Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games, but also one of the most played card games worldwide in any setting. Combining a deceptively simple concept with both luck and statistical probability makes it a truly engaging game and one that keeps people coming back for more.
Believed to date back as far as the 17th century, blackjack has a wide range of incarnations, although they have all relied on the simple premise of players trying to beat the dealer by getting as close as possible to a hand of twenty-one without ‘going bust’ with a hand of twenty-two or more.
The game has been known by many different names all over the world including:
There is some dispute over the origins of the term ‘blackjack’, with some historians believing that a bonus prize was offered to players with a black jack in a winning hand. Others suggest that it was the common name of a mineral found near gold deposits and came to be used around the time of the gold rush.
The early days of blackjack strategy
While the origins of the game’s name may be unknown, the first attempt to devise a strategy for winning blackjack is well documented. Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, James McDermott and Roger Baldwin were the first to publish a viable strategy for winning at blackjack in their 1956 paper, published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association.
Their recommendations formed the basis of most of the subsequent strategies for beating the dealer in blackjack. There are a few key principles that the team identified that have inspired most modern blackjack strategies and they have been inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame for their contribution to the game.
The following strategies are the ones that improve the odds most effectively and are easiest to remember and implement, although there are some variations of the game that impact them. If you want to learn more about the different varieties of the game, go to bestonlineblackjack.com for more information.
Always double down on a hard eleven
A hard eleven comprises two cards that add up to eleven that either doesn’t include an ace or contains an ace that is not flexible and has to be counted as a one. Doubling down means doubling the bet before any more cards are dealt although you can usually add any amount up to the value of your original bet.
A hard eleven is widely regarded as the best hand in blackjack, so the recommendation to double down is one that capitalises on the likelihood of beating the dealer with the hand you have.
Always split a pair of eights or aces
Some strategies change based on what the dealer’s card is, but the strategy for a pair of eights is to split them, which means playing them as two separate hands. A sixteen is a hand that is unlikely to win, but splitting eights increases the chances that at least one hand will beat the dealer.
A pair of aces is a good hand, so the benefits of splitting are to maximise the fact that an ace is a strong starting card. By splitting a pair of aces, you can capitalise on the opportunities offered by each ace and improve the chances of winning with both hands.
This rule works by increasing your odds of winning on a good hand and minimising your losses on a bad one.
Never split a pair of fives or tens
This rule may seem counterintuitive, not least because splitting tens is likely to end with a win but keeping them together and playing a twenty tips the balance with the highest probability of winning regardless of what the dealer has.
Never take the insurance bet
In most games players will be offered an insurance bet which is a side bet, separate from the main wager that is an option when the dealer’s visible card is an ace. This is usually a chance to bet half your stake on the possibility of the dealer having a natural blackjack.
This can seem like a good idea for new players who might feel nervous about the idea of wagering on a single outcome and find it reassuring to have an alternative way of winning. It can also be tempting if you have a good hand yourself to ensure that you don’t lose to blackjack from the dealer.
However, the odds of the insurance bet aren’t quite what they seem – insurance pays out at two to one, but the odds of the dealer having blackjack are lower than that, so the house edge makes it unlikely that you will get to claim on your insurance.
Whether you are new to blackjack or an experienced player, knowing about the maths behind the game is the key to improving your odds of winning. These are some of the basic guidelines, but there are more complex rules based on your hand and the dealer’s visible cards.
As you become more familiar with the game, you may notice other players following these rules and reaping the rewards of sticking to the statistics.