Play Blackjack Online

Welcome to, where you will find practical blackjack information that will improve your game. From beginners to professionals, the tips contained on this site are useful for all levels of blackjack player. We cover everything from the basics of blackjack rules and strategy right through to advanced playing methods and betting systems.

Whether you play in land casinos or online we have several useful tips that you can take away and use today. All information is completely free, and strategy cards can be downloaded and printed for your convenience. Never buy a strategy card again!

We hope you find the information useful and learn something new. Be sure to bookmark us and visit again soon.


  1. Casinos
  2. Rules
  3. Strategy
  4. Games
  5. Tips
  6. Betting Systems
  7. Card Counting
  8. Practice
  9. High Roller
  10. Low Limit
  11. Can Blackjack cure a really bad hangover?
  12. Choosing the right Blackjack Table
  13. Land-Based Casinos vs Online Casinos
  14. Why do online casinos hate blackjack players?


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The rules of blackjack are straightforward. While there are a number of blackjack variants most follow the same basic rules. The objective of the game is to achieve a card total greater than the dealer without busting out (going above 21). Blackjack is a game between the payer and the dealer - you are not playing against anyone else at the table.

Blackjack can be played with between one and eight decks of cards. Numbered cards are worth their face value (two - ten). All face cards (jack, queen or king) are given a numerical value of ten. Ace is semi-wild because it can be valued at either one or eleven. The highest score in the game of blackjack is 21 (also called blackjack) and occurs when an ace and a face card are dealt. This results in an automatic win (unless the dealer also gets blackjack which results in a push or neutral score).

In blackjack, before cards are dealt out by the dealer, each player must place his bet. Bets are placed in the form of chips with various cash values. After every player has placed their bet the dealer will start dealing out two cards face up to each player starting with the individual to the dealers left (first base). The dealer will deal himself two cards, one face-up (the up card) and another face-down (the hole card).

In blackjack the players at the table act before the dealer. It is important to have a good understanding of basic strategy before playing blackjack because once the cards have been dealt you will be expected to know how to play the hand. It is this point where the player has a number of options, the most common being to hit, to stand, to double-down or to split. Some casinos also offer the option to [surrender] or to [take insurance].

Hit: means you would like another card from the dealer. You can continue to hit until you wither bust (go above a total of 21) or decide to stand.

Stand: means you do not want any additional cards.

Double-down: this is where you decide to double your bet and take just one more card. You may not hit after receiving this card.

Split: If you are dealt two cards with matching point values you have the option to split these into two hands but you will also have to add another bet of the same value of your original bet. When splitting the two original cards become the first cards of a new hand and the dealer will issue one card to each hand. From here you can hit, stand, double (or re-split) as above on each hand. Re-splitting aces is often not allowed however.

Once all the players at the table have played their hand the dealer will play his. If the dealer busts, all players that did not bust will automatically win. Likewise, if the dealer gets blackjack all players will automatically lose (unless they also got blackjack resulting in a [push]).

While players can generally play their hand however they wish (within the limits of the rules) dealers have far more restrictions on how they play. While these rules are generally similar between casinos there can be some variations which give the house a better statistical advantage over the player. E.g. blackjack generally pays 3-2 however some casinos pay out at 2-1 or even 6-5. Likewise dealers will generally stand on a soft 17 but in some games the dealer will hit. It is important to know the rules of the casino because it will affect payout percentages as well as the strategy that you should follow.


Simplified basic strategy
For new blackjack players the thought of memorising basic strategy rules or tables may seem daunting. For this reason we have outlined simplified basic strategy rules below. While these rules are ideal for those beginning in the game or for casual players, more prolific players will be disadvantaged by 0.35% following these rules as opposed to generic basic strategy.

Even following these simplified rules, in a 6 deck game you will have reduced the house edge to less than 1%. So for every $100 you wager, it is expected that you will lose only $1. Not too shabby. Especially if you are getting free drinks, comp points or other benefits. Online, if this strategy is used with some kind of bonus offer it is feasible (depending on wagering requirement) that you could still make a sizable profit.

The simplified rules are below, remember, a hard hand is one which does not include an ace, or where ace is counted as one. Soft hands include an ace at one or eleven. Pairs are two cards of the same value e.g. 8,8 or A,A.

Never take insurance.

For hard hands:
With 17 or more, always stand.
With 12 to 16, stand against if the dealer has 6 or less, otherwise hit.
With 11 or less, always hit (unless doubling).

For soft hands:
With soft 18 or more, always stand.
With soft 17 or less, always hit.

For splitting pairs:
Always split pairs of aces, 8s or 9s.

For doubling down:
With 10 or 11, double down if the dealer has an up-card of 2-9.

Once you are confident playing with this simplified basic strategy be sure to read our generic basic strategy guide to reduce the house edge even further (less than 0.5%).

Basic strategy

The table below shows optimal strategy for typical casino rules (Vegas Strip) 4 to 8 decks, dealer stands on soft 17, player may double any 2 cards, double after split (DAS) allowed, and dealer checks for blackjack. If you are were to learn only one strategy by heart, this should be it.

Your hand Dealer's face-up card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
5-8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H D D D D H H H H H
10 D D D D D D D D H H
11 D D D D D D D D D H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H R H
16 S S S S S H H R R R
17+ S S S S S S S S S S
A,2 H H H D D H H H H H
A,3 H H H D D H H H H H
A,4 H H D D D H H H H H
A,5 H H D D D H H H H H
A,6 H D D D D H H H H H
A,7 S D/S D/S D/S D/S S S H H H
A,8 S S S S S S S S S S
A,9 S S S S S S S S S S
2,2 P P P P P P H H H H
3,3 P P P P P P H H H H
4,4 H H H P P H H H H H
5,5 D D D D D D D D H H
6,6 P P P P P H H H H H
7,7 P P P P P P H H H H
8,8 P P P P P P P P P P
9,9 P P P P P S P P S S
10,10 S S S S S S S S S S
H Hit
S Stand
D Double if Possible, Otherwise Hit
D/S Double if Possible, Otherwise Stand
P Split (Pair)
R Surrender if Possible, Otherwise Hit

Betfair zero blackjack

Your hand
Dealer's face-up card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
5-8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H D D D D H H H H H
10 D D D D D D D D H H
11 D D D D D D D D D H
12 H H S4 S4 S4 H H H H H
13 S4 S4 S4 S S H H H H H
14 S4 S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H S24 H
17 S S S S S S S S S S4
18+ S S S S S S S S S S
A,2 H H H H H H H H H H
A,3 H H H H H H H H H H
A,4 H H H H H H H H H H
A,5 H H H H H H H H H H
A,6 H H H H H H H H H H
A,7 S4 S4 S4 S4 S S S4 H H H
A,8 S S S S S S S S S S
A,9 S S S S S S S S S S
2,2 P P P P P P H H H H
3,3 P P P P P P H H H H
4,4 H H H P P H H H H H
5,5 D D D D D D D D H H
6,6 P P P P P H H H H H
7,7 P P P P P P H H H H
8,8 P P P P P P P P P P
9,9 P P P P P S P P S S
10,10 S S S S S S S S S S
H Hit
S24 Hit on 2 or 4 cards, Otherwise stand
S4 Hit on 4 cards, Otherwise stand
S Stand
D Double
P Split (Pair)

Double Attack Blackjack

The doubles shown below are in addition to the doubles that should be made based on the dealer's up-card. Remember, players should double if the dealer has an up-card of 2-8. This double is made before the player’s cards have been dealt. You then follow the table below.

After doubling-down, surrender if:
You have 16 or less vs. 8-Ace
Your hand is 17 against the dealer's Ace.

