At a basic level, blackjack is an incredibly simple game, but the better you get at playing it, the more complex it becomes. Practicing blackjack strategy can lift new players from beginner level to a point where they can win money consistently at land-based and online casinos. More advanced techniques like card counting and betting strategies can improve your game to the level where you can reduce the casino’s inherent house edge and increase your chances of winning even more.
Anybody can learn to play blackjack, but to become completely comfortable with blackjack strategy and card-counting techniques in order to apply them correctly under pressure requires practice. This guide takes you through basic blackjack strategy, how to count cards in blackjack, and the best ways to practice blackjack strategy online and offline without losing money while you learn.
Basic blackjack strategy is one of the first tools any aspiring player needs. Essentially blackjack strategy is a guide to what decisions to make based on the cards in your hand and the dealer’s cards. Our Advanced Blackjack Strategy Guide explains how the charts work in detail, but essentially you have 4 main decisions to make with each hand:
The image below is one of the most common blackjack strategy charts online, and shows you what you need to do for each hand that you are dealt. Whether you play blackjack for fun or for real money, a blackjack strategy chart tells you what decision to make to get the best potential outcomes.
If you are dealt a pair of cards, you will have the option to split them and play them as two separate hands at double the initial bet. Not all cards should be split, and a good blackjack strategy chart can show you when to keep your pair, and when to split them.
For example, you should always split 8s because 16 is a weak hand if the dealer can stand on 16. You should always split aces too, because each one counts as 1 or 11, so a pair of them will only make 12 and you risk a bust if you hit on that. If you split them, you have a good chance of drawing a 10-value card, but any higher value card will give you a stronger hand than 12.
On the other hand, if you have a pair of 10s, never split them, because you are more likely to be dealt lower cards than an ace for each hand, so you are likely to end up with two weaker hands rather than your initial strong 20.
After the first two cards have been dealt and you can see the dealer’s face-up card, you have the opportunity to double your bet and get an additional card. The cards in your hand and the dealer’s face-up card will determine whether it’s a good idea to double down. A blackjack strategy chart will show you what hands offer you the best advantage, so you can double down and win more in the long run.
If you have a hard 9, for example, and the dealer has a face-up card of 6 or lower (but not an Ace), then you can’t go bust on the next card, but the dealer has to keep drawing until 17. This means that your chances of winning the hand are higher than the dealer’s, so it makes sense to double your bet to get a better return. There’s no guarantee that every double down opportunity will end in a win, but sticking to the strategy should result in more wins over time.
The secret to mastering your basic blackjack strategy is to know it so well that you can recall every move that you need to make, while you are under pressure at a real-world or online casino. There is no substitute for practice, but losing money while you learn the ropes is not ideal. Free blackjack practice online is the perfect solution.
When you are ready to take your game up a level, create an account at a casino that offers a decent bonus with low wagering requirements. Check the terms to make sure that you can use the bonus on table games, and especially Live Casino games. The casino bonus will give you the thrill of playing for real money and, although you need to make a deposit to get the bonus, playing with bonus funds gives your bankroll some extra stretch to accommodate your learning curve.
The beauty of online casinos is that you can play blackjack for free by using your bonus funds whenever you like, so you have the convenience of easy, instant access. Because you are not restricted to a single casino, you have a range of superb casino bonuses at your fingertips.
You can play blackjack for fun online to practice your game strategy, but if you want to learn to count cards, then Live Casino is the best option. Live Casino Blackjack is played with a real dealer in real time, using high-definition video streaming. Live Casino games are not usually available for free play, but you can access the tables if you have an account at the casino, and watch other players. If you can spot a player using good blackjack strategy, you can bet behind them, which is basically betting on them to win.
When you are ready to test your own blackjack strategy and try your luck at counting cards, Live Casino gives you the closest online version of a real-world casino experience. Live Casino Blackjack is usually played with eight decks. The best blackjack card counting systems will teach you how to keep a running total in a simple way, and how to adjust the count to accommodate the number of decks in play.
Although it sounds complicated, any player with time and patience can learn how to count cards in blackjack. All you need is a counting system that makes sense to you and is easy to remember, and then practice it until you know it well.
Most card counting systems are based on the fact that high cards benefit the player and low cards benefit the dealer. Positive, negative or zero values are assigned to the cards in order to keep a running count and to make betting decisions based on that count. The idea is to roughly calculate the Effect of Removal, which is the effect on the house edge if a single card is removed. To adjust for the number of decks in play, simply divide the running count by the decks left in the shoe to get the true count.
Although this may seem technical, learning how to count cards is not as difficult as it may sound. There are several different card counting systems that were invented to make it easier for players to assess the probability of getting a favourable outcome in that hand. This in turn will affect the size of the bets placed on each round, so you can capitalise on hands that have a strong chance of winning, and reduce losses on weaker hands.
Counting systems vary in complexity and accuracy. Basic systems, or level 1 systems, are easier to learn but the more advanced level 2 and level 3 counting systems, like the Uston SS Count, have a greater degree of accuracy. However, these complex systems are more difficult to play quickly. If you are new to counting, it is better to master a simple blackjack card counting system than to have a rudimentary grasp of a more complicated one.
