In Blackjack, your opponents are not other players, but the dealer, essentially the casino itself. The game is played with a deck of French cards, where the suits do not matter. You can win if the value of the cards dealt to you is higher than those at the dealer's without exceeding twenty-one. This is where the game gets its other name: 21. A draw can easily occur in the game. Typically, several rounds are played in succession.
The value of the cards corresponds to the numbers on them. The jack, queen, and king are worth 10. The case of the ace is special, as it can be worth either 11 or 1, depending on which is more favorable to the player.
|1 or 11
|Jack, Queen, King
Let's discuss the Blackjack gameplay steps. First, we must place a bet to enter the round. Then, the dealer deals two cards each to us and to themselves. The cards dealt to the players are face up, meaning everyone can see their value. Of the two cards dealt to the dealer, only one is turned face up.
If we're lucky enough to get a Blackjack on the initial deal, then there's nothing more for us to do, as this is the best outcome. In such cases, we're almost certain to win, unless the dealer also has a Blackjack, in which case it's a draw. To get a Blackjack, one of our cards needs to be an ace, and the other needs to be a card worth ten, that is, either a 10, a jack, a queen, or a king. If we don't get a Blackjack on the initial deal, then we have two options: either we stand, or we request additional card(s) from the dealer. If the value of our cards exceeds 21, then we've lost and our bet goes to the casino.
If we decide to stand, then it's the dealer's turn to flip their facedown card and draw additional cards for themselves. If the dealer goes over 21, or stops at a number that's smaller than ours, then we have won.
You have the opportunity to Split, that is, to divide your hand into two, if you get two cards of the same value on the initial deal, for example, two eights. At some tables, you can only split cards of ten value if they are of the same rank, i.e., you can split two jacks but not a king and a jack. Moreover, there are tables where splitting two aces is not allowed.
When you split, you must first place a bet equal to the initial one on the second hand. After this, the dealer deals you two more cards, one for each hand. The outcomes of the two hands are then independent of each other, meaning one might lose while the other wins. You can freely request additional cards for each hand separately.
It's important to note that at many tables, if you get a Blackjack on a split hand, the payout is only the same as a regular win. Also, there are tables where re-splitting is possible if you get another card of the same value/rank on at least one of the split hands.
The concept of Double Down, or doubling, is that after the initial deal, you double your bet and request only one more card. After this requested card, you can't ask for another card in the given round. Not every table allows splitting or doubling. We recommend choosing a table where these are available. These options reduce the casino's advantage against you. However, it's important to know when it's worth using them. Strategy charts can help with this.
Another interesting aspect of the game of Blackjack is that there is a mathematically optimal strategy that can reduce the casino's advantage to half a percent. This is commonly called as "basic strategy". In fact, some players are able to tilt the odds in their favor against the casino by counting cards and following the strategy (see leter in this article).
If you are following the "basic strategy", then you should expect to maximise your Return To Player value to the maximum (that is over 99% with most Blackjack variants). In other words, you can reduce the casino's advantage to under 1%. Keep in mind, that the Return To Player values are calculated for thousands of card deals. In the short term, you will experience a lot of volatility in your balance.
Blackjack strategy tables are created to demonstrate what should be your next move depending on what card you have and what card the dealer has. However, the strategy table changes depending on the Blackjack variant you are playing. Furthermore, card counters often deviate from the "basic strategy", because it assumes no background information about the cards remaining in the deck.
Most people would find it really difficult to precisely keep track of which cards have already come out of the deck. Fortunately, various card counting methods have been developed for this purpose, so you don't need exceptional memory. This is especially useful considering that most Blackjack tables don't play with just one deck, but typically with six.
One of the most well-known methods is the "High-Low" (often written as "Hi-Lo"). The essence of this is that we divide the cards into three groups based on the number or face value on them: small cards from 2 to 6, medium cards from 7 to 9, large cards from 10 to Ace. Then we assign a value to each of the three groups. We assign plus one to the group with the smallest values, zero to the middle one, and minus one to the group with the highest values. The following picture summarizes this:
Now that we have assigned a value to every type of card, our task is to keep track of the balance of the value of the cards already turned over. So, for example, if a 4 is dealt, we add one to the balance, or if a jack is dealt, we subtract one from the balance.
As this balance increases, our chances against the casino also increase. What's also important to keep in mind is how many decks are still undistributed by the dealer. This helps to understand how concentrated the high cards are in the undistributed decks. If we divide the balance value by the number of remaining decks, we get the so-called "true balance". So if our balance is 8, and there are still 2 decks with the dealer, then our true balance will be 4.
We will use this true balance to decide how much to bet. If our true balance is high, we raise the bet. If the true balance is low, we reduce it. When using the Hi-Lo method, it is still very important to play perfectly according to the basic Blackjack strategy. It is worth mentioning that with the help of card counting, we can deliberately and mathematically deviate from the basic strategy in certain cases. We will write about these exceptions later.
The simplest thing is the use of multiple decks. This not only makes counting harder, but more importantly, it slows down the winnings for the card counting players. This is because most of the time, the real balance kept in mind will only reach such heights towards the end of the game when the counter can bet with high certainty.
The second thing the casino can do is not to wait for all the decks to be nearing their end before reshuffling, instead, they might reshuffle halfway through. While this is a good solution for preventing card counters, it is also quite costly. This is because while the dealer is shuffling, the players are not playing, and thus no revenue is generated.
What completely disables card counting is the continuous use of card shuffling machines. Casinos also like this because it provides very fast shuffling. The downside is that many players do not trust the card shuffling machines.
Another option for casinos is if they suspect a player is counting cards at a particular table, they can modify the table rules so that players can only bet with the same stakes in each round. This results in the card counter, despite knowing the odds are good, being unable to bet big.
The casino can also choose to operate only those Blackjack tables that have less favorable rules for the players than the neighboring casino. With this, they can ensure that card counters will not visit their casino.
Finally, it's worth noting that the casino management can decide not to worry too much about card counters. They can argue that the hourly profits of card counters are limited enough to be acceptable as operating costs.