Your hand Dealer's face-up card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
5-8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H H H H D H H H H H
10 D D D D D D D H H H
11 D D D D D D D D D D
12 H H H H H H H H H H
13 H H H H H H H H H H
14 H H S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
17 S S S S S S S S S R
18+ S S S S S S S S S S
A,2 H H H H H H H H H H
A,3 H H H H H H H H H H
A,4 H H H H H H H H H H
A,5 H H H H D H H H H H
A,6 H H D D D H H H H H
A,7 S S S D D S S H H H
A,8 S S S S S S S S S S
A,9 S S S S S S S S S S
2,2 H P P P P P H H H H
3,3 H P P P P P P H H H
4,4 H H H H H H H H H H
5,5 D D D D D D D H H H
6,6 H H P P P H H H H H
7,7 P P P P P P H H H H
8,8 P P P P P P P P P P
9,9 S S P P P S P P S S
10,10 S S S S S S S S S S
H Hit
S Stand
D Double
P Split (Pair)
R Surrender

European Blackjack

Below is the strategy card for European blackjack rules. The dealer gets one card face up then draws their hole card after all players have made their playing decisions. If the dealer gets blackjack players will lose their total bet including doubles and splits unless they push blackjack.

Typically 6 decks are used, dealers stand on soft 17, players can double hard totals of 9-11 only, and double after split (DAS) is allowed. These rules give the house a 0.62% advantage over a player using perfect basic strategy play.

Note, in some UK casinos players are not permitted to split fours, fives or tens. In this case the only variation to the rules below is that pairs of fours should always be hit.

Your hand Dealer's face-up card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
5-8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H D D D D H H H H H
10 D D D D D D D D H H
11 D D D D D D D D H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H2 H
17+ S S S S S S S S S S
A,2 H H H H H H H H H H
A,3 H H H H H H H H H H
A,4 H H H H H H H H H H
A,5 H H H H H H H H H H
A,6 H H H H H H H H H H
A,7 S S S S S S S H H H
A,8 S S S S S S S S S S
A,9 S S S S S S S S S S
2,2 P P P P P P H H H H
3,3 P P P P P P H H H H
4,4 H H H P P H H H H H
5,5 D D D D D D D D H H
6,6 P P P P P H H H H H
7,7 P P P P P P H H H H
8,8 P P P P P P P P H H
9,9 P P P P P S P P S S
10,10 S S S S S S S S S S
H Hit
H2 Hit with 2 cards, otherwise Stand
S Stand
D Double if possible, otherwise Hit
P Split (Pair)

Pontoon basic strategy

Your hand Number of cards
2 3 4
4-8 H H D
9 H D D
10 D D D
11 D D D
12 H H D
13 H H D
14 H H D
15 S S D
16 S S D
17 S S H
18+ S S S
A,2 H H -
A,3 H H D
A,4 H H D
A,5 H H D
A,6 H H D
A,7 H H D
A,8 S D D
A,9 S D D
A,10 S D/S D
8,8 P - -
A,A P - -
H Hit (Twist)
S Stand (Stick)
D Double (Buy) if possible, otherwise Hit (Twist)
D/S Double (Buy) if possible, otherwise Stand (Stick)
P Split


Blackjack is one of the most popular card games in casinos throughout the world. In casinos the game of blackjack can have a number of different rules, such as whether the dealer stands on soft 17s, whether players can double any two cards, and the number of splits permitted. As well as these rule variations, there are a number of different 21 game variants which have evolved as the popularity of blackjack has grown.

Betfair Zero Lounge Blackjack

Betfair is famous as the world’s largest betting exchange. What you may not know is that they also operate an online casino. The casino is split into two areas. The first is the casino lounge where you can find a huge variety of casino games. The second is the ‘zero lounge’. Here the most popular casino games, baccarat, blackjack, jacks or better and roulette have had their rules altered to benefit the player. In fact, Betfair has zero house edge on these games.

The zero lounge is the first in the world (either online or offline) to offer games with zero house edge. The blackjack game has a 2-1 payout for a suited natural blackjack or five cards totalling 21. The game can be played with the standard strategy card for an 8 deck game, double after split allowed, dealer stands on 17 and peeks for blackjack.

For optimal advantage play however, there are some slight strategy deviations because of the five card rule. These only apply when you have already been dealt four cards. In any other instance, basic strategy should be followed:

Hit 12 against 4-6
Hit 13 against 2-4
Hit 14 against 2
Hit 17 against an ace
Hit soft 18 against 2-6 or 8.

There is one further rule variation with two cards:

Double A7 against a 2.

Double Attack Blackjack

Double attack is another blackjack variant with a number of rule differences from the standard game. The biggest difference is the player’s ability to double their bet after seeing the dealer’s up-card (but before any player cards have been dealt). Around half of the casinos in Atlantic City offer this variant, as well as several online casinos using WagerWorks software.

Game rules:

Eight ‘Spanish decks’ are used. This means that the four 10 cards have been removed from each deck in use
Dealer stands on all 17s
Dealer peeks for blackjack
Players can double after splitting
Aces can only be split once and receive only one additional card
Blackjack pays even money, rather than the usual 3:2
Players may double or surrender at any time
Insurance pays 5:2 or 3:1 depending on house rules
Dealer’s up-card is the first to be dealt to allow for the ‘double attack’ rule.
An optional side bet is available for the player which states the dealer will bust with exactly three cards. This ‘bust it’ side bet is placed after the player has seen the dealer’s up-card. Payouts vary depending on which combination of cards caused the dealer to bust.

Payouts for successful “bust it” side bets are as follows:

Third card is a ten. Pays off 3 to 1.
Third card is a nine. Pays off 6 to 1.
Third card is an eight. Pays off 8 to 1.
Third card is a seven. Pays off 10 to 1.
Third card is a six. Pays off 15 to 1.

In order to gain the optimum advantage from the game players should double their initial bet whenever the dealer has an up-card of 2-8. Similarly, bets should not be doubled if the dealer has 9-A. This means that players should double their initial steak 58.3% of the time.

Because insurance pays at 5:2/3:1, insurance is a more favorable proposition for the player. Unlike traditional blackjack where insurance should always be declined, when playing double attack players should buy insurance unless a 10 value card is on the table. For instance in a heads-up game, players should buy insurance with a 9,9 against an Ace but not a K,8 against an Ace.


Pontoon is a British variant of standard blackjack. When played with 8 decks, the house edge is only 0.38%, lower than almost any other blackjack variant. As with traditional blackjack the object of the game is to get a total as close to 21 without busting. The main difference between pontoon and blackjack is that the dealer’s cards are dealt face down. This means that playing strategy is based on your hand alone and cannot be altered based on the dealer’s card.

Getting 21 is called ‘pontoon’ rather than blackjack and pays at 2:1. Additionally the game has the additional benefit of the ‘five card Charlie’. This means that if a player gets five cards without busting they beat any other hand (except pontoon) and are also paid at 2:1.

The basic game rules are as follows:

Generally played with eight decks
Pontoon pays 2 to 1
5 card trick/Charlie pays 2 to 1
Dealer wins ties (no ‘push’)
Dealer’s cards dealt face down
Dealer must hit on soft 17
Player must hit any total of 14 or less
Player can double once in the hand after being dealt any number of cards
Hit after double allowed
Hands can be split twice.
As well as having different rules, pontoon also has its own game terms. As mentioned above, an ace and ten is called ‘pontoon’ rather than ‘blackjack’. If a player wants another card they ‘twist’ rather than ‘hit’. The term to stand is ‘stick’. Rather than ‘doubling down’ the player ‘buys’. As with blackjack when buying the player doubles their original bet and is dealt just one more card.

Since the rules differ quite substantially from blackjack the player will see advantages and disadvantages of playing pontoon. Clearly the biggest disadvantage is that the dealer’s cards are dealt face down, meaning the player has no idea what the dealer has. Also the dealer wins any ties between them and the player (no pushes).

