Blackjack Gameplay


Blackjack, on its surface, is a fairly straightforward game. Try to get to 21 without busting. However, understanding the odds of when to hit and when to stand gives you the chance to significantly increase your chances of winning.

There are a few decisions during blackjack that you have to make when playing blackjack, and what you decide can determine whether you make money or lose your shirt to the casino: When to hit or stand, if you should split your cards and whether to double down.

Hit or Stand?

Blackjack essentially comes down to a single question: Hit or stand?

For the dealer, this decision is simple. In fact, it’s usually written on the felt in front of them just in case they forget. The dealer must always hit on anything up to 16 and, in some casinos, they must hit on a soft 17 as well.

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The dealer must hit on a 16, which gives them a strong chance of going over 21 and busting.

However, no such rules govern your play. You are free to use your best judgement and take what the dealer has in front of him into consideration.

Keep in mind that rules vary from casino to casino. In some cases, if the dealer is dealt blackjack right off the bat, he has to let you know before you continue, which makes your job a bit easier. However, if the dealer does not show his hole card until it is his turn, you have to work with some probabilities.

For example, if the dealer is showing an ace, what are the odds that he has 21? Actually, better than you might expect. Consider the fact that there are four different cards that hold a value of 10. So, while there is a 1 in 13 chance that that second card is, say, a 6, there is a 4 in 13 chance that it’s either a 10, jack, queen or king. It’s worth noting that most casinos use multiple decks, though the odds will generally break down the same.

Likewise, if the dealer is showing a 10 or face card, there’s only a 1 in 13 chance that he has an ace to back it up, but there’s still a good chance that he’s got another face or 10 under there that is going to give him a 20, which is a formidable hand.

In both of these cases, it is to your advantage to hit on a 16 or a soft 17, because you are assuming that you need a 20 or 21 to beat the dealer.

If the dealer shows a 7, 8 or 9, a 10 value card or an ace will still give him a strong hand, and you should similarly hit until you have a hard 17 or better.

However, if the dealer is showing a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, you’re in a strong position, because the dealer has about a 35 to 42 percent chance of busting. In this situation, hit on 8 or less, but you’ll probably want to stand if you have 13 or more and hope the dealer busts.

A pair of Aces can be split.

You should always split Aces in blackjack.

Split

There are hard-and-fast rules that professional blackjack players swear by when it comes to splitting cards. The most important of which is to always split aces and eights.

If you are dealt a pair of aces, it’s a good plan to split them because, once again, the odds are good that you’ll get a 10, jack, queen or king, any of which would give you blackjack. Generally, blackjacks pay out 3:2, which will put you ahead if you hit 21 on just one pair. However, most casinos do not honor the 3:2 payout on split pairs, so double check with the facility’s rules.

The reason you always want to split 8s is slightly different. A 16 in not a strong hand to start out with, and chances that you will bust if you hit are a bit higher than 60 percent. Because of this, your odds are going to be better if you split those 8s.

On the other hand, never split 5s or a pair of 10-value cards. For 10s, jacks, queens or kings, the reason is fairly simple: 20 is a strong hand to start with. The dealer will have to hit blackjack to beat you. As for 5s, you’re starting with a value of 10, and you have a good chance of hitting a 10-value card or an ace and getting 20 or 21.

As for the other cards, your decision to split will largely be based on what the dealer is showing.

If you get a pair of nines, you may want to split, unless the dealer is showing a 7 – in which case you are assuming he has 17 and has to stand, meaning your 18 has already won – or a 10, face card or an Ace, which means the dealer is likely to have beaten you with a 20 or 21.

With a pair of 7s, you’re starting with 14, which isn’t a terribly strong hand. However, you have a high likelihood of busting if you hit, so split the cards if the dealer is showing 7 or lower.

Generally, you’ll not want to split with a pair of 6s. However, if you choose to split, only do so if the dealer is showing a 4, 5 or 6.

As for 2s, 3s and 4s, its a good idea not to split them regardless of what the dealer is showing.

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The best time to double down is when the dealer is showing a card valued from 2-6.

Double Down

After receiving your first two cards, you have the opportunity to double down. This means you will double your bet with the opportunity to see one more card.

The best time to do this is when the dealer is showing a 2 through 6, as the dealer will bust nearly twice as often as if he is is showing a higher card. You also may want to double down if the dealer is showing an 8 or 9 and you have 10, or if you have 11 versus the dealer’s 10.

Keep in mind that you only get one additional card once you double down, so you’ll often be relying on getting a 10-value card or an ace.

You may initially be hesitant to double down – as it does carry the risk of losing twice as much money if you lose. However, if you play your odds right, it stands the chance of being extremely profitable.