Blackjack (Black Jack) | Bovada
With no opponents crowding the felt, you can stretch out and play several hands simultaneously in this six-deck blackjack variant. Play up to three hands to bolster your chance of success against the dealer, who’s limited to one hand a round. Beef up your hand by hitting, or play it cool by standing. You can always Double Down if things are going your way, or Surrender if a loss seems inevitable. It’s the same old rules, but with more action. Thanks to the Multi-Hand capabilities of this exciting new version of blackjack, you can now customize your decks and felt, play on landscape mode on your mobile device and still indulge on the lightning fast dealing speeds.
Blackjack Quick Tour
Blackjack Basic Gameplay Tutorial
Blackjack Rebet and Insurance Tutorial
Blackjack Spitting Cards and Doubling Bets Tutorial
How To Play Blackjack
- The game is played using six decks, which are shuffled after each hand.
- Dealer hits on soft 17.
- Player Blackjack pays 3 to 2.
- Any other winning hand is paid 1 to 1.
- Insurance pays 2 to 1.
- Split up to three hands.
- Surrender any first two cards.
- Split Aces receive only one card.
- No re-splitting of Aces.
- A split Ace and a 10-value card is not a Blackjack.
- Customize your gameplay by selecting from 3 decks and 3 table colors.
- Increased dealing speed for quick gameplay.
- Landscape mode now available on mobile devices.
- Click on a chip to place a bet.
- Minimum amount to bet is $1, maximum amount to bet is $2,500.
- Card suits are irrelevant.
- Cards 2 to 10 have face value.
- Jacks, Queens, and Kings are worth 10.
- Aces have a value of 1 or 11.
Win or Lose
- You win if your score is 21 or less and greater than the Dealer’s final total.
- You win if your score is 21 or less and the Dealer’s final score exceeds 21.
- An Ace and any 10-value card together on the initial deal is called a Blackjack.
- Blackjack pays 3 to 2, providing that the Dealer does not also have Blackjack.
- If you and the Dealer get a Blackjack on the same hand, the round is a tie, known as a push.
- Any winning score of 21 after a split is paid 1 to 1.
- Deal – Used to start the game after you have placed your bet.
- Hit – Used when you want to be dealt another card. You can hit as many times as you like unless the total of the cards equals or exceeds 21.
- Stand – Used when you want to keep the hand dealt to you. This automatically happens if you hit 21 or Double Down.
- Double Down – After being dealt the first two cards, you can Double Down. The bet on the hand is doubled and one additional card is dealt to you.
- Split – Used to split the first two cards dealt into two separate hands when they match. You can have up to three split hands at one time except when you split two aces. Then, only one additional card can be dealt for each hand. A hand total of 21 after splitting aces is considered 21, not Blackjack.
- Surrender – If you surrender, you get 50% of the bet and the other half goes to the house.
- Rebet – When a hand is complete, you have the option to rebet the amount previously bet.
- Insurance – If the Dealer is showing an Ace, you’ll be offered a supplemental bet called Insurance. A wager of exactly half of the original bet is placed on the table. If the Dealer has Blackjack, the house pays the Insurance bet 2 to 1. If the Dealer does not have Blackjack, you lose the insurance bet, and your initial bet is then settled by comparing your cards with the Dealer’s. If you and the Dealer both have Blackjack, the game is pushed and you get the amount won by taking Insurance, called even money.
- Bust – When either your, or the Dealer’s cards equal more than 21.
- Push – When the total of both hands are the same and fall between 17 and 21, neither hand wins.
A Brief History of Blackjack
The game of blackjack has moved from land-based casinos to the online world, so now everyone can play the game of 21 online. But what’s the history of everyone’s favorite casino game?
The actual game predates casinos by a wide, wide margin…like hundreds of years. Blackjack has been played in some form or another since the very early 1600s and possibly even before then. It continues to grow as it could be the most popular game you will find in your online casino.
The great Miguel Cervantes is well known as the author of the classic Don Quixote, but he was also a serious gambler and he wrote a story around 1601 or 1602 about a man that would attempt to cheat at a game called “ventiuna”, which is the Spanish word for twenty-one. The general rules for this game was that you had to get to twenty-one without going over that total, so you would have to think that Cervantes had heard or played the game before he wrote the story, which was called Rinconete y Cortadillo, from his book of short stories, Novelas Ejemplares. Some also say that the game was started by the French, who had a game called “vingt en un”, which is the French phrase for twenty-one.
The game was then brought over to North American in the early 1900’s and early places where you could play it would offer bonuses for certain hands. One was when you received an ace of spades and a jack of either spades or clubs, which would make it a black jack and that is where the name that we know came from. Since the game was brought to America, there have been many different ways created to play the game, but at its core, the objective of the game is still the same: get to twenty-one without going over the total, while managing to best the dealer or the house. Its simplicity makes it a game that anyone of any age can play, which is why it is so popular at only casinos.