On the other hand there are a number of advantageous rules for the player. Being paid 2:1 on pontoons and five card Charlie’s is the biggest advantage. Also the ability to double after any number of hands means a player with a soft 19 can always double and be assured a sizable win without busting (provided the dealer does not also make a five card hand). Clearly then pontoon is no better or worse than blackjack. Individual player preference will dictate which they prefer to play.

Pontoon has a different basic strategy to blackjack because of the five card rule. The strategy card is based on the number of cards that the player has, rather than what the dealer holds. For example with a total of 17 over two or three cards, pontoon strategy says to stick. The same total over four hands dictates that you should twist because the chance of being paid 2:1 on a five card Charlie outweighs the risk of busting.

In pontoon, we double all soft hands and any hard hand with a total of less than 17 when we have four cards. In fact, the only four card hand that you would stand with in pontoon is one totalling 18 or more.

For a blackjack player hitting a four-card hard 17, or doubling a four-card hard 16 may seem crazy. It is important to follow the correct basic strategy for the game. You will quickly learn that the chance of making a five-card hand (and being paid 2:1) outweighs your gut saying you’ll bust. By doubling soft four-card hands, as we know they cannot be busted we are guaranteed a 4:1 payout on our original bet provided the dealer does not also make a five card Charlie. Good times!

Spanish 21

Spanish 21 is a blackjack variant that offers low house edge, and a change in game rules for those looking to play something a little different from traditional blackjack. The game uses Spanish decks of cards (with the ten cards removed), thus the name, Spanish 21.

Either six or eight Spanish decks of 48 cards can be used for the game. Dealers can either hit or stand on soft 17 depending upon house rules. In a normal game of blackjack removing ten value cards benefits the house, rather than the player. To make up for this the game offers a number of liberal rules that more than compensate for the missing 10s.

Game rules can differ from casino to casino but the most common rules are outlined below:

Late surrender is offered
Double after splitting (DAS) is allowed
Aces may be re-split
Player 21s beat house 21s
Player blackjacks beat dealer blackjacks
Players can double once per hand (on any number of cards)
Players can usually hit and double split aces
Players can surrender after doubling ‘rescuing’ the double-down portion of their bet. This is known as the ‘double down rescue’.
Bonuses are not paid after doubling or splitting
Various bonuses are offered in the game:

Card combination === Pays
Five card 21 === 3:2
Six card 21 === 2:1
Seven plus card 21 === 3:1
6-7-8 or 7-7-7 (mixed suit) === 3:2
6-7-8 or 7-7-7
(same suit) === 2:1
6-7-8 or 7-7-7
(of spades) === 3:1
7-7-7 (same suit)
vs. Dealer 7 === Super bonus: $1000 ($5-$25 bet) or $5000
($25+ bet). Other players at the table each receive a $50 ‘envy bonus’. *

* The odds of hitting the 7-7-7 super bonus is 1 in 668,382 in a six deck game, and 1 in 549,188 in an eight deck game.


Use the quick-links below to navigate our insider tips and blackjack secrets that help you improve your overall game and become a more professional blackjack player. The seven ‘top tips’ listed below are the fundamentals that blackjack players should know before beginning to play the game.

Seven top blackjack tips:

- Determine your bankroll before you enter the casino. Stick to what you can afford and never go above this figure.
- Mastering blackjack basic strategy is absolutely essential if you want to have any success in the game. Study the tables and practice different game variants as often as possible. Trust the rules and not your gut.
- Skill plays a big part in blackjack success. Practice your game as often as possible. Remember, practice makes perfect.
- Blackjack rules can vary from casino to casino or even between tables. Be sure that you understand the rules before you sit down to play.
- When selecting a game/table try to find one with the best player advantage possible. This means fewer decks, being allowed to double any two cards, and having the dealer stand on a soft 17. These rules work to the player’s advantage.
- Never use an ‘emulate the dealer’ strategy. You will lose far more often with this strategy than almost any other.

Finally, when playing in land-based casinos remember to toke the dealer and waitress every so often.

Blackjack bankroll money management

Money management can mean a couple of different things. Either it means how you manage your bets in game (using betting systems etc) or how you budget for gambling from your disposable income. It is the latter that is discussed in this article.

The number one rule to remember is that blackjack is a game. It is supposed to be a form of entertainment. It should not be seen as a method for making money. Because blackjack has a house edge, in the long run you will invariably be down on your money so never bet more than you can afford to lose.

Gamblers who play with money they cannot afford to lose have a tendency to chase losses, risking more money in an attempt to win back what they have lost. This puts these players at even greater financial risk and indicates ‘problem gambling’.

To be a winner it is vital to protect yourself from unnecessary losses. The easiest way to do this is to simply walk away from the table when you win a certain amount. Likewise, a ‘loss limit’ should be set to ensure that your bankroll is not wiped out in a single session. These limits can be set as either dollar amounts or unit amounts.

If you lose more than 20 units in any gambling session, stop playing. While this is an arbitrary figure it is applicable whether you have a small bankroll and are playing $5 units or a proportionately larger bankroll wagering $100 per unit.

It is also vital to have reserve units (known as stack splitting). In blackjack correct strategy for a given hand may necessitate doubling down or splitting. In these cases you are at a statistical disadvantage if you cannot afford to make the correct play due to insufficient chips. Don’t give the house a greater edge than you need to.

While it is okay to increase your bet size when winning, never do so when losing. Similarly, don’t quit while you are winning. If you are up several units see if you can win more. Remember to stop play when your luck changes. Using loss limits will ensure your session was still a profitable one.

If you are going on holiday and plan to gamble while you are away it is important to set a gambling budget before you leave home. This money is separate from any other spending money and is an amount you can afford to lose. This holiday budget is then divided by the number of days you plan to gamble. A $200 budget on a four day trip would mean $50 gambling budget per day.

This daily budget should not be played all in one session. You can divide it any way you wish but it’s best to take breaks between each session. This maximises your budgets longevity. It is suggested that the daily budget is put into separate envelopes in your room safe. At the start of the day you will take this money to play with divided into several sessions. At the end of the day any money (including winnings) is returned to the envelope and it is sealed. This prevents you from being too tempted to play with the cash. While this takes discipline it should mean that any profits are not lost to the casino and that losing days can be balanced by winning days.

Casinos are set up to take your money. At tables cash is converted into chips; on slots, into ‘credits’ – this is to make you forget that you are playing with real money. The free drinks they supply loosen you up. You will see no clocks so lose track of how long you’ve been betting. Lights and alarms make any small win seem huge (even if you are still down on your deposit). And casinos operate at a very fast pace. More hands, more money wagered. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked by the casinos. Any winnings become your money – you are not ‘playing with the casinos money’.

It is easy to leave the casino with no money. Leaving with your winnings intact takes discipline and careful money management. It is this self control that divides the winners from the losers.

Blackjack Tournaments

Playing a blackjack tournament game is unlike any traditional game of blackjack. While you still play directly against the dealer, you progress thorough the rounds by ending each game with the most chips at the table. In that respect you are competing against the other players for a place in the final. During each short round players are eliminated. At a six player table, only one or two will progress to the next round.

During the game the first player to be dealt by the dealer (first base) actually rotates. A ‘button’ is placed on the table to indicate who will be the first player in that hand. Since the first player has no idea how much the other players at the table will wager they are disadvantaged for that hand. By rotating the button each player gets a fair chance of being the first (most disadvantaged) and last (most advantaged) player to be dealt to.

The prize for the winner consists of the entry fees paid by all the other players in the tournament. Entry fees can vary from around $10 (giving a prize pool of $500-$1000) all the way up to $1,000 entry with prizes above $1 million. It is common for up to five runner-up prizes to also be paid out.

Often, when the casino hosts a large tournament, they will also offer preferential rates on rooms or offer free dining to competitors. Tip: This can of course also be beneficial to those visitors who are not competing in the tournament, who may be able to get the same discounts on their stay.

