As I said above, dealers don’t have Blackjack options, but players do, and it is in the exercising of these options that players demonstrate their Blackjack-smarts! Below I will discuss five options available to the Blackjack player.
- Should I surrender? This is the question you’ll ask yourself when you get your initial two-card hand, and what it means is, “Is my hand bad enough that I should just fold it? Yes, it’ll cost me half of my original bet, but it might be worth cutting my losses.”
Now, I should say that surrendering is not always an available option in every game. I should also mention that there are two kinds of surrender – early and late – but you’ll rarely find the early option.
That’s because it’s an option that gives the player the advantage, by allowing him to surrender before the dealer has checked his hand for a Blackjack.
Late surrender, on the other hand, means the dealer checks for Blackjack in his hand first, and only if he doesn’t have one will he let the players surrender.
Surrendering is time-dependent; in other words, if you’re given the option at all, you can only act on it before you’ve taken any other “action” (i.e., drawing a third card, splitting, doubling down).
The surrender option is a good one to have, but in my experience I’ve found that if anything, players err to the side of over-using it. Fearing that their hands are losers, they fold them more often than they should.
A good way of deciding whether to surrender is by using this simple formula: You must be only 25% likely to win the hand in order to lose LESS by surrendering.
Or, put another way, let’s say you lose 75% of the time and win 25% of the time. This would render a net loss of 50% of your bets, an amount equal to what you’ll lose when you surrender.
- Should I hit? Or should I stand? These questions of course are at the heart of Blackjack, and the answers to them come more easily over time and with experience. “Hit” means drawing another card to your hand, and “stand” means stopping with what you’ve already got.
In the meantime, it is important for you to know how to communicate which of these options you want to the dealer, and again there are standardized ways of doing so. These ways differ depending on the kind of game you’re playing (i.e., face-up shoe game vs. face-down game).
I will explain both, starting with the face-up shoe game. If you wish to “stand” (meaning, you don’t want any more cards), wave your hand horizontally over your cards. If you wish to “hit” or “draw” (get another card from the dealer) you tap the table behind your cards with your finger.
Now, you may be tempted to call out “stand” or “hit” instead, but believe me, you must use the hand signals.
Just as you would dress in a certain way before entering a church or synagogue, here too in the casino there is a proper mode of behavior and you must follow it. Over time it will come naturally to you.
The truth is that these hand signals are for your benefit too, as there are surveillance cameras to record what goes on in case of dispute over what really happened. Okay. Now let’s say you’ve drawn another card.
If this card puts you over 21, that means you went “bust,” and the dealer will take your bet and clear your cards from the table right away. The modes of behavior are different in the face-down game.
In this scenario you’ll be holding your first two cards in one hand, and to communicate that you want another card you’ll have to scrape your cards lightly across the table felt.
When you do this, the dealer will put your additional cards down on the table, in front of your bet. Leave them there. Don’t pick them up.
Just mentally calculate your total hand value. If you’ve gone beyond 21, take the two cards that are in your hand and put them face-up on the table. At that point the dealer will swoop them up, discard them and collect your bet.
If, on the other hand, you didn’t want another “hit,” you just wanted to “stand,” what you would have done to communicate this wish to the dealer was to tuck your initial two cards – the ones you’ve been holding in your hand – face-down under your bet (i.e., the chips).
It may seem to you that I’m going to an awful lot of trouble to describe an unimportant routine, but in fact the routine is of utmost importance. The reason you have to tuck the cards under the bet is because – if you’ll remember – you’re simply not allowed to touch the bet once the cards have been dealt.
So you have to slide the corner of the cards under the chips – something quite easily accomplished, and much easier to do than to explain!
- What is Doubling Down? Good question. And here’s your answer. Doubling down is when you get to double your bet under these conditions: you can only double down with your initial two-card hand, and you can only receive ONE additional card to that hand.
When should you double down? When you believe you have a good chance of winning that hand – based on what you’ve got in your hand, and what the dealer’s up-card is – and you figure you might as well take advantage of that win by doubling your bet.
I’ll give you an example of a situation in which doubling down makes sense: let’s say you have a total of 11 in your initial two-card hand and the dealer’s up-card is a 5. In this situation you’ll want to exploit the fact that you’ll probably win, by increasing your bet.
I’m afraid that here again I’ll have to get into the dreary “mechanics” of doubling down – i.e., how do you make it known that that’s what you want. In a face-down game you’ll put the two cards face-up on the table in front of your bet.
In a face-up game the cards are already face-up, so you can eliminate that first move! In either kind of game what you’ll do next is to add your additional bet to the betting circle.
This additional bet you’ll put NEXT to the original one, not on top of it, and then the dealer will deal the one additional card out.
If it’s a face-down game, the dealer will most likely tuck the additional card face-down under your bet.
As to the amount of the additional bet: you can bet anything up to (and equal to) the amount of the original bet, but if you’re feeling confident enough about your chance of winning you might as well bet the whole amount.
After all, you HAVE made a sacrifice for this doubling down thing – in return for exercising the option you’ve given up drawing more than that one additional card – so you might as well go for broke and double for the full amount!
The only reason you wouldn’t do that is if you’re unsure about having made the right move in the first place, something you’ll grow more and more sure of as you gain experience in playing the game.
