Frequently Asked Questions about Blackjack

Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games going.  It’s easy to start playing but as you play you’ll realize that there’s a lot more to the game than just getting to 21.  Check our our Blackjack FAQ before you hit the tables!

Blackjack is a casino card game played by a dealer and one or several players.  The dealer deals cards and each player plays their hand against the dealer’s.  Initially two cards are dealt and subsequent cards can be requested until the player gets to or surpasses 21 (a bust).  Both the dealer and the player attempt to get to 21 or as close to it as possible without going over.  The winner of the hand is the person who gets to 21 or closes to it without busting (going over 21).

Yes, it does!  Really, it depends on the rules of the game (they vary from place to place) and the skill of the blackjack player.  A single deck blackjack game using Las Vegas Strip rules where the player is allowed to double after splitting actually gives the player a +0.1% edge on the house!  This is assuming that the player always makes the best possible play according to recommended blackjack strategy.

Las Vegas Rules has been used as a standard to compare one blackjack game with another.  Las Vegas rules used to refer to games that were played on the Las Vegas Strip – double downs are allowed on any initial two cards, the dealer must hit a soft 17, re-splits and insurance are allowed.  Las Vegas rules also typically means that re-splitting of aces and double after splitting are not allowed.

There is only one “correct” basic strategy for this game assuming you’re playing by established rules.  However, land based casinos and online casinos rules vary from casino to casino, so the best basic strategy can be different from game to game.  Also, the number of decks in the shoe affects the basic strategy quite a bit.  For best practice blackjack strategy read the Fine Points of Basic Blackjack Strategy, Online Blackjack 101 – A Beginners Guide, and Basic Blackjack Strategy.

No!  You should do your best ignore how other players play.  This can be dificult as there is often a lot of talk at a blackjack table about how players play, especially the player on “3rd base”, the last player at the end of the table who plays right before the dealer plays.  Though it’s hard to keep this in mind when somebody hits on 18, over time a bad player’s action will help you just as often as hurt you in blackjack.

When playing basic blackjack strategy a blackjack player should never take insurance or even money.  Blackjack card counters know when insurance is likely to be profitable, but most casinos ban any players they suspect of counting cards.  If you are dealt a natural blackjack and the dealer is showing an ace just say “No thanks, I’ll take my chances!” when asked if you want “even money”.  You’re far better off winning 3 to 2 with a blackjack than taking even money.

Ignoring simply insane plays like hitting a 19 or 20, the most common rookie mistake is standing on 16 when it’s two 8s facing a dealer’s turned up 7.  For the love of all that is good in this world, SPLIT THEM!  You can expect to lose at least 70 cents on the dollar each time you make this play.  Of course, this won’t be a problem for you if you play by good basic blackjack strategy.

Yes and no, it comes down to how much the casino is manipulating the game.

A single-deck blackjack game has a +0.5% to +0.6% advantage over a multi-deck blackjack game with the same rules.  Most of this advantage is due to the removal of cards (removing one card in single deck has a significant effect, whereas removing a single card in a shoe game using 6, 8, or even 10 decks is basically negligible).  The other side of the coin though is that, while single-deck blackjack is hard to come by, it’s fairly easy to find good rules and conditions in multi-deck shoe games.

The bottom line is that while single-deck (and even double-deck) blackjack games are better than multi-deck shoe games, they’re also easier for the casino to manipulate.

Just because a particular game is beatable doesn’t mean you can get rich at it.  If you’re viewing blackjack as a possible investment opportunity you have three main points to consider – Skill, Bankroll, and Risk.  Each of these factors must be considered before you even begin betting.  Really, a highly skilled player with a small bankroll (say, $1,000 or less) can only hope to make a few dollars per hour playing blackjack, and runs the risk of going broke anyway.  Blackjack is a game to be enjoyed, not a job and certainly not an investment opportunity.

Let’s get this straight, out of the gate: you stand a fair chance of losing money in this game.  Casinos are massive monuments of opulence for a reason – they almost always win.  No matter how well you play, it’s still a game of chance that is slanted ever so slightly in the house’s favor.  It all comes down to your skill level, your bankroll, the amount of risk you’re comfortable with, the quality of games you play, and of course, chance.  If you can balance all these factors, the theoretical long-game advantage a successful card counter can hope for is between 0.5% and 1.5%.  This doesn’t mean player can’t have more success on a given hand.  However, in the long run, a card counting blackjack player can expect to win about 1% of the total sum of his “action”.

The bottom line: if your average wager is $50 and you play 60 hands an hour (one hand a minute, that’s pretty easy to do playing online blackjack even accounting for breaks) you might expect to make about $30 an hour.  BUT!  Never lose sight of the fact that this is a game of chance and you’re never really in control.

No way!  It’s no more illegal than using your own brain to add up how much you need to tip your server in a restaurant!  Casinos try to catch successful card counters and ban them, but that’s only policy, there’s no law against counting in your head.

Check out this case from 2000 where the Nevada Supreme Court ordered the Monte Carlo Casino in Las Vegas to pay a card counter the over $40,000 he had won counting cards!

