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How to Play Online Blackjack – Going Beyond the Rules

Many people enjoy playing online Blackjack; the game is easy to learn and can provide hours of fun. If you are a Blackjack player who already has a firm grasp of the rules but you feel that your winnings should be bigger, then you are in the right place (incidentally, if you are not sure of the rules, then we have a detailed guide to them that covers all of the most common Blackjack variants).

In this guide, we shall look at what you can do to improve your Blackjack returns. We will start by looking at the casino edge and then go on to examine strategies, betting systems, and more.

What is the Casino Edge? 

The casino edge in Blackjack comes from the “double-bust” rule. Put simply, the player must play before the dealer and if they bust, then they will always lose, regardless of whether the dealer goes on to bust in the same round. For example, if the player is dealt a 9-5 and draws another card, an 8, this gives them a total of 22, if the dealer also finishes with a 22, it is the casino that wins, not the player. 

The mathematicians among you will have noticed that this gives Blackjack a house edge of around 8%. The dealer and player both have a roughly 28.3% of busting if they played in the same way, and 0.283x0.283 equates to roughly 8%. In other words, roughly 8% of the time, both hands will go bust and the casino wins.  

Reducing the House Edge 

Luckily, there are options available to players that the dealer does not have, and these significantly reduce the house edge, almost to the point where it is negligible. There are four main advantages: 

  1. Most games pay players 3:2 for Blackjack, whereas the dealer is only paid 1:1 
  1. Players have the option to Double Down in certain conditions, whereas the dealer cannot 
  1. Players are able to Split pairs, whereas the dealer cannot 
  1. Players are able to stand on lower totals (12 to 16), while dealers nearly always hit on a total of 16 or lower.  

The first of these, the enhanced payout for a Blackjack, makes a big difference. Blackjack will be dealt roughly once every 21 hands and the enhanced payout removes around 2.3% from the house edge, reducing it to 5.7%. Knowing exactly when to hit and stand will reduce the house edge by a further 3.5%, reducing it to 2.2%. Finally, knowing when to Double Down will remove a further 1.6% and knowing when to Split can remove another 0.4%. This means, that when playing single deck games, the house edge is as low as 0.2%.  

Learning the Best Blackjack Strategies 

It is all well and good stating that knowing when to Double, Split, Hit and Stand will massively reduce the house edge; however, to actually do so, you need to make sure that you learn the correct Blackjack strategies. While, it still leaves a house edge of 0.2%, which means that players will still be losing money over time, it is a relatively small loss compared to other casino games, and it means that players are able to enjoy extended Blackjack play without incurring significant losses.  

Blackjack strategies are general expressed in charts. The charts show the player’s hand down the left side and the dealer’s face-up card along the top. Players just then need to look at where the two meet to find the appropriate action to take (e.g. H = hit). However, there are numerous Blackjack variants, and it is vital that you use the correct chart for the game you are playing. This is because the strategy will change depending upon how many decks of cards are involved, whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17, when Doubling Down is allowed (all totals, or just some), if splitting is allowed, early/late surrender, doubling after split, and so on.  

Luckily, it is very easy to find strategy charts for all Blackjack variants online, and when playing in a land-casino, it is not uncommon to see players bring them to the tables.  

An Example Blackjack Strategy Chart 

Here is a sample Blackjack strategy chart for a very common form of Blackjack, games that are played with at least four decks of cards and in which the dealer will stand on all 17s. The chart may look daunting, but it is actually very simple to get to grips with. You will see that it is divided into three main sections. The first is for when then player has a hard hand, the second when the player has a soft hand, and the third, when the play is dealt a pair. You will also see that there is some flexibility built into this chart. It covers a wide range of doubling rules, so tells you what to do when you can or cannot double, similarly with split and surrender.  

