Blackjack is widely considered to be the world’s most popular casino game. It’s easy to play, and most of us can learn the rules of blackjack in a few minutes. But the game is also intriguing, not least because it is one of the few casino games that can see a player’s advantage changed by skill, although how much that is the case is debated. Hundreds of books and thousands of articles have been created on blackjack strategy down the years, with mathematical research gobbled up by players who want to beat the house at the iconic game.
Below, we break down some of the more interesting facts about the game and its strategy.
- The house edge in blackjack is notoriously difficult to work out, and some players maintain that it does not exist at all if the player is skillful. Whereas the probabilities of games like roulette can be worked out quite easily (37 segments on the wheel with a payout of 36 times your bet), blackjack is more subtle. The house edge is gained from the fact the player plays first, but the player also has the advantage of not being bound by the dealer’s rules. Thus it is partly a game of strategy and skill.
- The consensus, however, is that blackjack does have a house edge, albeit a small one. You’ll find that online blackjack games use random number generators to reflect the real-world probabilities of their physical counterparts. In online blackjack, the house edge is reflected in a statistic called RTP (Return to Player). In fact, all casino card and table games tend to be programmed so that they reflect real-world probabilities.
- Card counting is not illegal, nor is it deemed to be cheating. This is a myth propagated by some Hollywood movies like Rain Man and The Hangover. It is simply a means of keeping track of the frequency of high and low cards that are dealt from the deck. In addition, card counting isn’t that difficult. You can learn a system in a couple of hours, and it can be perfected in a manner of days.
- With regard to the above, it’s worth remembering that the difficulty level rises when extra decks are used. Single-deck blackjack is the most popular game with experts, but casinos can use up to eight decks. Always choose single-deck blackjack if you can find it.
- Traditionally, the payout for getting blackjack (a score of 21 with 2 cards) was 3:2 – thus, a $10 bet would return $25 (your original stake + $15 profit) – however, some major Vegas casinos decided to cut the payout from 3:2 to 6:5. This was seen as a major blow to players’ profitability and caused a spike in casino profits. It also showed a decline in the popularity of the game. You should check that the casino offers 3:2 before playing in Vegas. Also note that online blackjack games usually retain 3:2 payouts.
- Surrender is one of the most interesting types of blackjack games and strategies. Effectively, the tactic allows you to surrender (end the game) and lose half your stake. While that doesn’t sound so appealing, some expert players believe it can be a good part of an overall strategy.
- While all casino games require a measure of luck for the player to be successful, blackjack strategy has been codified for many decades. A 1956 book by four mathematicians laid down some of the guidelines for employing strategy. Today, players can use a simple card that tells them what to do in almost any given situation. Still, some players will have their own idiosyncratic strategies.
- Finally, don’t forget that humans have a poor understanding of probability when it comes to independent events. If you lose one hand if blackjack, it does not increase or decrease the chances of winning the next. Blackjack is a game of cold, hard numbers. There is no such thing as a hot streak. It’s a construct of the human mind. Use your strategy, but remember to walk away if it just ins’t working.