Of course, it is a card game and that means players have been trying to beat the system for hundreds of years, going back to Cervantes’ story. Card-counting has been attempted at many casinos to varying degrees of success, but those have been able to do it well have written books about it and the entire goal is to minimize the house edge, which increases with the amount of decks you add to the game. However, if you try to do it at a land-based casino, you may be greeted with resistance (and that is putting it nicely), and to try to do it online would be extremely difficult because of the technological advances, unless you can write a program that does it.
Expect the history of blackjack to go forward as it moves deeper into the online era and players try new ways to beat the house, or you could sit back and enjoy the fun of one of the oldest (if not the oldest) card game out there.
Blackjack Betting: Passive or Aggressive?
When it comes to playing online casino games, there are two options: you can either play conservatively or you can choose to be aggressive. One way is more passive while the latter is all about going after the risky hands that could wind up paying off handsomely.
Blackjack also fits this mindset but keep in mind set as you can go big or go home. The problem is sometimes you go home a big loser.
So let’s take a closer look at playing blackjack and whether or not the best strategy is to go aggressive, try to hit as much as possible and aim for 21, or play more passively and see if you can beat the dealer as much as possible any way possible.
House has to follow the rules
Obviously, when playing blackjack, it’s ideal to get 21 but remember that 21 is not the main objective of the game; it’s all about beating the dealer.
While the house has the edge over the player, you can use a few rules to your advantage. The house has to strictly follow a few certain rules while the game is going, for example, the dealer has no other choice but to hit when they have a value of 16 in their hand and they have to stand on all hands valued at 17. This cannot be changed, so that can help you decide whether you are going to go for it or if you are going to sit back and hope that the dealer will bust.
Player has options
Remember that you, as the player, will always get the first opportunity to make a play, which can dictate how the hand is going to go. This can be an issue if you have a 14, for example, do you want to wait and take your chances on the dealer going bust or do you want to hit and see if you have what it takes to draw the right card to get closer to 21? This is where your instincts come into play.
It is all about finding the right balance between conservative player and aggressiveness when you are playing the game of online blackjack because some situations will simply scream out that you double down, or split your cards, other times, standing pat is the right strategy. The veterans of the game develop a feel for the cards to have an idea of what they’re likely to see.
Furthermore, blackjack is a big game of probabilities and you can find various charts online that will help you to make your decision. While you are at home, you can even have these charts up and ready to go while you are playing the game so you can make an instant decision.
Those who are too aggressive tend to jump the gun more often than not, which leads to a bank account emptying quickly. On the other hand, being too conservative can cost you a few hands where you could have end up as the winner. The key is you can only figure these things out by playing as much as you can. When you find the middle ground between aggressive play and being conservative, online blackjack can be both fun and profitable.
Single and Double Deck Blackjack Strategy
When you think casino blackjack, are you thinking about the standard multi-deck card versions at casinos, or the non-standard card games? Are you also thinking online games or live games? Standard card game blackjack has six decks of cards in a shoe and the full suite of betting options at casinos, live or online, including the ability to surrender a hand during games. That’s what you get when you play The New Blackjack and Classic Blackjack in our online casino for real money. But there’s more than one way to play blackjack games at Bovada Casino, and that’s where Single Deck and Double Deck Blackjack online for real money games come into play.
Out of our nine blackjack games, four of them come with shoes that have fewer than six decks. Choose between two card game versions of Double Deck Blackjack and two card game versions of Single Deck Blackjack for the ultimate play selection of online blackjack table games for real money online. In this comprehensive online blackjack card game play guide, we compare these two games with the standard, so you know the best blackjack table game for house edge and casino game play rules for real money online.
Single and Double Blackjack Differences
Before Blackjack table card game became the target of advantage casino players, Single Deck Blackjack was the norm. Multiple card decks were introduced in the ‘60s to thwart card counting at casinos, as it was more challenging to keep a running count with multiple decks in play. Now, when you play standard table game blackjack for real money, the shoe comprises six decks of cards.
However, when you play Single Deck Blackjack games—online or in a land-based casino— you’re playing with just one deck during games. If all the playing rules were identical between Single Deck and standard Blackjack games, the Single Deck table game version would have a lower house edge. Double Deck Blackjack, which uses a two-deck shoe and is often far more common than single deck table games, also has a lower house edge than the six-deck standard. But as we’ll see below, it’s quite rare to find Single and Double Deck games with the exact same playing rules as the six-deck games. Let’s see how on can play online at Bovada.
