The Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Blackjack Mines Games Easy Win
Everyone knows by now that blackjack is a game of skill and the casino game with the lowest house edge.
But those truisms only apply if you understand the game and how to play it correctly.
If it’s your first time in the casino, no one would blame you for being a little confused about how blackjack works. Even if you’ve been playing for a while, you might be making some big mistakes.
This post is meant to clear things up for you so that you don’t make the big mistakes that cost you the most money.
It’s organized into a list of 5 things you should do and 5 things you shouldn’t do at the blackjack table.
With any luck, you’ll learn as much from this “top 10 do’s and don’ts of blackjack” post as I learned writing it.
It doesn’t look like a long post, I know. Most people can finish reading it in less than 20 minutes, in fact.
But it took a lot longer than 20 minutes to write. In fact, when you consider the time I spent playing blackjack and reading books about how to play, you might say that this post took over 20 years to write.
1 – DO Learn the Rules before You Sit Down to Play
Blackjack seems like a simple enough game. You get 2 cards, the dealer gets 2 cards, and you both decide to hit until you decide to stand. Then whoever has a total closer to 21 without going over wins the hand.
Conceptually, that IS simple.
But in actual practice, blackjack is more complicated than that.
For one thing, you have more decisions at your disposal than just hitting and standing. Let’s take a look at those potential decisions and what each one of them means:
- Hitting is the most basic move. It just means to get another card from the dealer, which increases the total score for your hand.
- Standing is tied with hitting for being the most basic move. It just means to decline the opportunity to take more cards. Once you’ve stood, you don’t do anything else but wait for the dealer to play his hand and see if you won.
- Doubling down means to double the size of your bet while simultaneously taking one more card. You’re not allowed to hit again after this card if you doubled down.
- Splitting is only allowed when you have 2 cards of the same rank. When that happens, you’re allowed to post a 2nd bet, and play 2 hands. The first card of each hand is one of the 2 cards you had in your original hand. You play each of the split hands separately.
- Surrendering means giving up half your bet but also losing any right to win the hand later in the round. It’s comparable to folding in poker. It’s not a move you’ll make often, but it’s still important to know what it is.
Understanding the card values is another important part of the rules. Most people get this aspect of the rules pretty fast, but here it is if you don’t know how it works:
All cards in blackjack have a point value equal to their rank, except for aces and face cards. Aces can count as 1 or 11, depending on which would be better for your hand. Face cards (the jack, queen, and king) are worth 10 points each.
Also, most of the time, when you win, you get even money. Bet $100 and win, and you get a $100 payout.
But if you get a 2-card hand totaling 21, which is called a “blackjack” or “natural,” you win 3 to 2 on yoru money—at least in most casinos. Some casinos have lowered payouts for this hand, and we’ll talk about that later in this list of do’s and don’ts.
2 – DON’T Tell Other Players How to Play Their Hands
Blackjack is supposed to be fun. It’s a gambling game you play in a casino, and the last time I checked, that was the entire point to playing these kinds of games.
One of the surest ways to spoil the fun for other players is to correct their play.
And if you spoil someone else’s fun, you’ll have less fun, too—unless you’re some kind of weird sociopath.
Some players operate under the mistaken impression that the other players’ actions can somehow affect the luck for the other players at the table.
This isn’t true.
Your odds stay the same regardless of what the other players do.
Most of the obnoxious players who are correcting others’ decisions at the table operate from that assumption.
But they’re wrong.
Now you know better.
3 – DO Play in Single Deck Games When You Can
Blackjack is a game with a low house edge—that’s just the mathematical advantage that the casino has over the player.
But different blackjack games have different conditions. One of those conditions is the number of decks in use.
The rule of thumb for the player is simple:
Everything else being equal, the more decks in play, the higher the house edge.
Your goal is to face the lowest house edge possible.
With more cards in the deck, as in an 8-deck game, your probability of being dealt a blackjack goes down, which increases the house’s mathematical edge over the player.
You should never give the casino any opportunity to get a higher mathematical edge over you, if you can at all help it.
Of course, the number of decks isn’t the only factor of a blackjack game’s conditions that a casino can change.
4 – DON’T Play in 6/5 Blackjack Games
One trick casinos often use to get a higher edge is to offer a single deck blackjack game, but that game might only pay off at 6 to 5 for a blackjack.