Tournament blackjack can easily be compared to poker. Experienced players can easily take advantage of newcomers to tournament blackjack. In fact, even a basic grasp of tournament strategy can put you ahead of many of the other competitors. The biggest skill in tournament blackjack is risk management. Bet sizing should always be based on the risk vs reward factor at the time.

As all players at the table are competing against the same dealer cards, they will generally have very similar outcomes throughout the game in terms of wins and losses. For this reason most tournament players gain the advantage, not by getting better cards than their opponents, but by sizing their bets differently.

Casino Comps Explained

Comp is short for complimentary. Comps (or comp points) are issued by casinos to encourage players to keep gambling. In a land-based casino you join the players club when you first visit. The host will issue you with a tracking card. This card is the same size as a credit card with a magnetic strip on the rear. Every time you play on a slots or video poker machine the card is inserted and your play is tracked. The more you play and the higher you bet the more comps you may be entitled to receive.

Many online casinos also offer comps. Play is tracked and you are often compensated with free chips or exclusive special offers.

Some of the larger casino groups (e.g. MGM-Mirage) have a group players club. This means you can play at any casino within the group and be awarded comps based on your play. Comps available from land-based casinos vary depending on the players value to the casino and range from key rings all the way up to complimentary room, food & beverage (RFB). For whales casinos will frequently offer free flights, limosine, suite at the hotel and various show tickets for the duration of the stay.

One of the most basic comps in land based casinos is free drinks. Often everyone playing in the casino is entitled to free drinks from the cocktail waitresses. Often this means you can put $10 into a slot machine and drag play out for a few drinks. Tips are expected but $1 per drink is much cheaper than the prices at the bar.

For table games, where it is not possible to insert the tracking card into a machine, the dealer or pit boss will assess your play and add comps to your account accordingly. You will be assessed based on your buy-in amount, the average size of your bet and the duration of play. Although there are no hard and fast rules, comps generally amount to between 10 and 40% of the amount the casino expects to profit from you. I.e. the amount they expect you to lose.

For example if a blackjack player was betting $5 per hand for an hour at 60 hands/hour, he has bet $300. Of this the casino takes its 2% house edge ($6). Even if they were very generous and gave 40% in comps, the player would only be entitled to around $2.40. Clearly casinos tend to look after the high-rollers more than the average ‘little-guy’. After several hours of play however this player may be entitled to a free meal. Not bad, if they are getting entertainment from the game.

A ‘comp hustler’ is a player who sets out to maximise the amount of comps he/she receives whilst minimising any personal losses they make. The general strategy here is to play games with a low house edge (like blackjack or video poker), and to place large bets when they know they are being assessed by the pit boss. The player will then drop down to a minimal level of play or even withdraw from play altogether. Although a feasible strategy in some instances, the larger casino groups will be well aware of such tactics and catch on quickly to hustlers.

Online gambling tips

Almost all the rules of brick and mortar casinos apply online. We’ve broken the rules down in the following top tips:

1. Remember to use bankroll management

Never gamble more than you can afford to lose. Set win and loss limits and stick to them. If you are down by twenty units or more in a session, stop playing. Likewise, don’t get greedy. If you are up on your buy-in amount by a satisfactory figure, stop playing and withdraw your winnings.

2. Choose a reputable casino

Only play at reputable, trusted casinos. All of the casinos recommended by have been independently assessed by the casinomeister and wizardofodds. We will not recommend a casino that we do not believe is entirely reputable. Trustworthy casinos will also be registered with eCOGRA, the online gaming watchdog. If in doubt, check the eCORGA database to make sure.

Before depositing a cent (or penny) you are perfectly entitled to give the customer services number for the casino a call. Do they answer promptly, and are the staff friendly when dealing with your queries? Support telephone numbers should be freephone, and email or live chat options should also be offered. Satisfy yourself before depositing your cash.

3. Play a decent game

Game selection can mean the difference between a winning and losing session. Play with the least number of decks possible and try to get other advantageous rules (dealer stands on soft 17, double after split, double any two cards, split any two cards, etc.) There are also a number of blackjack game variants including super fun 21, Spanish 21, double attack, etc. Learn the rules of these game variants before playing. Do not assume you can use the same blackjack basic strategy with these games. Often you cannot.

4. Take advantage of bonuses and offers

It makes sense to take advantage of any bonuses the casinos are willing to offer to you. Just make sure you understand any wagering requirements before accepting the bonus. Sometimes you cannot withdraw the bonus (or your own money) before both have been wagered several times. 40 times (deposit + bonus) are not uncommon bonus wagering stipulations.

5. Use ‘free play’ modes to get a feel for the game before depositing

Online casinos use several different software providers for their games, all of which are slightly different. By playing in free play mode you get an idea where the hit, stand, double and split options are located and avoid any costly mistakes. Once you have played at several different casinos you will get a feel for the different software packages and this step may not be necessary.

6. Check that you can deposit and play in your local currency.

Sometimes casinos will only use US dollars or another currency. If this is a problem for you, check if the casino has a portal specific to your country. Many of the larger casino operators have portals for several different countries and allow deposit and play in various currencies. Likewise check that you can deposit and withdraw by a method that suits you, that will not incur high charges, and that will be a relatively quick process.

7. Do not be surprised if the casino requests proof of ID

ID is often requested by casinos before they allow you to deposit or withdraw for the first time. These checks ensure that it is legal for you to gamble in your country, that you are of legal gambling age and that you have ID that matches your deposit method. These checks are for your security and should not be seen as an inconvenience. Often, simply emailing the security department a scan of your passport is sufficient for their purposes. You should not be asked twice for ID by the same casino as your details will be stored ready for the next time you play.

8. Forget about card counting, shuffle tracking, clumping or other advanced strategies

Simply put, these don’t work online because decks are ‘shuffled’ continuously. Don’t waste your time. Remember that you should never take insurance unless you are counting, so never take insurance online.

9. Use a strategy card that is specific to the game you are playing

We provide you with a number of different strategy cards for all kinds of blackjack games you might play online. If you are playing pontoon, use the pontoon strategy card. If you are playing Betfair’s zero edge blackjack, use that strategy card. You get the idea! No one can see that you are referring to a strategy card online, and continual practice is an excellent way to learn and memorise the charts. Become accustomed to using the basic strategy chart to inform all of your playing decisions.

10. Remember to have fun

Blackjack is a fantastic game to play. It can be enormously fun, and the player always has the opportunity to improve their game. Keep practicing and always enjoy the game. Remember, blackjack is a game of ups and downs. You will sometimes hit a losing streak. Just don’t lose more than you can afford to spend on a night’s entertainment. Keep a clear mind, maintain a positive attitude and enjoy yourself.

A final point to remember is that playing online can easily become a compulsion. If you feel that your play is starting to affect your home or work life, it may be time to seek help. Read our responsible gambling guide for information about organisations that can offer professional advice and support.

Betting Systems

Dahl’s Progression

This positive progression system was devised by Donald Dahl and published in his book ‘Progression Blackjack’. Since it is a positive progression system, the player will only increase their bet size following wins, losses result in returning to the start of the sequence.

In his book, Dahl outlines various progression sequences based on different minimum bet amounts:

Min bet Progression
$2 2-2-3-3-4-4-6-6-10-10-14-14-20-20
$5 5-5-7-7-10-10-15-15-25-25-35-35-50-50
$10 10-10-15-15-20-20-30-30-50-50-70-70-100-100
$25 25-25-35-35-50-50-75-75-125-125-175-175-250-250
$50 50-50-75-75-100-100-150-150-250-250-300-300-500-500
$100 100-100-150-150-200-200-300-300-500-500-700-700-1,000-1,000

The player only advances to the next bet if they win. If the player receives blackjack or wins a double-down or split, they can skip the next bet and proceed to the next highest. If for instance we won the first hand, then won a double-down on the second, we would skip to the second bet of three (the fourth bet in the sequence) rather than only advancing to the third bet.

