Blackjack ranks just behind playing slot games in terms of popularity in casinos. The game’s popularity is no surprise as blackjack is elegantly simple and offers the player a favorably low house edge.
Since blackjack is fast and easy to learn, many players approach the game far too casually. Those who feel their fate at the blackjack table is a matter of luck need to ask themselves why, if luck is the prime factor, is there a Blackjack Hall of Fame?
Serious Blackjack Players
The Blackjack Hall of Fame was founded by Max Rubin, a superlative blackjack player, and is located at the Barona Casino, outside of San Diego. The Hall of Fame has twenty members including Stanford Wong, and a group known as the Four Horsemen of Aberdeen. All are pioneers in the field of blackjack strategy and the math behind the game. All have had amazing results at the table. Barona offers free accommodations and meals to any of the Hall of Fame members whenever they wish. The Barona only asks that they not play blackjack while there.
Granted, the rules of blackjack are incredibly simple. However, the members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame not only understand every rule thoroughly, they understand the correct strategy for each combination of rules and events at the table.
Edward Thorpe published the best known blackjack book, Beat the Dealer, in 1962. Thorpe was a mathematician, not a blackjack player, and approached the game as a math problem. His findings helped formulate the mathematically correct action a player should take for every combination of player hands versus the dealer’s up card. This approach became known as “basic strategy.”
While Thorpe’s book is the most well-known, the Four Horsemen of Aberdeen published the first accurate basic strategy in 1956. They co-authored Playing Blackjack to Win in 1957.
The First Step: Learn the Rules
The first step in learning to be a successful blackjack player is to fully understand the rules. While it may seem obvious, the first rule that has to be remembered in blackjack is the object of the game. The player’s goal is to beat the dealer, not get the closest to 21. It doesn’t matter if you win with a 12 or a 21.
Successful players have a very complete understanding of the rules of the game. Take the time to understand double down, splitting, even money, insurance and surrender.
The Second Step: Basic Strategy
Basic blackjack strategy is based on math. While this is true of all casino games, blackjack math is situational. Under the concepts of basic strategy, the player’s actions are based on the total of their hand verses specific dealer up cards.
Basic strategy covers every conceivable combination of hands. Making the mathematically correct decision on each hand is a solid long term strategy. While at first glance it may seem to be a lot to remember, successful players have basic strategy completely memorized.
The Third Step: Analyze the Specific Table Rules
While the basic rules of blackjack are the same whether you are playing Classic Blackjack, Atlantic City Blackjack, European Blackjack, or one of the other variants, there are some minor variations. Successful players consider how these rules affect their odds and “shop” for the best game available.
The good thing is that the rules are printed on the table and posted on the table placard.
Soft 17 – A soft 17 is an Ace and a 6. On some tables the dealer stands on all 17s; at others the dealer hits a soft 17. Look for tables where the dealer stands on all 17s. This adds a small amount to the player’s edge.
Double Down – All blackjack games allow the player to double down by adding an amount equal to the original wager and receiving only one card. The key is to look for tables where the player can double with any two cards. You want to double down anytime it appears favorable, not just when you have 10 or 11. Also check for the ability to double down after a split.
Splitting – When you have two cards of the same rank you can split the cards and play two hands. The strategy for splitting is a part of basic strategy. Check the table for available actions after the split; specifically how many times you can split and the ability to re-split aces. Finding a game where you can re-split aces is fairly rare.
Number of Decks – Blackjack is usually played with two to six decks, although eight deck games do show up from time to time. The less number of decks used the better odds for the player.
The specific casino rules do not have a major impact on the player’s edge; no one rule changes that by more than a couple of tenths of a percent. However, long-term successful players realize the importance of small edges.
As we mentioned, small edges add up over the long run. Successful blackjack players are observant and occasionally pick up information that helps their play.
The “Dealer Ace” – When the dealer has a ten showing, they have to check for blackjack. If the table does not have a card reader, the dealer has to peek at her bottom card. Watch the dealer to determine how high she lifts her cards. If she ever lifts the cards higher than normal, odds are she has a four in the hole. The index for a four looks a lot like the top part of the index of an Ace. Dealers and players sometimes refer to a four as a “dealer Ace.”
Red Card Penetration – When the dealer cuts the cards at the beginning of a new shoe, she places a cut card near the back to indicate when to shuffle the shoe. Look for dealers that place the cut card as close to the end of the shoe as possible.
Learning the rules, basic strategy and the slight differences in the games may seem like a lot of work. Fortunately that is not the case. Just like the game itself they are fairly easy to master. That means players can enjoy the social aspects of blackjack while still playing in the most favorable method.