will see you losing to the dealer even more often.
With this strategy, you set a predetermined amount that you wish to make each day, such as R1000. As soon as you are up R1000, you walk away and come back tomorrow. The belief behind this is that your streak ‘resets’ every day. However, you could just as easily lose R1000 every day for several days before seeing another winning day. It’s far better to set yourself a play budget – a maximum amount you’re willing to lose – and to enjoy the playing experience instead.
Any gambling strategy that’s worthwhile is going to involve some time and effort from the player. If you have, for example, learned the basics of card counting, and expect to use this rudimentary knowledge to beat the casino, then no, it isn’t going to work. So as you read the strategies in this section, please always bear in mind the proviso: these strategies can and do work, but they need your time and effort. Also, they are not 100% foolproof, and sometimes they won’t work because that’s just the luck of the draw.
In brief, card counting is a technique whereby players assign count values to cards based on their face value. These count values are -1, 0 and +1. As cards are drawn, the player adds and subtracts from the running total, using these count values. The running count is then used to determine betting and play strategies. We go into this in much more detail in this guide.
Wait, what? Yes, you read that right. It’s a genuine, legitimate strategy! Blackjack is a game of numbers and, while you don’t have to be a genius at maths, being able to quickly add and subtract makes you respond quicker to the dealer. It also helps keep you more relaxed and able to think through plays.
The great thing about blackjack is that the game itself doesn’t care what the stakes are. It is a consistent game that, if played with consistent skill, can provide incremental returns to the player over time. Don’t go rushing straight into high-stakes games, in other words. Once again, take your time to really get to know the game. Play for low stakes, and keep your bets low, until you are much more familiar with the game. Smaller stakes help keep your mind focused on becoming intimately familiar with blackjack, and developing your play style.
Where systems like Martingale ask you to double your bets on losses, for blackjack, the reverse seems to be somewhat truer. By increasing your bets when you win, rather than when you lose, you can see growth in your winnings. Of course, this is not guaranteed.
There’s more to gambling and blackjack than just winning or losing. There is also playing responsibly. The tips in this section will help you navigate around the game of blackjack without stumbling over too many pitfalls.
Buying insurance on a bet is not only a waste of time, but a waste of money. It only applies if the dealer hits 21, and you can waste loads of money before it ever becomes worthwhile.
Whatever game you are playing, set a budget and stick to it. This counts whether you are playing in a casino or online. If you are playing online, take advantage of things like daily deposit limits, play limits, and other methods to help you stick to the budget. If, at any stage, you feel your spending might be out of control, seek help for problem gambling.
While a budget is important, it’s also important to set yourself an upper limit. If you win a predetermined amount, you stop playing and enjoy your winnings.
Blackjack comes in many varieties. Although they are all very similar in game play, variations may have unique rules. Before playing any game of blackjack, consult the game rules. This is particularly easy to do online, as most games provide game guides that include these rules.
Are you a blackjack aficionado? What are your winning strategies? Share your tips with the online gambling community and give a fellow player a hand.