Tips & Advice for Blackjack
A blackjack tips and advice page isn't going to provide you with a lot of specific advice about how to play individual hands. That's what the basic strategy page is for. Instead, the tricks and guidance on this page are aimed to improve your overall approach to the game.
In fact, what most people call "strategy" is really just a set of tactics. Doubling down any time you have a total of 11 is a tactic; counting cards and keeping a low profile while you're doing it is a strategy.
Consider this page a collection of strategy advice nuggets.
Keep It Simple
You'll see a lot of blackjack variations with fancy names that sound like really good deals. Games like Super Fun 21, Spanish Blackjack, or Double Exposure. These games always have exciting rules that seem to give the player an edge over the casino.
Please see our page on blackjack variations for more information on the various different blackjack games and their rules.
What the casino never tells you is that they make other rules modifications that more than compensate for those rule changes. In fact, most of the time, you're better off just playing regular blackjack. That's what we mean when we say to keep it simple.
A good blackjack game with liberal rules has an edge for the casino of between 0.5% and 1%. Double Exposure has a house edge of between 0.7% and 1.5%, again depending on the other rules.
And to add another wrinkle—that basic strategy you memorize for regular games? It's different, because now you have a whole different situation to deal with. Yeah, you can find and memorize the basic strategy for this variation, but that's just one more thing to do before you can get into action and start playing.
Never Play 6/5 Blackjack
A lot of casinos now offer single deck blackjack games, which are, of course, superior to a game using multiple decks. But these games aren't as great as they seem.
They sometimes only pay out at 6 to 5 for a natural instead of 3 to 2.
This might not seem like that big a deal, but the reality is that this skews the math way on the side of the casinos.
The house edge in a game with 8 decks is 0.25% better than the house edge in a game with a single deck. That's significant. It's even more significant if you're counting cards, because it makes it easier to get an edge and to keep up with the count.
But the difference between a blackjack game that pays out 6 to 5 instead of 3 to 2 is even more dramatic. This one change gives the house an additional 1.3% edge.
If you're playing for $100 a hand at a game with a 1% house edge, you expect to lose $1 per hand. Change that to a single deck game, and that loss per hand drops to $0.75.
Add in the 6 to 5 payout rule, and the loss per hand goes back up to $2.05 per hand.
You probably play between 50 and 200 hands per hour. Assuming you're at a crowded table, you're now expecting to lose $100 per hour instead of $50 per hour.
The best strategy for dealing with 6/5 blackjack games is to never look at them, never go near them, and never play them.
Don't Fall for Nonsense
Of course, 6/5 blackjack games could be considered nonsense, but casinos aren't the only parties looking to sell you nonsense. You can find dozens (if not hundreds) of bogus betting systems that cost you a fortune while adding nothing to your bottom line. We're not talking about a $20, $30, or even a $50 book that teaches advantage techniques.
We're talking about gambling systems that encourage you to increase the size of your bets based on what happened during previous hands. There's a difference between the Martingale system and counting cards. The Martingale just bases your bet sizes based on what will show a tiny profit. Card counting bases your bet size on how favorable the deck is.
Most systems for blackjack on the Internet are just variations of the Martingale technique. Don't spend your money on them. In fact, before you read a book about blackjack, check the reviews first. You can read detailed reviews of blackjack books on this site, but you can look at the customer reviews on Amazon, too.
Take John Patrick for example, an infamous gambling writer. He's infamous because his material is so bad. We've spent many an entertaining evening laughing with our buddies about the awful advice in his book John Patrick's Slots.
Patrick has a book about blackjack, too. It's titled John Patrick's Advanced Blackjack.
John Patrick's Advanced Blackjack
This book has an average star rating of 2.8 out of a possible 5. 26 people have reviewed the book. 46% of them gave the book 1 star. 38% gave it 5 stars.
Sounds like people either love it or hate it, huh? But if you take a look at some of the 5 star reviews and compare them with the 1 star reviews, it becomes clear quickly that not all of these 5 star reviews are legit.
Here's an excerpt from the most helpful customer review.
