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The Basics of Blackjack

Les Golden is on a quest to help everybody, even his mate Vinnie, understand the basic strategies required to minimise risk in online blackjack. Now pay attention.

As a licensed professional scientifilogician, I recently completed a survey of leading world online gambling players to determine the most popular online table game. Meeting at my house on Saturday night for the weekly World Championship Penny Ante Poker Tournament, 60 percent said poker, 20 percent said craps, and 20 percent said roulette. Vinnie couldn’t make it. He always loses anyway.

That scientific survey tells us that no one in the world considers blackjack worth its electronic salt.

The reason must be that people don’t know the best strategies for online blackjack. I hereby make it my mission to change that.

The rules of blackjack are pretty simple: you’re dealt two cards, and the goal is to get a total of 21 or closer to 21 than the dealer. If you exceed 21 you lose. If you get 21 or closer to 21 than the dealer, you win.

A couple of options exist. If you get a pair, you can split them, forming two hands. You can also ‘double down’, doubling your bet and getting one and only one additional card. A ‘blackjack’ or ‘natural’ of an Ace and ten-value card (K, Q, J, 10) on the first two cards makes you an instant winner.

Pretty simple, right? Everyone who has played the game knows some basic guidelines. A hand of 18 or better is a ‘pat’ hand, and you request no additional cards. With a hand of 16 or less you take a hit. Hands of 17 generally stand pat, but, especially if one of the cards is an Ace, the player may take a hit. Because hands which include an Ace are called ‘soft’, this guideline is phrased ‘take a hit on soft 17’.

Beyond those, some simple tips will help you become a winner. First, don't try ‘systems’ that sound rational but lack fundamental basis. Most are worthless. In the ‘Small Martingale’ system popular with roulette players you double your bet every time you lose a hand and reduce your bet to your minimum every time you win a hand. This can be shown to be a guaranteed losing strategy. The ‘Do Not Bust’ strategy is self-explanatory. If you have a total of 12 or more, stand. It, too, can be shown to be a guaranteed loser. I advise everyone, especially Vinnie, to avoid both.

Second, if you're new to the game, practice with your friends before you go online. This will provide you with a good intuitive feel for the odds of blackjack. For example, it will become obvious to you quickly that if you are dealt two eights, for a lousy total of 16, you should split the hand. You then get a chance of getting 10-value cards for a good total of 18. You'll also learn to stand if the dealer has a 4, 5 or 6 showing and you have a 14 or 15 or above – let her get the 10-value card and bust.

A number of ‘rules’ exist on splitting hands. As with the pair of eights, you should split a pair of Aces, with the delicious possibility of improving your hand of soft 12 to one or more hands of 21. If you are dealt a pair of 10-value cards, the rule is: stand. "You never split tens," so they say. Although this is not strictly true in the land-based casino, it is true when playing online.

As far as doubling down, you always double down on hard 10 and 11, for example, if you have a 6 and a 4 or an 8 and a 3. Some players also double down with other totals of 8 or 9. With soft hands, the rules players develop are not as clear-cut, but because doubling down means you can only get one additional hand, the tendency of most players is not to double down as readily with soft 10 (Ace and 9) or soft 9 (Ace and 8).

Okay, I’ve done my deed. Hopefully the next poll will show an increase in the number of people who prefer online blackjack. I’m betting on Vinnie.
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