Remember how we talked about the rules for blackjack, and how a natural pays off at 3 to 2?
That means if you bet $100 and win, you get a payoff of $150 for a blackjack.
That’s a ratio of 3 to 2 on your money.
Some casinos offer games where the payoff for a blackjack is done at a ratio of 6 to 5.
If you bet $100 and win in such a game, you get a payoff of $120.
The casinos try to bill these games as superior to standard blackjack, and some people are so mathematically illiterate that they fall for this trick.
The casino might have a sign up that says “Now offering 6/5 payouts!”
When they announce it like that, it sounds special, doesn’t it?
They’re hoping that some of the less thoughtful and attentive patrons will see the 6 and think that it’s bigger than 3, so they’re getting a better deal.
A lot of players fall for that, too, but not you. You know that the 6 is relative to the 5, which means a $120 payout on a $150 payout on a $100 bet.
That’s a big difference. It gives the house another 1.4% in house edge, which is a LOT.
Just say no to 6/5 blackjack, please.
5 – DO Follow Basic Strategy on EVERY Hand
Most of the people who read my blog already know what basic strategy is in blackjack, but if you’re a new reader, you might not have been clued in yet.
In blackjack, you’ll face a finite number of situations. You can only have so many totals, and you can only face so many dealer up-cards.
When you compare a total in your hand with the dealer’s up-card, you have a limited number of options. Each of those options has a mathematically expected average result.
This expected result is called “expected value,” or EV, for short.
Basic strategy is just the move with the highest expected value in every situation.
Some situations in blackjack are lousy, and the expected value is negative no matter how you play your hand. In those cases, the correct move is the one which results in the lowest average loss. That IS the highest expected value play in that situation.
Most people learn basic strategy using a table or chart. On the left hand side of the chart, you have a list of the possible hard and soft totals in the game. (A soft total is a total that includes an ace. It’s “soft” because you can change what you count the ace as based on the situation to avoid busting.)
Across the top of the chart, you have a list of the dealer’s possible up-cards.
You cross-reference your total with the dealer’s face-up card on the chart, and it tells you how to play the hand—hit, stand, double down, etc.
It sounds horribly complicated, but it’s easier than you think, because some totals play the same as some other totals. And how you play a specific hand against a dealer’s up-card doesn’t change much—a lot of times, the same decision applies to any dealer up-card of 6 or less or any dealer up-card of 7 or more.
Basic strategy was originally derived by having a computer play hundreds of thousands of simulated hands and seeing what the results were like.
Modern computers are able to handle more complicated algorithms, so they just calculate the expected value for each move.
Either way, you get the same set of guidelines for how to play your hands, although they might change slightly based on game conditions.
You should always play using correct basic strategy.
6 – DON’T Pay ANY Attention to Your Hunches
Some people adjust how they play based on their gut feelings. Unfortunately, confirmation bias reinforces this behavior.
Your hunches have no effect on the outcome of the game.
You’re not able to tell the future, even when it comes to a deck of cards.
Random chance will make it look like you’re right with your hunches once in a while.
Your brain is programmed to notice those occurrences and put stock in them.
Don’t fall for it.
Stick with the math.
The idea is to be an educated gambler getting the most action for your money.
You can’t do that by being superstitious and thinking you’re psychic.
Stick with basic strategy regardless of your hunches and gut feelings.
7 – DO Learn How to Count Cards
Counting cards is a fine skill to learn. More than anything else, learning how to count cards will increase your understanding of and enjoyment of the game.
You might think it’s not worth it to learn how to count cards in this modern casino era. After all, many casinos now use automatic shuffling machines and shuffle the cards before every hand, making it impossible to get an edge by counting cards.
Those aren’t the only ways casinos thwart card counters, though. Even in a casino where they’re not shuffling every hand, they can stop and re-shuffle the deck anytime, making it harder to get an advantage. Or one of the casino employees can just start talking to you—asking questions and just being friendly. It’s hard to count cards and carry on a conversation at the same time.
You don’t have to make a living counting cards for it to be worthwhile, either. Counting cards can just be a fun hobby. Who doesn’t want to get one over on the casino?
You just need to be willing to do some scouting to find the good games. Some of this might involve doing some legwork of your own. It’s also a good idea to spend some time getting to know other blackjack players and card counters on the internet.
