Blackjack (or 21 as it is known by some) is one of the greatest casino games of all time – loved and adored by millions of players across the globe. Few games are as popular or exciting as blackjack. From first card to final reveal, the tension never lets up. In addition, it’s one of the most glamorous games out there, made famous by Hollywood movies and high-stakes players. What’s more, it’s a game where people can really show off their effortless cool on the casino table.
The first origins of the game is a topic of dispute amongst scholars. Some believe that the game originated in early French casinos over 500 years ago, with others claiming that blackjack was played in Spain well before. There are even those that believe the ancient Romans pioneered blackjack along with aqueducts and roads.
The full facts of blackjack’s origins will never be known, but what we do know is the state of the game in the modern world. But you’re one of life’s winners, right? So let’s cut to the chase – here’s everything you need to know to learn how to play blackjack like a pro.
Let’s get the basics out of the way first. In essence, winning at blackjack is incredibly simple – especially for people with a knack for coming out on top, like you.
Players take on the dealer in an attempt to reach a score of 21 with the fewest cards without going bust. Casinos normally use anywhere between one to eight decks of cards and everyone is dealt two cards to start with.
Picture cards count as 10 and Ace’s count as either 1 or 11. If a player’s score exceeds 21 they are bust and out of the game. To win you must beat the dealer’s score.
Pro blackjack strategies
There are a whole range of different strategies and styles of play used by blackjack players to maximise their profits. The most popular strategy is known as the basic strategy.
To adopt this strategy, you play a hand of any total value against any dealer’s up card. This ensures the player will lose the least money to the house in the long term. Over time, basic strategy maximises the amount of wins, minimising losses. By playing basic strategy you limit the house edge to 0.5%. Otherwise, this figure remains around 2-2.5%.
However, the basic strategy isn’t really suitable for high-achievers like us – so let’s move onto more advanced strategies.
- Surrender – a player forfeits their hand and half their stake before the dealer checks for blackjack, thus saving a wager on a bad hand.
- Pair Splitting – by dividing their hand into two separate pairs, the player effectively gets two chances to beat the dealer.
- Doubling Down – the player doubles his bet in the middle of a hand in exchange for one extra card – a great way to go on the offensive when the dealer is most vulnerable.
- Insurance & Even Money – in essence, these are side-bets on the dealer’s down card. To buy insurance, players may place a wager that’s half of their original stake, potentially saving them money and losses.
Of course, certain blackjack strategies better than others depending on the type of blackjack you’re playing. For example, you might make different decisions in a game of single deck blackjack than you would playing double deck blackjack. Whatever type of game you’re playing, you need to know which strategy is likely to work best. Of course, born winners like you won’t take any time to learn the best ways of approaching each game and the art of thinking on your feet.
For someone like you, who has a real swagger about them and naturally wants to become a blackjack pro, you need to learn some advanced playing strategies. We’d recommend reading this in-depth blackjack guide written by Henry Tamburin, who as well as having a PhD in Mathematics is also a highly regarded casino pro and author. His most significant chapter analyses blackjack charts and tables in various states and in-game situations, including single deck game vs. double deck vs. multi decks up to eight decks.
Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond shows off his card counting skills in Rain Man
Now for a strategies that’s really going to demonstrate your winning abilities – card counting.
In 1988 the film Rain Man was released which chronicled the story of a pair of brothers portrayed by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Cruise’s character Charlie was a selfish-minded yuppie looking to get rich quick by inheriting his father’s fortune.
Hoffman’s character Raymond was Charlie’s estranged autistic brother who stood in the way of Charlie’s hopes of claiming his inheritance. After a period of animosity Charlie recognises the potential of his brother’s mathematical skills when Raymond correctly states the number of spilt toothpicks on a diner floor.
Charlie then takes Raymond to a casino where he utilises Raymond’s mathematics skills to card count at blackjack and earn a fortune. The authenticity of the film has been questioned several times by film critics, but card counting itself was not questioned.
A few years before the release of Rain Man a team of maths students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set up their own blackjack team. Together they concocted a method to successfully count cards at casinos.
Over 70 students were estimated to be involved in the scam which saw them claim huge amounts of money in winnings from American casinos. A number of the main protagonists were successfully prosecuted by the casinos, but most remain at large.
In 2008 Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess starred in the blockbuster film 21, which told the story of the MIT blackjack team. The group are now notorious in the gambling industry and several attempts have been made to emulate their method to varying degrees of success.
In the late 1990s the internet revolutionised the gambling industry, allowing players to bet from the comfort of their own homes. Since the advent of online gambling the industry has grown to become a behemoth.
In the UK alone the annual revenues of the online gambling industry are reported to worth around £5 billion. One of the biggest drivers in the success of the remote sector is blackjack, a game which is relatively easy to transfer online.
A number of online casinos have recently invested in live casinos that stream the action from a physical blackjack table to their customers in real time. There are even plans to announce virtual reality online casinos which would further revolutionise the industry and bring blackjack to a wider audience. The fact that the game is being played by a real-life croupier also brings strategies such as card counting (which would be impossible with a random number generator-powered online game) into play.
With these immersive and enjoyable playing options available, it’s perhaps no wonder why online gambling has become so popular in recent years.
Congratulations – you’re now a blackjack pro. Becoming highly skilled at the game will take a loss let effort than it will with other casino games. Read up on popular strategies, try to memorise blackjack charts and put your knowledge into action at the table. That way, you can be the winner you’ve always visualised yourself as.