Blackjack Bankroll Management

Best Bets at the Blackjack Table

Blackjack is the most popular casino table game and also one of the best bets you can find. Compared to other games it is simple to play and the only objective is to beat the dealer. With perfect strategy you can usually reduce the house edge to an almost nonexistent level.

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Although it is simple and less intimidating than some other casino games, it is much harder to learn optimal blackjack strategy since there is a big difference that sets it apart. Instead of simply placing a bet that has a set house edge, the blackjack player can make decisions after the initial cards are dealt that will effect his expectation. In order to lower the house edge in blackjack, you need to familiarize yourself with basic strategy—a set of rules stating what moves to make in different situations.

By making these mathematically correct decisions, you will experience a much lower house edge over the long run. This is also a big part of the reason blackjack is so popular for both players and casinos; many believe it is beatable but similar to poker, very few actually invest the time and effort to learn how to play correctly. Learning the standard moves in all situations is far and away the best move you can make at the blackjack table.

In blackjack, the player starts by placing a bet that he will win the next hand. In order to be victorious, the sum of the player’s cards must be higher than the dealer’s without going over 21, or the dealer must go over 21 while the player does not. Each player is dealt two cards and the dealer shows one of his two cards. After this, players may “hit” (take an additional card), “stand” (take no more cards) “double down” (double your wager for exactly one additional card) or “split” (divide a pair into two hands and play each one separately). All these options are correct at different times; in order to learn which to choose you need to memorize a chart that says what the optimal play is with your current total and a particular dealer upcard. You are also allowed to take “insurance” (make a side-bet to protect your main bet if the dealer has a blackjack when he shows an ace) and you can sometimes “surrender” (give up half your bet and end the hand in a particularly unfavorable situation.) Insurance is almost always a losing proposition, while surrender is a smart bet if you find a game that offers it.

Smart blackjack betting also begins before you even sit down and buy chips, since there are many small variations that can make a real difference. First, games are played with different numbers of card decks, anywhere from 1 to 8. The more decks that are in play, the larger the house edge. In addition, there are a lot of additional rules that can either increase or decrease the house edge.

Blackjack Smart Bets

Game Selection – There are several blackjack rules variations that will lower the casino advantage. These rules include games that allow double down after splitting, double down on any sum, surrender, re-splitting of aces, hitting on split aces, and fewer decks. The true house edge gets very complicated because casinos tend to combine favorable and unfavorable rules into their games. Some popular varieties are as low as around a 0.45% house edge, while other, slightly less advantageous games are still only about 1%. Very rarely, you can find a combination of rules that results in a player advantage.

Basic Strategy – In addition to good game selection, you must learn basic strategy in order to make that low house edge a reality. Take a look at our full strategy chart below.

Blackjack Strategy Chart

While you're learning the game, a hit chart like this one can be very helpful.

Late Surrender – This is a rule variation that cuts down on the house edge by about 0.06%-0.08% depending on the game. In order to use it properly, you will only use it in very select situations. You will only surrender if you hold 16 and the dealer shows a 9, 10 or Ace, or a 15 against a dealer 10. Never surrender in other situations.

This is known as “late” surrender because you make your decision after the dealer has checked for a blackjack. There is also an extremely rare “early” surrender that you can make before the dealer checks. If you can find it, this will decrease the house edge by 0.62%, which is an enormous difference in blackjack.

Worst Blackjack Bets

Insurance – In blackjack, you have the option to make an “insurance” bet against a blackjack when the dealer shows an ace. If you choose to do so, you place a side bet half the size of your main bet and if the dealer does have blackjack, you get paid off at 2-1. While it sounds tempting to “insure” yourself against a sure loss to the dealer, this bet has a high house advantage (this depends on the particular hole cards, but usually runs from 2-8%.) While it is true that you break even when the dealer has a blackjack, you’re at a disadvantage every time he doesn’t. You’ll automatically lose the side bet and there’s no promise that you’ll win your main wager, either. In the long run, this uncertainty counts against you and ‘insurance” is really a misleading bet that will only add to the casino edge. If you happen to be a card counter, however, there will be times in which it is profitable, but never for players of basic strategy.

Building Your Blackjack Bankroll

Blackjack is a great bet, provided that you are willing to invest the time to learn basic strategy so you can enjoy the lowest possible house edge. While blackjack is a better proposition than most other games in the casino, the house still has the edge over you and you will experience a loss in the long run. Solid blackjack players can make a living on blackjack tournaments, however. There are other ways to extract additional value that the smart gambler needs to be aware of. If you find a good casino or online casino that offers bonuses, VIP casino programs and comps, you can come out on the positive side for your time at the blackjack table.