Single Deck Strategy and Rules
To mitigate the lower house edge, casinos place more restrictive playing rules on Single Deck Blackjack games compared to standard games, and that’s the case here at Bovada online casino too. Below, you’ll see five ways Single Deck Blackjack game rules differ from the standard online for real money.
With Single Deck Blackjack, you get:
• One deck-shoe vs. six-deck shoe
• Max bet: $300 vs. $2,500
• Split up to two hands vs. three hands
• No Surrender. With standard blackjack games, you can surrender your first two cards.
• Play just one hand per round vs. up to three hands per round with Six-Deck Blackjack.
Pull up an online blackjack game strategy chart for Single Deck casino versions and Six-Deck casino versions, and you’ll see a few key differences in how certain hands are played. The following playing differences are based on the blackjack Dealer hitting on soft 17 for both online and live games.
Hard Hand Differences:
• Double on a score of 8 vs. blackjack Dealer Five and Six upcards.
• Double on a score of 9 vs. a blackjack Dealer Two upcard.
Soft Hand Differences:
• Double on a score of 13 vs. blackjack Dealer Four upcard.
• Double on a score of 17 vs. blackjack Dealer Two upcard.
• Stand on score of 18 vs. blackjack Dealer Two upcard.
Split Hand Differences (based on double after split being allowed and no surrender option):
• Split Threes vs. blackjack Dealer Eight upcard.
• Split Fours vs. blackjack Dealer Four upcard.
• Split Sixes vs. blackjack Dealer Seven upcard.
• Split Sevens vs. blackjack Dealer Eight upcard.
• Stand on Sevens vs. blackjack Dealer Ten upcard.
• Split Nines vs. blackjack Dealer Ace upcard.
Double Deck Strategy and Rules
The rules to our online casino Double Deck Blackjack differ from those in our standard blackjack in the following six casino ways:
• Two-deck shoe vs. six-deck shoe
• Dealer stands on soft 17 vs. hits on soft 17.
• Max bet: $250 vs. $2,500
• Split up to two hands vs. three hands
• No Surrender.
• Play just one hand per round vs. up to three hands per round.
Double Deck Blackjack play strategy is a little different from the 4-8 deck play strategy, and that’s partially because of the fewer decks involved and because the Dealer stands on soft 17 in our online casino version of Double Deck Blackjack. When you compare a standard play casino 4-8 blackjack strategy chart where the play Dealer hits on soft 17 to a Double Deck Blackjack strategy chart where the Dealer stands on soft 17, you’ll notice the following key differences in these games:
Hard Hand Differences:
• Double on a score of 9 vs. Dealer Two upcard.
Soft Hand Differences:
• Stand on a score of 18 vs. Dealer Two upcard.
• Stand on a score of 19 vs. Dealer Six upcard.
Advantages of Single and Double Deck Blackjack
The main advantage at casinos of Single Deck Blackjack is the number of decks involved. For example, playing with just one deck vs. eight decks increases your expected return by 0.48% when all other rules are the same. Some live land-based casinos offer lower real money payouts for landing a natural to offset the casino player advantage, but in our online casino versions of Single and Double Deck Blackjack, the real money payout remains 3:2.
Double Deck Blackjack has a slightly lower effect on return (+0.19%) than Single Deck, but compensates with the Dealer standing on soft 17. This player-beneficial play rule is rare with Single and Double Deck variants, but is available in both our Double Deck versions online for real money.
Disadvantages of Single and Double Deck Blackjack
The disadvantage of Single and Double Deck Blackjack is the restricted casino game rules. For one, both games restrict splits to two instead of the standard three, which reduces the overall player return. Another disadvantage is the exclusion of the Surrender option. Single Deck Blackjack basic play strategy recommends Surrendering in six play scenarios. In Double Deck Blackjack, the number of recommended Surrenders is three (when the Dealer stands on soft 17). All online casino blackjack strategy charts list the second-most optimal move to make when surrender is not an option.
Even considering the disadvantages brought on by the restrictive Single Deck and Double Deck Blackjack play rules, these casino versions still have lower house edge than our six-deck variant when playing online for real money with these games. Keep that in mind when playing online real money blackjack for maximum returns at Bovada Casino.
An Introduction to Blackjack Side Bets
There was once a blackjack side bet so profitable that casinos had to eliminate it just two years after its introduction. It was the over/under 13 – a bet so good, card counters shifted their focus from the game to this simple side bet.
Would your first two cards equal over 13 or under 13? After determining the strategy, you could simply bet, collect, repeat.
