Learn Pro Blackjack

Learn How to Play, Master Basic Strategy, and Maximize Your Odds
by Captivate Labs, Inc.

Also look for Learn Pro Blackjack Trainer, the popular companion app, for iPhone, iPad, and Android phones and tablets. Get it now at www.learnproblackjack.com.

Learn Pro Blackjack
© 2017 Captivate Labs, Inc.
All rights reserved.

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1. Learn How to Play

Rules and Gameplay


Winning and Losing

Hard and Soft Hands

Table Setup and Gameplay

In-Game Actions

Etiquette, Manners and Tipping

Hand Signals



2. Master Basic Strategy

House Edge and Game Fluctuation

Basic Strategy

How it Works

Charts and Flashcards

Common Use

Facts and Tips

3. Test Your Skills

Knowledge Quiz

How to Practice

Tracking Your Play

4. Maximize Your Odds

How to Choose a Casino

How to Pick a Table

Side Bets

Understand Rule Variations

5. Bonus Material

History of Blackjack

Story of the MIT Team

How to Play Spanish 21

Advanced Strategies



Learn Pro Blackjack Trainer App

Basic Strategy Charts

Knowledge Quiz Answers

Unlike nearly every other blackjack book on the market, this manual isn’t just about learning how to win. It's also about teaching you to have more fun, and build more confidence by learning the blackjack rules, basic strategy, odds, and secrets of the game that will help you improve the return on your gambling dollar. If you’re like us, blackjack is entertainment and you enjoy the thrill of winning and losing, the chatter with your fellow players at the table, and the satisfaction of walking away from a successful evening with lots of comps and freebies. This book will help ensure that you know how to play blackjack strategically so that you aren’t wasting your hard earned time and money getting up to speed before you can enjoy the game. Good luck!

Part One
Learn How to Play
Blackjack is one of the most popular card games in the world, and it is the only casino card game against the house that can be consistently beaten by professional players—legally. All blackjack strategy hinges on what statisticians and computers have determined to be the ideal moves for each hand. The use of those ideal moves is called basic strategy. Blackjack is a very fun game, and its possible to win a great deal of money playing it, but to maximize your experience, its best to learn how to play strategically before you sit down at a table and spend real money.

Rules and Gameplay
Ultimately blackjack is very simple to play. At the most basic level, blackjack is a contest between the dealer and player where the objective is to achieve a better hand than the dealer without exceeding a total of 21.

Card values in blackjack are similar to most table games with the exception of the Ace. Suits (spades, diamonds, hearts, clubs) do not matter. When combined, individual cards are totaled to give the player a current score. Cards 2 through 9 are scored at face value, Jack, Queen, and King are valued at 10 points and Aces can be worth either 1 or 11 points.

Winning and Losing
Not surprisingly, the best possible hand to have in blackjack is called “blackjack” which is achieved when the first two cards in any hand total 21. To receive blackjack an Ace must be combined with a 10, Jack, Queen, or King on the first two cards dealt. Thus, a hand containing an Ace and a Jack would be blackjack, yet a hand of Jack, 9, 2 would simply be a score of 21. Blackjack is sometimes also referred to as a “natural.” In nearly all casinos, assuming that the dealer doesn’t also have blackjack, receiving a natural pays instantly and at 1½ times the wager.
After blackjack, the next most desirable outcome is to have the “best hand,” or highest total that doesn’t exceed 21. Winning with the best hand pays out at 1 times the initial wager, thus a player that bets $10 would keep his bet and earn $10 for the win.
The alternative to blackjack or best hand is “push” or “bust.” A push is a tie between dealer and player where money is neither lost nor won. Alternatively, busts are hands that go over 21 and are automatic losers that result in the player forfeiting all wagers. Players are terribly disappointed when they personally bust, but when the dealer busts all parties in the game win.

Hard and Soft Hands
Every blackjack card combination can be classified as either hard, or soft based on their potential point total. Identifying when a hand is hard or soft is necessary to learn basic strategy.
Hard combinations are when a player’s cards can only total to one value. For example, if a player has a hand with a 4 and an 8, they would be considered to have a hard 12. Similarly, if a player has a hand consisting of a 7, 5 and Ace, their total can only be 13. Even though the Ace can technically be worth 1 or 11 points, in this scenario, the Ace can only be valued at 1 point since a value of 11 would cause the hand to bust (exceed 21), resulting in an automatic loss.
Soft hands are the opposite of hard hands because they can have multiple totals. For example, if a player has a hand that includes a 2, 3 and Ace, they are said to have a soft hand because the Ace can be worth 1 or 11 points, thus the hand could be worth either 6 or 16. Since the Ace is the only card in blackjack that can have multiple values, a hand must include an Ace to be considered soft. A primary benefit of soft hands is that it is impossible for them to bust.

Table Setup and Gameplay
At a blackjack table, player(s) sit across from the dealer in a semicircle. The dealer deals the cards clockwise, so the player who is sitting farthest to the right of the table at “first base” gets the first card, and the player to the far left at “third base” gets the last card. After the player at third base gets his card, the dealer deals himself a card. The dealer deals one card for each of the two rounds resulting in everyone receiving two cards prior to the beginning of the game.
In games with three or more decks, the dealer deals from a shoe, which is a dispenser at the right side of the table next to the chip rack. In single- and double-deck games, the dealer holds the cards and deals by tossing the cards to the players. Cards in multi-deck games are usually dealt face up, and cards in single- and double-deck games are typically dealt face down. One of the dealer’s cards is always face down. This is known as the hole card, and the dealer does not show it to anyone until every player is done acting unless it is a blackjack.
Before a game begins, the dealer shuffles the deck(s) and “burns” a card by putting it in the discard tray without looking at it or showing it to anyone. After the card is burnt, players put their cash wagers or chip wagers in their betting circles. Wagers must be no less than the table minimum, and no more than the table maximum as stipulated by the bet limits established by the casino for each table. Once the wagers are placed, the dealer starts distributing cards and players are not allowed to modify their bets unless it is to double or split.
After the initial two cards are dealt and the dealer has asked people if they want to insure their hands and/or checked for blackjack, he pays anyone who has gotten a two-card blackjack, then motions for the player at first base to indicate whether he will hit, double, surrender, split, or stand on his hand. The dealer continues across the table in a clockwise manner until the player at third base acts. After the player at third base acts, the dealer goes through the same process for himself—except he has to draw until he reaches 17 or busts. Some tables require the dealer to stay on a soft 17, and others require that the dealer hit on a soft 17. The latter is more advantageous to the house, so it is the rule you will see more frequently.
If the dealer busts, everyone who is still in the hand is paid an amount equal to whatever they have wagered. If the dealer does not bust, he pays anyone who has a higher card point total than his hand and collects the wagers of those people who had a lower card point total. After the hand has been concluded, the dealer collects all of the cards for the hand and puts them face down in the discard tray. The process is then repeated until the shoe or deck needs to be reshuffled.

