Most people already know how to play blackjack. But if you don’t, it is easy to learn. The object of the game is to beat the dealer by having a hand with a value closer to 21 without going over 21. Dealers have to play certain hands certain ways, so the dealer has no decision-making power in a game. Each player starts out with two cards, and the player must choose whether to “stand” with the hand he has or get “hit” with another card from the deck.

Blackjack rules state that an ace can be valued at 1 or 11, depending on the value of the other cards in the hand. Cards from 2 to 10 have their face value, and face cards all are valued at 10. Suits don’t matter in blackjack. If you have an ace, you don’t have to say whether you want it to be a 1 or 11, because it counts as 11 unless it puts you over 21, in which case it counts as 1.

One reason that blackjack is so popular both online and offline is because the house edges on most bets are low. Additionally, many people learn what is called blackjack strategy, which can help them know when it’s a good idea to “stand” and when a “hit” has a better chance of being advantageous.

Blackjack strategy was developed in the 1950s by a group of American soldiers stationed in Maryland. Their article, “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack” was published in 1956 in the Journal of the American Statistical Association and the strategy has been in wide use ever since. The strategy is not the same thing as card counting, but card counting has its basis in the basic strategy and depends on a sound working knowledge of it.

Serious blackjack players memorize the strategy charts that tell how to play each hand under various conditions. Some land casinos allow people to bring copies of the basic strategy chart as long as they do not slow down play. And of course, if you’re playing online, you can have a copy of the strategy chart handy for reference.

There are three basic principles underlying the strategy:
1. More cards in a deck have a value of 10 than any other value (because 10s plus all face cards are valued at 10).
2. The player has free will, but the dealer does not. The dealer has to hit up to 16 and stand on 17, but players do not have to follow that rule.
3. A “soft” hand (which contains an ace) cannot bust you, because you can change the ace value from 11 to 1 if necessary.

Beginners who don’t want to memorize or refer to the strategy chart can benefit from this simple rule of thumb: assume that the dealer’s downward facing card is a 10. This will help you make better choices as to whether to stand or hit. This doesn’t guarantee a win, of course, but it does help keep the house edge down. As your experience and skill progresses, you will develop a “feel” for which moves go best with each hand.

By John Trodey
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