How to Beat the House Edge in Blackjack

Blackjack is the card game of choice for intellectuals, mathematicians, and those who like a good chance at beating the house. It was once king of the casino tables but has now fallen behind more brawny games such as craps, largely because casinos have whittled off a bit of the game’s player edge to combat competition from other casino games, particularly baccarat, which appeals to Asian ultra-high rollers. In addition, the advent of shuffle tracking has made it possible for players to reduce the dealer’s edge further by using techniques that are legal under gaming regulations.

A game of blackjack is won by the player who makes a hand with a higher value than that of the dealer without going over 21. The cards are ranked from highest to lowest with aces counting as one or 11, face cards as 10, and the rest at their index value. A two-card hand totaling 21 beats any other hand, including the dealer’s, which must be made of at least an ace and a ten.

The game can be played with between four and eight decks of cards, and the exact rules vary from place to place. Perfect strategy charts are available to help the player decide when it is appropriate to hit, stand, split, or double down. These charts are based on the specific rules of a particular casino and the number of cards that are used in the deck.

Doubling down is an option that allows the player to increase their bet by requesting only one additional card in their hand. This play is typically employed when the player has a good chance of making a better hand than the dealer’s, for example, holding a hand of (12,5) against a dealer’s 10. This type of situation usually results in an expected loss for the player if the dealer does not have a 10, but the player can potentially make more money by doubling down and increasing their bet.

Some blackjack games allow the player to split pairs of similar cards, such as two aces or two tens. This plays out much the same as a normal hand, except that each new hand is played independently of the other. Some hands, however, are not suitable for splitting and should be played as a single unit.

Insurance is a side bet that pays out when the dealer shows an ace. Although this bet is often misunderstood, and some players will make this bet even when they have a strong hand, it is generally a bad bet for the player. This is because the player has no direct knowledge or estimation (through card counting) of the dealer’s hole card, and therefore the actual odds of the dealer having a blackjack are very close to 9:4 (2.25:1). Insurance is a major money maker for the casino, so some players will continue to make this bet despite its negative expected value. Other players, however, will recognize this and avoid the bet altogether.