In-Game Actions
In any game of blackjack, several actions are available to players. Likewise, dealers also take action to improve their own hands, but are required to draw cards until they reach a score of 17 or greater.

To “hit” is to request an additional card
To “stand” is to stop taking further actions and to play with the current hand
“Doubling down” is the act of increasing the initial bet on a hand (up to as much as the initial wager) after the first two cards are drawn; upon doubling down, players automatically get one additional card added to their hand, but are not allowed to take any subsequent actions
“Splitting” is to turn a hand of two identical cards (suits do not matter) into two hands by placing a second wager equal to your first wager
To “surrender” is to forfeit the hand by giving up half of your bet (not offered in most places)
Taking “insurance” is to make a side bet with the house that the dealer has blackjack when he/she is showing an Ace; a win on this side bet offsets a player’s potential loss on the main hand, thus the name “insurance”

Etiquette, Manners and Tipping
Blackjack etiquette is an important part of the playing experience and ranges from knowing the appropriate hand signals to understanding how you are expected to act, tip, etc. Some etiquette rules are standard, while others vary depending upon the location and the individual casino. It can take some time to get a feel for some of the nuances, but with a little preparation and old fashioned experience, you can feel like a pro relatively quickly.

Hand Signals
In multi-deck games with three or more decks, you are not allowed to touch the cards. You tap the table to have the dealer draw another card, and you wave your hand over your cards to stay. If you want to double down or double for less on a card combination, you put an equal or lesser amount of chips immediately next to, or behind your initial bet. To split two identical cards, you place an equal chip stack next to your first bet.

Hand signals in single- and double-deck games are slightly different. In these games, you are allowed to touch the cards, but you can only do so with one hand. If you are playing multiple spots at the same time, you can only act at one spot at a time, starting with the spot that is farthest to the right. Cards in single-deck games are usually dealt face down, and you pick them up with one hand. In order to hit, you scratch the cards against the table. When you want to stay, you tuck your cards underneath your chips. You split and double the same way that you would in a multi-deck game.

The dynamics of the community at any given table may depend greatly on where you are playing, but there are some universal rules. For one, hitting a combination with a hard score over 11 when the dealer is showing a 4, 5 or 6 can be considered rude. Doing so may annoy fellow players because statistically, it is assumed that the dealer has a 10-value card face down. As such, most people in this situation would expect the dealer to bust. If you happen to draw a card that would have made the dealer bust, other players may become upset. Additionally, similar to this thinking, keep in mind that players at third base are the last to act, and as such can have more pressure on them to play appropriately. Other players may blame them for anything that goes wrong if the dealer wins a hand that might have been lost if they had acted differently. You should consider playing in seats other than third base unless you are okay with being under pressure by other players from time to time.

There are two ways to tip the dealer. The first is by simply pushing chips forward and offering them to the dealer. The second way is by adding the dealer’s tip to your wager. You can do this by putting it in front of your main bet. If you win the hand, the dealer gets double the amount of the tip wager—two and a half times if you hit a blackjack. Tipping the dealer can be advantageous because he or she may give you advice on hands and warn you when you are about to make a stupid mistake. That said, it is not necessary to tip the dealer if you are losing or if he or she is rude.
How much to tip can often be confusing for players, but it doesn’t have to be. The best advice is to tip what feels comfortable to you. However, tips generally range from a high of leaving 10% of your buy-in for the dealer after the game to shouting the dealer a dollar or two every once in a while when you’ve had some good luck. Your best bet is to take note of how others at the table are acting and respond accordingly based on your fortune. It should be noted; however, that tipping during your round rather than afterwards has the added benefit of helping to build rapport with the dealer which can make for a better overall playing experience.

Part Two
Master Basic Strategy
In order to become a successful blackjack player, whether as a professional or a hobbyist, you need to have a basic understanding of how odds and strategy determine your risk. Taking the time to learn basic strategy is definitely worth it in the long run. Blackjack is advertised as being the table game with the lowest house edge, but that is only the case when players use strategy and routinely make the correct moves. Players who only follow general guidelines or their gut instincts when playing generally lose much more money in the long run. Learning perfect basic strategy doesn’t take long, and most people can usually memorize all of the correct moves in a few sittings.

House Edge and Game Fluctuation
Unless you are counting cards, the house has the advantage over the long term. You may have big swings of luck, but it is nearly impossible to win more hands over time than you lose. Taking that into account, it is important to determine how large your bankroll should be and what your maximum wager size should be if you want to keep from running out of money.
For a normal sitting, most infrequent players should expect to sit down with 20 times their average bet. So a player with a betting spread of between $5 and $10 using basic strategy can sit down with $200 and expect to probably not lose all of his or her money in that sitting—he or she might even triple that amount. The reason you want such a large bankroll in proportion to your wagers is so that you can avoid losing all of your money before it can go back up due to variance. Also having an appropriately sized bankroll helps ensure the ability to perform multiple splits, double downs, etc. (all situations that are good for the player). Forfeiting these opportunities as a result of not having enough money can significantly reduce your odds. In layman’s terms, an appropriate bankroll affords players elbowroom to take advantage of opportunities and withstand the inherent ups and downs of the game.

