Blackjack is the most popular casino game in the world. The card game, sometimes referred to as ‘21’, accounts for an average of 31 percent of all casino table traffic – this is consistent both online and in physical casinos. For reference, the second most popular is roulette (24%) followed by poker (21%).
It’s easy to understand blackjack’s popularity. It’s a simple game to grasp and offers players a mix of luck and skill: luck in the cards that are drawn, skill over how those cards are dealt and a player’s eventual hand. Compare that to roulette, which is based entirely on luck, and poker, which has a huge skill element to it.
However, while the beauty of blackjack is in its simplicity, there are also a number of complexities to the game, and as is the case with almost anything in life, you learn more from mistakes than successes.
With that in mind, here are three key mistakes to avoid when playing blackjack that can significantly increase your chances of winning, while limiting your losses.
Choosing the Wrong Table
Before a single card is drawn, being at the wrong table – whether live or online – is the first mistake to avoid.
First of all, each blackjack table will have different minimum bet requirements so avoid choosing one that is out of your budget. For instance, if you choose a table with a $100 minimum bet and your budget is $200, you might only play two hands.
Secondly, check the payout odds on the blackjack table. These are typically 6:5 and 3:2 and will affect how much gets paid out when you hit blackjack and land other bonus wins. Where possible, choose a 3:2 table as it pays out higher.
Thirdly, choose between a virtual and a live table. This is not so much a mistake to avoid but more comes down to personal preference. Virtual tables allow players to play against an automated computer, so you can play at your own pace, while live tables are usually quicker paced as human dealers are keen to move the game along.
When to Hit and Stand
As a general rule, most blackjack players know to hit when the hand is 12 and to stand when the hand equals 17. However, there are plenty of variables to consider that could influence when to hit and stand. Getting these right can really boost your chances of beating the house, while getting it wrong could prove costly.
One key move to implement is to always hit on a soft 17 – when the two cards are an ace and a six. This means that if you draw a 10 or picture card (jack, queen, king), then you convert your hand into a hard 17. It also gives greater flexibility if you draw a smaller value card as the ace can be used as a one.
While many players adopt a strict ‘never bust’ policy, meaning they always stand when their hand equals 12 or more, this can be ill-advised as it depends almost entirely on the dealer going bust.
Instead, analyze the value of your two cards compared to the dealer’s first card and weigh up the risk factor in drawing another card before the dealer draws their second. As a strict rule, if your first two cards equal 17 or more, then stand – anything else can be hit depending on the situation.
When to Split and Double
If you are playing in a blackjack tournament, either online or live, learning when to split and double can make all the difference to your chances of success. The same also applies to individual games of blackjack.
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Splitting is when you split two cards when dealt the same value cards, so a pair of eights for example. Doubling is when you are given the option to double your bet after being dealt your initial two cards.
While it can be tempting to split and double at every opportunity to increase your winning, doing at the right time is the key.
It is not recommended to split when:
- You are dealt two picture cards or two 10s
- You are dealt two 9s
- You are dealt two 5s
- The dealer holds a 10 or picture card
It is best to split when:
- You are dealt two 8s
- You are dealt two aces
- The dealer holds a 5 or 6 (as this is the highest probability of a bust)
Similar to knowing when to hit and stand, take a brief moment to assess the dealer’s drawn card compared to your own two cards and determine whether the probabilities are in your favour.
Likewise, knowing when to double down – when not to double down – can change the complexities of your blackjack game. A simple rule to know when to double is if your two cards equal 10 and the dealer’s card is between 2-9. Additionally, if you hold an ace, you can consider a double as these have the flexibility of playing as 11 or 1. But if the dealer’s card is an ace, ignore the double.
Blackjack may be a simple game but there are some important strategies to keep in mind next time you head to the virtual or live table. The game itself is still rooted in luck so there are never any guarantees to long-term success. However, by keeping these three important rules in mind, you can at least avoid making avoidable mistakes.