One of the most well-known and popular card counting systems is the simple Hi-Lo method. In this level-1 system, Aces and cards with a value of 10 (including Jacks, Queens and Kings) are counted as minus 1. Cards from 2 to 6 count as plus 1, while 7 to 9 have a zero value. Count all the cards on the table and if the value is 0 or lower, bet small. If the value is more than zero, you have an advantage over the house, so bet a little more.
|Cards||2, 3, 4, 5, 6||7, 8, 9||10, J, Q, K, A|
Keep your count running (don’t start again for new hands), and if the count is positive, factor in the number of decks by dividing the count by the number of decks remaining. For example, if the count is 8, and the discard pile has around 4 decks’ worth of cards from an 8-deck shoe, 4 decks remain. Divide your running total (8) by your decks (4) and you have a true count of 2.
One of the best level 2 counting systems is the Hi-Opt II system. It offers a greater degree of accuracy than most level 1 systems, but is not as complicated as an advanced method like the Uston SS Count.
In the Hi-Opt II system, cards 2, 3, 6 and 7 have a +1 count, while 4 and 5 have +2. The 8, 9 and Ace cards have a 0 count, and the 10s, Jacks, Queens and Kings are assigned a –2.
|Cards||2, 3, 6, 7||4, 5||8, 9, A||10, J, Q, K|
Start at 0 and count all the cards that are dealt using the point system in the table above. Convert the running count to true count by dividing by the number of decks left in the shoe, and when the result is positive, the cards are in your favour so adjust your bet size accordingly.
If you are looking for a more accurate counting system, then the level 3 Uston SS System is one of the best examples from this tier. The running count is what defines the size of your bet, but you need to calculate your starting count rather than beginning at 0 as you would for the simpler counts. To calculate the starting count, estimate the number of decks in the shoe and multiply that by –2. For example, if there are 6 decks in the shoe, then your starting point will be –12.
Once you have your starting point, assign +2 to the 2, 3, 4 and 6 cards. The 5 card gets a +3, while the 7 card is a +1 count. The 8 card is 0, 9 is –1, and 10s and higher all get a –2 count. This is a complex system to remember, but the starting count adjustment means that you will not have to calculate the true count while you are playing.
|Cards||2, 3, 4, 6||5||7||8||9||10, J, Q, K, A|
Practicing blackjack strategy and card counting techniques for free is the best way to boost your game without losing your bankroll. There are plenty of resources online that you can use for blackjack practice. As we have mentioned, you can play online blackjack games for free, or you can take advantage of some of the top casino bonus offers to play for real money without using your own funds. You can also hone your skills using a blackjack practice app or reading books about blackjack strategy and card counting systems.
If you are learning how to count cards or to master the basic blackjack strategy, free game apps and counting simulators can be a useful method to practice your skills. There are a range of blackjack practice apps in both the iOS and Android stores, so we have mentioned a couple to give you an idea of what’s available:
One of the best blackjack strategy software systems for desktop is Casino Vérité. There are several packages available and the advanced options are rather steep in price, but they offer a complete training system, including practice software and an advanced card counting simulator. The CV Basic system is free, and can help you perfect your blackjack strategy and teach you about blackjack rule variations.
There are hundreds of books available that explore blackjack strategy, card counting techniques and professional players’ experiences in beating casinos around the world. Some of the most highly recommended blackjack practice books are:
Players have been banned from land-based casinos for suspected card counting, so we don’t recommend that you practice your counting systems at a real casino. Brick and mortar casinos do offer another kind of learning opportunity, though. One of the most entertaining ways to practice blackjack strategy and card counting without losing money is by watching other people play. You can gauge the players’ level of skill by assessing their strategy and practice your card counting system to see how you would play the hands that the players are dealt. To test your skills and concentration, see if you can maintain a running count through the entire shoe.
Blackjack is a game of strategy, and the more “tools” you have at your disposal, the better your long-term outcome will be. If you are practicing blackjack strategy consistently, you will already be well on your way to making the most mathematically advantageous decisions based on the cards that are dealt to you and the dealer.
For players who have mastered basic blackjack strategy, card counting is the logical next step. To take your game up a level, you need to factor in the cards that every other person on the table is showing, the cards that were dealt in previous rounds, and the number of decks in the shoe. There are several card counting systems available, but the key to using them effectively is regular practice.
In a nutshell, learning blackjack strategy and how to count cards will help you to make better betting choices and in-play decisions. Practicing blackjack for free through an app, or playing blackjack for fun online are an invaluable way to help you to save money in the short term, and win more money in the long run.
You can practice blackjack for free online, or you can find free or paid blackjack apps for iOS or Android at the relevant app stores. You can also find apps that specifically train players in card counting, but these vary in quality and effectiveness.
There are a number of different blackjack card counting systems that simplify card counting and make it easy to learn. These systems give positive, negative or zero values to the cards in the deck, and allow you to keep a running count to help you make better betting decisions. If you are new to counting, choose a simple, level 1 system and practice it for free by playing blackjack for fun.
There are plenty of different card counting systems and the wealth of information can make card counting seem complicated. In reality, each system is relatively simple, with values assigned to each card to make counting easier. If you choose a good system and practice playing blackjack for free until you are comfortable with it, learning to count cards is not difficult.
You can practice blackjack for free in online casinos. Some casinos will allow you to play blackjack games in demo mode, but you may need to create an account and verify your age. You can also sign up and claim a casino bonus from one of our top casinos and use the bonus to play classic online blackjack or Live Dealer Blackjack.
If you are a new player, your first step to improving your game is learning basic blackjack strategy. Once you have mastered the strategy, you can apply a card counting system to reduce the house edge as much as possible and win more consistently. The secret to mastering strategy and card counting is to practice blackjack for free until you are completely comfortable with the systems you choose.