Basic Strategy
Although the house generally wins over the long-term, players can reduce the casino’s odds dramatically by using simple strategy rules. Blackjack tables typically turn between 50 and 100 games every sixty minutes, which means that even a conservative player betting $10 per hand is cycling through up to $1,000 in wagers per hour. Decreasing the house edge from 3% to 1% for example can result in $20 in savings during that limited amount of time. Since bet sizes and lengths of stay at the casino can vary substantially, savings can add up quickly. Playing according to strategy and reducing the house edge can mean the difference between having a great trip or a lousy vacation and the difference between dining in the cheap buffet and savoring a meal in the five star steakhouse at the end of the night.
Basic strategy is the only reason that blackjack has the lowest house edge of any casino game. Decades ago, some savvy mathematicians used computers to figure out which moves were statistically most effective for every card combination in blackjack. After simulating hundreds of thousands of hands, they finally came up with a list of the best possible in-game actions. There were slight variations in which moves were ideal for certain types of games and rules, but most of them were the same. Those charts of ideal moves became known as the basic strategy, BS or just basic.
Using perfect play, you can lower the house edge to anywhere from just less than 1 percent in eight-deck games to 0.13 percent in single-deck games. A house edge that low means that a good player has almost the same chance of winning during a sitting of blackjack as he or she does of winning a coin toss.
Unfortunately, many players fail to learn that the house only has such a small edge when the player is flat betting (betting the same amount each time) and playing basic strategy over many hands. Depending on which mistakes you make, you can lose more money more quickly in blackjack than in a game like a slot machine. In order to be a smart player, stick to the basic strategy moves and use flat or conservative bets that are appropriately sized for your bankroll.

How it Works
As noted above, basic strategy is simply the set of statistically correct blackjack moves for each possible combination of dealer and player hands that will minimize the casino’s edge over the long-term. Each basic strategy action can be broken down into one of three categories: offensive, defensive, and neutral.
Offensive strategies are designed to ensure that players make the most of situations where the odds of winning are in the player’s favor. For example, consider a player that has a soft 19 versus a dealer’s 6. In this situation, the player already has a winning hand – the dealer has a high likelihood of busting and the player has a strong point total. If the player were simply to stand (a neutral move), he would likely win the round. However, in this situation, basic strategy usually dictates that a player should double down. While doubling opens the player up to the possibility of drawing a card that could make the current 19 weaker, it also enables him or her to put more money in play and take maximum advantage when the dealer is weak.
Defensive strategies, alternatively, are meant to blunt the effect of disadvantageous situations. For example, a player with a pair of 8s has a total of 16, which is expected to lose against nearly every dealer up card. In order to give the player an opportunity to improve his hand, basic strategy instructions say to split, thus turning the one poor hand into two new ones. By splitting, the player is defensively retreating out of a position of weakness with the hopes that the combination of the resulting two hands will be better than the original.

Charts and Flashcards
Basic strategy is typically learned using charts or flashcards. Strategy charts are grid-like systems that show each individual move based on the intersection of rows and columns that represent player and dealer hands. Whereas strategy charts can be complicated to comprehend, flashcards have the same information as the charts, but are designed to teach players in a simpler, and more familiar process that also more closely resembles game play in the actual casino environment.

Just like you shouldn’t try to cram everything the night before a big test, you shouldn’t try to learn all of basic strategy in one day. While it is possible to learn quickly, you will retain the information and understand how everything fits together better if you pace yourself. For example, you might spend one day doing flash cards for situations in which you must decide whether to hit or stand. The next day, you might work on splitting pairs. If you make your own flashcards, make personal notes about certain hands so that you can remember them later.

Common Use
Most habitual players learn the rudiments of basic strategy, but few actually take the time to learn all of the moves. For instance, most people know not to hit a 16 vs. a 6, but some may not know that you hit A,7 vs. a dealer’s 9. Hitting your 12 against a 3 in a multi-deck game is another action that most people do not know to make. These small mistakes add up over the long term, and they undermine your ability to play an even game against the house.
Blackjack is a fast-paced casino game. You may not be the only one at the table, and the dealer may get in trouble if he or she is not dealing enough hands per hour. Players and dealers alike may get annoyed with you if you take too long while deciding on your moves, placing your bets and so forth. As such, it is important that you memorize all of the right moves before sitting down to play at a real table with real money. As stated previously, the house edge is only low when you play perfectly, so it is definitely worth your while to learn basic strategy thoroughly, or, at a minimum, to memorize at least a handful of playing decisions.
Although we recommend using flashcards to learn basic strategy, we have included several basic strategy charts in the appendix to help you get started learning right away. The charts cover eight variations including basic strategies for typical games styles found in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Single and Double Deck games. Each is shown with and without surrender.

The Learn Pro Blackjack Trainer app includes easy to use basic strategy flashcards.  Learn more at www.learnproblackjack.com or in the appendix.

Facts and Tips
Several important facts and tips can help you achieve success during game play. Below are some of the most critical items you need to remember in order to put yourself into positive situations and to figure out the correct play in case you forget any particular basic strategy move.

Tips to set yourself up for success:

Playing with perfect basic strategy, you can get the house edge down to between 1 and 0.13 percent in some games.
As a general rule, have a bankroll that is at least 20 times whatever your maximum bet will be and stick to tables that have minimums that you are comfortable playing with.
Depending on your goals and playing style, you can maximize your playing time while reducing your total wagers by playing at crowded tables since they will be slower; however, conversely, you will get to play more hands per hour at tables that are not crowded.
Tables with shuffling machines can be nice if you prefer more fluid play since you do not have to wait during shuffling breaks. Alternatively, though, you will likely play a few more hands per hour at these tables.
Be aware of the effects of drinking on your play. Although the free drinks are often a great benefit, alcohol consumption can cloud judgment and lead to mistakes, which can throw off a great game.
Never let emotion, intuition, superstition, pressure from other players, stress, or any other factor change your play. Stick to basic strategy if that is what you are using.
Do not vary your bets too much (unless you are counting or using another professional technique). Doing so increases the house’s effective edge over the long term.
Always set a limit for how much you are willing to lose in a sitting. Never exceed that amount. You can always play later.
Do not play with the mentality that you need to win back your money for a sitting. If you lose too much, leave.
Casinos have certain average bet requirements for you to qualify for comps. Ask a pit boss about the comps before you start playing so that your wagers can count toward bonuses early on.