There is no “best” way of counting cards unless you’re an AI in which case you would just track every single card and know exactly which ones are left in the deck.  We humans have inherent limitations.  For multi-deck shoe games all card counting systems perform within about a tenth of a percent of each other.  For single-deck games, a balanced multi-level count with an ace side-count will give a large theoretical improvement over unbalanced and single-level counts.  However, the player runs the risk of mental fatigue which will quickly lead to mistakes.  The best way to go for most players is “KISS” – “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.   At we recommend the Hi-Lo, Red Seven, K-O or Zen for multi-deck shoe games and the Hi-Opt I, Zen or Omega II for single-deck games of blackjack.

What is the best overall card counting system?  I like the Hi-Lo because it’s not overly mentally taxing so it allows me to count cards without LOOKING like I’m counting cards.  Even though it’s not illegal, it’s not going to make you any friends.

The best play variations are knowing when to take insurance and when to stand on 16 facing a dealer’s 10.

Casino cash losses to card counters are nothing compared with the truck loads of money they make from the casual unskilled masses and simple bad players.  Then there are the bad card counters and players who just don’t care.  A good example of casinos cheating players in plain sight is a blackjack game that only pays 6 to 5.  Nobody should put up with that, yet thousands of tourists flock to Las Vegas every day and play at these cheating tables.  Gamblers should be in marching in the streets, pitch forks and torches in hand over this 2-bit carnival con.

Another great example of casinos cheating players in plain sight is American Roulette vs European Roulette.  They literally just added a second losing spot on the wheel and called it the Double Zero.  Read about that over here.

No, not by a long shot!  Over the years, clever players have uncovered several loopholes in the way casinos play blackjack.  Most of these loopholes have been covered up, but every now and then you might find a window of opportunity.

Here’s a list of things you should research if you really want to improve your edge against the house: hole carding, next carding, front loading, basing, peeking, flashing, warps, edge sorting, side-bets, shuffle tracking, ace location, new games, dealer tells, casino promotions, coupons, comps, and loss rebates!

This really depends on what kind of player you are.

Card Counters: If you are a card counter you should be looking for fast games with the best penetration.

Basic Strategy: A basic strategy player should be looking for single deck games with the most player-favorable rules and options available.

Gambler: Gamblers will be better off in casinos with great comps, full single deck blackjack games, slow dealers, and the fewest player options available.

Regarding the current state of single-deck games: I should note that most or all single-deck games these days only pay 6 to 5 on blackjack.  If you can’t find any that don’t pay 6 to 5 then stick with full paying multi-deck shoe games.  It doesn’t matter what kind of player you are, there’s no good reason to give away your winnings.

It seems counter intuitive, but most of the best books on blackjack were written years ago. Edward Thorp’s Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One is the book that got me on my way.  It’s outdated now but is still a must-read.  Peter Griffin’s The Theory of Blackjack: The Compleat Card Counter’s Guide to the Casino Game of 21 deep dives into the mathematics of blackjack and is well worth the read.

Other great blackjack books that I highly recommend include books by Ian Andersen, Julian Braun, Bryce Carlson, Richard Canfield, Carlson Chambliss, Michael Dalton, Steve Forte, James Grosjean, Lance Humble, Mason Malmuth, Ken Uston, Lawrence Revere, Donald Schlesinger, Michael Shackleford, Arnold Snyder, Ralph Stricker, Stanford Wong, and Bill Zender.  This isn’t a complete list of course, there are other excellent books on the subject.

Here’s how you start on your way to blackjack success:

  • Start by reading and studying all the books mentioned above.
  • Learn basic strategy perfectly – it’s not that complicated.
  • Play lots of free blackjack at first and make sure you stick to your basic blackjack strategy.
  • Keep your bets small initially when you practice playing for real money.
  • There are lots of strategies out there like the Martingale, but be very cautious of any system or advice that promises more than a 1.5% overall advantage.
  • Steer clear of progressive betting systems like the Martingale, you can lose your entire bankroll in no time.
  • Be patient, nothing worth learning comes quickly.
  • Lastly, stay disciplined – rookie mistakes like chasing your losses will only make a bad beat worse!

You will find insight into the best games by becoming members or subscribers to some of the best blackjack forums and message boards available.  These include:

There are also a ton of great blackjack blogs out there.  Pro-tip: Check out the Blackjack Weather Center.

You better believe it!  Successful blackjack play is a game of cloak and dagger.  Really, it is and should be the casino’s right to block overly successful players.  If casinos are forced to deal to all card counters the advantage possible (due to good rules and penetration) usually disappear very quickly.  Case in point: Atlantic City casinos cannot bar skilled players.  As a result, they’ve changed the options and rules so everybody suffers.  If you’re good then spread your winnings around.  Don’t get too well known at any one casino or in any one city for that mater.

The house might try to cheat you, but only in smaller backwater places – except blackjack tables that only pay out 6 to 5 for blakjack of course, they’re robbing you in pain sight.  If they are going to cheat, single-deck blackjack is one of the easiest blackjack games to cheat at with skilled dealers bottom dealing and the like.  Multi-deck shoes can be rigged of course, however, this leaves physical evidence of cheating so even casinos that wanted to cheat would think twice about tampering with their hardware.  My suggestion would be to read about it and familiarize yourself with the main ways casinos cheat.  If you suspect something funny just leave the game and report them to the relevant gaming commission.

Winning at blackjack requires the ability to make the most of situations as they arise.  To do this you need to carefully balance knowledge, skill, bankroll, and risk.  The ultimate secret, if it can even be called that, is a long-term dedication to the game of blackjack.

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