All good things come to an end eventually, and the over/under 13 was no exception. Casinos lost a lot of money on that one, as players tried to rake in as much as they could while avoiding heat. While blackjack side bets like the over/under get squashed when their vulnerability is exploited, there are a couple of bets that have withstood the test of time.
Introduction to Blackjack Side Bets
In blackjack, any bet beyond the one placed at the start of the round is considered a side bet. Side bets come with their own rules, payouts, and betting maximums, and provide an extra layer of interest in an otherwise traditional game.
Unless a side bet has a vulnerability a casino failed to detect, side bets are gaming’s best friend. The rules of blackjack can’t undergo much change without alienating the market, so side bets are one way the house can make extra profit. That’s why the majority of side bets have a higher house edge than the game itself, which generates very little profit.
While exploitable side bets do pop up from time to time, attracting attention in the advanced play community, the majority of them are tried and tested, and of little interest to professional blackjack players. The effort required to incorporate side bets into blackjack strategy is often not worth the card counter’s time. But there is an exception, and that’s with the Insurance side bet—a popular bet that’s widely available.
Popular Blackjack Side Bets
While there are hundreds of side bets available at different casinos across the globe, we’re focusing on the ones you can use right here in our online casino: Insurance, Pairs, Rummy, and the side bets available in Perfect Pairs.
Insurance Side Bet
Almost any blackjack, be it online or at a brick-and-mortar establishment, will offer the Insurance side bet. This bet pays 2:1 when the dealer receives a Blackjack. While playing any of our eight online blackjack games, anytime the dealer’s up-card is an Ace, a message will pop up giving you the option of taking the Insurance side bet. At Bovada, the bet is systematic and will be the same as half your original wager. If the dealer has a Blackjack, you win the side bet.
The odds for taking insurance favor the house enough that the bet is generally advised against. The only time you’ll see the pros taking Insurance is at land-based casinos when they’ve been counting cards and are confident that the shoe has a higher than average concentration of 10s. When non-card counters take insurance, it’s usually because of a gut feeling, or because they’re playing for entertainment purposes only. The house edge for Insurance ranges from 5.88% for Single Deck to 7.39% for Six Deck.
Pairs Side Bet
When playing Live Dealer Blackjack in our casino, you get access to the Pairs side bet. This is a fairly common side bet, also known as Pair Play, that pays 11:1 if your initial two-card hand is a pair, say for example, two Jacks. The suits don’t affect the outcome. You’ll see a more complex Pairs side bet available in our Perfect Pairs blackjack game.
So what are the odds of landing a pair right off the bat? With six decks, there are 312 cards. To account for the first card dealt to you, deduct 1 from 312 (311). Out of the 311 cards still in the deck, 23 are capable of completing your pair. That means the odds of your second card creating a pair is 23 in 312, or 7.37%. Combined with the payout, that makes for a meaty house edge of 11.25% when playing with six decks. With this side bet, the more decks in the shoe, the lower the house edge.
Rummy Side Bet
Also available through our Live Dealer Blackjack game is the Rummy side bet. This bet is on your initial two-card hand and the Dealer’s upcard creating a three-card rummy set. A rummy set is:
• 3 of a kind (9h,9s,9c)
• A flush (7h,3h,8h)
• A straight (6c,7d,8h)
This side bet pays 9:1, and the house edge is 4.14%.
Perfect Pairs Side Bet
We covered our basic Pairs side bet, which is available in Live Dealer Blackjack, but with Perfect Pairs, the side bet becomes more complex. You can put between $1 and $500 on the side bet, which pays different amounts depending on the strength of your pair.
Regular Pair: A regular pair pays 6:1
Colored Pair: A pair with matching colors pays 12:1
Perfect Pair: An exact pair pays 25:1
The house edge for the Pair side bet is about 6.1%.
Why Offer Side Bets?
There are three main reasons why online casino games benefit from side bets.
1) Shake Things Up
Any traditional game can benefit from a new feature, and there’s no getting around how traditional blackjack is. Very few changes have been made to the game over the years, so creating side bets can make it feel fresh and new, while honoring the core gameplay.
2) Opportunity to Win Big
Players interested in high-paying online casino games aren’t interested in blackjack, which pays even-money for standard wins and 3:2 for Blackjack wins. Offering side bets that can pay up to 25:1 can engage people who prefer more volatile games.
3) More House Edge for the Casino
If casino management is going to look into blackjack side bets, they’re going to be looking for bets that increase profits. This isn’t all bad. From a blackjack player’s perspective, adding side bets with a higher house edge is better than decreasing the payouts that come from the standard game. That’s because side bets are completely optional.