Tips to help you make good decisions:

The dealer is highly likely to bust (40%+ chance) on a 4, 5 or 6 upcard
The dealer is highly unlikely to bust on an Ace (17% chance)
Players are highly likely to bust (70% chance) on hard totals of 17 or above
Never take insurance; in every scenario, the odds are against the player
Always split pairs of Aces or 8s
Some basic strategy actions are meant to mitigate losses rather than make money. For instance, split 8s to avoid having to hit a 16, which has a very high bust rate. Alternatively, other strategy actions are meant to maximize betting on areas of significant player advantage or dealer weakness.

Part Three
Test Your Skills
Once you have gone over the rudiments of blackjack and done your best to memorize the basic strategy charts or flashcards, its prudent to check yourself and see just how much you have learned. Figure out which areas you need to touch up on, and see if you are ready to play in a live environment. Doing so will ensure your skills are fundamentally sound and give you the confidence to enjoy blackjack without the worry of being unprepared.

The Learn Pro Blackjack Trainer app is the perfect tool to help you test yourself, track your performance, and perfect your skills.  Learn more at www.learnproblackjack.com or in this book’s appendix.

Knowledge Quiz
At the most basic level, players should be sure that they are aware of the fundamental rules, regulations, and norms of blackjack. To test your retention of what you have learned so far, answer the following questions to be sure you know the critical components to playing the game (follow the link at the end or go to the appendix to view the answers):

In a single-deck or double-deck game, you _________ to hit.
In a single-deck or double-deck game, you _________ to stand.
In a multi-deck game, you _________ to hit.
In a multi-deck game, you _________ to stand.
Third base is the position farthest to the _________ of the table if you are facing the dealer.
Never _________ because it is always disadvantageous to the player.
The dealer must stand after a card point total of _________.
You bust when your card point total exceeds a hard _________.
A soft hand cannot _________.
A soft hand always includes an _________.
The dealer is most likely to bust when he is showing these up cards: _________, _________, _________.
A player’s odds of busting on hands of hard 17 or greater are _________.
To _________ is to forfeit, although it isn’t offered in most places.
A hand consisting of an Ace, a Queen and a 10 would total _________, but not be _________.
_________ do not matter in the game of blackjack.
_________ is the set of the most statistically correct moves a player can make versus any dealer up card.
Jack, Queen and King are aways worth _________ points.
Ace can be worth _________ or _________ points.
Numbered cards are worth _________.
To reduce the house edge the most when using basic strategy you should _________.
To _________ is to request another card.
To _________ is to decline additional actions.
When a player doubles, he/she is limited to receiving _________ additional card(s) for their hand.
You can _________ a hand of King, King, but not a hand of Queen, King.
When the dealer _________, all players still in the hand win.

View Answers

How to Practice
You should not play for real money until you have proven to yourself that you have learned the basic strategy inside and out; doing otherwise is a great way to lose your hard-earned money and ruin the game for yourself before you even get a chance to play well. Take yourself and your money seriously by both learning the strategy and subsequently confirming your skills.
A good way to practice blackjack is to use a computer or app that allows you to play in a simulated environment. Otherwise, you can set up a table at home and deal cards to yourself or have a friend or roommate deal for you. Do everything that you can to make it feel like you are playing a real game, and take note of any weaknesses in your play after each session. When you can comfortably play hundreds of hands without getting emotional or making any basic strategy mistakes, you are probably ready to play in a real casino with real money. If playing for real doesn’t go well, go back to practicing until you build your confidence back up.

The Learn Pro Blackjack Trainer app includes a practice game where you can track your performance and perfect your skills.  Learn more at www.learnproblackjack.com or in this book’s appendix.

Tracking Your Play
One opportunity that many new players don’t take advantage of is tracking their casino playing sessions to improve their performance. To consistently get better you should know how much you are really winning or losing every time. For one, the results of your playing sessions may highlight one or more weaknesses in your gameplay. Maybe you bet too high or fluctuate your bets too frequently. Perhaps you are not abiding by basic strategy as consistently as you should be.
In your logbook (this can also be a computer document) take note of where you play, how much you play with, what your bankroll is, how many hours you play, what the game rules are, other notes about the casino(s), what you may have done differently at each session, and so forth. If you find a dealer who is very patient with you and lets you know when you are making a stupid playing decision or gives you time to act on each hand, write down his or her name and when he or she works so that you can find him or her the next time you play at that casino.

Play logs are available for download on the book website.  Visit www.learnproblackjack.com/play-log.

Part Four
Maximize Your Odds
In addition to your own individual play (how well you invoke basic strategy), several environmental factors can significantly impact your overall odds and enjoyment. At a minimum, you should be aware of how the general casino environment, individual table rules, and side bet options can influence your game.