  

Dealer’s Card 

Player Hard 

10 

4-8 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

10 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

11 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

12 

13 

14 

15 

Rh 

16 

Rh 

Rh 

Rh 

17+ 

  

Dealer’s Card 

Player Soft 

10 

13 

Dh 

Dh 

14 

Dh 

Dh 

15 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

16 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

17 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

Dh 

18 

Ds 

Ds 

Ds 

Ds 

19+ 

  

Dealer’s Card 

Splits 

10 

2-2 

Ph 

Ph 

3-3 

Ph 

Ph 

4-4 

Ph 

Ph 

6-6 

Ph 

7-7 

8-8 

9-9 

A-A 

Key 

Hit 

Stand 

Dh 

Double if allowed, otherwise hit 

Ds 

Split if allowed, otherwise stand 

Split 

Ph 

Split if double after split is allowed, otherwise hit 

Rh 

Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit 

This chart is very easy to use. Imagine you are dealt 4-6, this is a hard 10, and the dealer has an 8. You look up the two values on the chart and you see that you should double if allowed otherwise you should hit. Alternatively, assume you were dealt 7-7 and the dealer has a 4, the chart tells you to Split the hands. You then refer back to the chart for the individual hands.  

Understanding the Mathematics 

There is no need to understand the mathematics behind Blackjack strategy charts fully, but it is a good idea to have a basic idea of what is happening. Here is a quick look at some examples. 

Hitting and Standing 

It may not be immediately obvious why the chart tells you to hit or stand in some situations. Imagine you are dealt a 12 and the dealer a 2. If you stand, then you will win 35.2% of the hands and lose 64.8% on average (not including ties). If you hit, then you will win 37.4% of the hands and lose 62.6% on average (not including ties). 

This means that there is a 29.6% net loss for standing and a 25.2% net loss for hitting. In other words, the losses are smaller for hitting.  

Doubling Down 

Doubling Down is a fantastic tool and when following the strategy correctly, it significantly reduces the house edge. However, when followed incorrectly it can reduce your chances of winning the hand, as you are only able to draw one more card.  

If you hit on a two-card 9, then you are likely to win 59% of the time (and lose 41% of the time). This means that if you were betting $1 per hand and played 100 times, your average profit per hand would be $0.18 ($59 - $41 divided by 100). If you chose to double down instead, you would win just 57% of the time, but with double the money bet. Your gain from this is $57 - $43 ($14) times 2 (because of the double bet, which is $28) divided by 100, which is $0.28. That means that your average profit per hand has gone up which is why doubling is the correct strategy.  

Splitting 

Splitting can be used for one of three reasons; to increase the amount you will win on average, to decrease the amount you will lose on average, or to turn a losing hand into a winning one. The maths for each of these reasons is different, and here we will look at just one example, to try to increase your winnings. 

Assume the game uses 6 decks, the dealer stands on 17s, re-splits are allowed up to four hands, and there is no double after splitting. If you are dealt a 9-9 and the dealer has a 6, if you stand you can expect to win 64% of the time (and lose 36%). This means that when betting $1 per hand, after 100 hands you expect an average profit of $0.28 per hand ($64 - $36 divided by 100).  

If you instead split, the percentage of hands that you win decreases to 60%. However, you have also doubled your bet, so your profit potential for both hands together is 2 times 20% divided by 100, which equals $0.40 per hand. In other words, for 100 hand average, your total profits are $12, which is higher than when standing.  

Surrender 

The maths for surrendering is relatively straightforward. Assuming the game allows surrender, you should always do so when your chance of winning is less than one out of four hands. In other words, your expected loss is greater than 50%. This means that if playing the hand had less than a 25% chance of winning and therefore, a 75% chance of losing, you will save money in the long term by surrendering the hand.  

Insurance 

You will notice that Blackjack strategy charts never recommend taking insurance. This is because, the Insurance side bet makes no difference to your chances of winning or losing, all you are betting on is whether the dealer’s facedown card is a ten or a picture card. In a deck of cards, the ratio of non-ten value cards to tens is 36:16. After the cards have been dealt, then the ratio changes to 35 to 16. This means that 35 times when placing the insurance bet you would lose it and you would win it just 16 times. In other words, there is a huge house edge and you are going to make a loss in the long run.  

