One of the things that most people know about blackjack is that it’s a game that involves a lot of strategy. If you play better than someone else, then you will have better results than them over the long run. This is a big part of why it’s one of the most popular casino table games of all time, which is easy to see from all of the strategy talk that happens at the live tables either online or in brick and mortar settings.
With that having been said, there’s a whole lot to learn, and it’s not exactly obvious where you should start. To help give a straightforward path from newbie to blackjack expert, we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know how to win at online blackjack.
A Three Step Approach to Blackjack Mastery
We’re going to give you three general steps on how you can go from start to finish on learning how to win at blackjack, no matter what type of game you’re playing and no matter if you’re playing on the Internet or in a land-based casino:
- First, start off by learning what you’re trying to accomplish at the tables in the general sense of how to win and the essentials of strategy.
- Second, building on those essentials, learn how to study chart-based strategies that we’ll describe that will perform extremely well in very specific games.
- Third, learn the finer details of a variety of special case rules and game types in blackjack so that you can learn how to adapt in the general sense instead of relying on memorizing your plays.
If you go through this process, you’ll learn how to play close to perfectly at any given blackjack table that you’re interested in, but you’ll also learn how to be good at blackjack in the general sense so that you can sit down at any variation of the game and perform well.
The Essentials of Blackjack Strategy
The number one mistake that we see people making when it comes to trying to learn blackjack is that, somewhere along the line, they’ve come to the conclusion that the object of the game is to try to get closer to 21 than the dealer. That is a major misconception, and it leads to bad strategies in a lot of key scenarios.
The truth of the matter is that, while you can win by having a higher total than the dealer without going over 21, it’s not the only way you can win. The basis of solid blackjack strategy is knowing how to decide to win in this way and how to decide when to try to win by making the dealer go bust, which is the other way to win a hand.
This means there are two key types of situations in blackjack: situations where we’re primarily trying to make a good hand, and situations where we’re primarily trying to intice the dealer to go bust. We identify these two situations with what we call strong and weak dealer hands.
Strong vs. Weak Dealer Cards
We can tell by the dealer’s up card whether or not he’s likely to go bust or not. If the dealer is showing a card that’s a two, three, four, five or six, then that is considered a weak card for the dealer, and that means the dealer is particularly likely to go bust. As a result, when facing weak dealer cards, our strategies will primarily be about letting the dealer have a chance to bust out, which will mean we win the hand.
Alternatively, the dealer can have a seven, eight, nine, ten, jack, queen, king or ace, and these are the strong dealer cards. With any of these eight card ranks, the dealer is fairly unlikely to bust, and that means we’ll have to try harder to get a strong total if we want good chances of winning the hand.
The very first thing that you should do in every single hand of blackjack, whether it’s brick and mortar or an online casino, is to identify if the dealer has a strong or weak card. If you get in the habit of doing that even before you look at your own total, then you’ll be establishing a habit that will serve you extremely well when it comes to becoming an expert at this game.
Strategic Use of Weak and Strong Dealer Cards
Generally speaking, if we’re facing a weak dealer card, our primary concern will be making sure that we don’t hit in a situation where we could bust. Along these lines, if we’re facing a strong dealer card, we’ll typically be hitting until we have a total of 17 or higher. With those basic guidelines in mind (which actually make up a pretty solid strategy on their own), we can get a little more nuanced in our strategic usage of identifying these types of cards.
However, if you were wanting to explain to someone the absolute basic level of strategy for this game and give them objectives to try to meet, then playing how we have just described would not be a bad way of doing it at all.
General Strategy for Special Options: Double, Split and Surrender
Everything that we have described so far with the identification of strong and weak dealer cards is the basis of knowing how to deal with the special options, which are all of your options in the game that are not hitting or standing. We’re going to take a quick look at what you should be trying to accomplish with the three most popular of these special options and what the relevant strategies are in the special situations where they are relevant choices.
When to Split in Blackjack
The basic idea behind splitting, from a strategic perspective, is that you’re either trying to double the size of your total bet when you’re in a particularly good situation, or you’re trying to get out of a particularly bad situation.