Blackjack Strategy: When to Hit or Stand
If you’ve ever wondered why casino Craps table games is so much livelier than a Blackjack one, even online, it’s because different table games appeal to different kinds of casino players. Thrill seekers like to play and spin the roulette wheels, and Craps games appeals to social people looking for fun while they play. Blackjack is a different beast of a game. Blackjack a bit serious like poker, but has it’s own system on how a player can win real money at any casino- online or not.
Since it began to be offered in online and live casinos, Blackjack games has been attracting the attention of any new strategic player all over the world. The blackjack game is simple to play; to win, you need to build a hand with a higher score than the blackjack Dealer, without going over 21 points. While this can be played on intuition alone, learning the Blackjack basics at any casino can elevate your play and give you the best edge at the tables especially when the player goes to play for real money at these games.
In this free comprehensive Blackjack games guide, we explain how to play for big specifically online. We assume that you already know how to play the Blackjack game (if not, read our Online Blackjack Guide at our online casino). Based on that assumption, we go beyond explaining the basic rules of the blackjack casino game and focus more on explaining the optimal times to play: hit, stand, double down, split and buy insurance. While you can get this information on blackjack games by consulting with a free Blackjack strategy chart, learning the reasons behind these moves will help you understand the casino game at a deeper level than most recreational Blackjack players at our online casino who play for real money.
When to Hit
When you play 4-8 deck Blackjack, with the blackjack Dealer hitting on soft 17, you’ll be hitting approximately one third of the time. Basically, you play when you need to beef up your score in order to be the best online competitive player, so that includes hitting in the following three scenarios in your online blackjack games:
• You have a low score.
• You have a decent score, but the Dealer has a strong upcard.
• You have a good score, but it includes a soft (11-point) Ace.
Low Player Score
If you’re wondering what entails a “low score” in online blackjack casino games for real money, it’s a hard score of 8 and under. You should always play when your score is this low. A score of 9 is also low, but doubling down with a score of 9 is the best option in certain situations – we’ll explore this scenario in the “When to Double Down” section below. As for hitting with a score of 9, you’ll play when the blackjack Dealer has a minimum upcard of Seven, and also when his upcard is a Two. For a score of 10, you’ll play when the blackjack Dealer shows a Ten or Ace.
Strong Dealer Upcard
When the blackjack Dealer has a high card (Seven to Ace), you need to up the ante to play in this online blackjack casino table game. That means hitting when you have a 12 to 16. If you’re able to surrender, it’s advisable in the following two scenarios:
• You have a 15 against a Dealer’s Ten or Ace.
• You have a 16 against a Dealer’s Nine, Ten or Ace.
Hitting on a score of 12 to 16 comes with the risk of busting, so you should surrender if the Dealer has the previously-mentioned upcards. If the version of one of the online blackjack casino games that you play doesn’t include a surrender option, hit and play instead.
Soft Player Hands
Hands that include an 11-point Ace are considered soft hands and players can play more aggressively because you won’t bust when hitting. If you’re not able to double down, you should hit with scores of 17 and below, as well as a soft 18 when the Dealer shows a Nine, Ten or Ace. Doubling; however, is better than hitting in 14 scenarios that will be covered in our “When to Double Down” section of our free online blackjack guide.
When to Stand
When you have a hard hand, you’re looking to stand when you have a chance to win over the blackjack Dealer. We know that the blackjack Dealer strives to reach a score of (hard) 17 and above, so you also should stand when you have a hard 17 and above (exception, if the blackjack Dealer shows an Ace, surrendering is better than standing with a 17). With a soft score, you should play higher; go for a score of 19 or better. A score of 18 is good enough if the blackjack Dealer shows a Seven or Eight.
There are also times when the online blackjack Dealer has strong odds of busting in these online casino games, which means you should play online more conservatively. Basically, any time the blackjack Dealer needs to take at least three cards, the odds of busting are higher, so that includes an upcard of Six and below. When you have a score of 13 and better, you can stand against one of these high Dealer bust cards. Even with a score as low as 12, it’s recommended to stand when the blackjack Dealer’s upcard is a Four, Five or Six.
When to Double Down
Doubling down involves a fair amount of risk; you’re doubling your wager in exchange for one more card before you’re forced to stand. If that final card is a good one, you get twice the money. So what exactly is a good card to receive after you play that second money wager when you play blackjack games online?
Doubling down is best done when a 10-point card would give you a competitive play edge. Close to one third of the play deck consists of 10-point cards, so the odds are higher that you’ll receive a 10 rather than any other single card. For that reason, doubling is the best move when you have a hard 11. It’s also optimal when you have a score of 10 (unless the blackjack Dealer has a very strong upcard like a Ten or Ace). A nine is on the cusp of being a good double down candidate; it should be doubled when the blackjack Dealer is likely to bust with the following upcards: Three, Four, Five, Six.
