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Blackjack for beginners: Basic strategy can improve your odds of winning

Blackjack Basic Strategy

Knowing blackjack basic strategy may help you be a winner.

Online or in the casino, this advice may help you score big, whether you’re playing basic blackjack for beginners or you’re well advanced.

To win at blackjack, you need to get closer to 21 than the dealer, without going over. That sounds basic, but a key to blackjack for beginners is understanding the odds and basic strategy of when to draw another card (hit) and when to stop (stay). In this casino guide, blackjack for beginners, you’ll get the basic rules, strategy, and lingo so you can feel comfortable gambling online or in a brick-and-mortar casino.

Blackjack for beginners: The basics

The cards, the cash, the cocktails. As a game, blackjack just looks cool in the casino. In movies from “Rain Man” to “21” to “Vegas Vacation,” Blackjack plays a major role and is one of those iconic casino games everyone wants to give a shot. If you’re new to the game, here’s a quick guide to get you on the right track at the table. Hopefully your luck is a bit better than Clark Griswold’s.

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The goal of blackjack is for a player’s hand of cards to add up to as close to 21 as possible without going over — known as busting. Numbered cards count as their number; that’s simple enough. Aces can be played as 1 or 11, and face cards count as 10.

To start a game, each player is dealt two cards (usually face up) from a shoe usually with four, six, or eight decks (though you can find single- and double-deck blackjack at higher stakes). The dealer also is dealt two cards with only one of those face up. The dealer has a major advantage in getting to act last.

A player dealt an ace and a 10 (or face card) hits a “natural” 21, also known as blackjack. The player is paid immediately in most circumstances at 3-to-2 (bet $200 and win $300), although more casinos have gone to the inferior 6-to-5 payout (bet $500 to win $600). If the dealer is also dealt a blackjack, however, the hand is a push — no win, no loss.

Blackjack for beginners is pretty simple: If your hand is closer to 21 than the dealer’s, then you win. Also, if the dealer happens to bust (go over 21), you win. It sounds easy, but there are more caveats and things to remember.

Blackjack for beginners: Terms and bets

Hit: Maybe you’ve seen someone playing blackjack in a movie say “hit me.” That means you’re taking another card in the quest to get closer to 21. A tap of the finger or hand also works, and the dealer will give you another card.

Stand: You “stand” when you don’t want any more cards. Usually this happens when you hit a 17 or higher (and sometimes even lower depending on the dealer’s card). A simple waving of the hand as if saying “no” will do the trick. The dealer will then go on to the next player.

Soft: If you have a “soft 17,” that means you have an ace and 6. Because an ace counts as 1 or 11, this hand can be either 7 or 17 and a player isn’t hurt by taking a hit as a 10 won’t bust this hand. Dealers must draw until reaching 17 or higher, but usually must hit a soft 17. Staying on all 17s works in the player’s favor. Different casinos have different rules dictating the dealer’s move on soft 17.

Insurance: A bet players can make when the dealer’s up card is an ace. The player can usually bet half of his bet and “insure” some of his bet against a Blackjack. This is a sucker bet and a loser in the long run.

Blackjack Basic Strategy ChartSplit: If you are dealt two of the same card, you are allowed to split those bets into two different hands by making a second bet. The hands then play out in the normal routine. It’s important to know basic strategy to know the best odds when it comes to knowing when and what hands to split (see graphic). Got two 10s? Never split — that 20 already has a high likelihood of being a winner. Two fives? Another hand that’s a keeper. That 10 has a nice likelihood to get another high card — hopefully an ace — for a winner.

Double down: Players are allowed to (and should) double their bets on certain hands for an extra score. The catch to doubling down is the player will only receive one card, so if you pull a 3, and have 13, you’re done. Doubling is common on hands totaling 9, 10 or 11 because of the high likelihood of getting another high card. But there are other circumstances to consider before making this move. Knowing basic strategy will certainly help.

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Things to know about blackjack

Blackjack is one of the best games in the casino for a player, but it’s important to learn basic strategy if you want to take it seriously and have the best odds of winning. With numerous cards valued at a 10 or 11 (10, jack, queen, king, ace), there are a variety of things to consider when it comes to hitting, standing, doubling down, or splitting.

There are numerous resources to check out and learn the best strategy when playing blackjack, and it’s highly recommended. Applying the strategy perfectly can reduce that house edge down to as low as .05 percent.

There’s also one more thing to remember: Unlike the movies, players are not allowed to touch the cards. Simple hand movements are the norm in most games. Good luck.

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