Tips & Advice for Playing 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.

Top Tip

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.

Example

In most blackjack games, the dealer has one card face-up and
one card face-down. So when you’re deciding how to play your
hand, you don’t know whether the dealer’s hole card is a 5 or 10
or what.

In Double Exposure, both of the dealer’s cards are dealt face
up. This gives you more information so you can play your hand
more intelligently.

But the casino changed a lot of rules to compensate for this.
One of the most important is that instead of a tie being a
“push” – a situation where you get your original bet back – a tie is
now a loss for the player and a win for the dealer.

Worse yet, a natural (“blackjack”) only pays out at even
money.

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.

Why not?

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.

Consider this:

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.

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.

Top Tip

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.

Set Goals

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.

Play Sober

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.

Card counters are the ONLY people who should take insurance.

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.

Top Tip

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.

Top Tip

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.

Summary

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.