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Last Updated: July 2, 2017

Learn Blackjack with Michael Shackleford

Mike: Hi, I'm Mike Shackleford with The Wizard of Odds website and I'm here to teach you how to play Blackjack. I'm here with my student, Angela Wyman and Lamone, our lovely dealer and I'm going to up try to explain what I call my wizard simple strategy for Blackjack. Now, first of all, let me explain the object to the game.

It has always bothered me when people say the object of Blackjack is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over. No, the object of Blackjack is to have more points than the dealer without going over. So it's important to understand that you're playing against the dealer and trying to outscore the dealer.

I'm not going to get into all the rules of Blackjack because it's such a common game and most people already understand it already. So let us jump right into the strategy, all right Angela?

Angela: Let's do it.

Mike: Okay. I'm going to break this down into various types of hands the player my get. Now normally, when people present what's called the Blackjack basic strategy that is how to play every single possible player hand by all 10 possible dealer hands. This is a great strategy that any good Blackjack player probably has memorized, but I'm going to teach a slightly simplified version of that.

Rather than looking at all 10 possible dealer up cards, I'm going to break them into just two types; a high card and a low card. A low card is a two through a six and a high card has a seven through an ace. Now, first let's talk about dealer hard totals where only standing and hitting are viable options. If the player has 8 or less, you always hit.

Now, 9 to 11 can involve doubling so let's skip over those for now. Now, this is the most important rule of the whole strategy, if you have a hard 12 to 16, then you're going to stand if the dealer is showing a small card and hit if the dealer showing a large card. This happens all the time and it's the most important rule that you should remember out of all of these.

Next, let's talk about hard hands where doubling is a viable option, meaning a hard 9 to 11. If you have a hard total of 9, you want to double down if the dealer is showing a small card otherwise you hit if the dealer showing a big card. Now with the 10 of 11, the rule there is you want to double if you have more points than the dealer. For example, if you have a total of 10, you double down if the dealer showing a 9 or less, otherwise you just hit. If you have a total of 11, then you double down if the dealer showing a 10 or less. Think of an ace as being worth 11 points so if you have an 11 and the dealer showing an ace, you're just going to hit that. Next let's talk about the soft hands and these are commonly misplayed by recreational players.

Angela: Okay.

[laughter]

Mike: Okay, first of all, if you have a soft 15 or less, you always hit it-

Angela: Always.

Mike: And you know what I mean by a soft 15 for example?

Angela: I'm not sure what you mean with that.

Mike: That means that it’s a hand that could be counted as either 5 or 15 points because there's an ace in there. So an ace and a 4 would be referred to as a soft 15.

Angela: Got it.

Mike: So you always hit soft 13, 14 and 15.

Angela: Okay.

Mike: Now, if you have a soft 16, 17 or 18, then you're going to double if the dealer is showing a small card and very few players do this but trust me, the odds are in your favor because a small dealer up card is good for you and it's a good opportunity to get more money on the table while the odds are in your favor.

Angela: Okay.

Mike: If the dealer has a big card showing, then the odds are not looking so good for you, therefore you're just going to just hit it and a lot of people also make the mistake where they have a soft 18 and the dealer showing a 9, 10 or ace and they stand thinking, “Oh, an 18 is good enough for me.”, no, you should be aggressive in that situation and take a hit against any dealer big card with a soft 18. Okay?

Angela: All right.

Mike: Finally, if you have a soft total of 19 or more then you stand.

Angela: Okay.

Mike: Okay, next let's talk about the pairs or hands that you might split. Rule number one regarding pairs, always split eights and aces. You've probably heard it before but it's true. No matter what the dealer has, always split eights and aces. You never split what I call the three F hands; fours, fives and faces.

Faces meaning any ten-point card. Never split those no matter what the dealer has, and when I say never split, then you just revert to normal basic strategy. Finally, if you have any of the other pairs, meaning twos, threes, sixes, sevens or nines, then if the dealer is showing a small card, you split them, if the dealer showing a big card, you don't and you revert to regular basic strategy.

For example, if you had two sevens and the dealer is showing an 8 then because that's a big card, you don't split it then you revert to regular strategy and just think about it as 14 points in which case you would hit it. Angela, do you know about surrendering in Blackjack?

Angela: I have heard of it but I don't really understand it.