You can find forums where card counters and blackjack players compare notes about specific casino conditions. Use them wisely, friend.
8 – DON’T Think You’ll Get Rich Counting Cards
Don’t forget that counting cards only nets you a small edge over the casino. The bigger the stakes are where you’re playing, the less likely you are to get away with it. Also, the more time you spend at a casino, the more likely you are to get caught.
Let’s look at how much you might realistically expect to earn by counting cards. We’ll assume that you’re really good at counting and that you’ve found great game conditions. You have a 2% edge over the casino.
You’re playing for an average of $25 per hand, and you’re getting in 80 hands per hour. This means that you’re putting $2000 into action per hour. With an edge of 2%, you’re looking at a predicted hourly win rate of $40.
$40/hour might sound pretty good if you’re a minimum wage employee somewhere, or even if you’re an entry level retail employee or office worker.
But that hourly wage doesn’t tell the whole picture.
There’s no way you can count cards for 40 hours a week on a consistent basis 50 weeks out of the year.
If you could, then sure, you could be making $80,000 a year counting cards, but that’s not realistic.
For one thing, the more time you spend at a specific casino or playing with a specific dealer, the more likely you are to get busted.
For another, that amount of time spent counting cards is far more mentally grueling than you could probably imagine.
If you could pull this off for 15 or 20 hours per week, then you could make $30k or $40k a year counting cards, but you don’t get any kind of benefits package with this deal, either.
Sure, counting cards can be a fun hobby, but it’s not a realistic way to make a living.
9 – DO Take Advantage of the Casino’s Comps Program
The slots club at the casino isn’t just for the slot machine players. Table game players can take advantage of these comps, too. To take advantage of this, you just present your players club card to the dealer when you sit down and start to play.
How do they keep up with your action at the blackjack table, though?
We know how they track your play on the slot machines, but what about at the blackjack table?
The pit boss and the dealer get together and decide what your average bet size is and rate you. They know how many hands per hour you’re playing on average, and then it’s just a matter of multiplication.
In that card counting example above, we assumed you were averaging $2000 per hour in action. They just multiply that by their rewards rate to determine how much free stuff to give you.
The trick, and if you’ve read Max Rubin’s Comp City, you already know this, is to look like you’re betting more money per hour than you’re actually putting into action.
How do you do that?
For one thing, you bet more per hand during your first 15 minutes or so at the table. You can scale back after that, but you want them to think you’re putting more money into action than you are. Start by betting $50 or $100 per hand before scaling back to $20 or $30 per hand. Mix it up enough that you look like a gambler, but not so much that you’re obviously counting cards.
The casino assumes you’re an average blackjack player for determining comps, so they’re assuming that their edge against you is around 2.5%. If you’re using perfect basic strategy, you have that number well below 1%.
You can easily come out ahead against the casino by just using perfect basic strategy and getting the most out of your comps as possible.
10 – DON’T Cheat
First, let’s make a distinction between advantage play and cheating.
Advantage play doesn’t involve changing the conditions of the game. You’re just playing with optimal strategy for those game conditions. Counting cards is advantage play, not cheating.
You’re cheating when you change the conditions of the game. If you’re using a computer to count cards, for example, you’re cheating. If you’re changing the size of your bets after you’ve seen your cards, you’re cheating.
The problem with cheating at casino games like blackjack is that it’s a crime.
Do you really want to go to jail (and possibly prison) and have a criminal record because you were trying to get an illegal edge against a casino?
It doesn’t seem worth it to me, although I’ve read numerous stories about casino cheats who get caught repeatedly and return to prison over and over again.
If you have that type of personality, my warning not to cheat is probably falling on deaf ears.
But if you think you’re going to cheat just on a lark, well…
Don’t do it.
Having a good time at the blackjack table isn’t hard to do when you keep these things in mind. Learning the rules is something you can do in less than an hour. There aren’t that many rules to begin with.
Mastering basic strategy is something you can do in an hour or 2 if you commit to focusing on it and studying. Heck, you can practice at your kitchen table.
You don’t have to learn to count cards to have fun at the blackjack table, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Counting cards is another skill that you can learn at your kitchen table in just a couple of hours. All it takes is some focus and determination.
And what could be easier than signing up for the players’ club at the casino and presenting the card when you sit down to play? I can’t think of anything.
And most of the suggestions for what not to do are common sense.