Part of the fun of a trip to Las Vegas is placing a bet or two and testing Lady Luck. If poker seems complicated, the slots monotonous, and craps too frenzied—no need to worry, you can still play blackjack. After all, you can count to 21, right?
The game is quite easy to learn, and in Las Vegas, most casinos have gaming lessons scheduled to help visitors learn the basics. Stick to a few simple rules, and you will be able to increase the odds of winning. Of course, no technique can guarantee a win, so be careful with your gambling budget, and stick to a plan.
Blackjack, or 21, pits the player against the dealer. Even if you are at a table with many other players, each person is playing against the hand the dealer is holding. The incredibly simple premise for winning: Add up the cards you are dealt to reach 21 without going over—or stay under 21 and if the dealer busts (goes over 21), you also win.
The players are dealt two cards face-down on the table to start, and then when it is their turn, can either ask the dealer for a Hit (ask for another card) or Stand (keep what is currently in their hand.)
For the dealer's initial hand, they will show one card face-up, and their second card will be face-down. Any new cards dealt will be shown face-up.
Technique and Strategy
In order to increase your edge at blackjack, it’s important not to deviate from the basic strategy below. According to the "American MENSA guide to Casino Gambling," if you follow the rules, you should win at blackjack over time.
More importantly, you can lessen the house’s edge, which in turn gives you a better shot at leaving the casino with a bit of cash.
If the combined total of the cards in your hand adds up to these numbers, you should:
- 9 or lower: Hit
- 10 or 11: Double Down, if your cards add up to more than the dealer’s up-card. If not, Hit. (Double Down means requesting to the dealer to double your initial bet and not take any new cards.)
- 12 thru 16: Hit when dealer's upcard is 7 or higher; Stand otherwise.
- 17 or higher: Stand.
With soft hands, things change a bit.
A soft hand includes any hand that has an Ace card. In Blackjack, an Ace can either be counted as an 11 or as one, such as a “Soft 17”, which includes an Ace and a six card. The term "soft" is used, as there is an option due to the Ace of what the total tally can be—as opposed to a "hard" hand, where the total number can only be a single option.
- 13 thru 18: Double Down when dealer's up-card is 5 or 6.
- 17 or lower: Hit.
- 18: Hit when the dealer's card is 6 or less; Stand when the dealer's card is 7 or higher.
- 19 or higher: Stand.
When you are dealt a pair (two cards of the same number), use the following tips:
- Always split Aces and 8s. (Splitting means you can ask the dealer to create two new hands from the Ace and the Eight cards. You will be required to place a matching bet, as you are now betting on two hands.)
- Never split 10s, 4s, or 5s.
- Split all other pairs when the dealer’s upcard is 6 or less.
Limits and Locations
If you are going to play blackjack in Las Vegas, understand that betting limits change depending on the day of the week and the location of the casino. Downtown usually has lower limits, but you also will have different payouts. Consult the payout card on the table or ask the dealer if there are any different rules to the particular game you are playing.
On a busy weekend night, you will see that the table limits go up, so keep that in mind when sitting at a table.