Mike: Okay, this is a powerful rule in the player’s favor that few players actually invoke when they should. I'm going to keep it real simple and just tell you the best situation to surrender because it happens a lot. If you have a total of 16 and the dealer is showing a 10, you surrender.

What does surrender mean you might ask, that means that you just forfeit half your bet. For example, if you had bet a $100 and got that hand, you make a gesture like this on the table and the dealers going to take half your bet or 50 bucks and return the other half to you. The reason you want to surrender that hand is because the odds are so bad that on average you can expect to lose 54% of that wager. You would rather lose 50% than 54% right?

Angela: Yes.

Mike: Right.

Angela: Right.

Mike: And other players at the table may criticize you for it thinking that it's a -- like you're chickening out, no, you know that that's a lousy hand, cut your losses and surrender.

Question 1 - [07:41]

Angela: Does every casino allow you to do that?

Mike: No, generally speaking you can surrender in the shoe games but you can't in the single and double deck games.

Angela: Okay.

Mike: So if they say you can’t surrender, then just hit that 16 against the 10 and also, you can only surrender on your initial two cards. If you're 16 is composed of three or more or if it’s after a split, then they're not going to let you.

Angela: All right.

Mike: All right?

Angela: Think I got it.

Mike: Okay. Finally, the most important thing to remember. If you only remember one thing about this lesson is never ever, ever, ever, ever, under any circumstances play Blackjack if a winning Blackjack pays 6 to 5 and you're seeing this more and more all over the country is there short changing the players on Blackjack instead of paying the full 3 to 2, they're only paying 6 to 5, that is going to cost the player 1.4% on average which is like tripling the house advantage. So if you see that 6 to 5, just turn around and walk away and look for a better table.

Question 2 - [08:53]

Angela: Oh, I will. [laughs] Well Mike you know now I'm going to have to go out and play your simplified strategy but what are the odds of your strategy versus basic Blackjack strategy?

Mike: Good question. Of course, the odds are a little better with the basic strategy and as a reminder, this is an example of the full basic strategy. You can buy these cards at almost any casino gift shop, and I it's on my website of course and it shows exactly how to play any situation according to the player card and the dealer up card. While this has about 200 different situations, my simple strategy only has about 20. Playing this strategy is only going to cost you 0.14% in additional house advantage compared to the basic strategy. So it's getting you almost the full way to the basic strategy with the much easier strategy that I think is going to be easier for beginners to learn and if you're a good Blackjack player, you really like the game; I highly encourage you to study the full basic strategy once you've mastered my simple strategy.

Angela: For your strategy first.

Mike: Yes, for most people.

Question 3 - [10:05]

Angela: Fair enough. Does it make a difference the number of decks you're playing with?

Mike: Yes. Generally speaking the fewer the number of decks the better it is for the player. However the casinos know this too. Generally the rules are not as good on a single or double deck game as it is on a six or eight deck game, so you have to consider all the rules that the casino is offering.

If the rules are exactly the same between a double deck game and a six deck game you should absolutely play the double deck game. However a lot of casinos are going to take away the option to surrender or re-splitting aces or maybe even double after a split in the double deck game. In that case you can use the Blackjack House Edge Calculator on my website to calculate the exact house advantage under any set of rules.

Question 4 - [11:00]

Angela: Well we've all see those movies where, teams of people go into casinos and they count cards and what are they actually doing? Does it work?

Mike: It absolutely does work. The theory behind card counting is when the remaining cards left to be played are rich in big cards especially ten's and aces, then the odds swing to the player's favor. If they're rich in lots of small cards, then the odds swing to the dealer's favor.

So while these cards are coming out the player is remembering what cards he's seen which tells him information about the cards left to be played. So let's say for example the player knows that there's a lot of big cards left in that shoe, a disproportionate number, then he's going to bet more and he's going to change his strategy in certain borderline situations mainly doubling and splitting more and hitting less.

Now, card counting is not as powerful as the movies and TV shows make it out to be. It's not like in Rain Man or any card counter can clean out the casino. No it's a pretty thin advantage of about 1% depending upon how good the card counter is, so to be a successful card counter you need a lot of money to make a little money, grinding out that 1% advantage.

Angela: Mike, sometimes when I’m playing Blackjack this happens to me.

Player: Stand.

Angela: What are you going to do about that?