If you have eights, then you should always split. This is because a hard 16 is the worst starting total that a player can have, and it helps you to get out of that situation. Alternatively, if you have aces, then you should always split (even though you don’t get the option to hit afterwards). This is because it gives you two chances to hit a blackjack, and even if you hit a six or higher with those aces (which is most cards in the deck), you’ll have good totals to face off with against the dealer.
There are also cards you should never split with. You should never split with fives, tens, jacks, queens or kings because those give you very strong starting totals that you don’t want to break up. You should also never split with fours, as a general strategy with some exceptions for specific games.
All of the above isn’t too hard to remember, but it’s the remaining cards that you have to pay attention to when it comes to splitting. That list includes twos, threes, sixes, sevens and nines.
If you have the option to split with one of these five cards, then you should split when you’re facing a weak dealer card and play it as a regular hand if you face a strong dealer card. The basic idea is that these are all relatively marginal hands, and whether the dealer has a large or small chance of busting out is the deciding factor.
When to Surrender in Blackjack
Surrendering is a bit of a trap bet in blackjack because people almost always use the option more than they should. The idea of getting back half of your bet instead of risking losing all of it can be tempting, but it’s often not worth it. In fact, as a general rule, you should only surrender when you have a hard total of 15 or 16, and you’re facing a dealer that shows a ten-value card or ace.
The ten-value cards and aces are the strongest cards that the dealer can have. Likewise, a hard 15 or 16 is the weakest totals that you can have as a player. When you combine these two factors, you have the perfect scenario for a correct surrender.
When to Double in Blackjack
You can’t learn how to win in blackjack without knowing when to double and without missing opportunities to double profitably. You can pass on surrendering completely (or play games that don’t offer it as an option), and you can make some marginal errors with splitting, but doubling correctly is an essential skill that you cannot go without.
The following guidelines are a good starting point for pretty much any blackjack game that allows you to double. However, you’ll need to fine-tune it if you want to play perfectly, and that tuning will be based on the specific set of rules used in the given game you choose to play. Moreover, it can vary from table to table based on even small rule changes.
The first guideline is about playing when you have a total of 10 or 11. You should generally always double as long as the dealer’s card is worth less than your total, and we’re counting a dealer ace as an 11 for the sake of this general rule. This means you should double with 10 if you’re against a dealer with nine or lower, and you should double with 11 if you’re against a dealer up-card of ten or lower.
The second guideline is about if you have a total of 9. This is one of those marginal situations again that come down to whether the dealer has a weak or strong card showing. Against the weak dealer cards (ie: the dealer is more likely to go bust), you should double. Likewise, you should hit against the strong dealer cards to try to get a better total.
The third and final guideline is about a fairly unique situation that can happen sometimes with a soft hand. If you have a soft hand that has a total of 16, 17 or 18, then double if you’re against a weak dealer card. The idea here is that you can win in two ways: You can win by the dealer going bust, which is likely enough, but you can also win by getting a low card that gives you a particularly strong total even if the dealer doesn’t bust out.
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Moving Beyond the Basics: An Advanced Approach to Blackjack Strategy
Everything that we’ve talked about so far is great for players who want to learn a solid strategy that will do reasonably well in pretty much any online or land-based blackjack game out there. You need those ideas as a foundation, but when you’re ready to move into something more advanced, your entire approach has to be a bit different.
This approach is based on something that’s called “basic strategy” in the blackjack world but that is actually anything but basic. The term “basic strategy” is a technical term from mathematics, and it actually means a given strategy table that lists out how to perfectly play every single possible situation that can come up based on the cards in front of you and the card that the dealer is showing.
The Reality of “Basic Strategy” Charts
A simple Google search will land you tons of different strategy charts that claim to show you how to play blackjack perfectly. This is especially popular for players who want to know how to win online blackjack games since it’s easier for them to refer to the chart than if they’re sitting at a live table. However, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that most of these charts have differences, and that might make you wonder how there are multiple perfect ways to play the game.
The answer is that they are perfect ways to play different versions of blackjack.