General principles of probability are thrown out the window. I'm 90% sure that Patrick is employed by casino companies.
He does show his readers a standard basic strategy chart, but then decides that part of it is wrong, and even explains that his reasoning is NOT backed up by computer analysis, but his own observation.
That's clear and sensible judgment on display.
And here's an excerpt from one of the 5 star reviews.
For all the people that gave this book a negative review, they definitely did not get his style of writing... He is the only author to say you don't always have to split Aces and Eights. I have read the other reviewers talking about computers and statistics.
Here's a quick hint. Any author who advises you to deviate from basic strategy needs to have a good mathematical reason for it.
Just skip the nonsense about regression and betting systems and stick with mathematically sound blackjack principles. You'll lose less money in the long run, and you'll go home a winner more often.
Manage Your Bankroll
Managing your bankroll isn't just for blackjack players. All gamblers should manage their bankroll. The first step is setting aside a bankroll in the first place.
A lot of gamblers go on vacation to someplace like Las Vegas without giving a lot of thought to how they're going to spend their money. This is a big mistake. You need to decide before you go how much of your money is budgeted for gambling.
If you don't do this, it could be big trouble.
We read a blog post not long ago about a guy who went broke chasing his losses in the casinos. He had trouble finding the money to get back to the airport. He certainly wasn't enjoying the last few hours of his stay, we promise.
You should not only decide on your bankroll size, you should split it into daily bankrolls. For example, if you're willing to lose $1,000 on your next four day trip to Vegas, plan on gambling $250 per day. Once you've lost $250 in a day, you have to stop gambling and find something else to do.
It goes without saying that any money in your gambling bankroll should be money you don't need for necessities like rent, car payments, utilities, or groceries.
Bankroll management becomes even more important for the professional gambler. When you're gambling professionally, you have to stay in action in order to earn a living. If you're playing above your bankroll, you risk going broke even though you might have an edge against the casino.
If you're a professional card counter, you should limit your bets to 1% or 2% of your total bankroll. Standard deviation (or bad luck) comes in streaks, and it can wipe you out faster than you'd ever expect. Managing your bankroll is the first step in becoming a professional.
Successful bankroll management relies on having the discipline to stick to the budgets you set. Our article on self-control in the casino includes some advice for maintaining that discipline.
Your goals don't have to be elaborate or even far-reaching. Your goal might be to just have a lot of fun this weekend in Vegas. Go for it.
On the other hand, you might set a goal of earning a free meal during your blackjack session while keeping your losses to less than $10 for the session. That's a specific, measurable, attainable goal.
You might even set longer term goals. If you're a card counter, your goal might be to get in 40 hours of play per week and earn $20 per hour while doing it. If you can estimate your edge against the casino, you can break that goal down into how much you need to bet on each hand and how big a bankroll you need to sustain that kind of action.
But having no goals at all is a mistake, even for recreational gamblers.
You can and should take advantage of the free cocktails that are available to gamblers in the casino. But don't overdo it. Some people can manage their drinking. Some can't.
We're in the latter camp. We can't control our drinking even when we're not gambling, so we stick with Coca-Cola when we're playing. But even if you can control your drinking, you should make sure you don't have so much to drink that you make mistakes while playing.
This is doubly true for wannabe card counters. Some beginning card counters think they need to establish a persona. They overplay their roles and lose money.
If you're a card counter, stay stone cold sober the entire time you're playing. You can do other things to stay under the radar, like limiting how long you play to just 45 minutes or 60 minutes per session. You can also avoid playing during the same shift over and over again.
Playing blackjack drunk leads to bad decisions—not just bad tactical decisions, but decisions about how much you're willing to bet on each hand, or how much you're willing to lose during your trip.
Tip Your Dealer
Tipping the dealer is just polite. She doesn't make a lot of money hourly without tips. It's not worth it to alienate her by never tipping.
On the other hand, if you're an aspiring pro, don't tip so much that you eliminate your edge. You want to tip enough that the dealer likes you, though. Many times she'll have some latitude in terms of how often she shuffles up on you. Since it's to your benefit for her to shuffle up on you less often, it's a good idea to get her on your side.
