Online blackjack isn’t all that much different from the game as it’s played in land-based casinos. The biggest difference between playing 21 online and playing in a live game is that card counting is not an applicable strategy (thanks to the random number generators that run the game and the fact that Web-based games shuffle after each round) and that you can sit in your living room and play 21. Besides those two big differences, online blackjack is basically identical to the standard game.
One nice feature for online players: you can normally pick from a wider variety of games with different rules – most Vegas casinos have just a couple of tables operating at any given time. The world’s biggest Internet casinos offer multiple variations, allowing their Internet customers to choose the precise set of rules they want to play by.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
You may have heard that blackjack is one of the best games in the casino, based on the house’s edge or advantage against the player. It’s true – if you follow a set of rules for how to play any given hand, you can shrink the casino’s advantage to less than a percent. In the 1960s, gamblers and mathematicians developed an optimal strategy for every hand in the game – this is the same information available in casino lobbies on souvenir strategy cards.
The rules of 21 are the reason why this set of instructions will increase your advantage – the player has a limited number of possible hands and the dealer has a limited number of hole cards. Throw in the fact that the dealer has to obey a strict set of rules regarding his ability to hit on certain totals, and it’s easy to see how gamblers developed an ideal set of plays based on what you hold in your hand.
Memorizing Strategy Charts
A wide variety of charts explaining the optimal play behind every hand exists – these charts are available for free online and in countless gambling advice books. Tips for games based on different rules are even available, and memorizing all these charts would be one easy way to become a better blackjack player.
If memory isn’t your strong suit, try repeatedly exposing yourself to the charts themselves, spending a few minutes each day looking at them, then testing your memory against the information you’ve researched. Memorizing standard tactics as developed by game experts will give you a leg up against the casino.
But of course, not everyone can remember the ins and outs of optimized play by rote. An easier way to remember the ideal play at any game is to learn the ideal play for any potential hand you could be dealt against different possible dealer up cards. By studying dealer up card tactics, you’ll learn the meaning behind standard online 21 strategies and be able to apply that knowledge to all your future gambling.
Why Dealer Card Tactics Work
Let’s look at a specific game situation for an example of why learning traditional Internet advice will improve your chances against the dealer. Let’s say you want to learn how to bet against a dealer showing a ten-value card. The idea is to learn how your next move against the dealer’s ten will affect your chances of winning. There are a large number of ten-value cards in the deck (16 out of each standard 52-card deck) so simply committing the right plays against ten will give you the edge you’re looking for. Eventually, you will be able to learn how to play against other totals – but since you’re likely to bet against a ten more often than any other number, starting with this method makes sense.
Ideal Play against a Dealer 10
Out of twenty-five possible hands you could be dealt against a dealer 10 (including all pairs, totals of 8 or less, and hands containing aces), there are only seven possible plays if you stick to ideal gambling techniques. If the dealer is showing ten, you should take a hit if your hand is anything but eleven, seventeen or higher, or a pair of aces, eights, tens or nines. Here are the proper plays in those situations, according to traditional methods of advantage gambling.
If you hold eleven against a dealer ten, your optimal play is to double down. For totals of seventeen or higher, stand, especially if the dealer must stand at seventeen. Split pairs of aces and eights, and stand on pairs of tens or nines.
When you break down ideal gambling tips into small units like this, it is both easier to memorize and easier to apply to your online game. There’s nothing wrong with learning this simple means of improving your blackjack game one hand situation at a time.
Playing with Hard Hands
In gambling terminology, a hard hand is any set of cards in blackjack that either don’t contain an ace or do contain an ace that can only count for one point in order to avoid a player.
The toughest such hands are known as stiff – these hard hands are worth between 12 and 16 and have the highest odds of this type of hand to go bust. Because of the significant chance of busting if you take a hit, optimum play is usually to surrender half your bet if surrender laws are in place.
But beneath the stiff hard hands (hard totals of between 9 and 11) are potentially lucrative totals that advantage gamblers see as big opportunities for doubling. Any hard total of 9, 10, or 11 should trigger you to double down – best case, you draw a ten-value card and end up with a total of between 19 and 21; worst case, you draw another small-number card and end up in stiff territory.
Don’t forget to consider the value of the dealer’s face-up card if you have a hard hand. For example, if you have a total of 8 or less, take a hit no matter what your dealer is showing. If you end up with a hard 9, double down on any dealer total of between three and six, and take a simple hit if the dealer is showing any other number. If you hold a hard ten, you should double down if the dealer is showing between two and nine. If the dealer’s upward is higher than nine, the correct strategy is to take a hit.
What to do with a hard eleven? Double down on dealer totals of between 2 and 10, but remember to just take a hit if the dealer is showing an ace. When your hard totals start to get higher, for instance in situations where your hand is a hard 17 to 21, your only smart option is to stand, especially if the dealer must hold at 17.
