Improving Your Blackjack Strategy

Blackjack is a casino game in which players compete against the dealer. The objective is to form a hand with a value of 21 or more without going over. Unlike poker, in which suit values play a role, cards in blackjack are worth their numerical value – two of spades, diamonds, hearts or clubs equals two points; the 10s count as ten points; and aces may be valued at one or eleven.

The first step in improving your blackjack strategy is understanding the rules of the game. Blackjack is played using a standard 52-card deck. The cards are ranked from 1 to 10, with the jacks, queens and kings having a value of 10. Unlike poker, in which suits are valued, in blackjack the suits have no impact on the player’s hand; only their numerical value. The game also has several playing options, including doubling down, splitting and hitting.

To start a hand, place a bet in the betting areas of the table. You and the dealer are dealt two cards each. If your initial two cards add up to a value of 21 (an ace and a card worth 10) or more, you have a blackjack and win the game. If your two cards are lower than 21, you must decide whether to hit (request another card) or stand (stay with your current hand).

If your initial two cards total 12 or higher, it is considered a soft hand and should be stood. If your first two cards are an ace and a card valued from 2 to 6, hitting is advised. This flexible strategy accounts for the aces dual value as either one or 11, and allows you to improve your hand based on the card you receive next.

Effective bankroll management is vital to your long-term success in blackjack. It is recommended that you establish a specific amount of money you’re willing to risk per session and stick to it. This will prevent you from making emotionally based decisions that could lead to financial strain.

Taking advantage of side bets in blackjack can dramatically increase your payouts and odds of winning. However, you must be aware of the house edge that these bets carry. One way to minimize the house edge is by avoiding side bets entirely, or by only placing them when the probability of a successful outcome is high enough.

The most important factor in winning at blackjack is luck, but careful application of basic strategy can decrease the house edge to less than 1% (rules dependent). Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott, often referred to as the Four Horsemen of Aberdeen, were the first to develop a reasonably accurate basic playing strategy for blackjack. Their work was achieved by using hand calculators.

When the dealer shows an ace, it is possible to make an insurance bet of up to half of your original bet. This bet pays 2:1 if the dealer has blackjack and loses if she doesn’t. Statistically, you should never buy insurance, as it is a bad bet.