Gambling Guide: Blackjack

Gambling Guide: Blackjack

Even Kevin Spacey’s card-counting MIT crew in the movie “21” had to start somewhere.  Perhaps they just watched “Rain Main” 246 times.  (Yeah, 246.)  Perhaps they perused a bare-bones gambling guide such as the one you’re now reading.  Who knows?

In any case, if you want to know the basics of one of the most popular casino games of all time, read on.

The simple, frustrating goal of blackjack is not to get 21, but to get a higher total than the dealer without going over 21.  The dealer will give each player two face-up cards, and himself one face-up and one face-down.  All cards are assigned their face value (2, 3, 4, etc. up to 10), picture cards are 10, and aces can either be 1 or 11, whichever best suits your purposes.

So, say the two cards you’re dealt are a jack and an ace.  Bam!  That’s blackjack, and not only do you win (well, unless the house also gets blackjack, which is a major bummer and a “push,” or tie) but you win at 3 to 2 odds, so 50% more than what you bet.  There are no decisions to labor over, no strategy guides to consult, just money to rake in.

When your first two cards aren’t a blackjack (i.e., most of the time), you now have to decide if you want another card (“taking a hit”) or if you’re satisfied with your total and want to “stand.”  If you want the dealer to “hit” you, just tap your finger on the felt.  If you want to “stand,” just wave your hand palm down over your cards.

Ah, but how do you make the decision?  That’s the crux of blackjack.  You can just play your wild hunches, sure, but that usually ends up in a one-way ticket to Palookaville.  Better yet is to follow some widely acknowledged betting rules like the ones offered at  We’ll paraphrase them in a minute, but first a tiny bit of insight into where they come from:

The first thing to know is that the dealer, unlike you, doesn’t have to deal with any of this angst of deciding when to hit and when to stand.  By rule, he has to hit on 16, and has to stand on 17 or above.  And this simple rule is what’s behind many of your decisions, as, once again, you are just trying to get a higher total than the dealer without busting.  If your total is 12, and the dealer busts, you win.  Add in the knowledge that there are four times more cards valued at 10 than any other card value in the deck (or, more likely, multiple decks), and you’ve got the beginnings of blackjack strategy.

So, without further ado, here are some basic rules you can use in pursuing a winning blackjack strategy:

1)   With 3 to 11, always hit regardless of the dealer’s “up” card (this is rather obvious as any card in the deck will help your total and you’re in no danger of busting).

2)   With 12 to 16, hit except when the dealer’s “up” card is 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 (giving him a good chance to bust).

3)   Never hit on 17 to 21 regardless of the dealer’s “up” card.

4)   Oh yeah, the previous 3 rules were for hands with no ace, which complicates things a tiny bit as it can count for either 1 or 11.  When you have an ace-8 (19), ace-9 (20), or ace-10 (21) always stand regardless of the dealer’s “up” card.  Otherwise, always hit because the “1 or 11” option can only help you.  Once you choose a 1 or 11 value, follow the first three rules!

Got it? Great!  Now that you’re an expert at the basics, there are only a couple of betting twists to keep things interesting:


When you have the same card twice in your first two, you can split that hand into two separate hands and place another bet on that second hand.  It’s completely optional, and usually only a good idea if you have two great starting cards like Ace-Ace, 8-8 or 9-9.  As a general rule, never split 10s as 20 is a great hand in and of itself!


Doubling Down

When you have 10 or 11, you can double your bet and get one more card after you do.  Obviously, you’re hoping for one of the ten-value cards here.  It could be an especially good move if the dealer has a lousy “up” card like a 5 or 6.  But you never know.  That’s gambling.


Good luck… and good cards!