Dahl also suggests minimum bankrolls necessary to use each of the progression systems as follows:

Min bet Bankroll
$2 $100
$5 $250
$10 $500
$25 $1,250
$50 $2,500
$100 $5,000

The bankroll is broken down into the number of sessions (or days) you wish to play. Dahl also advises moving tables if you lose four or five hands in a row.

If the player reaches the end of the sequence they may choose to either continuing at the maximum level of 10 units, or revert to the start of the sequence. They may even choose to end the game if their winnings have met or exceeded their win-limit.

Dahl says that at any point the player is only ever risking one unit of their own money since the remainder is “the casino’s money”. This seems like a dangerous scheme to advise. Thinking that your winnings are somehow the property of the casino means you are more likely to feel that they are entitled to have your winnings back.

The system is also reliant on the player hitting a ‘winning streak’ in order to extract profits from the casino. Like most other positive progression systems, without knowing when to stop, the player is risking their profits in the aim of winning another hand.

While I think the system is not nearly as effective as Dahl states, his writing style is unlike that of any other blackjack book you may read. He suggests that casinos and card counters are in cahoots and that the casinos are powerless against the might of his progression system. Big words Dahl. He also calls card counters “suckers” and says that card counting is ineffective because of the betting spreads necessary, this when his own system uses a 1-10 spread!

Martingale System

Most blackjack players have two basic goals, to win and to have fun. Since losing is no fun, players basically just want to win. The best strategy is to find a game with the least house edge and to learn basic strategy play for that game. A slightly more advanced strategy is to combine favourable games, basic strategy and card counting to gain a slight edge over the house. A player using all of these smart strategies can expect a modest return on their gambling in the long run.

For some players, these strategies are not enough. They take time to learn and perfect, can take time to work and returns can be modest. This kind of player is also interested in betting systems such as the martingale. Where a strategy dictates how to play any given hand, a system dictates how much to wager (usually based on previous successes or losses).

The martingale system is one of the best known systems in gambling. There are a few reasons for this: It is very simple to use, can be applied to all kinds of casino games and it has been used for a long time. The martingale system is categorised as a ‘negative progression system’ meaning bets are raised after a loss. The opposite of this would be a positive progression system such as Parlay, Paroli or Oscar’s grind to name a few.

To use the martingale system, bets begin by wagering one unit. If you win, wagering returns to this initial point of one unit. If you lose however, the martingale system dictates that you double your previous bet. Successive losses mean you have to keep doubling your previous bet. When you eventually win a bet your losses will be covered by this win, and you will be up by a total of one unit.

For example starting with a $1 per hand bet: fist bet loses, next bet doubles to $2. The second bet also loses so the third bet will be $4. The third bet loses so the fourth bet is $8 which wins. Total losses = 1+2+4=$7. The fourth bet returns $16, the $8 bet plus $8 profit. Subtract the losses from the profit $8-$7=$1 up. When you win you will always be up by your initial betting amount. After a win you return to base bets of $1.

The system works on the presumption that you will win eventually. The problem with martingale is that within a relatively short string of losses, you will either not afford to place the required bet size, or will reach the table maximum bet limit.

To calculate the probability of losing x hands in a row we use the probability of losing any hand in blackjack which is 52.51%. From this we calculate the odds of losing x hands in a row as 1/(0.5251^x). These probabilities are outlined in the table below.

Successive losses Chance
3 1 in 7
4 1 in 13
5 1 in 25
6 1 in 48
7 1 in 91
8 1 in 173

As you can see the odds of getting several successive losses are not that remote. A table with a $10 minimum will likely have a $500 table limit. Using martingale, after just 6 successive losses you would be unable to make the $640 bet needed to continue.

To use martingale in even money bets games (craps or roulette), you need a bank roll 200x greater than your base bet. Using a $1 base requires a bankroll of at least $200 for these games. In blackjack your required bankroll is four times greater because of splits or double downs. This is why table limits can be so problematic (that’s if you can afford the necessary bankroll in the first place).


- No betting system will work in the long run.
- You can be risking huge sums of money just to make a profit of your original one unit bet.
- Table maximums often make martingale unworkable.
- There are other betting systems that put your money at far less risk.

If you absolutely have to try the martingale system, please keep your play as short as possible.

We don’t advocate the use of any betting strategy. While such systems can work in the short term they can be financially devastating in the longer term. Loss odds calculated above are indicative only and are based on a blackjack loss percentage derived by the We advise all players to stick to basic strategy, betting spreads they can afford and most importantly so set gambling budgets.

Card Counting

Card counting is a strategy employed by some blackjack players to determine when they have a probability advantage over the house. Almost universally, this means that the player is tracking the ratio of high to low cards remaining in the shoe. The basic premise is that a deck rich in aces and tens is good for the player. A deck rich in small cards is good for the dealer. When the odds are in the players favour bet amounts and playing strategy may be altered from standard basic strategy.

The advantage that an experienced card counter has over the house is between 0.5% and 1.5%. Due to this relatively small advantage, any gains will only be noticeable over hundreds of hands of play. Even then, financially it is not likely to be as rewarding as films (like 21) make card counting out to be. It would be better to see card counting as a strategy to milk casinos for comp points, hospitality and other offers.

There are a number of different card counting strategies that the player can employ. However simple or complex the strategy all systems will assign positive, negative or neutral values to the cards that are dealt in the game. Low cards are assigned a positive value because they increase the percentage of high cards remaining in the shoe. High cards are assigned a negative value for the opposite reason.

All of the various card counting strategies can be classified as either balanced or unbalanced systems. A balanced system (such as Hi-Lo) requires that the count (the total of the values from dealt cards) is converted into a ‘true count’ by dividing by the number of decks remaining in the shoe. For example, in a single deck game where half the cards have been dealt and the running count is +2, the true count would be 2/0.5 = 4. This would be considered a very high count in a single deck game and the bet stake should be increased accordingly. Only a rough estimate is required for this conversion. In another example if the running count was +7 with approximately 4 decks left the true count would be 7/4 = 1.74. This figure is rounded to +2 to keep things simple.

Unbalanced card counting systems do not require this conversion from running count to true count. Examples of unbalanced systems include the Knockout count (K-O) and the wizard’s Ace/Five count. Because these counts do not require the additional conversion step needed in balanced systems they are considered more suitable for beginners.

Advanced strategies (those that have multiple simultaneous counts or require frequent conversions) offer a slight statistical advantage over some of the more simplistic unbalanced systems but in reality gains are small. It is better to know a ‘simple’ strategy well and to play more hands per hour than to employ a complex strategy, forcing you to play slower and therefore play fewer hands.

Important note: please be aware that card counting will generally not work online. This is because most online casinos shuffle the deck after every round making any counting strategy useless. There are however, a minority of casinos that shuffle after a set number of cards have been dealt. Please satisfy yourself of the methods employed by the particular casino before playing.

Ace/Five count

The Ace/Five count developed by Michael Shackleford allowing players to overcome the house edge without being recognised as a card counter. This strategy is often used for building up casino comps (or just getting a couple more free drinks). In my opinion this is the most straightforward of all card counting strategies.

The strategy is to add one to the count when a five is observed, and to subtract one from the count every time an ace is dealt. Basic strategy is used at all times, but betting amount is increased when the count is greater than or equal to two. If the count is one or less, then the minimum bet should be placed. This method is used until the shoe is reshuffled and the count resets to zero.

Why track only the ace and five cards? Because the ace is important to the player because it forms the basis of ‘blackjack’ paying 3 to 2 (don’t play 6 to 5 or other variants). The five is useful to the dealer in turning stiff hands of 12 to 16 into good hands of 17 to 21.

