The right tactics in blackjack can move the needle closer to neutral than is possible in other casino games. To put it another way, logic and math could reduce the house edge from around 4% to around 0.5%. This is possible because you have more control over the action than roulette, baccarat, and other casino games.
Of course, tipping the balance is neither easy nor guaranteed to work every time. However, with a few tips from the pros, you could improve your chances of winning at the blackjack tables. With that being said, here are some strategies you can try the next time you play.
The Dealer's Face Card Counts
The fundamental concept you need to grasp if you want to use any type of professional blackjack strategy is assessing the dealer's up card. Practically every decision you make should be based on the strength of the dealer's hand. For example, if the dealer is showing a four, they're weak. If they're showing a 10, they're strong.
Why? Well, for starters, the dealer has to draw to a total of at least 17. Secondly, there are more cards with a value of ten in the deck than any other. So, if the dealer is showing a four, they have to draw a third card because they can't make a total greater than 15 (aces are worth one or 11). If that's the case and we know there are more tens in the deck than any other value card, drawing is a risk.
Based on this, the optimum move when the dealer is showing a four is to stand on any total of 12 or more. Basically, you're putting the pressure of taking another card and going bust on the dealer instead of putting yourself at risk. That's the smart move, particularly when you have tricky totals such as 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16.
Double Down on Hard 11
This is something of a controversial move because certain players aren't in favour of doubling down on 11 when the dealer is showing a 10, J, Q, or K. However, Henry Tamburin Ph. D has run the numbers and believes it's always best to double down on hard 11, regardless of what the dealer has. He believes this move has a greater long-term expected value (EV) than hitting alone under the right conditions.
In other words, you'll win more, overall, in the long run by doubling down because the extra returns will cancel out the times this move fails. The only exception to this rule is when you're playing a multi-deck and the rules state that the dealer must stand on soft 17.
Ignore Insurance Bets
It might be tempting to insure yourself when the dealer is showing an ace but it's a losing move. The payout on an insurance bet is 2:1 if the dealer hits blackjack. That sounds like a good deal; however, the math says otherwise. When you calculate the long-term EV of insurance bets, you actually lose money over time.
Excluding payouts for hitting blackjack, the returns in this game are 1:1, aka even money. Therefore, if the dealer is showing an ace and you don't take insurance, you're aiming to win 1:1 on your bet. If you take insurance and lose, you've doubled your loss. If you take insurance and win, you've doubled your bet and received a 2:1 payout, but only on the insurance portion of your total stake.
When you run the numbers and factor in that the dealer's second card will be a 10, J, Q, or K 31% of the time, the EV of an insurance bet in blackjack is -0.077%. In other words, you'll lose $0.077 per $1 wagered. This small loss can add up over time, which means you're actually eating into your potential profits by making an insurance bet.
Card Counting and Wonging
Perhaps the most popular and sophisticated blackjack strategy used by pros is card counting. This is where you assign values of -1, 0, and +1 to certain cards as they're dealt. Doing this gives you something known as a running count. You can divide that number by the number of decks left in the show to generate a true count. That figure tells you whether there are a lot of tens left in the deck or a few.
Building on this, infamous blackjack pro-Standford Wong developed a technique known as wonging. This requires you to watch a game and establish a true count away from the table. Then, when the decks are in your favour (i.e. stacked up with tens), you sit down and play. This isn't an easy technique to pull off, but it can be effective when used correctly.
Bank Some Blackjack Bonuses
The final way to improve your potential at the blackjack table is bonuses. Our top-rated casinos offer all kinds of promotions, many of which will give you free bets. These free bets can translate into free prize money, which is the only sure-fire way to improve your EV in blackjack. Therefore, even if you don't use any of the tips we've outlined, make sure you use casino bonuses to bolster your blackjack bankroll.