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One of the popular myths surrounding blackjack in casinos is that the average player can get an edge over the casino if he just plays his hands correctly. In other words, a lot of people think that you can win at blackjack just by mastering basic strategy.

But basic strategy isn’t enough to win at blackjack in most instances.

You need an additional strategy – an advantage technique – to get an actual edge over the casino in blackjack.

This might mean counting cards, but there are other ways, too. I’ve written extensively about counting cards in blackjack in the past.

But today I want to take a different approach.

Here’s how to win at blackjack WITHOUT counting cards.

The First Step to Winning at Blackjack Is Mastering Basic Strategy

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In blackjack, you have a finite number of potential situations to deal with. The dealer can only have one of the following face-up cards: ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10.

And you can only have one of a handful of potential totals, starting with a total of 3 and going up to a total of 21.

And many of those situations offer obvious strategic decisions. You’d always stand with a total of 21, for example. It’s an automatic winner. You’ll also always stand with a total of 20. You have far too many ways to bust in this situation to ever make it worth your while to hit in that situation.

The same holds true for a lot of your smaller totals, too. Any hand totaling 11 or lower is impossible to bust, so you’ll always at least hit in that situation.

But for many hands, you must compare what you’re holding with the dealer’s face up card to determine the playing decision with the highest expected value. In a lot of these situations, your expected value is negative. Imagine having a hard total of 16 against a dealer’s face up 10, for example. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t in that situation.

But, in those situations, some plays have a lower negative expectation than others. Your job is to make the play that loses the least amount of money in the long run.

Luckily, basic strategy is easy to memorize and implement. When you use basic strategy for every blackjack decision, you reduce the house edge to its theoretically lowest possible number. In most casinos and under most rules, this means that the basic strategy player faces a house edge of 1% or less.

Evens or odds. You still can’t win in the long run with a house edge of 1% or even 0.5%.

But your probability of being a winner in the short run improve dramatically.

An average blackjack player with no knowledge of basic strategy is probably giving up between 2% and 4% of their house edge.

Advantage Play Techniques and Blackjack

An advantage play technique is a way of playing a casino game that gives you an edge over the casino. The most common advantage play technique is counting cards, but that’s not your only option. You can win at blackjack without counting cards, even though it’s probably the easiest way to get an edge.

How does card counting in blackjack work?

Counting cards is just a means of roughly tracking the ratio of high cards (aces and 10s) to low cards in the deck. When the deck has a higher proportion of high cards, the player is more likely to get a blackjack. That’s a 2-card hand that totals 21, and players love this hand because it pays off at 3 to 2 odds.

Bet $100 on a hand of blackjack, get dealt a natural, and you’ll get a payout of $150.

Card counters raise the size of their bets when their probability of getting a blackjack goes up based on the count.

And counting cards isn’t hard, either.

You just subtract 1 from the count every time you see a 10 or an ace.
You add 1 to the count every time you see a card worth between 2 and 6 points.

If you’re playing in a game with multiple decks, you adjust that running count to account for the extra decks of cards in play. That’s as simple as estimating how many decks are still in the shoe and dividing the running count by that number.

For example, if the running count is +8, and you estimate that there are 4 decks left in the shoe, the true count is only +2.

Why does this matter?

Because you raise your bets proportionally related to the count. You’ll bet more when the count is +8 than you would if the count was +4.

Not everyone wants to learn how to count cards, though.

You Can Win at Blackjack Without Counting Cards by Getting Lucky

The house edge in blackjack is a long-term phenomenon. In other words, your short-term results might look like anything. You’re mathematically expected to lose between 0.5% and 1% of your action at
the table in the long run.

But, in the short run, anything can happen.

So, one way to win at blackjack without counting cards is to keep your session short and walk away when you’ve won a specific amount of money. This is called having a “win goal.”

Most gamblers who use win goals set a win goal based on a percentage of their bankroll. For example, you might sit down at a $10 blackjack table with a $200 bankroll for the session. Your win goal might be 50% of that $200 – or $100. In that case, if you ever get to a point where you have $300 or more in chips, you walk away from the table and book your win.

Since blackjack is a negative expectation game, you’ll have more losing sessions than winning sessions over time.

But, unless something weird happens, you WILL inevitably have some winning sessions.

Another Way to Win Is to Bet Really Big and Negotiate Better Rules
Don Johnson is a living example of a blackjack player who won really big at the game without counting cards. He won over $6 million on blackjack in a single evening. Here’s how he did it:

To start with, he had mastered basic strategy. Everyone who’s ever been interviewed about him said that he played perfect cards. If you want to duplicate Johnson’s success, start with mastering basic strategy.