When the count is plus two or greater the player should double their previous bet up to the maximum bet level. The maximum bet should therefore be established before sitting at the table. Normally this will be somewhere in the region of eight to 16 times the minimum bet but any spread can be used. The important part is establishing the maximum bet and not going above this level.

Here is a betting schedule that I would use for both ‘hit 17’ and ‘stand 17’ games. It assumes that the table minimum is $5:

Count Bet
1 or lower $5
2 $10
3 $20
4 or higher $40

While this may seem like an aggressive approach statistically while you are betting more with this structure than flat betting, you should actually lose less. Plus because of the larger bets, you will accumulate more comp points, which clearly have a monetary value.

Another ‘trick’ to using the ace/five count is to leave the table if the count drops to minus three or lower. By taking a bathroom break or stepping out for a few minutes until the shoe is reshuffled you can gain a significant statistical advantage. While it is not always possible to leave the table with a low count without looking suspicious, any time you do will save cash in the long run.

So while players should not expect to be ‘up’ after any length of playing time using the ace/five strategy, they have essentially made blackjack an even money game. The comp points which are offered by almost all of the larger casinos can be exchanged for meals, show tickets or even rooms for the night.

For the biggest advantage the ace/five count should be employed in combination with a liberal rules game. This means playing with the fewest decks possible in a game where the dealer stands on a soft 17. In Vegas, these rules are generally only available on tables with a higher minimum bet so shop around.

Card Counting Movies

21 (2008)

21 is a film based on Ben Mezrich’s famous book ‘Bringing down the house’. The story follows a group of MIT students who master a card counting strategy (Hi-Lo) then go to Vegas to win big. The lead character, Ben Campbell, is a gifted student who is recruited to the university’s secret blackjack club. Professor Micky Rosa coaches the team in various aspects of perfect strategy and card counting until they are ready to visit Vegas for the first time.

The main problem with the film of course is that it implies you have to be some kind of mathematical genius to understand card counting. That is simply not true. While level two and three counts are certainly more challenging, a basic hi-lo or knockout count can be learnt in a relatively short space of time. Of course the movie is over-glamorized and over-sexed in typical Hollywood style. It’s an entertaining film but don’t expect to learn any gambling tips.

Rain Man (1988)

Rain Man is the humorous story of estranged brothers Charlie and Raymond Babbit. Charlie (played by Tom Cruise) receives news that his wealthy father has died. After returning to Ohio for his father’s funeral he discovers that he has been left a vintage Buick in the will, but the rest of the $3million fortune has been left to his brother Raymond. Charlie had no knowledge of his brothers existence and finds that he was institutionalized with autism.

Soon, Charlie decides to kidnap Raymond in an attempt to convince him to give a cut of the inheritance. The two head off on a road trip in the Buick and begin to form brotherly bonds.

Charlie discovers that Raymond has an amazing memory and is able to memorize cards that have already been dealt*. After teaching Raymond the rules of blackjack the pair head to Vegas to try their luck. The film concludes with Charlie discovering that there is more to life than money and that he really cares about his older brother.

* In standard card counting it is not necessary to memorize all cards that have been dealt in this way.

Counting – live dealer blackjack

We already know that card counting at online casinos doesn’t work. Essentially the deck(s) are shuffled after every single hand, so there is no discard pile or opportunity to assess removed cards. Some however have questioned whether it is possible to card count when playing against a live dealer in online blackjack.

Rather than playing against a random number generator (RNG) you are playing against a live human dealer. The dealer has to manually shuffle the deck(s) every so often, but not after every hand. This raises the question as to whether a card counting strategy can be effectively utilised against a live dealer online.

The answer depends on the rules of the casino operator for the game. For instance, BetFred casino utilises eight decks of cards, and offers only around 50% penetration. That means that approximately four decks will remain in the shoe when the dealer reshuffles. This is not adequate penetration with the number of decks for a counter to be able to accurately assess their advantage at that point in the game.

The rules of Victor Chandler casino state that cards are shuffled ‘at regular intervals’. While less specific, you can be sure that they will employ a cautious shuffle strategy so that penetration never goes to a counter-advantageous level. Indeed some operations utilise the infamous ‘continuous shuffle machines’ so that cards are shuffled before every hand, alleviating any possibility of card counting.

Essentially then, the number of decks used and the low penetration level means that card counting is not an effective strategy against live dealer blackjack online. If, however anyone can find a game with good rules that would mean a counter can gain an edge, do please contact me and I will amend this page.

Hi/Lo Count

While there are numerous card counting systems available to players, the Hi/Lo system is undoubtedly the most popular. Hi/Lo is easy to learn and relatively easy to use in a casino situation. Also known as the plus/minus system, the strategy is basically a simplified version of Edward Thorps famous ten-count. Hi/Lo was the counting system employed by the MIT blackjack team, as well as the movie 21.

Hi/Lo is a balanced level one count. Being a balanced count means that conversion between running count and true count is required. This is done by dividing the running count by the number of decks remaining in the shoe. If all cards from the shoe were dealt the running and true count would be the same, zero.

The first stage in learning the Hi/Lo count is to learn the card count values:

Face value Count value
2, 3, 4, 5, 6 +1
7, 8, 9 0
10, J, Q, K, A -1

We can divide cards into three groups; low, medium and high value cards. In a standard 52 card deck there are 20 small cards (2-6), 12 medium value cards (7,8,9) and 20 high value cards (10-Ace).

As will all counting strategies, the more low value cards that have been dealt, the better the player’s odds of winning any hand. This is because with high value cards to be dealt your first two cards will be stronger, you will get blackjack- and the dealer will bust more often.

Once you have committed the card count values to memory you should practice counting down a deck at home. Shuffle the pack and turn over the cards one by one keeping a running count. Don’t worry about the true count conversion at this point. Focus on accuracy before speed. Check that your count is zero at the end of the pack every time you count. Once you can accurately count a pack try to increase speed. A good rule of thumb is to be able to count down a pack in less than 30 seconds.

Remember that counting at home is very different to counting in a casino situation. To emulate the distractions of the casino at home, play loud music while counting, or try to have a conversation. While this will undoubtedly be difficult, mastering this is absolutely vital for success in the casino where the dealer or pit boss may be talking to you during the game.

When you can successfully count down one pack, add more and more packs until you reach casino shoe levels – 6 to 8 decks. With time and practice you will have good accuracy, speed and you will not be easily distracted.

When converting the running count to true count many players estimate the number of decks to the nearest half deck. With practice you will become fairly accurate in estimating the number of remaining decks in the shoe. When starting out with Hi/Lo it is acceptable to estimate remaining decks to the nearest full deck. You establish the number of decks remaining by looking at the discard pile. Practice at home by stacking x number of decks or half decks. Practice until you become accurate. You then subtract the number of decks on the discard pile from the number of decks you started with to establish the number of decks remaining in the shoe.

The card counters real advantage comes from being able to increase their bet when the count is favourable. The ideal betting spread will depend on the number of decks but a real advantage can be had in a double deck game using a 1-6 spread, and a six deck game with a 1-12 spread. The table below outlines the ideal bet to place depending on decks and true count:

Decks → 2 6
True count ↓ Bet units
≤0 1 1
1 2 2
2 3 4
3 4 8
4 5 10
5+ 6 12

Here are a few things to remember when using a counting strategy:

- Keep focused. If you fail to count even just one or two cards your presumed edge will be inaccurate.
- Casinos do not deal through the entire shoe. Counters have the biggest advantage towards the end of the shoe and casinos know this. Deck penetration can be as low as 60%.
- Practice to become more accurate. If you round the dealt cards to whole decks try to get accurate to half or quarter decks. Also practice to increase counting speed.
- While the maths of counting is easy, many counters simply cannot concentrate in casino conditions. Noise, other players, security, chatty dealers… practice, practice and more practice is in order to overcome these issues.
- Never sit down at a table in the middle of a shoe if you plan to count. You have no idea of the value of the cards that have been dealt and therefore no way to know what’s remaining.