How to Choose a Casino
One of the rules of blackjack is to always play at the best possible venue. You want to find somewhere that has playing conditions, rules, dealers, and minimums that are in your favor. If you plan on staying for a while, you should also look for favorable comp plans so that you can win free massages, meals, hotel rooms, and other bonuses. Unless you plan on playing online, which is typically inadvisable, you will need to find the right casino.
Scout out the venues before you play. If you are going to be in a city for a weekend or a week, you should take a few hours to check out all of the venues that offer blackjack before you sit down to play anywhere. If you fail to properly check out all of the casinos in an area, you might miss a very good game with great rules and the limits that you are looking for. When you walk around, you can get a feel for what the other players are like, if there is cigarette smoke everywhere, how fast the dealers are, what the rules are, how high the table minimums are, and so forth. Taking a few notes on each of the places is a good idea because you might not remember everything the first time around.
Regardless of how high the stakes, it is always a good idea to talk to the dealers and their managers (the pit bosses) to build good rapport. You can ask pit bosses about the games and whether the limits or conditions change during peak hours. Most casinos run on three eight-hour shifts, so you can usually expect to see the same dealers and pit bosses at the same time every day. If you befriend the dealers and pit bosses early, you are more likely to receive comps, bonus offers, and other preferential treatment later.
Find a place with minimums that you can afford. Some casinos raise their rates in the evenings and on the weekends in order to make tables less crowded and to get people to bet more. Tables usually have signs that will tell you what the minimums are, but they get changed frequently. Some casinos may give you private tables if you are willing to bet enough at a time. Setting up a private table is typically at the discretion of the pit bosses or managers on duty, so you can ask them what their policies are during your initial scouting trip.
Some casinos have pamphlets at their front desks that can tell you about how their comps and bonuses for players work. Otherwise, you can ask a pit boss or find a customer service kiosk. There are almost always separate comp systems for table players and slot players. You should mostly pay attention to how the comps work for the table players. Some casinos require that you play a minimum number of hours at a certain average bet in order to qualify for their comps. Rather than betting outside your bankroll to meet a casino’s comp requirements, you should find a casino that offers comps at wagering limits that you can comfortably afford.
Assuming that you are only planning on playing blackjack, the other games at the casinos shouldn’t really matter. In fact, some of the smallest casinos offer the best blackjack games with the lowest table minimums. It is relatively standard for casinos to offer blackjack, so you might find some smaller places that only have slots, video poker machines, and a few blackjack tables. As such, you should make a point to check out smaller venues when you go to a new city.

How to Pick a Table
After you find one or more casinos that have everything that you are looking for, look around for a comfortable table. There are different factors to look at when evaluating a table, and you may have to move a few times as conditions change and people sit down or leave, but you will enjoy your playing sessions more if you follow a few general guidelines.
Unless you absolutely do not know how to play a single-deck game or the dealers are very slow, you should always try to play at tables that use fewer decks. The house edge is diminished in single- and double-deck games, which allows you to play very close to an even game. However, if these tables are crowded, the minimums are too high, or you are uncomfortable with the style of play, find a different game.
Some players prefer slower dealers, and some players prefer faster dealers. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of games. The slower dealers are more likely to give you time to think out your playing decisions, which can really help if it takes you a while to remember the correct basic strategy moves. Faster dealers will deal more hands per hour, which can be great if you are winning, but a fast dealer can wipe out your bankroll during a bad streak if you aren’t paying attention. Faster dealers may also rush you during your turns to act, and this can cause you to make stupid mistakes that you wouldn’t otherwise make. During your practice sessions, determine whether you prefer faster or slower deals, and then take your preference into account when you look for a table.
You should generally look for tables with fewer players, but that is not always an option during busy nights. You might also enjoy the social experience of playing at crowded tables. Regardless, try to find a table that has players who look like they are there to play for a while. If you see someone with only a few chips, he or she is likely to play erratically, making moves that the crowd might perceive as costing the other players at the table their money. A good table will typically have a few players who are betting moderately, have decent-sized chip stacks, and are sitting down instead of standing—players who are standing may be prone to leave and come back, causing disruption or disjointed play at the table.
You do not always have to start playing as soon as you find a table. Some places, like Atlantic City, might not even allow you to start playing in the middle of the shoe. Given the way that card distribution works, a shoe can stay relatively neutral, go well in the beginning and bad in the end, or go badly in the end and well in the beginning. If you see that a shoe is mostly dealt, and all of the players say that the dealer has been winning every hand for most of the shoe, there may be a high concentration of good cards left. In a situation like this, jumping in toward the end might work in your favor. Conversely, if you see a bunch of big cards come out and players winning early in a shoe, you should wait until the decks are reshuffled before sitting down to play.

Side Bets
A side bet in blackjack is a bonus game that you can play on top of your normal blackjack hand. There are many different types, and you are likely to see at least one in every major casino. Generally, you place a side bet by putting extra chips in an area next to your primary betting circle. Some games have strict limits on how much you can bet. Others permit you to bet the table maximum in your side circle. When you sit down at a table, the dealer may tell you how the bonus game works. Alternatively, you can always ask a dealer, pit boss, or player to explain the rules to you. The general idea is that you can risk a relatively small amount of money on your side bonus in the hopes that you will see a return several times what you wagered.
Casinos use side bets in their blackjack games for a number of reasons. One big reason is that side bets add variety to a game that is otherwise played almost the same way no matter where you go. Another obvious reason that casinos offer side bets is that they typically put players at a greater disadvantage. Playing most side bets is like playing the slots. Losing a few dollars on the side every few hands might not seem like much when you are betting $15 per hand, but those incremental losses make casinos a lot of money.

Pros and Cons of Side Bets
Even though you will lose more money over time when you play blackjack bonus games, they can still be quite fun and some professional players can actually beat some of the side bets. Because the payouts for some side bets are extremely high compared to the wagers, it is possible to make a great deal of money. However, if you are not a skilled player, you are best off saving your money and leaving bonus games alone.
Professionals that try and beat side bets often use very technical types of card tracking. For instance, if a game requires one to get multiple queens out at the same time, professionals might first determine how many queens there are in the deck(s), then play the side bet game only when there is a very high concentration of queens that have not been dealt yet. There is no guarantee of winning, but the idea is to win the side bets frequently enough that the massive payouts make up for losing more hands.
For the vast majority of players, it is inadvisable to even play side bets. If you don’t mind putting a dollar or two in the side bet slot during normal play with much larger primary bets, your relative losses will not be substantial. Just bear in mind that side bets are designed to give the house a higher edge.

Most Common Side Bets
Royal Match

Royal Match is the most common blackjack side bet. It is easy to play, the rules are easy to remember, and most large American casinos offer it. The goal is to get two initial cards of the same suit. There are a few other matches that pay well, but the primary objective is to get a suited king and queen. A combination with a suited king and queen pays out at a standard rate of 25 to 1, but there are also progressive variants. The disadvantage to the player is greater in multi-deck games than in single-deck games.


21+3 borrows some terminology and concepts from poker. You will not see it in most casinos, but some still offer it. The object of the game is to get some type of flush, a straight or a three of a kind when you combine your initial two cards and the dealer’s upcard. A win typically pays out at a rate of 9 to 1.