The next thing he did was negotiate with the casino. High rollers like Johnson, who bet $10,000 or more per hand, don’t have to play by the same rules as the average casino-goer.

It’s common for high rollers to get loss rebates. This means that the casino offers a player a discount on his losses. For example, if the casino is offering a 10% discount on your losses, and you lose $100,000, you only really lose $90,000 because of the rebate.

Some casinos also give high rollers bonus money to gamble with up front just to get them started gambling. Online casinos do this all the time, but brick and mortar casinos save this kind of treatment for their higher rollers.

Don Johnson negotiated a 20% loss rebate on his action the night he won all that money in Atlantic City.

On top of that, he negotiated specific blackjack rules that reduced the house edge to a tiny percentage. They played with a hand-shuffled, 6-deck show, and the dealer was forced to stand (rather than hit) a total of soft 17.

In total, all the rules changes wound up making this blackjack game a game with a house edge of only 0.25% — making it almost an even money game.

But on top of that, because of his loss rebate/discount, he was only risking 80 cents for every dollar he stood to win.

He had to buy in for a million dollars, but he was guaranteed a 20% discount on his first $500,000 in losses. Also, he wasn’t required to lose the entire million. He could lose the $500,000, quit, and get his $100,000 rebate – leaving him with “only” a $400,000 loss.

On the other hand, if he started winning – which he did – he could just keep playing.

And that’s how he won over $6 million without counting cards.

Other Advantage Techniques in Blackjack

Counting cards isn’t the only strategy for getting an edge at the game of blackjack. Advantage players use other techniques, some of which are well-known.

Dealer tells is one of these techniques. This describes the tendency that a dealer has to give some kind of physical clue after looking at his or her down card. The savvy blackjack player can then adjust his decisions based on the information he gleaned from the dealer tell.

Shuffle tracking is another advantage technique. The idea is that even though decks of cards get shuffled and randomized, they don’t get completely randomized.

If you can keep up with clusters of cards that are heavy with 10s and aces, you can raise the size of your bets when the dealer gets close to using those cards.

Hole carding is similar to dealer tells. It’s when a dealer accidentally reveals his actual down card when he looks at it to check for blackjack. The advantage of knowing which 2 cards the dealer has is obvious from a strategic perspective.

Other advantage play techniques exist that advantage players don’t share in public, too.

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Conclusion

Counting cards is definitely the easiest way to win at blackjack, but you can without this technique. It’s harder to do, though, and I recommend learning to count cards if you’re serious about becoming a blackjack winner.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

This is our first blackjack game and trainer and I'm proud to finally add our version 2 with enhanced graphics and the ability to learn how to count cards to my website. The game is mostly self-explanatory. If you make an inferior play, the game will warn you first. I recommend that before you play for real money both online in person that you practice on the game until you very rarely are warned you a making an inferior play. If doubling or splitting is mathematically the correct play, but you don't have enough chips, the game will give the best advice for what you can afford to do. Do not change rules mid-hand. If you do, the change will not take effect until the next hand. The advice is based on my own analysis and basic strategy tables for one, two, and four+ decks. The deck(s) is(are) shuffled after every hand.

If you find any bugs, please contact me. A screenshot would be appreciated if you claim the game is misplaying a hand. I get a lot of incorrect reports that the advice given is incorrect. This usually can be explained by the user not using the correct basic strategy for the rules selected. I have also had many comments about the advice on a player 16, composed of 3 or more cards, against a 10. As a rule of thumb, the player should stand in that situation. However, that is a basic strategy exception. The game only knows basic strategy. Also, please note that it is a standard blackjack rule that split aces get one card each. If one of them is a ten, it is not a blackjack, it is just 21 points. That is how blackjack is usually played.

I would like to thank JB for his outstanding work on this game, and Dingo Systems for the cards.


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Blackjack Online FAQ

Q1: What are the rules in online blackjack games?

A: As in land casinos, they vary. Online help files are notoriously badly written and incomplete. The Wizard of Odds, we try hard to keep an accurate listing of rules for every brand of software and live dealers. You may find such rules, for every game, in our Software Review section.

Q2: Generally speaking, are the rules better in land or online casinos?

Real

A: All things considered, I would say they are better online. For one thing, you almost never see a blackjack (ace and 10) pay 6 to 5 only online, while this is becoming the norm in land casinos in the United States.

Q3: What are the typical rules at live dealer casinos online?

A: Live dealer rules are very similar to what you would see in a land casino. The typical rules are:

  • Eight decks
  • Dealer stands on soft 17
  • Dealer does NOT peek for blackjack
  • No surrender
  • Player may double on any two cards
  • Player may double after a split
  • No re-splitting

Be careful double or splitting if the dealer has a ten or ace showing. At most live dealer brands, you will lose everything if the dealer gets a blackjack. Under this 'no peek' rule, the only time you should put more money out on the table against a potential dealer blackjack is to split two aces against a dealer 10.