Probably the most important aspect of card counting is to be confident with whatever strategy you use. Statistical advantages of one system over another are incredibly small.

Knock-Out (K-O) count

The knock-out counting system was devised by Ken Fuchs and Olaf Vancura, and named from their first names K & O. The authors say they devised the system to dispel the myth that card counting ‘requires a mind like Albert Einstein’s, together with a memory tantamount to that of a Pentium computer’ (i, 1998). In blackjack the cards that have already been dealt affect the composition of cards remaining in the shoe, so tracking dealt cards allows the counter to assess the favourability of undealt cards.

As with all card counting strategies, knowledge of basic strategy is absolutely essential. In most cases card counters will still play according to basic strategy, often only adjusting the amount of their bet.

The knock-out card counting system is known as an unbalanced system. This means that unlike with say Hi/Lo or another balanced system, counting through an entire deck of cards would not result in a count of zero. In fact, using the K-O count you would have a count of +4 after counting a deck.

K-O is a single level count, meaning you only need to add +/-1. The problem as I see it with more ‘advanced’ card counting strategies is that if they are any more difficult to use than they need to be, after a long session of play it will become easy to make mistakes. So although other count methods may offer statistically greater benefits to the player, if even a single mistake is made, then these benefits are wiped out. It is for this reason that I recommend the K-O count to all beginning and casual blackjack players. Once any counting strategy has been mastered it is easy to move on to another system if you think this to be necessary.
In order to learn the knock-out count you must first learn the values assigned to each card:

Face value Count value
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 +1
8 & 9 0
10, J, Q, K, A -1

The best way to learn the values is to test yourself with a single deck of cards at home. Turn over each card in turn and mentally keep track of the count. If done correctly a single deck should give a +4 count. Keep trying to increase the speed until you can count the deck in less than 30 seconds. Although this sounds difficult with a little practice this is certainly an achievable target. Once you are proficient try counting two cards at a time or multiple decks. It is best to avoid bad habits early so make sure that you keep a mental tally and do not say the count aloud or move your lips. This is a sure fire way to get the attention of the pit boss in a casino.

In a single deck game we begin with a count of zero and add or subtract the value of each card dealt from this initial count. For multideck games we start with an initial count (IC) other than zero. To calculate the IC we use the following formula:

IC = 4 – (4×number of decks).

The table below shows the IC values for various deck games:

Decks Initial Count (IC)
1 0
2 -4
6 -20
8 -28

No matter what the IC value, counting through the entire shoe would always give a final count of +4.

Another important value to memorise is the ‘key count’. This is the value at which the player has the advantage (and should therefore up their bet). The key count (KC) is shown in the table below together with the IC values. This table should be memorised, so that whatever type of game you are playing you will know when you have the advantage.

Decks Initial Count (IC) Key Count (KC)
1 0 +2
2 -4 +1
6 -20 -4
8 -28 -6

MIT Blackjack Team

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is world renowned as a leading university for scientific and mathematic study. No discussion of card counting would be complete without making reference to the (in)famous MIT blackjack team.

It all began in the summer of 1979, when a group of students took an extracurricular class entitled “how to gamble if you must”. The premise of the class was to combine mathematic principles with gambling. The group was taught various card counting methods and students produced computer simulations of different blackjack strategies. By 1980 a few of the classes attendees took the principles they had learnt and decided to test them in real casinos.

After a few weeks of success at the tables, turning $5,000 into $20,000, the teams luck turned. They lacked a coherent strategy and were forced to re-evaluate their technique. The team decided to draw on the experience of an established and successful counter, Bill Kaplan, who became their coach.

Under Kaplan’s direction the team underwent a rigorous retaining process lasting several months. In addition to card counting, the team were also trained to use shuffle and ace tracking techniques. Using these methods combined the team were able to gain a theoretical 4% edge over the house. After this simulated play, Kaplan would supervise the team in real casino conditions, and would point out any mistakes.

Kaplan also assigned roles to different team members. As he saw it, the problem with individual players counting cards is that when the count is favourable and they increase their bets, this was a clear indicator to the casino that they are dealing with a counter. By assigning different roles, Kaplan’s team were able to circumvent these traditional ‘counter markers’ by using team-play.

The group was divided into three specific roles; spotter, controller and gorilla. The spotter’s job was to count cards at the table. Unlike traditional card counters, they would simply flat bet all the time so as not to arouse the suspicion of casino security. In any casino there could be multiple spotters all being monitored by the controller. Once the count became favourable, spotters would signal to the controller. The controller would then step in and verify that the deck was hot. At this point the controller would discretely signal to the gorilla to come and play. The gorilla did not count cards and would only bets large stakes all the time. Under the guise of a reckless millionaire, the gorilla is able to place large bets without arousing suspicion.

This simple strategy was extremely effective. During the 80s and 90s the MIT blackjack team continued to extract large sums of money from the casinos in Vegas. At one point the team had grown to over thirty members and had a bankroll in excess of $300,000.

During the mid 90s casinos began to suspect that organized play was taking place. When a casino pays out to a player it eats into their profits, which obviously they do not like. By this time casino groups begin using private investigators to watch players who won big. The most famous investigations group was ‘Griffin Investigations’. The agency began compiling a book of players who won big using images captured from casino CCTV cameras. The book, known as the ‘face book’ recorded all known aliases for repeat big players. Images were circulated around casinos so they could be vigilant for suspected counters.

A pattern began to emerge. When players win big money in casinos they have to fill out a cash form. This form captures the name and address of these winners for tax purposes. While the MIT team were intelligent enough to use a number of aliases, they frequently gave their home address as various streets in Cambridge, Massachusetts (where MIT is based). It was this mistake that enabled Griffin Investigations to link the players to one another, and ultimately to the MIT team. Simply by looking at the MIT yearbook, Griffin were able to match CCTV images to real names and faces.

The team was finally disbanded in 1999, after play in almost any casino in the world became impossible because of the Griffin database. In 2005 the Griffin agency filed for bankruptcy after a number of successful legal cases brought against them by card counters on the grounds of defamation. In spite of the Griffin agency no longer being in operation, casinos today employ very sophisticated systems to detect card counters. In 2002, half of the casinos in Nevada were using biometric facial recognition software, which scanned every player entering the casino against ‘mug shots’ of suspected counters. You can be sure that that number has increased dramatically.

The MIT story has been featured in several different media outlets. The famous book ‘Bringing down the house’ was released in 2002 by Ben Mezrich, a former MIT team member. Since then the BBC ran the programme ‘how to make a million the easy way’ as part of its ‘Horizon’ series. In the US the story has been covered by ABC, the History Channel and many other networks. In 2008, the movie 21, produced by and starring Kevin Spacey, based on the book was released.

Former MIT team players are no longer active gamblers because they are too easily recognized. Some former players have started companies which teach the principles of card counting as well as advanced strategies to avoid security detection. Mike Aponte and David Irvine founded the ‘blackjack institute’ while Seymon Dukach offers the ‘Blackjack Science’ seminar series. I cannot endorse either of these training programmes since I have not personally reviewed them. Please exercise caution before parting with your money!



Basic Strategy Trainer

The basic strategy trainer is a highly effective method of learning basic strategy without the tedium of memorizing tables. All aspects of game rules can be customized so that you can learn the correct strategy for the game rules you play most often. Customizable options include the number of decks, whether the dealer hits soft 17, double and split options and more! At the end of the game, the trainer will indicate your percentage of incorrect decisions. With practice you will see dramatic improvements in your gameplay.

Remember our strategy charts are always available for you to check the correct play for any hand. To begin with you may wish to use the strategy card throughout the game, until you begin to learn correct play for common hand combinations without checking.

