I decided to write this Beginner Blackjack Guide, because for years, I have been dealing the game, and there's always someone who doesn't know how to play. You can benefit from my knowledge.
Beginner Blackjack Guide
When I say that this is a Beginner Blackjack Guide, I should also mention that it doesn't follow the "book" nor "Basic Strategy". It is just to get you started so that should you go to a casino, play online, or even with friends you will have a basic understanding of the game. I have played drinking games with friends, and believe it or not Blackjack can be a good one.
The first think you need to understand about the game, is that there is a distinct advantage to the "house" or anyone who is dealing the game. When we say that playing basic strategy gives the house a 4% house advantage, we are saying that the dealer has a 52% chance of winning. The main advantage being that you go first, we go last. So now that you understand that, you also need to know that every time you go against basic strategy, you increase the chance that the dealer will win.
When I say dealer or house, we are talking about the person who is dealing or the casino if they are working for someone else. So if its a drinking game, the person dealing will likely drink less than the other person(s) who are playing - assuming they play basic strategy. There is a way to increase the player advantage in 2 distinct ways, which we will discuss later.
Extremely Basic Strategy
I like to start people out by giving them an extremely basic strategy to follow. It gives the dealer more of a house advantage, but its easier to remember for noobs. The first thing you need to do, is look at what the dealer's up card is. Depending on that number, will determine how to play your hand.
When the dealer is showing less than 6, hit till you get to 12. If you are already at 12 or more, then stay. If you have less than that, hit till you get to at least 12.
When the dealer is showing 7 or higher, hit till you get to a hard 17 or a soft 18 or better. A hard hand is any hand that the lowest number it can be is 17. For example a 10 (face cards equal 10) and 7 - or a 6, Ace, and 10. A soft hand, is any hand, where there is an ace and other cards which can allow the player to have a low and a high hand. So an Ace and 7, would be 8 or 18. Against a 7 or higher, stay on a soft 18, 19, 20, or 21.
Beginner Blackjack Guide to Splitting and Doubling
If the player gets a pair of 8s or a pair of Aces, split these cards into 2 hands. You will put up a second bet equal to your first bet. On 8s, play the hand as normal to 12 against a 6 or less, or to a hard 17/soft 18 or better against a 7. On Aces, you will get one card on each (in most cases).
If you get a 10 or 11, double down. Put up an equal amount to your original bet, and ask for 1 more card.
Finally, Blackjack is when your first 2 cards add up to 21. That's an Ace and any 10. Its an automatic winner, as long as the dealer doesn't also have blackjack. If the dealer has an Ace up, they will ask if you want insurance. Do not take it, do not ask for even money on your blackjack (that's also insurance).
Side Bets, are ALL bad bets. They are a way to offer you a "fun" way to lose more money. They increase the house advantage of games, and are specifically designed to keep more money for the casino. Casino or Table Games managers will often introduce these side bets into casinos which do not already offer them, to increase revenue.
Insurance is considered a side bet, which is why it is offered. Of all the side bets out there today, its the one with the best player advantage as you have around a 1 in 3 chance of winning it. However just like other side bets it only serves to increase casino revenue.
Increasing your bet
One way you can get an advantage, is to increase your bet when you win. But the key is to increase it by one unit after you win 2 hands in a row. Unit refers to the value of chips you are playing. If you are playing with $25 chips, then increase it by $25 after you win 2 hands in a row. Then keep raising it one unit, each time you win. So if you were to win 5 hands in a row, and you started with $25 chips, you would have at the end of 5 hands, $100 bet.
Some players like to increase their bet immediately after a win, but when they win a hand, then lose a hand, they are actually losing money. Also, keeping the bet the same will also lose in the long run. In the example above, if the player bets $25 each time, after 5 winning hands, they will have won $100. but the player who increases after winning 2 hands will be up $175. Meanwhile the player who doubled up will be a hair higher, but if they win and then lose, they will be down $50, where the player who increased 1 unit after winning 2 hands in a row, would actually be even.
Beginner Blackjack Guide to Tipping
Tipping is an important part of the game. In most (but not all) casinos, the casino does not pay their workers a living wage, and the dealers depend on what they make in tips to get by. You should only tip when you win AND if you are having a good time, or if the dealer gives good advice. But at the same time, do not expect good advice if you do not tip. For example, if you aren't sure what to do, most dealers can tell you what the basic strategy is. But if you aren't tipping they may give bad advice.
One way to tell if your dealer is helpful and knows basic strategy, is to ask them what to do when the dealer has a 7 up and you have 16. If the dealer tells you to hit, they know basic strategy. If they suggest that its ok to stay, they either do not know basic strategy or are giving bad advice. It's always up to you, to follow or ignore basic the advice given to you.
You should tip as you play, if you want help. How much you tip depends on you. However a good reference is to bet for the dealer 10% of whatever you are betting for yourself, with a minimum of $1. So if you are playing $10 a hand, bet $1 for the dealer. Some people will bet more, some will bet less. If the dealer isn't giving you helpful advice, or is rude - don't tip them. If you have had a lot of fun, please do tip a little more. But make sure it's at the end of the session with the dealer. Don't wait till you are done playing for the night/day.
Pro Tip: If you tell a dealer you tip at the end, or that you are down and will tip when you win, don't expect good service. These are key phrases that usually (99.99% of the time) translate to mean that you do not actually tip.
Improve your game
A couple ways to improve your game beyond this Beginner Blackjack Guide, is to have a Basic Strategy card on hand. Most casinos sell them in the gift shop and will allow you to have them at the table as you play. Follow them closely, but also remember to increase your bets (as described above) as you win.
Another way, is to learn a card counting technique. However casinos and dealers can be aware of it. I do suggest that if you are going to use one, to make sure you tip. The card counting books will tell you not to do it, but the dealer will be more likely to let you get away with it, if you are tipping. For example I was dealing in New Mexico and a player was using a card counting technique. Since he was tipping, none of the dealers said anything to their bosses. He was tipping each dealer, for each round $10-$20, if he made $100-$200 in that round. Had he not tipped, the dealers would have let their bosses know.
One of the easiest ways to tell a player is card counting, is to watch their betting strategy, or to watch for playing deviations. One such thing to look for, is a player who with high accuracy can tell when to take insurance when the dealer is showing an Ace.
Continuous Shufflers and Electronic Play
A continuous shuffler, is one where the dealer doesn't shuffle, but keeps feeding the cards from the discard rack into the machine to keep dealing. This type of machine offers really poor odds for the customer. It means that you should not attempt card counting. Neither should you attempt to use even a basic understanding of card tracking.
Electronic Blackjack is similarly affected. Each new hand, is automatically shuffled. This holds true for Online Blackjack as well as Blackjack on Slot Machines and specialized Blackjack machines inside casinos. Basic Strategy must be the only way you should play.
I hope you found this Beginner Blackjack Guide insightful and had as much fun learning as I had teaching it. If you think there's something we missed covering, leave a comment or send us a message.
Beginner Blackjack Guide written by Joshua J. @ Don Laughlin's Riverside Casino in Laughlin NV. JJ has been a dealer for over 25 years and knows how to deal Blackjack, Roulette, Craps, Baccarat, Pai Gow Poker, and live Texas Hold'em Poker. (c) 2021. No part of this may be copied or redistributed without his express permission.