If you look online in particular, there is no shortage of different styles and approaches to the game. The number of rule sets is numerous, and you can usually find at least a handful of different sets of rules at online blackjack tables even within the same casino. This means that you can really only target becoming a specialist and learning how to play perfectly at one specific type of game at a time.
How to Learn “Basic Strategy” for a Single Game
When you get ready to learn how to play perfectly at a given game, you’ll need to start off with the basic outlines of how strategy works for all blackjack games that we have described in the above. Knowing how to win at blackjack online is all about picking a single game and applying the following study strategy, but it’s all still based on small variations to the fundamentals.
First of all, what you’ll want to do is look at a computer-generated “basic strategy” chart for the specific game that you’ll be playing. Ideally, you want to be able to make your own decisions instead of referring to the chart during your play, so the goal is to learn what is different between the fundamentals of strategy that we described above and the perfect strategy for the game you’re targeting.
To learn these differences, you’ll want to target a few key situations. Doing them in the following order will work out best for most players with most games:
- Learn when it is correct to split in all situations with all card combinations against all dealer up-cards. There will not be a lot of variation here with the general strategy we presented in most games.
- If the game you’re playing allows you to surrender, learn the few times it’s correct to surrender. This will only include somewhere between one and four specific combinations of your total and the dealer’s card, so they’re easy to learn.
- For games where you’re allowed to double with any total, learn when it’s correct to double with soft hands. This will almost always only be against weak dealer cards, but the particulars can vary a bit.
- Finally, look at how you’re supposed to place against a dealer ace with a variety of different hands. This is something that people can make big mistakes with because it’s something that’s easy to overlook.
With that having been said, just sitting down and memorizing a chart for one specific table won’t really teach you much about how to win at blackjack in the general sense, and our goal is to lead you down a path that will make you a better player overall. For this reason, we’re going to jump into some other topics that are of a bit more practical nature than memorizing a chart and playing like a robot in a way that only works in a very narrow set of situations.
Becoming Seasoned and Confident at All Types of Blackjack
Anyone can pick up a chart of computer calculations and follow it when they’re sitting at an online table, but if you want to learn how to win at blackjack as a genre, then you have to move beyond the idea of knowledge in its simplest form and move on towards the idea of wisdom.
In this case, wisdom comes in the form of being able to adapt on the fly to different rules, settings and conditions to do well no matter how things change on you. This is something that cannot be learned by memorizing charts, and instead, it has to be learned by building an intuitive understanding of the types of circumstances that you can find yourself in. Click here to learn about the different types of online and offline blackjack
Learning How Different Rules Change Strategy
There are tons of different variations of rule sets that you can have in a game, especially in the online world. Learning how to win at online blackjack is about knowing the available rules and knowing how to adapt to them on the fly.
A great example of this is the “no peek” rule that’s found in European Blackjack and a number of other games. In this title, the dealer does not peek for blackjack when he has a ten-value card or an ace. That means that you could be facing a dealer with a blackjack when you’re up against a ten and especially when you’re up against an ace.
So how do you compensate for this kind of thing? You play much more conservatively when facing tens, and you play super conservatively when you’re facing an ace. This means no doubling and no splitting because that would increase your wager size in a situation where you’re already a massive underdog.
When You Can and Cannot Count Cards
Card counting is one strategy that’s available to advanced blackjack players, but it only works in certain situations. The basic idea is that you keep up with how many high cards and low cards have been dealt, and that information can tell you if you have an edge over the dealer. When you have an edge, you bet more money, and when the house has an edge, you bet less.
In most online games, counting cards is not a viable strategy. This is because the cards in the virtual deck or shoe are shuffled over and over again. In a live setting, cards are dealt from a shoe because it would take too long to shuffle them after each hand, and that’s the kind of environment you can adapt to by counting cards. If you want to understand more about the number of decks used in blackjack check out our guide.
Putting It All Together
Learning how to win in blackjack online can be a daunting task. However, if you follow the path that we have laid out for you here, you’ll learn the strategic side much more quickly than you would otherwise. This means that you’ll have better chances of getting on the winning path sooner rather than later.
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