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Blackjack Guide - Some strategy and smarts from BettorsLuck.com

The object of blackjack is to get the total value of your cards as close to 21 as possible without going over. If you manage a total higher than the dealers, you win. Numbered cards are worth their face value. Face cards (Kings, Queens and Jacks) are each worth 10. Aces are worth either 1 or 11, whichever is better for your hand at the time.

If the total value of your cards goes over 21, you've "busted", which means you lose automatically. If your hand is not a busting hand, but the dealer's hand busts and you win, regardless of how low your total is. If neither your nor the dealer's total exceeds 21, then the higher total wins. In the event of a tie, no one wins and no one loses. A tie is called a "push".

You start the game by placing a bet in the square (or circle, or other shape) that lies in front of your seat. The dealer will deal two cards to you and each other player at the table, and one to themselves. More often than not these cards are dealt face-up. The dealer proceeds to give himself a second card face down. This is called the hole card.

Now you have to make your second decision (the first was the amount of your wager): do you take another card (hit) or hold onto the cards you've already got (stand)? If you hit, the dealer gives you another card and asks again if you want to hit or stand. You keep hitting until you are satisfied with your total or you bust. The dealer must keep taking cards until he has 17 or more. This rule varies per table, but this is one that's usually printed on the felt. It is possible to come across tables where the dealer can stand on soft 17s; this is unfavorable for the player.

So when should you hit and when should you stand? Since blackjack is a semi-predictable game (wholly predictable given enough variables), laws of averages on what is most likely to happen next in any given situation are easy enough to calculate. But who would bother to sit there and calculate all of those odds out? Nobody in their right minds, but of course, that doesn't stop programmers! Through a series of computer tests a good number of years ago, the 'right' decision in every blackjack situation was determined by comparing possible outcomes against all other decisions. So by 'right decision' then, we mean the decision that will statistically give you a better chance of making more money. The summation of what the computer trial delivered is what is known today as 'basic strategy'. The content of any blackjack course or book revolves around this basic strategy, because really, you can't argue with the best statistical decision in any situation. Learning basic strategy isn't hard, but it can come down to memorization, and so some courses exist to teach you (with flash cards and other methods) how to quickly react with the proper decision. Although you are allowed to have a basic strategy chart in the casino with you, they are not often a quick lookup, and you cannot take too long before other players start to get annoyed at your speed. Online of course is a different story because there is no dealer, no other players, no casino who cares about a seat being taken up by a slow player. Learning to play blackjack at an online casino can be as safe as learning with your buddies, you can keep BettorsLuck.com open to our blackjack strategy charts and check every hand you get to always make the best decision.

Ensure you're familiar with the lingo and jargon before sitting down in a casino. Beyond that, understanding the actions associated with each phrase is necessary to take full advantage of basic strategy.

Blackjack or natural Blackjack
If the first two cards dealt to you or the dealer are an Ace and a ten-count card (10, Jack, Queen or King), you have blackjack. This means that you win automatically, unless the dealer also has blackjack, in which case it is a push (tie). Blackjack will (or better!) pay higher than an ordinary win, most often at 3 to 2, meaning you win 3 dollars for every 2 you bet. If you attain 21 with a different combination of cards, or if you split two Aces and receive face cards on them, they may still be referred to as Blackjack, but are not known as a natural Blackjack. Only a natural Blackjack, dealt from your first two cards, is paid more than even money.

Doubling down
After you receive your first two cards, you may have the option to "double down". If you're doubling down it means you expect you will win (you have the chance to see the dealers upcard) and so are putting down the same amount you originally bet, right beside that original bet. Many casinos only allow you to double down when the value of the first 2 cards is 9, 10 or 11. If you double down, the dealer will give you only one more card and then draw the cards needed to complete his own hand. To get a sense of when to double down, look at each of the situations that call for it in basic strategy.

Splitting pairs

When your first two cards have the same value (two kings, two 5s, two 7s), you have the option to "split" the cards into two hands. To split, you have to place another bet equal to your original bet. Then the two cards are split and you play them as separate hands. Some casinos allow you to "resplit" if you get another same-value card. This comes in most handy when you are dealt two aces or two sevens. Two sevens as a 14 is a bad hand to hit or stand on, but two sevens as a first card are decent chances at 17s.

Special rules apply when you choose to split Aces. When you split Aces, you only receive one more card on each hand and if you get 21, it is not considered a natural blackjack, so you are not paid any more than even money.

Insurance

When the dealer's face-up card is an Ace, some casinos will ask if you want "insurance". The cost of insurance is half your original bet. Your insurance bet pays 2 to 1 if the dealer gets blackjack, which will equal the amount you lose on the original bet. It's kind of like hedging your original bet. For example, say your original wager was $10. The dealer has an Ace showing and you decide to place an insurance bet for $5. If the dealer gets blackjack, you lose your original $10 but you win $10 on the insurance bet so you are even. If the dealer does not have blackjack you lose your $5 insurance bet and play the hand by normal rules.

Number of decks
Casinos deal blackjack from a single deck or from multiple decks. It's traditional for the dealer to "burn" or discard the top card after shuffling.

Here are the effects on the house edge of rule variations:
Rule Effect on Player Expectation
Two decks -0.32%
Four decks -0.48%
Six decks -0.54%
Eight decks -0.58%
Dealer hits soft 17 -0.20%
Double down only on 11 (no soft, no 10, no 9, no 8) -0.78%
Double down only on 10 or 11 (no soft, no 9, no 8) -0.26%
Double down only on 9, 10, 11 (no soft, no 8) -0.14%
No re-splitting of any pairs -0.03%
Dealer wins ties -9.00%
Natural pays 1 to 1 -2.32%
Natural pays 2 to 1 +2.32%
Double down on any number of cards +0.24%
Double down after splitting pairs +0.14%
Late surrender +0.06%
Early surrender +0.62%
Six-card winner +0.15%
Players 21 pushes dealer's 10-up Blackjack +0.16%
Re-splitting of aces +0.06%
Draw to split aces +0.14%

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