The Top 3 Least Known Blackjack Rules and Tactics to Help You Win
Blackjack is one of the more easily learned table games on the casino floor.
Bored children are taught the basics of twenty-one to pass the time, and tourists in Las Vegas consider blackjack to be the de facto card game for beginners.
As long as you can count and apply a little common sense, battling the dealer in a spirited session of blackjack doesn’t take much heavy mental lifting. You stand on high hands, hit the low ones, and hope to see the dealer go over to bust — wash, rinse, and repeat until you build a stack of chips or go broke trying.
That’s the reality for millions of recreational blackjack players who test their luck at the tables year in and year out. But for a select few, blackjack is the most beautiful of all casino gambles, a rare breed in which thinking players can actually influence the outcome.
Unlike slot machines, roulette, and craps — all of which are games of chance that rely on random results — blackjack is beholden to both skill and strategy. When a player knows the probabilities underpinning blackjack math, information more commonly known as basic strategy, simply scanning their own total and the dealer’s exposed “up” card is enough to make the optimal decision at all times.
Because of the strategic elements afforded by blackjack, sharp players who pride themselves on sticking it to the house at every turn consider it their game of choice.
By applying the tenets of basic strategy while also utilizing sound game selection, a gambler who knows the score can easily enjoy house edge rates well under 0.50%.
But while most casino enthusiasts consider themselves fairly well-versed in blackjack gameplay, the game still keeps a few secrets known only to a small sliver of the player community.
If you want in on this insider information, look no further than the list below for three blackjack rules and strategies that most players don’t know about.
1 – Surrendering Your Hand Makes Mathematical Sense in a Few Scenarios
In the American version of blackjack spread by most casinos in the country, the dealer will scan their “down” card to check for blackjack whenever their up card shows an ace or 10-value.
Provided the dealer doesn’t reveal a natural blackjack, they’ll then pause for a moment before continuing with the hand, allowing players the opportunity to surrender. Most players know about the surrender rule, but here’s a basic rundown if this is your first time hearing about the unusual play.
In certain instances, the player is simply dealt a bum rap based on their total and the dealer’s up card. Imagine having something like a hard 15 against the dealer’s 9, or a hard 16 against a 10, to get an idea of what I mean.
In these unfavorable spots, there’s always an optimal play according to basic strategy, but even when you make it, you’ll wind up losing much more often than not.
As an escape hatch of sorts, players facing poor situations like this can verbally inform the dealer that they’d like to surrender. When you surrender a hand, you give up right then and there, forfeiting any chance to win in exchange for half of your bet back.
Thus, a $10 bettor who wants to surrender immediately sends $5 into the casino’s coffers, but they get to keep $5 that they probably would’ve lost.
Many blackjack regulars scoff at the surrender play, believing it’s best to take your chances at the dealer going bust or drawing the perfect card rather than retreating from the arena altogether.
And in most cases, these critics are correct. In all but four starting scenarios, the surrender play produces a lower expected return for players.
But when those four specific cases do show up, surrendering is a strategy capable of saving sharp players precious points of equity.
Consider the hard 16* vs. dealer 10 example mentioned earlier in this entry.
*Of course, when your hard 16 is made up of 8-8, you should always split this hand regardless of the dealer’s up card. When in doubt, remember: “Always split aces and 8s.”
You could stand and hope the dealer stumbles into an unlikely bust, or hit and try to land an elusive low card to improve.
Or you could surrender and earn a 50% rebate on your bet.
To see which play is best, check out the table below.
|Win/Loss Probabilities and Expected Return for Hard 16 vs. Dealer 10|
|ACTION||WIN RATE||LOSS RATE||AVG. LOSS (PER $100 BET)|
|Surrender||50% of bet||50% of bet||$50.00|
As the table clearly shows, standing on 16 vs. 10 will see you win 22.8% of the time and lose on 77.2% of deals, good for an expected loss of $54.40. Hitting is slightly better at 23.4% winners and 76.6% losers for a $53.20 expected loss.
But surrendering is best, as it offers a direct 50/50 split for a guaranteed $50.00 expected loss.
As for those four scenarios when surrendering is optimal, only use the play with hard 16 vs. a dealer’s 9, 10, or ace, and on hard 15 vs. 10.
2 – The Lucky Ladies Side Bet Is the Ultimate Sucker Play
For time immemorial, the top payout any blackjack grinder could hope for was the 3 to 2 return for landing a natural 21.
That premium has largely been discounted to 6 to 5 thanks to corporate casino interference, but modern players can now score a whopping 1,000 to 1 payout or higher when the cards cooperate.
That massive score is attached to the Lucky Ladies side bet, a relatively recent innovation pioneered by table game designer Galaxy Gaming. After placing an additional wager on the Lucky Ladies space, players are hoping to hit various combinations of 20 totals to cash in.
The “jackpot” hand is two queens of hearts, along with a blackjack for the dealer, which pays out either 1,000 to 1 or a progressive jackpot kitty.
But as you can see in the most common Lucky Ladies pay tables shown below, other 20 total combos are good for juiced up payouts.
|HAND||PAY TABLE 1||PAY TABLE 2|
|Q of hearts (2x) + dealer blackjack||1000 to 1||1000 to 1|
|Q of hearts (2x)||125 to 1||200 to 1|
|Matched 20 (10-10, J-J, Q-Q, K-K)||19 to 1||25 to 1|
|Suited 20||9 to 1||10 to 1|
|Unsuited 20||4 to 1||4 to 1|
Seeing an escalating pay table like this is enough to get blackjack novices to double up on their action, betting $5 on the base game and $5 more on Lucky Ladies.
But doing so spells disaster for your bankroll, as Pay Table 1 above carries an obscene house edge of 24.71%, while Pay Table 2 is still awful at 17.64%. To play blackjack well, never fall for the Lucky Ladies scam.
3 – Single-Deck Games Are Dying, But They’re Still Around
In the old days, blackjack was played using a single deck of 52 cards, but modern casinos combat card counters by using multiple-deck shoes combining six or even eight decks.
The shoes make counting practically impossible, but a few old-school gambling halls in Sin City still spread single-deck blackjack. Check out our Las Vegas Blackjack Survey to find out which ones.
Blackjack and its predecessors have been around for over 400 years, and all those centuries of evolution have created a casino game with many dimensions.
Between the insidious influence of corporate-owned casinos that consider bastardizing the game to be a cash cow and subtleties in gameplay structure that allow savvy players to extract a few extra percentage points of equity, blackjack is nothing if not complex.
You just learned about three of the rules and strategies most players don’t know about, but don’t let your studies end here. When you dive into the details of the game’s minutiae, everything you learn becomes another arrow to let loose on the blackjack battlefield.
Whether you’re playing blackjack in a land-based casino or at an online casino site, the more you know about the game, the better.