Blackjack is the card game of choice for intellectuals, mathematicians and people who like to have a realistic chance of beating the house. But despite its popularity, the game is not as easy to win as some people believe. It takes skill to improve your chances of winning, and knowledge of basic strategy and advanced card counting can skew the odds in your favor.
To win in blackjack, your hand must be closer to 21 than the dealer’s. If your hand is equal to 21, it’s called a “blackjack” and you win 3:2 as long as the dealer doesn’t also have a blackjack. If your hand is over 21, you bust and lose your bet.
Unlike poker, in which suits play a role, all cards are worth their numerical value in blackjack. The exception is the ace, which can be counted as either 1 or 11 depending on the circumstances. The goal of each player is to beat the dealer by getting a higher, unbusted hand. If you and the dealer have the same point total, it’s a push and neither player nor dealer wins.
The basic rules of blackjack are fairly simple: Hit when the dealer shows a low card; stand with a high card; split if the dealer has a face card or an ace; and double down when your point total is 16 or more. But you must be able to make these decisions quickly, while the dealer is dealing the cards. To do that, you must memorize a small chart showing the correct play for every possible situation in the game. This chart is called basic strategy and it’s available in many books on the subject.
There are other strategies for improving your chances of winning, including doubling down with soft hands and hitting when the dealer has a strong upcard (like a 5 or 6). You should never take insurance, which pays 2 to 1 if the dealer has blackjack, and you should always fold if your hand is weak.
You should also learn to read the table. Some tables are hot and others are cold. If you’re at a cold table, raise your bets slowly to a level where you can still stay in the game but won’t be out of money by the time you reach the end of your session. Also, don’t be afraid to walk away from a bad table. You can always sit down at another one if it looks more promising. If you’re a good observer, you’ll usually be able to pick up on a hot or cold table just by watching the crowd.