Soft hands are another story. You’re more likely to need to play twice with a soft hand, so the double down should only be used in the following online blackjack scenarios:
• Score of 13, 14 against Dealer Five and Six.
• Score of 15, 16 against Dealer Four, Five, Six.
• Score of 17 against Dealer Three to Six.
• Score of 18 against Dealer Six and below.
• Score of 19 against Dealer Six only.
When to Split
Splitting should be done if splitting the hand into two and adding 10 points is better than the original score. The classic example is with Aces and Eights—two pairs that should always be split. We’ll go through each blackjack casino game scenario that a blackjack player might see at the online casino table for real money.
Pair of Aces
Getting a pair of Aces gives you a soft score of 12, which is not a great score because if you hit and get a 10, you bust. But split up those Aces, and getting a 10 gives you two scores of 21. The odds are so strong that most Blackjack casino games have a rule that dictates getting a 21 this way is not considered Blackjack and; therefore, not eligible for the prized 3:2 payout. Instead you get paid even-money as you would with a standard win.
Pair of Eights
Splitting a pair of Eights also takes a weak score and gives it a chance to become a strong score. A score of 16 is one of the worst scores in the game. There’s no other score with three Surrender recommendations, as there is with 16. If you split them and get 10s, the 16 becomes two scores of 18.
When to Use Insurance
Insurance is a side bet that pays 2:1 when the blackjack Dealer’s upcard is an Ace and he has a 10 in the hole for a perfect score of 21. If you win the Insurance bet, you lose your original play wager, but the 2X payout that comes with the Insurance bet cancels out the loss that comes from the Dealer’s Blackjack.
When you compare the payout for the Insurance bet and the probability of winning it (roughly 30%), you get a house edge of 7.4% (based on six-deck Blackjack). This is far higher than the house edge that comes from playing the game according to basic blackjack casino table game strategy.
The only good time to use insurance in Blackjack games is when counting cards at a land-based casino and have reason to believe that the shoe is rich in 10s. To see more on how to count cards in Blackjack, see our article Blackjack Tips: Card Counting in Blackjack. Any other time, it’s best to avoid this side bet.
All of this information can be summed up as advanced Blackjack strategy. As a rule of thumb, try to get your score up to 17 with hard hands and 19 with soft hands. Keep in mind, you can sit back and relax with a low score when the blackjack Dealer’s most likely to bust (Six and below). Double when a 10 would put you in a strong position, and always split Aces and Eights. Try all this and more when you play online Blackjack at Bovada Casino for real money and watch your bankroll grow with each blackjack game you play online.
How to Count Cards in Blackjack
Ever since the movie 21 was released, the public has wanted to know how to count cards in blackjack. While some liberties were taken in the production, the movie is based on the real-life events of six MIT students who used card counting in addition to team play as part of their successful blackjack betting strategy at several major casinos in the States.
Fortunately for the rest of us, an advanced degree in mathematics isn’t necessary to win money counting cards in blackjack. Anyone with basic adding and subtracting skills can do it, including you. In this article, we’re going to cover the card counting basics, explain how different systems work, and provide you with blackjack tips along the way. You may be surprised by how simple the concept is.
What is Card Counting?
Blackjack probability is not static from round to round. Every time a card is removed from the deck, the odds change. For example, if you’re dealt an Ace in Single-Deck Blackjack, your odds of getting dealt another Ace in the next hand are lower than they were for the initial hand because one Ace has been removed from the shoe. Card counting involves adjusting your play (and bets) according to what cards remain in the shoe. In order to get an idea of what’s left, you need to mentally eliminate the cards that pass through the table. Fortunately, there’s no memorization required—the concept involves a running count instead.
The running count consists of grouping cards based on their Effect of Removal, which is essentially how their elimination from the shoe affects your odds of winning going forward. Each card has either a positive, negative, or neutral Effect of Removal, and with basic card counting systems, these groups are assigned a -1, 0 or +1 value. In order to determine when to bet more and when to hold back, you must establish whether the running count is negative or positive.
When getting started, the tricky part to card counting is the pace of play. Blackjack is a fast game, so you need to get to the point where the adding and subtracting comes effortlessly before testing your skills in a casino. This will require lots of practice, which is where online blackjack games come in handy.
Is Counting Cards Legal?
Despite what pit bosses would like you to believe, card counting isn’t illegal in the USA. As long as you’re not using any mechanical devices, you’re allowed to use your mind to beat dealers. That being said, casinos are in the business of making money and train their dealers to flag potential card counters. Management reserves the right to ask anyone, card counters included, to either play other games, or leave the premises, but no one is going to put you in jail. The worst thing that can happen is getting banned from a network of casinos because you’ve been flagged as a professional card counter.