Even Money 

Even money is offered in some games when the player has Blackjack and the dealer is showing an Ace. It gives you the chance to be paid at 1:1 and removes the risk of the dealer having Blackjack and the bet being returned as a push. Therefore, even money can appear to be very attractive as it guarantees that you will win something.  

However, the maths shows that even money is not actually a good idea. If you are dealt Blackjack and the dealer shows an Ace, then in a single-deck game, the dealer will end up with Blackjack 15 out of every 49 times (due to the number of cards remaining in the pack), or about 30.6% of the time. This means that 30.6% of the time you win nothing as the dealer has Blackjack. However, if you don’t take it then 69.4% of the time you win 1.5 times your bet. In other words, on average you will win more by not taking even money.  

Blackjack Betting Systems  

Understanding how the house edge works and reducing it using Blackjack strategy is a great way to improve your returns. To compliment this, you can also look at betting systems. These will help you manage your bankroll, ensuring that you have plenty of funds and can continue to play for longer. There are many different Blackjack betting strategies, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Here we will look at some of the most popular of them.  

Flat Betting Systems 

This is the method favoured by most players as it is the easiest to learn; in fact, there is almost nothing to be learnt. It simply requires you to place the same sized bet on every hand. It reduces the risk and makes managing your budget very straightforward.  

You should first work out how many hands you want to play and what your budget is. Then with a simple bit of division, you will know how much to bet per hand. For instance, you have $100 and you want to play 50 hands, you simply bet $2 per hand (100 divided by 2 is 50). As long as you don’t deviate from the system, then you will always be in complete control of your bankroll.  

Positive Progression Betting 

Positive progression betting systems require the player to increase their bets after a win. The aim is to capitalise on winning streaks to try to earn the best possible payouts. If you are on a winning streak, you continue to increase your bet per hand until your lose, at which point your return to the original bet.  

You then continue with your original bet until you hit another winning streak, and then once again begin increasing the bet. This way, you will be able to boost your winnings, but avoid major losses once the winning streak comes to an end. 

The trick is to be careful with how much you increase your bet by. You need to ensure that you are leaving yourself with enough funds to continue playing if you end up losing the next hand (going “all in” is never a good idea with Blackjack). The advantage is that if you stop playing during a winning streak, then you will have more funds for your next session of play.  

Negative Progression Betting 

These are the opposite of the positive progression systems; they require you to increase your bet after every loss. As a result, they are actually quite risky, as you will need a big budget if you hit a losing streak. You also need to be very aware of table limits, so as to ensure that you don’t reach it too quickly, which would ruin the progression.  

The aim of these systems is that you will eventually win a hand with a high enough bet to recoup most or all of your losses from previous hands. Once you have won a hand, you then return to your original bet size and restart the progression. This means that your winning streaks are played with small bets and you are aiming to end a losing streak with a big win.  

The systems carry the real risks of players running out of funds in the middle of a long losing streak. However, if you approach the system with a fixed bankroll and you are prepared for the possibility that you gaming session may be shorter than expected, then it can be a very rewarding way to play.  

Oscar’s Blackjack Betting System 

As has been explained, there are advantages and disadvantages to both positive and negative progression systems. As a result, many people have tried to combine elements of both. One such method is Oscar’s System, which was published in 1965 by the mathematician Allan N. Wilson in his Casino Gambler’s Guide who named it after the dice player who invented it. 

The central idea of the system is to win a single unit after placing a series of bets, after which, the series begins again. This means, that if you win on your first hand you have achieved the aim of the betting system and you start a new series.  