The house edge under the rules above is 0.61%.

Q4: When are the cards shuffled in online blackjack?

A: In a fully electronic game, they are probably shuffled after every hand. In a live dealer game, they are usually shuffled about half way through the shoe.

Q5: Oh really?! Even with only 50% penetration, what is to prevent me from counting cards against a live dealer?

A: I've asked this question of some people in the business. Nobody would tell me exactly how they protect their game against counters, but they assured me that they do. If I ran a live dealer casino, I would run a test of every player to see how their bet size is correlated to the true count. Then I would carefully examine the play of such players with a strong correlation.

Q6: How do 'probably fair' casinos accomplish so-called in blackjack?

A: It is rather involved, but here is typically how it is done:

  1. The casino will generate a random long string of characters, called a Server Seed, hash it, and give the hashed result to the player BEFORE he makes a bet.
  2. The player chooses a string of characters himself, called the Client Seed, or accepts a random default provided by the casino.
  3. The client and server seed are combined and hashed.
  4. The hashed result from step 3 will be parsed somehow, with the hexadecimal characters converted to base 10 and then mapped to specific cards if in a desired range.
  5. The game will deal cards according to their order in the hash from step 3. This hash should be long enough that running out of cards would be almost impossible.
  6. After the hand, the casino should reveal the Client Seed, which the player may verify hashes to the result provided before the bet. It is then a tedious process above to do all the math to convert the hash to actual cards, but the player may do that if he wishes.

I go into this in greater depth for a particular brand in my page on Blackjack (Encrypted Version).

Q7: I don't want to bother jumping through all those hoops to verify fairness in an encrypted game. Do you think that just the ability to verify fairness is enough to keep the casinos honest?

A: No. Encrypted or not, a casino could cheat the player in any game, except sports betting, any time they wished. In the case of an encrypted casino, the operator could choose a Server Seed that causes the player to lose after the bet is made. If the player catches them in a hash mismatch, which I think very few players bother to check, the casino can simply ignore the accusation or deny it without comment. This is exactly what happened to me at Wixiplay.

Q8: Your story aside, how common is cheating at blackjack, or any game, online?

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A: In my opinion, it is quite rare.

Q9: How can I improve my odds of not being cheated?

A: There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Internet casinos out there. In the absence of any serious government regulation, the industry has done a pretty good job of regulating itself. Between legitimate watchdog affiliate sites and some common sense, here are some ways to choose a reputable brand to trust with your hard-earned dollar:

  • Read the fine print. Most casinos have a good looking main page, but dig around the more obscure pages like terms & conditions. If you see a lot of spelling and grammatical mistakes, that should set off a red flag.
  • Ping customer support. If you can't think of your own question, ask anything, for example, 'Do you accept players from Kyrgyzstan?' See how long it takes for them to reply and measure their professionalism and courtesy of their reply.
  • Check reputable affiliate sites. Many affiliate sites promote whoever pays the most, but the good ones are picky about who they promote and will intervene in the unlikely event of a player dispute. We would like to think of ourselves as one of the good ones. A good way to avoid the worst of casinos is to check the blacklists of reputable affiliates.
  • Smart small. Players should always bet in moderation anywhere, but especially when opening a new account online with an unfamiliar brand. Dink around with a small deposit and small bets until you have built up some trust.

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Q10: Any other words of advice before playing blackjack online?

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A: Whether playing online or in a land casino, use the appropriate basic strategy for the rules offered. The Wizard of Odds blackjack strategy calculator will give the correct basic strategy for almost any set of rules.
A much greater problem than outright cheating is online casinos faulting players on a technicality in the rules and seizing whatever funds they deem appropriate. This is a particularly a problem with bonuses. The terms and conditions for bonuses can be pages long and very restrictive in terms of allowed games, bet sizes, and types of bets. If the player loses, nobody ever checks, but after a win and withdrawal request, suddenly the play may be subject to careful review for compliance. Never assume that because you were invited to play a bonus via Email that you're eligible for it. Casinos typically blast everybody in their list. An easy rule to overlook is when a bonus is eligible for 'new money' only. Don't expect the casino to enforce this rule when entering a couple code, but do expect it when you actually make a withdrawal and they look for any reason to deny it.
While bonuses can make your money last much longer and increase your chances of winning, they are a minefield in terms of compliance. Read the rules carefully. If in doubt the way you play is compliant, then don't ask for the bonus in the first place.