Player: I don't know about that. You took the dealers bust card. I would’ve won.

Angela: I was playing correct strategy.

[00:12:46] Player: Still, hey you took it from me.

Question 5 - [12:50]

Angela: What difference does it make? Was that other player right to criticize me?

Mike: Absolutely not. That's one of the biggest myths in Blackjack is that the third baseman or any player in Blackjack can somehow jinx the whole shoe. A bad Blackjack player does not cause the other players to win or lose anything.

Of course you can look at one certain hand and say you just made the whole table lose, but it's just as likely as anything that he does to help the whole table win. On average it makes no difference what the other players do. So that guy who criticized you was being rude and he was mathematically incorrect. So always follow that basic strategy.

Angela: Well, there's been times where I’ve had a Blackjack and the dealer asked if I wanted insurance.

Mike: Yes.

Angela: And this happens.

Dealer: Insurance.

Angela: No, I don’t want insurance.

Dealer: Are you sure that [unintelligible 00:13:50] money?

Angela: No, I am sure. The wizard says you never take insurance.

Dealer: The wizard. That sounds like some kind of-

Angela: No, no, he knows what he is talking about it. I don't need insurance.

Dealer: All right, I don’t want to say I told you so. See I have a Blackjack, and it’s a push you would won even money.

Question 6 - [14:12]

Angela: Was the dealer right?

Mike: No, the dealer was absolutely wrong and this happens to me all the time. You absolutely should never take insurance. It's a sucker bet. On average the house advantage is 8.4%, it doesn't make any difference what the dealer has. Now, it happens all the time where the dealer says it's a sure win, even money don't you want it? No. Your odds are a lot better going for that 4, 3 to 2 to win. So repeat after me never.

Angela: Never.

Mike: Take.

Angela: Take.

Mike: Insurance.

Angela: Insurance.

Mike: Way to go.

Angela: All right.

Mike: Looks like you have another question, Angela.

Question 7 - [14:57]

Angela: Well Mike, what are the best Blackjack rules I can realistically expect to find in Las Vegas.

Mike: Good question. What I like to tell people is to try to find what I call the liberal strip rules that consists of a six deck shoe game. The dealer stands on a soft 17 which is very good for the player. You can double after a split, you can surrender and you can re-split aces. If you can get all those rules the house advantage is going to be about 0.25% which is about as low as it ever gets.

Angela: We'll have to find a casino that offers all that.

Mike: Casinos that offer that are generally on the Las Vegas strip. Lots of times they have higher minimums to those games, starting anywhere from 25 to 100 bucks. So if they're for the higher rollers.

In the high limit rooms you usually find these set of rules. So let's say that you are a little uncomfortable betting as much, into the green or black chip area, then you're going to have to suffer some worse rules there as long as you're not playing 6 to 5. You're going to be okay.

Again, the calculator on my Blackjack page on my website wizardofoz.com we’ll tell you the house advantage under any set of rules. Let me also say my other website wizardofvegas.com will tell you the current Blackjack rules for any casino in Las Vegas.

Question 8 - [16:28]

Angela: All right. I think I know your answer to this one but I’ve got to ask. What about the side bets and Blackjack?

Mike: Repeat after me. All.

Angela: All.

Mike: Side.

Angela: Side.

Mike: Bets.

Angela: Bets.

Mike: Are.

Angela: Are.

Mike: Sucker.

Angela: Sucker.

Mike: Bets.

Angela: Bets.

Mike: The casinos are trying to eke more money out of their Blackjack tables by adding side bets to them. There are tons of them available. Time doesn't allow me to explain all of them, but they're all sucker bets, some are more sucker bets than others, but as a rule of thumb, just avoid all of them and just stick to the base game.

Let's summarize Blackjack. Blackjack is a great game, almost everyone knows it. It's very easy to find in any casino and that has a very low house advantage if you play properly. What I’ve been explaining in this video is what I call my wizard simple strategy.

It can be found in my business card if you're lucky enough to have one or it can be found on my web site wizardofoz.com. The house advantage. Following my simple strategy is just about a tenth of a percent higher than the full basic strategy. I have tons of information about Blackjack on my website wizardofodds.com including a demo game that you can play and it'll correct you if you make any mistakes and finally if there's just one thing to remember about this whole video. It's never play 6 to 5 Blackjack.