Some blackjack players are going to ignore this tip. That's okay.
But we've never regretted being generous.
Don't Give "Bad" Players a Hard Time
Some players make bad decisions. That's frustrating for some people. But it doesn't affect your outcome, so there's no real point in berating the player who made that bad decision.
We make it a point to never give unsolicited advice. Unsolicited advice is just another phrase that describes criticism. Unsolicited advice is as unwelcomed at the blackjack table as it is anywhere else.
We gave some advice earlier that if you're an aspiring card counter, you don't want to bring unwanted attention to yourself. Giving other players advice is a good way to draw attention to yourself.
You should also ignore unsolicited advice from other players when they offer it.
Never Take Insurance (Unless Counting Cards)
Insurance is really just a side bet that the dealer has a blackjack. It's a sucker bet, and the casino has a great sales pitch. Ignore their pitch. Insurance is a negative expectation bet.
The only exception is for card counters. When the deck reaches a certain count, taking insurance becomes profitable. Different card counting systems have different indexes to determine when it's time to start taking insurance when it's available.
Try the Online Games
If you're a beginner, try playing online. It's a lot of fun, and you can even play for real money. Some people get nervous playing blackjack the first time in a Vegas casino. Playing online gives you experience that you can translate into the real world.
Online versions of blackjack feature the same rules and situations that you'll find in a traditional casino. The math works out the same, too. If you like blackjack, try it on the Internet.
You can't count cards on the Internet, not even at casinos with a live dealer. That's because they shuffle the cards every hand. It's like pushing a reset switch. Any information you gained from the action on the previous hand about the composition of the deck disappears almost instantaneously.
Always Use Basic Strategy
This is a tip that applies to even the newest beginners. You should always use basic strategy. Never make a bad decision.
You don't have to memorize basic strategy, even though you can if you want to. You can buy a basic strategy card in the casino gift shop. You can buy strategy cards for different games and rules variations online at Amazon or on Ken Smith's site.
Dealers don't mind if you use the card while playing as long as you don't hold up the game. The casino figures that even if you're using basic strategy, they still have an edge.
They feel differently about counting cards, though.
Consider Learning to Count Cards
Card counting isn't for everyone. It takes practice. Getting good at it takes time and practice, too. But it's not as hard as you might think. A lot of people have seen Rain Man and think that you have to memorize all the cards that have been played, just like Dustin Hoffman's character did.
Or they've seen the movie 21 and think you have to be at least an MIT student in order to handle the math.
The truth of the matter is that anyone who can add and subtract 1 or 2 from a running total can count cards.
Our blackjack guide includes a range of information and advice relating to card counting. You'll find this all very useful if you want to try counting cards.
Counting cards isn't about memorizing exactly which cards have been played. It's about keeping a general track of how many low cards versus high cards have been dealt.
That way, when the deck is rich in high cards, and you have a greater than average chance of being dealt a "natural" or a "blackjack", you can raise your bets—getting more money into action when you have an edge.
The trick is getting away with it. Casinos hate card counters. Counting isn't illegal, but casinos (for the most part) have the right to refuse to let you play blackjack.
If they get really mad at you for counting, they might even ban you from their property altogether. Casino heat isn't as serious as some counters make it out to be, but it does happen. Learning how to avoid it is one item on your to-do list as an aspiring card counter.
If you get good at it, you can have a lot more fun on vacation in Vegas. After all, isn't it more fun when you're good at something? And isn't gambling more fun when you're winning?
We recommend counting cards for one simple reason:
You'll have more fun.
You can find all the blackjack tips and advice you want on the Internet and then some. Not all of it is good advice. Not all of these tips will help you win.
We've tried to provide you with accurate and useful advice on this page. You'll find plenty of links to other pages on the site which go into exhaustive detail on these subjects. Take your time exploring and learning.
Blackjack is fun even if you're losing.
But it's more fun when you're winning.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: November 2015
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