That’s why advantage players try to disguise their counting by deviating from certain plays. For example, standard blackjack players won’t split 10s; basic blackjack strategy advises against it. However, if a running count tells you that the shoe is full of 10s and Aces, you’ll be tempted to split to double your win. If you put down a maximum bet and then split 10s, the dealer is going to suspect you’re counting.
Card Counting Strategy Overview
The crux of card counting is based on blackjack players benefiting from having a shoe full of 10s and Aces. While it’s true that your odds of landing a 10 or Ace are the same as the Dealer’s, there are some extra features that enhance your outcome in these scenarios. For example, as the player, you receive a 3:2 bonus payout for landing Blackjack; the Dealer receives only your even-money bet (1:1). High cards also lead to great doubling down and splitting opportunities—features reserved for the Player and not the Dealer.
Alternatively, having a shoe full of low cards (Two to Six) works to your disadvantage. Fives are especially good for the Dealer, who must hit on 12 to 16. Based on this information, when a card counter has established that the shoe is rich in 10s and Aces, they bet more than when when the shoe is full of low cards. Advanced counting includes memorizing charts that tell you exactly where and how to deviate from basic strategy depending on the running count index number. But we’ll keep things simple for now. Beginners should start with the High-Low card counting system (a Level 1 system) that divides cards into three simple groups: low cards, medium cards and high cards.
High-Low Card Counting Level 1
- Low Cards: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (+1)
- Medium Cards: 7, 8, 9 (0)
- High Cards: 10, Ace (-1)
Each of these three groups is assigned a tag, which you can see in the brackets. The cards in the first group get a tag of +1. The cards in the second group get a tag of 0. These cards have very little effect on player advantage/disadvantage, so they have a neutral Effect of Removal. The cards in the third group get a tag of -1. As you see each card pass through the table, you:
- Add 1 for low cards
- Subtract 1 for high cards
- Ignore the medium cards
That’s how you keep track of the running count. For example, seeing an Ace, 2, 5 and 10 pass through the table would give you a running count of 0.
Any time you’re playing with multi-decks, the running count will have to be divided into the true count—unless you’re using a strategy that sidesteps this requirement. To establish the true count, look at the size of the shoe and estimate how many decks remain. For example, if your running count is +8 and it looks like there are about four decks left in the shoe, you’d divide 8 by 4 for a true count of +2. Sometimes the true count will be a fraction. For example, a running count of +7, with four decks left in the shoe gives a true count of +1.75. In this case, simply round to the nearest whole number to keep things simple.
As mentioned, the true count is positive, negative, or neutral. As low cards pass through the table, you add 1 to your count quite often, which is why a positive tally means that the there are a lot of big cards left in shoe. Keep in mind, it’s in your best interest to increase bet sizes at this point. You’ll want to decrease bets in the opposite scenario. As 10s and Aces are removed from play, you get further into the negatives, which is why a negative count means there’s a higher than average number of low cards left in the shoe. In this case, you’re better off betting the minimum until the count gets back to positive.
A Level 2 system includes +1, -1 and 0 like the Level 1 system, but also uses +2 and -2 tags to increase accuracy. That’s because certain low and high cards have a greater Effect of Removal than others. The Zen Count is an example of a Level 2 card counting system that assigns tags based on five categories.
Zen Count Level 2 Card Counting
- Fours, Fives, Sixes: +2
- Twos, Threes, Sevens: +1
- Eights, Nines: 0
- Aces: -1
- Tens: -2
Compared to the simpler High-Low strategy, this system is better for telling you when to deviate from basic strategy and when to take the Insurance bet, which you can find in online charts. In addition to the High-Low and Zen Count, there are several other strategies available online, so after some trial and error, you should be able to figure out which system works best for you.
Can You Count Cards Online?
Card counting is only possible when playing an extended number of hands without the deck being shuffled. Every time the deck is shuffled, the running count must be restarted. That’s why counting isn’t possible in online casinos; most online blackjack games shuffle the shoe after every hand.
Pros and Cons of Counting Cards
While counting cards is simpler than most people think, the reality is that you’re making only a small margin of profit for a lot of effort—not to mention the effort that goes into evading detection. That’s just fine with passionate blackjack players who get a thrill from beating dealers at the casino. Anyone who can make money doing what they enjoy is on the right path. But if you’re only interested in learning how to win blackjack as a way to make extra money, card counting isn’t the most lucrative side hustle, which is one of the reasons why the MIT team eventually disbanded.