However, assuming that you do not win your first hand, then the system comes into play. For the next hand, you will place the same bet as your previous one. If you then win, it means that you will have recovered your loss from the first hand. However, you have not yet achieved the goal of making a single unit profit, so you do not yet start a new series. Instead, for the third hand, you will add a unit to your bet. If you then win the third hand, you have made a unit profit and you would start the cycle again on the fourth hand.  

If that is not clear then think about it this way. After any win, the next bet is one unit more than the previous bet, after any loss, the next bet is identical to the previous bet. e.g. If you lose a two-unit bet then your next bet is also two-units and it remains so until you have a win, at which point you increase your bet by one unit to a three-unit bet. However, it should be stressed again, that you should never place a bet that would result in a win for the series of more than one unit.  

Once you have fully grasped this idea, then the system becomes very easy to follow. You will need to keep track of your wins and losses in order to be able to follow the system. You also need to be careful not to make a bet that will result in a profit of more than one unit in a series. For example, if you win a bet with 4 units and you need to win 2 more units to restore your losses, then you do not have to place a 5 unit bet in your next hand. This would produce too large a profit. Instead, you need to place just a 3-unit bet as this would restore the losses and win the 1-unit profit.  

As you can see, the system combines both positive and negative betting. It gives you the chance of going through a long losing streak without running out of money, as you do not increase your bet after a loss. However, a short run of wins can quickly recoup your losses.  

This system can be a little confusing, so here are some sequences shown in chart form to help and make it clearer: 

Units Bet 

Result 

Net Gains 

Next Bet 

-1 

-2 

-1 

+1 

Series Done 

Units Bet 

Result 

Net Gains 

Next Bet 

-1 

-2 

-3 

-2 

-4 

-2 

+1 

Series Done 

Units Bet 

Result 

Net Gains 

Next Bet 

-1 

-2 

-1 

-3 

-5 

-3 

+1 

Series Done 

The Martingale System 

This hugely popular betting system is famous across the world. It is a simple negative progression system that requires players to double their bets after each loss, but to retain the same bet upon winning a hand.  

The system works best for those with large bankrolls, as a losing streak can quickly produce very big bets. Assuming you start with a bet of $1 and lose 10 hands in a row, you end up with a bet of $512! Furthermore, even if you have a large enough bankroll to withstand that kind of losing streak, you may still hit the table’s maximum bet limit.  

The Manhattan Strategy 

Also known as the 2-1-2 strategy, this is designed to help players make the most of winning streaks. The idea is to start with a bet of 2 units, and then if you win reduce it one unit, and if you win that, increase the bet by 2 units. You keep moving up and down in this way until you lose, at which point you return to the original 2-unit bet. 

The Parlay System 

The idea behind this system is that you leave your winnings on the table for each bet. For example, if you bet $10 and you won $10, then your next bet would be $20. This continues until you lose a hand, and then you return to your original bet of $10. While this is a simple system, it is very risky as just one loss wipes out all of your profits. However, it won’t drain your bankroll particularly quickly, so should allow you a long gaming session. 

The 1-3-2-6 System 

This system is named after the order of the bets that you place, which means that as long as you remember the system’s name, then you have remembered how it works. You just follow the sequence and move on to the next number after a winning hand, making it a positive progression system.  

For example, if your basic bet is $2 per hand, then you bet $2 on your first hand. If you lose that hand, then the bet remains the same for the next hand. If you win the first hand, then you move along the progression to the 3. This means that you place a bet of $6 as 3 X $2 = $6. If you win that bet then you move to the 2 and place a bet of $4 (2 X $2 = $4). If you then win again then next bet is $12 (6 X $2 = $12). Whether you win or lose you then return to the start of the sequence. Importantly, whenever you lose you must also return to the start.  

The advantage of this system is that if you hit a winning streak the profits quickly become fairly large, but you will not be risking too much on each bet. For instance, upon reaching the fourth stage in the above example, the player has already won the $12 that they are about to bet. At the same time, if you hit a losing streak then your bankroll won’t be drained too fast as you will just be betting one unit per hand.  



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