Lucky Ladies

Lucky Ladies is another of the most common side bets offered in casinos. You place your bet in a side slot, and any hand that you get with a value of exactly 20 points will win you at least four times your wager. The pay tables differ depending on where you play and how many decks there are, but you are paid progressively higher amounts the more similar your two cards are to each other. The best card combination that you can get is two queens of hearts. This typically pays out at between 125 to 1 and 200 to 1. However, if the dealer has a blackjack when you get two queens of hearts, you win 1,000 times your side bet.

Super Sevens

Super Sevens is a bonus side bet that pays out quite well. The object is to get various combinations of 7s as your first cards and any cards that you draw.

Bet the Set

Bet the Set is a lot like Super Sevens, except it counts for all of the cards. You place a bet in the hopes that you will get two of the same card. You win more if your cards are of the same suit.

Bonus Blackjack

Bonus Blackjack is a side bet that is strongly in the house’s favor. To play, you place a wager in the hopes that you or the dealer will get a blackjack.

Progressive Blackjack

Progressive Blackjack is a lot like the side bet you see in Caribbean stud poker. You place a small side bet of $1 whenever you want to, and there is a minute chance that you will hit a large progressive jackpot. Such jackpots can sometimes be tens of thousands of dollars. If you are already betting high amounts, it doesn’t hurt to put down a dollar for the side bet. But if you are betting small amounts, this is not worth your time or money.

Perfect Pairs

Perfect Pairs is getting more popular every day, but still relatively limited. It is like a lot of other games in that you win more if your cards are more alike. The best combination that you can get is two of the exact same card and suit.


Hi/Low is a game in which you bet on whether your first card will be higher or lower than the house’s upcard. While it sounds like this might be a fun game with odds similar to flipping a coin, there’s a catch. The dealer typically wins ties, so you will lose more hands over time.

Match the Dealer

In Match the Dealer, you bet that your card or cards will be the same as the dealer’s upcard. The more alike they are, the more you win.

Casino Surrender

While quite common, this is really a bad side bet to waste your money on. If you have a two-card 20 and the dealer has a 10-value up card, you can force the dealer to surrender by accepting a payment equal to half your primary bet. You are best off simply letting the hand play through.

Understand Rule Variations
In blackjack, the house’s hypothetical edge is affected by small changes in its rules. What may seem like small differences in games may actually be taking a toll on how much you win or lose in an hour. Many casinos take advantage of the fact that few people know how certain rules affect gameplay. Some rules are in place simply to make money; others are there to protect games from professional card counters. Different regions have accepted rule standards that are important to know before you play.

Good vs. Bad Rules
Most people know that games with fewer decks give the house a lower house edge. With perfect basic strategy and very liberal rules, you can get the house edge down to roughly 0.13 percent in a single-deck game. Realistically, you will never see rules that liberal in a single-deck game. Since most games have six decks, your objective should typically be to play games that have house edges closer to 0.6 percent than 1 percent. As a general rule, you should avoid playing games that pay out diminished blackjacks instead of those that pay out at 150 percent (3 to 2) of your bet. While it would be nice if all casinos offered surrender in their blackjack games, most do not.

Geographic Differences

Las Vegas

Games in Las Vegas tend to mostly use six decks in order to get in more hands per hour and dissuade counters from playing. The dealers are faster than in most places, but they aren’t as fast as those on cruise ships. Almost all games hit on soft 17. Most of the tables now use automatic shuffling machines so that the six-deck shoes can be immediately swapped out. You will not see much variation in playing conditions within Las Vegas.

Atlantic City

Atlantic City can be more challenging than other locations. The pit bosses are very wary of card counters, so they take numerous measures to increase the house edge. Some measures include only using 50 percent shoe penetration before reshuffling. You may not be allowed to sit down in the middle of a shoe—a rule to counteract advantage players who jump into games when the high-value card counts are favorable. Furthermore, due to the heightened awareness, players are more likely to be suspected as a card counters when playing perfect basic strategy.


Many of the games in Europe use no-hole-card rules, which are the same as in normal blackjack, but the hole card (the dealer’s face-down card) is drawn after all of the players act. This is disadvantageous to players because the dealer may take all of their money from splits, doubles and so forth before checking for a blackjack. Before playing, ask if a casino only takes your initial bet upon getting a blackjack. Averaged out over time, no-hole-card games don’t add to the house edge as much as smaller blackjacks or other handicaps, but you may find yourself inclined to play more carefully when the dealer shows a 10-value card or an Ace. Ironically enough, second-guessing your basic strategy moves in no-hole-card games only increases the house’s edge. Always stick to the basic strategy.

Bahamas and Netherland Antilles

The Bahamas and Netherland Antilles are great places to play. Both have their pros and cons. The primary places to play are Nassau and Aruba, but St. Maarten and Curacao also have some decent casinos. Casinos in all of the islands tend to have a lot of locals and tourists, so weekends and evenings are far busier than weekdays.
The Bahamas tend to be more wary of advantage players, and the dealers are slower, but Nassau does have one very large casino that is often an attraction. Unlike other places, Nassau is busy during the day because of all the cruise ship passengers who offload during business hours, so you may find that it is more relaxing to play in the evenings.
Overall, Aruba has the best playing conditions and the most variety. Most of the major hotels have casinos, and there are a few very large ones. As long as you are friendly toward everyone and as easy going as the local players, you can get great comps and do quite well here.