It’s important to remember with hard hands that the dealer could draw a ten-value card – statistically, this is will happen about a third of the time assuming you’re playing with a standard 52-card deck. Make sure to include the likelihood of the dealer drawing a card worth ten points into your hard hand strategy.
Playing with Soft Hands
Soft hands are basically the opposite of hard hands – these are pairs of cards that contain an ace that can count as 1 or 11 without busting. These hands are traditionally considered soft because they give the player a much smaller chance of going bust. Drawing a soft hand total with an ace that can be worth either value gives the player more options when it comes to the right move to make against the house.
The easiest way to remember the ideal way to play such hands is to remember two rules about them:
1. Soft hands cannot bust with a single hit. A soft total of 16, for example, containing an ace, a 2, and a 3, can become a hard 16 even if you draw the worst-case card, with the value of the ace dropping to one.
2. The only way that a soft hand worth 17 points or lower wins is if the dealer busts. Think of it this way — you can’t win unless the dealer goes bust and you can’t go bust for taking a hit – why should you stand? You shouldn’t. In fact, there are only three or four specific combinations in which a smart 21 player should stand on soft-style hands. Totals of 19, 20, and 21, with soft cards, are perfect places to stay at your total and win.
The decision you have to make in your online blackjack game holding a soft total of 17 or less is whether to hit or double down – rather than worrying about standing, soft hands worth 17 or fewer points are an opportunity to either take a hit or double. 0
Look at your dealer’s up card – if it is seven or higher, hit all soft totals of 13 through 17.Should you face a dealer total of either 5 or 6, it’s safe to double down on soft two-card totals of 13s through 17.
Now is when optimal play with soft hands becomes more complicated – if the dealer has a three or a four, your best bet is to double totals of fifteen through seventeen. But the toughest play for players who have this type of hand is a total of soft 18. Some players stand, figuring 18 is good enough to beat whatever the dealer comes up with. However, the odds that a dealer’s up card will be 9 or higher (and you’ll lose) are fairly high.
How to Play the Tough Soft 18 Hand
With a total of soft 18, smart gamblers will take a hit if the dealer shows a 9 or 10-value card or an ace. Only make the safe play and stand if the dealer shows a 2, 7, or 8. In case the dealer shows a 4, 5, or 6, double down if your soft total is composed of just two cards; if you’ve built a soft total of 18 with three or more cards, just take a standard hit.
Studying soft hand tactics is a little complicated, which is strange because soft hands are generally better for the player’s advantage against the house. Practicing at free online games can help you learn why and how these soft tactics were written and why they make sense.
When to Split Pairs
Just like in poker, a pair in 21 is any two cards of the same rank. Players are often confused about when they should split their pairs into two hands and when they should play the coupling as a single gamble.
When learning this particular strategy, remember that you should always split aces and eights – on the opposite side, don’t even split pairs of fives and tens. Committing those four simple rules to memory will help you know how to treat common pairs in the game.
One easy trick to master pair splitting stratagem – totals of nine through eighteen are the best possible hands in terms of pairs. In other words, these are high-value sets of cards. When you split nines and higher, remember that about 1/3 of the cards in the shoe have a value of 10, meaning you are really likely to improve your total on both split hands. The only time you don’t split pair totals higher than eight are if the dealer is holding a seven, ten, face card, or ace.
A point total of two sevens (fourteen) gives the gambler a 56% to bust – that’s why you almost always split pairs of seven. The only time you don’t want to split sevens is if the dealer is showing a card worth 8 points or more. When the dealer’s total is eight or higher, his bust-probability is high, so you should avoid splitting your sevens in that particular situation.
A hand consisting of two sixes has a point value of just twelve, which means your bust probability is just around 30%. That means you should only split your sixes if the dealer is showing a four, five, or six. Similarly, a pair of fives should never be split, since the total of ten gives you a good shot at beating the dealer without going bust.
The likelihood of a pair of fours busting is really low – in fact, blackjack players have a 30% chance of improving this hand. If your dealer holds a card worth five or six, you may consider splitting fours, but any totals above that make splitting a bad decision.
At the very bottom of the scale are pairs of threes and twos. These pairs should always be split if the dealer’s up-card is a four, five, six, or seven. Outside of that limited range of options, don’t split; instead, continue hitting according to standard gaming tactics.
Remember that the rules about splitting pairs are often restrictive, and every casino offering blackjack, even online gambling sites, has rules about how and when a customer can split their pairs. Remember to learn and follow the rules of any game you play when it comes to splitting your hand.
When it’s all written out this way, the standard approach to advantage gambling and the game of 21 looks way more complicated than it really is. It’s your choice – memorize card after card, or learn the rules of the game based on the strategic implications of your in-game decisions. Once you start following the guidelines above, you’ll find yourself winning games more often and very nearly turning this classic into a positive expectation contest.