Las Vegas, Part 2 – How to play Blackjack

Blackjack has the best odds for the gambler of any game in Vegas; the house edge is only .5%. That means that over time, if you bet 100 dollars on blackjack, the casino will end up with a measley 5 cents. But wait, you ask – if the odds are so good, why do most people lose all their money? It’s because the house edge is based on how much you gamble, not how much you bring to the table. As you win, you play more, out of your own winnings. If you bring 100 dollars to a blackjack table and bet $5 per hand, you’re betting about $150 per hour – more than you actually brought. After 13 hours you’ve bet $1950 and 5% of that is $97.50, meaning that at the end, you’re left with $2.50 and another Vegas story. The other catch is that the house edge is only small if you’re playing with the right strategy. If you do it wrong, you’re playing at a much higher disadvantage. So learn to do it right.

The operating principle in blackjack is simple – there are more cards that are worth 10 than any other value. Keeping that in mind, assume that any card you can’t see – the dealer’s down card or your next hit – is a 10. It’s also important to remember that the dealer has to hit on anything less than 16 so if you’ve got a 14 and his up card is a three, you should stay, since he probably has a 10 and will have to hit and likely bust. It’s not about getting the highest total, its about beating the dealer.

Splitting and doubling down are your two other strategic options. If you have two of the same card you can split them by putting an amount equal to your originial bet next to the cards.  You then play two hands, hitting or standing on each one independently. It’s a good idea to split when you have two aces or two 8s. The former, because of the rule of 10 above and the latter because two 8s are 16, one of the easiest hands to bust.

Doubling down means you double your bet and get dealt exactly one more card. Doubling down is a good bet when you have either a 10 or an Ace.

Two things to avoid are tables where blackjack pays 6:5 and insurance. Without going into why, just remember that these are sucker bets.

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