How to Play Blackjack: 8 Mistakes Beginners Make
Blackjack is an amazing game with a very low house edge – one of the lowest you’ll find at Bovada. But you have to play blackjack correctly if you want to keep that edge as small as possible. This means knowing the rules before you play, and playing only when you’re feeling good and your mind is sharp. Bankroll management is important, too; falling for tricks like progressive betting schemes is a great way to shorten your time at the tables.
Strategy is important, too. You should have at least a basic strategy for when to hit in blackjack and when to stand, as well as splitting, surrendering and doubling down. The right play has already been mathematically found for you; all you need to do is learn it and repeat it. But the same mistakes are still made over and over again. Here are eight of the most common mistakes when playing online blackjack:
1. Never Drawing When You Might Bust
As a shortcut, some players simply stop drawing once they have at least a hard 12 in their hand. This prevents them from busting, but it also prevents them from winning as much money as they could. Why a hard 12? Because you can still draw two Aces without going bust – in fact, you should split those every time.
2. Always Buying Insurance
Life tip: Just because someone’s trying to sell you insurance doesn’t mean you have to buy it. In blackjack, you can buy insurance anytime the dealer shows an Ace; it’s a side bet of half your original wager, and if the dealer happens to have a down-card worth 10 for a blackjack, you get paid at 2:1. This bet should be made for entertainment purposes only if you’re using a basic strategy.
3. Always Guessing the Dealer Has 10 in the Hole
Even if the dealer’s up-card isn’t an Ace, many players like to assume the down-card is worth 10 before they decide what to do. Ten points is the most common possibility, but the majority of the time, it’ll be a card somewhere between the Deuce and the Nine instead. You’ll lose money following this strategy.
4. Doing What the Dealer Does on 16 and 17
It’s almost clever: If the dealer hits on 16 and stands on 17, maybe you should do the same thing. But this takes away your options of splitting and doubling down, two very important plays in your blackjack arsenal. Don’t just mimic the dealer – take the time to learn the right strategy when you play at Bovada, and you’ll get the most out of your blackjack dollar.
5. Not Splitting a Pair of 4s when Dealer Shows a 5 or 6
A 5 or 6 Dealer upcard should influence your move because the Dealer is most likely to bust with these two cards. The only way to know this is by memorizing a chart that outlines the Dealer’s odds of busting for each upcard. This is integral to blackjack strategy because it tells you when to sit back and go easy on hitting.
In case you haven’t researched this topic yet, here are the bust rates for each Dealer upcard:
2: 35% Bust Rate
3: 37% Bust Rate
4: 40% Bust Rate
5: 42% Bust Rate
6: 42% Bust Rate
7: 25% Bust Rate
8: 23% Bust Rate
9: 23% Bust Rate
10: 21% Bust Rate
Ace: 11% Bust Rate
When it comes to a pair of 4s, it’s generally advised to hit because it’s better to try to get an 18 than potentially get two 14s. However, when the Dealer shows a 5 or 6, his chance of busting is so high that you should try to maximize profits, which you can do by splitting and then potentially doubling down after the split. Check your game version’s blackjack basic rules to make sure you’re allowed to double after splitting. If not, you’re better off hitting.
6. Splitting a Pair of 10s
In blackjack, a score of 20 is the second-highest score possible. Splitting 10s jeopardizes that score. Sure, you could end up with two hands that have a score of 20, but, you’re better off keeping the 10s intact—no matter what the Dealer’s upcard is.
7. Not Doubling when Needed
When just learning how to play online blackjack, it can be tempting to limit your moves to hitting and standing. While that would expedite your learning, you’d be leaving money on the table for all the hands you should have doubled. The following four scenarios are perfect examples of when you should double down.
- You have an 11
- You have a 10, and the Dealer’s upcard is anything but a 10 or Ace
- You have a 9, and the Dealer has a 3 to 6
- You have a soft hand, and the Dealer has a bust card (refer to strategy chart for specifics)
8. Hit on 8-8 when Dealer Shows a 7
A pair of 8s makes one of the worst scores in the game: 16. A score of 16 puts you in a tough position because it’s high enough to bust (62% probability), but too low to be competitive. That’s why it’s best to split a pair of 8s. With the split, you can potentially take that 16 and get an 18 out of it, which would put you in a much better position.
The reason some players hit 8s when the Dealer shows a 7 is because they’re assuming the Dealer has a 10 in the hole. This strategy will cause you to lose more than you win over the long run. If you insist on hitting with a pair of 8s, reserve it for when the Dealer’s upcard is a 10 or Ace—not a 7.
When you’re getting started with blackjack, you’re going to make mistakes—it’s inevitable. But learning from these mistakes will help fine-tune your strategy. That’s why it’s best to start your training with online blackjack games. At Bovada Casino, you can play the New Blackjack for as little as $1 a hand, or completely free with Practice Play mode.