Asia and the Middle East

Blackjack is very popular in Asia and can be found throughout the majority of casinos. In the Middle East, however, blackjack is harder to find since it can still be considered a game of skill, not luck which can be considered taboo there. The Middle East continues to change rapidly, though, and laws and customs are adjusting accordingly. The casinos that do offer blackjack in the Middle East are frequented by the rich sheiks as well as tourists.
In terms of playing conditions, in Asia, dealers can be extremely fast because of the popularity of and familiarity with the game in the region. Dealers in Asia are very fast and impatient at the table, which is something to be aware of. Once the cards are dealt, dealers expect players to make a prompt response so they can move on to the next player. Little help is given along the way as they believe it is up to each person to learn the game before sitting down. Alternatively, in the Middle East, since the game is not as well known, the dealers typically have less experience dealing blackjack and are slower. Players can expect to have time to decide their next move, although similar to Asia, they shouldn’t expect assistance with their hand.
There are generally no rule differences in blackjack in either the Middle East or Asia and table setups are standard. In Southeast Asia, it is common to find a variation being played called Chinese Blackjack. This variant usually contains two decks of cards, anyone can be the dealer (thus each round can be dealt by another player), and Aces can have values additional values. Chinese blackjack, or other variants should be obviously marked for players, but they aren’t players only need to ask a dealer for specifics of what is being played at the table.

Bonus Material

History of Blackjack
Nobody knows exactly when blackjack was invented or by whom, but the earliest written records of the game’s initial versions are from the early 17th century. It may be a game of Spanish origin, but it is now played all over the world. Blackjack is now the most popular card game in the world in which players try to beat the dealer instead of other players. The bonus payouts seen in modern blackjack started when American gambling houses created new rules as incentives for people to play. And it was these bonus features that eventually gave the game its name.

Story of the MIT Team
The MIT blackjack team is the most famous blackjack team in the history of the game. Using advanced tracking strategies, the players were able to gain a collective statistical advantage against casinos in order to make millions. The team was actually much larger than those in the movies that their story inspired. The MIT team was famous not only for making so much money, but also for revolutionizing team play and keeping so many active players in casinos at once without drawing attention.
Working in small groups, the team used scattered players to track decks in multi-deck games. These players did not fluctuate their bets, and they played perfect basic strategy in order to lose as little money as possible over days at a time of play. When one of the scattered “spotters” would count a high concentration of advantage cards in a shoe, he or she would signal to one of the “big players” to sit down and play a few hands with massive bets. Because the big players never placed bets in games with disadvantageous card compositions, they effectively flipped the houses’ edges.

How to Play Spanish 21
Spanish 21 is a game that is very similar to blackjack. The primary difference is that all of the 10s are removed. It is typically played with six or eight 48-card decks. While removing 10-value cards is disadvantageous to players, the numerous bonuses compensate. Playing Spanish 21 can be fun for players who need a break from the stricter rules imposed in blackjack by casinos.
As with any casino game of skill, you should not place bets with real money until you have learned how to play. But if you happen across a game of Spanish 21 and just want to try it out, it is best to treat it like a game of blackjack that is missing its 10s. Your betting patterns should stay about the same as in blackjack. While it may seem at first as if you are at a major disadvantage because of the lack of 10s, the more liberal rules compensate.
Examples of Spanish 21’s more liberal rules include unlimited hitting after splitting Aces, doubling after splitting, always being paid a 3:2 blackjack for natural blackjacks even if the dealer also has one, surrendering after doubling, always winning with a total of 21 regardless of the dealer’s hand, and certain suited bonuses. For instance, a five-card 21 counts as a blackjack, and some three-card 21 combinations also pay out as blackjacks. There is also a big bonus for suited triplets of 7s against a dealer’s 7 upcard.
When playing Spanish 21, it is important to remember that it takes more hits on average for everyone to bust. So while you might have stayed with a 13 vs. a 3 upcard in blackjack, you will hit in Spanish 21. This also means that you may want to be more conservative when doubling against the dealer’s 5s and 6s.

Advanced Strategies
Every day, players come up with new ways to beat blackjack and tweak their play. Some advanced methods of beating the house are illegal; others are not. The legality of advantage play also varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but it is usually legal to beat the game in ways that do not utilize outside devices or otherwise breaking the stated rules of the game. Whether multiple players working together count as “outside devices” has been an enduring point of contention in lawsuits against blackjack teams. Regardless, most casinos are considered private property, so pit bosses and managers can bar you from the premises if they catch you counting or generally attempting to game the system.
Most professional players start off by learning basic strategy in and out. Basic strategy isn’t considered an advantage system or cheating, but it is the foundation for every advantage strategy. Once basic has been mastered, professionals then often practice Hi-Lo, a card counting methodology, for a few months in a controlled setting. After they have solid grounding in both, they start learning basic strategy play variations for Hi-Lo. After a player can do Hi-Lo, basic, and play variations in his sleep, he pulls together a bankroll and plays in a live setting. Some are fine with just Hi-Lo, but others choose to learn more advanced counting strategies or come up with their own. It is important for professionals to know how to play individually, but some people choose to work in teams in order to either insulate themselves from individual risk of ruin or to increase the camouflage of their play so that they can have longer professional careers without being caught.
There are numerous strategies that have been devised to track cards in blackjack. The general idea is to mentally track the balance between cards that are advantageous and disadvantageous to you. The most common system is Hi-Lo, which is a balanced card-counting system. There are other more advanced systems, like Hi-Opt II, but they require greater mental dexterity, concentration, and time to learn. The general idea in any card-counting system is to bet as little as possible when you are at a disadvantage and bet as much as you can safely get away with when the cards are in your favor.
The most common form of advantage play is Hi-Lo card counting. In Hi-Lo, Kings, Queens, 10s, Jacks, and Aces are assigned a value of -1. Cards 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are assigned a value of +1. The neutral cards, 7, 8, and 9, have a value of 0. Using simple addition and subtraction, players determine the running count by adding and subtracting chunks of cards as they come out. If there are multiple decks, one divides the running count by the number of decks left in order to determine the true count. The true count, or TC, is the number of player-advantageous cards left in the un-dealt pile per deck. When the TC is higher, card counters bet more; when it is lower, they bet as little as possible.
Other advanced counting strategies like Hi-Opt II with Ace sequencing are much more difficult than Hi-Lo, but they are somewhat more effective. Some players choose to use different systems for different types of games and amounts of decks. For instance, for a longer game with six decks, a counter may use Hi-Lo while specifically tracking Aces. The same player may use Hi-Opt II with Ace and neutral tracking for a single- or double-deck game in order to get a higher degree of playing efficiency (essentially the effectiveness of one’s actions at different counts). In order to utilize a system’s increased playing efficiency, pros memorize deviations from basic strategy when the TC is at different levels. Tracking traditionally untracked cards in a system can further increase playing efficiency.
There are additional advanced playing strategies, but some are no longer used as widely. For instance, it used to be common for teams of players or individuals to peek at the dealer’s hole card in order to dramatically improve their playing decisions. In order to combat this, most casinos now use mirrors that are integrated into the tables so that only the dealers can see. Some casinos even use microchips inside their cards so that a machine can let the dealer know whether or not there is a blackjack without anyone actually seeing the card. The reason some places use electronic card readers is that some advanced players are very good at reading body language and can study dealers for days or weeks at a time in order to determine their tells, much like poker players figure out when somebody is bluffing.
Shuffle tracking is another advanced strategy that is no longer practiced as frequently. Not only is shuffle tracking an extremely difficult skill to master, it can also be derailed by something as simple as another player sitting down. Some players and teams of players are able to track one or more individual cards or clumps of cards in order to manipulate a shoe or deck’s composition during play. If a player knows exactly when one or more cards will come out, and in what sequence, he can play accordingly and bet a large amount when the time comes. In order to combat this, casinos take measures such as using automatic shuffling machines, burning cards between hands, cutting off big sections of the shoe, and using more advanced shuffling strategies. Still, for those blackjack masters who can actually pull it off in live games, the advantages can be very substantial.
There are specialty systems for individual side bets and even specific games that can only be found at one or two casinos. Side bet strategies usually involve using basic strategy, some type of balanced or unbalanced counting system like Hi-Lo, and one or more side counts for whatever card or cards the game warrants.