- What Splitting Pairs is All About. Splitting pairs is really about maximizing potential. It’s about taking a bad or mediocre hand and turning it into two (or more) great hands! But I get ahead of myself.
Basically, splitting pairs is an option you can take advantage of if your initial two-card hand consists of matching cards (not matching in suits, which as I’ve said before is irrelevant in Blackjack, but rather in value).
If, for instance, you’re dealt two eights, the best thing to do is to split those eights into two separate hands, since after all a total of 16 is not a winner, and drawing another card to that hand could easily make you go bust.
If, on the other hand, you split that hand into two separate hands played independently of one another, you can improve on your situation by leaps and bounds.
Mechanics again: in a hand-held game what you’d do to communicate your desire to split the hand is to toss the cards face-up in front of your bet.
Then you’d place a matching bet next to the original bet in the circle (by matching I mean that the amount of the additional bet must be equal to the original bet, unlike in the double-down scenario).
Now the dealer will separate the cards and in effect, you have two separate hands now, to be played separately and with various options available once again.
For instance, there is something called “Double After Split,” which means that after splitting you’re once again eligible for the doubling-down option (say that in the first of your two separate hands you drew a 3 to your 8 for a total of 11; you could now double down it).
Whether you choose that option or not, the point is that you would play your first hand until you are done with it, at which point the dealer would deal the next card to your second hand, and then you’d play that hand to completion as well.
You may ask: what if I get yet another 8 on that first 8? And the answer is: most casinos will allow you to split again, or “resplit.” In fact, in most cases they will allow you to resplit 3 more times, for a total of 4 separate hands (and bets, for that matter).
Think that through and you realize that that means you COULD have up to 8 times your original bet on the table! (Be aware: individual casinos have different rules on resplitting: some allow unlimited resplitting, while others have restrictions).
A few points about splitting, and when you should and shouldn’t: where Aces are concerned, ALWAYS split! Is that unambivalent enough for ya?! While there are various casino restrictions regarding Ace-splitting, it is ALWAYS a wise decision to split them. In fact, BECAUSE it is such an unequivocally good move, casinos only allow you to draw one card on each Ace.
And if one of those cards you draw is a card worth 10 points, don’t get overly excited because it won’t be considered a Blackjack – it’ll just be a regular 21 (you can still get a little excited!).
Aces are also the exception to the rule in that certain casinos that have no problem allowing resplitting of any other pairs WON’T allow it of Aces. As for 10-valued cards: you are allowed to split them, but in general you should probably just play it safe and keep the 20.
- What is insurance? This little-understood concept is put most simply like this: insurance is a side-bet, in which you (the player) are offered 2:1 odds that the dealer’s hole card is a card valued at 10 (10, jack, queen or king).
The brass tacks of the situation go something like this: the dealer sees that his up-card is an Ace. Upon seeing that, he’s going to offer insurance to the players.
If the player wants to take the insurance, he will bet up to half his original bet amount, though he won’t put it with his original bet. Instead, he’ll put it on the insurance betting stripe (in front of his bet).
The dealer will then check his hole-card. If it is in fact worth 10 points, then the dealer has a Blackjack, and you’ve just won your insurance bet. At the same time, of course, you’ve lost your original bet, and so you basically break even.
Thus the term insurance, because it is has in effect “protected” you from your original bet which for all intents and purposes is a bet AGAINST the idea that the dealer actually has a Blackjack.
So one cancels out the other. Nevertheless, the dealer could very well NOT have a Blackjack, in which case you’ve lost the insurance bet, while the verdict is not yet in on your original bet – you’d still have to play that out.
Statistically speaking, the insurance bet does not quite make it as a “break-even” bet, because the dealer doesn’t get a Blackjack often enough to have that be the case. Therefore, I don’t recommend taking the insurance bet, at least not if you’re a “basic strategy” player. For card-counters it’s a different story.
- Even money. When you have a Blackjack, the dealer might offer you the “even money” type of insurance. Let’s look at a possible scenario, and figure out whether it’s worth taking it. Imagine that you bet $10, and you have a Blackjack.
So with the normal 3:2 payout, you would earn $15 – unless the dealer also has a Blackjack – right? Now let’s say that in this case the dealer’s up-card is an Ace, and you’ve taken insurance for the full amount (meaning $5).
If the dealer’s got a Blackjack, then you’ve tied with the $10 but because of your insurance bet you’ll collect 2:1 and make a $10 profit.
If the dealer does NOT have a Blackjack, you STILL end up with a profit of $10, because while you’ve lost the $5 insurance bet, you’ve won the $15 3:2 bet. So basically either way you’ll be getting “even money” on this: in either scenario you’ll be getting back the same $10 you put in for the bet.
The upside to taking the even-money offer? You won’t walk away empty-handed. The downside: you’ll never make the full $15 you could have made without the insurance. So what’s the better option? I say that ultimately you’ll do better if you hold out for the $15.
Over all, unless you’re a card counter, my advice to you is NOT to take the insurance bet, even the “even money” variety. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that it is tempting, and many good players take even money if they are offered it.
You’re now ready to go out and play! Though some of the above may sound confusing or complicated, you’ll soon find out that as with many things in life, it’s easier to DO the thing than to read the instructions on how to do it.
One other point: you may want to engage in some online practice games before heading for the casino. But the main thing to keep in mind is to have fun!
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