Blackjack (also referred to as 21 and twenty-one) – Blackjack is a table game of chance that is played against the house in a casino. The object of the game is to draw as close to a total score of 21 as possible without going over. Players bet and act on their hands before the dealer, and the dealer must draw if he or she has less than a total of 17 points.

Burn Card – A burn card is a card that the dealer draws and puts in the discard tray without showing to anyone or looking at it. Most casinos burn one card at the beginning of the game, but other casinos sometimes burn a card between each hand. Burning cards helps to diminish the effectiveness of counting and other forms of advantage play.

Bust (also referred to as going over) – Both the dealer and the player can bust. When you draw a card score that goes over a hard 21, you bust, automatically losing the hand and losing your bet. If the dealer busts, everyone who is still in the hand wins.

Double Down (also simply referred to as doubling) – A double down is an action that a player can take to make more money on a favorable hand. For instance, if a player has a 7 and a 4, he might place a bet equal to his initial wager in the hopes that he will get a large card. A jack, king, queen or 10 will give him a score of 21, so he will almost always double on a score of 10 or 11.

Flat Bet – A flat bet is a wager that is the same as the last. Players who flat bet make the same wagers every time and do not fluctuate bets during game play.

Hard Hand – A hard hand is a hand with a total amount of points that could potentially be busted in a single draw. While an ace can count as 1 or 11 depending on the circumstances, it becomes a hard card if the other cards in the combination would make the hand bust if it counted as a 1.

Hit (also referred to as a draw) – A player hits by tapping or thumping the table in a multi-deck game or by scratching his or her cards against the table in a come-hither motion in a single- or double-deck game. Hitting signals to the dealer that you would like to draw another card on the hand you are playing.

Hole Card (also referred to as the face-down card) – The hole card is a card that the dealer leaves face down until every player has acted. In most variants of blackjack, the dealer will check the hole card to make sure that he or she does not have a blackjack. In the event that there is a blackjack, the dealer will flip over the hole card and show everyone. Some games in Aruba and Europe do not use hole cards.

Insurance – Insurance is a bet that a player can make equal to as much as half of his or her wager when the dealer may have a blackjack. If the dealer does have a blackjack, the players are paid twice the amount that they have insured, effectively resulting in a push with the dealer.

Natural – A natural blackjack is a card combination in which a player’s first two cards are an ace and a 10-point card. A natural typically pays out at 1.5 times the wager.

Push (also referred to as a tie) – A push is when a player and the dealer have identical point scores on their hands. In most casinos, your wager is returned to you if you push.

Soft Hand – A soft hand is a card combination that has two possible totals. Soft hands always include an Ace since it can be worth either 1 or 11 points and since the Ace is the only card in blackjack that can have two possible values. Soft hands cannot bust.

Split – A split is an action that allows the player to divide two cards of the same value and type. One splits by placing an equal wager next to the first. The dealer then deals a second card for each, and the two pairs are treated as independent hands.

Stand (also referred to as staying) – If a player is satisfied with his or her combination or is convinced that the dealer has a high likelihood of busting, he or she can choose to stand on the drawn cards. Standing signals to the dealer that one does not wish to draw any more cards.

Surrender – You can surrender in some games if you think that the dealer has a high likelihood of winning the hand. When you surrender, you forfeit half of your bet instead of losing all of it. Early surrender is more in your favor because it allows you to surrender before the dealer checks for a blackjack.

Toke (also referred to as a tip) – You can tip the dealer by simply giving him the tip or by putting him in the hand with you. To put the dealer in the game, you place the chips you would like to tip with in front of your own wager. If you win, the dealer gets twice the amount that you tipped.

Up Card (also referred to as the face-up card) – The up card is one of the dealer’s two cards. Players act according to the up card under the assumption that the face-down card is a 10.


Learn Pro Blackjack Trainer App
Learn Pro Blackjack Trainer is the companion app to this book designed to help players of all types learn and practice blackjack basic strategy. It has everything one would expect in a premium blackjack trainer including:

Easy-to-use basic strategy flashcards
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Embedded training content, including quick tips and blackjack rules
Settings that adjust the app for typical games styles found in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Single Deck, and Double Deck variations, all with and without surrender

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Basic Strategy Charts

Knowledge Quiz Answers

Scratch your cards against the felt
Put your cards facedown under your chips
Tap the table
Waive your hand over the cards
Take insurance
4, 5, 6
70% or over
21, Blackjack
Basic Strategy
One, Eleven
Face Value
Flat Bet

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