Card counting Trainer

Once you have mastered basic strategy you may like to investigate card counting as another method to gain an edge over the house. Our card counting guide covers the fundamentals of card counting using a variety of popular counting methods. As with basic strategy, the best method to learn a counting system is to practice as often as possible. Thankfully the excellent card counting trainer from blackjack-drills makes that very easy.

You can select from various options to optimise how you want to practice the counting drills. For beginners we suggest selecting just one card per round and being quizzed every quarter deck. This will introduce counting whilst checking you are correct at regular intervals. Once you are confident practice with two cards per round. You can then increase the time between quizzes or the number of cards per round as you wish.

High Roller

High Roller, Whale

Players need to be vigilant for bogus claims by casinos. Some operators have been bankrupted by winning high rollers because they lack liquidity to pay out but still accepted the bets. Some unscrupulous casinos offer ‘high roller bonuses’ that are actually a lower percentage than those offered to normal players. This is unfair when high rollers are potentially much more profitable for casinos.

For obvious reasons all casinos are on the lookout for big players. In this era of economic uncertainty players have the advantage. With so many casinos all trying to get a handful of big players they need to compete hard to beat the competition.

It is often a good idea to contact the casino manager before making deposits larger than $/£ 1,000. Sometimes just by making contact with the casino you may be eligible for VIP signup bonuses that are not advertised on their website. The trick is to ensure you are contacting the correct member of casino personnel. Larger casino groups will have specific player managers for high rollers, so where possible contact these individuals directly.

As a minimum we would expect casinos who advertise for high rollers to meet the following requirements:

High table limits: Frequently blackjack tables have maximum bet limits of $100. High rollers may want limits of $1000 or higher. Platinum play is one such operator to offer $1000 per hand on their ‘high limit European advanced blackjack’ game.

VIP players club: Players should be rewarded for making larger deposits or wagering more than the average gambler. Casinos popular with high rollers frequently offer cashback on losses, monthly deposit match bonuses as well as periodic complimentary gifts or free play.

Low Limit

Low Limit Blackjack

Low limit blackjack has broad appeal with both new and experienced players alike. For the new player, they get to practice the game and different strategies without risking a lot of money if mistakes are made. Experienced players will enjoy the additional time they get to play for the same bankroll as higher stake games.

In Vegas and other gambling Meccas low limit blackjack is rare to find. Games with table limits of below $5 are only available on a small number of tables in a limited number of casinos. If you do manage to find a table, expect to wait a while – queues even form on occasion. This is testament to the popularity of low limit games. Of course, online casinos take the edge over their land-based competitors in this sense. Many online casinos offer limits from ¢50/50p.

The difference comes because land-based casinos calculate their profits per square foot of floor-space. They try to extract the maximum profits from the finite space they have. Online casinos generally do not have this problem so are able to offer low limit tables alongside higher limit tables. The only exception to this rule is live dealer games. In these games casino overheads are increased dramatically over standard RNG games, meaning table limits will generally be higher. Expect minimum bets to be around the $/£5 mark.

As well as low limit games, free play games also abound online. This means it is often unnecessary to deposit any cash at all to play games online. This can be a massive benefit to new players who want to learn the rules of the game without risking their own money. Naturally there will be a time where you want the thrill of winning real money, so you’ll need to hand over some cash. Hopefully after all the free play practice you will feel prepared and confident with the game by the time you play for real money.

Can Blackjack cure a really bad hangover?

Most of us know what a hangover feels like. I usually try to sleep it off, and bemoan the fact that it gets worse with age. Then again, I’ve never been in the predicament of the four guys partying in Vegas in the hit film ‘The Hangover’. The guys have to find $80,000 within a few hours, and only have $10,000 towards their total. Its then that Alan remembers his book – ‘The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book’. Cue this scene from the film where he puts his new skills to use.

Notice the similarities to ‘Rain Man’? The Hangover blackjack scene is a pretty well executed spoof, although many viewers probably didn’t get the Rain Man connotations. The film is well worth watching – although it left me wanting another trip to Vegas. Of course, I’d happily forgo the associated hangover! If I could ever turn $10,000 into $80,000 then I’d be very happy…but remember people…hangovers and blackjack aren’t such a great mix!

‘The Hangover’ wont improve your blackjack skills, but it will certainly provide you with some laughs. Look out for some other classic blackjack lines, with this being my favourite:

Card counting is not illegal, it’s frowned upon. Like masturbating on an airplane.

Choosing the right Blackjack Table

Whether you’re playing blackjack online or in a land based casino, you’ll always want to make sure that you’re playing at the best table. Many inexperienced blackjack players simply opt for the first table that they see, which is often the worst choice. Online casinos often ‘hide’ their more favourable games, and place the lowest paying games in the most prominent positions. Land based casinos play the same trick, with the tables closest to walkways delivering higher profits. Remember that the casino is there to make money, and they will have considered every minor element that boosts their bankroll and diminishes yours.

So the first tip is to spend a few minutes checking out all the available games. Have a walk around the casino and see what game variants are on offer. If you’re playing online, make sure you check through the multiple pages of blackjack games. Different blackjack variants have different rules and strategies. Make sure you know which game has the most favourable rules, as this will give you more game play. Some blackjack variants pay nearly 100%, while others languish at 95%. Choosing the right game can have a drastic impact on your bankroll. There is plenty of information online about the best game to play, so spend a couple of minutes researching and you’ll more than make up that time in extra play.

Remember that the casino is there to make money

The second tip is to choose an appropriate table for your bankroll. Choosing a table with a $50 minimum bet isn’t a great idea if you only have $100 to play with. Again, many of the most prominent tables have higher limits, which will reduce your time at the tables. You should always have some kind of idea of your bet amount, so choose a table that reflects this rather than changing your game plan.

If you’re in a land based casino, then the number of people at the table will impact on you. This comes down to personal preference, but is worth considering. If you’re a new player and want to take things slowly then you might be best on an empty table. This will give you the chance to clarify any queries you have with the dealer, and to take your time. You don’t want to rush, or be worrying that other people are judging your play. Of course, the right players at the table can really help you to settle down, so it all depends on your own feelings on the matter. If you’re planning to count cards then avoiding too much chat at the table might also be beneficial. Also think about your position on the table. Do you want to be playing first, or last, or sat in the middle? It’s best to have an idea before you even enter the casino so you can fully focus on your blackjack play.

Some of these decisions are more straightforward online. You can select single or multi player, and thoroughly check the rules without feeling rushed. The most important tip for both online and land based players is to take your time and go at your own pace. Think about the table that you’d like to play at, and don’t get impatient if you can’t see the table you want straight away. A happy blackjack player is a patient one!

Land-Based Casinos vs Online Casinos

Land based casinos (traditional casinos, or bricks & mortar casinos) have been around for hundreds of years, but online casinos are relatively new. There are plenty of differences between the two, and many blackjack players have clear preferences. Both have their unique advantages, and both can offer different types of entertainment for us blackjack fans.

The first thing to remember is that some online blackjack variants are exceptionally generous, with payouts near to 100%. The variety of games can be overwhelming, but there really is something for everyone. The biggest casinos in Las Vegas are not so competitive – so you are essentially getting fewer bangs for your buck. They don’t need to offer such a wide selection of generous games, as most gamblers will not bother to check the blackjack rules anyway. Then there’s the ease of access. Gamble on your desktop computer in your own lounge, or play a few hands on the train on your laptop, or even have a flutter on the toilet using your mobile. Blackjack is now available anywhere, 24/7 (well, ignoring the legal issues!). You can play blackjack by yourself, with friends, or with complete strangers. If you’re new to the game, you can always practice blackjack for free. Players can take their time, and improve their blackjack skills at their own pace.

The land based casinos offer a completely different social aspect. You can enjoy your wins with other players, and really feel the excitement in the atmosphere. Then there are the freebies! Gamble a little and you’ll get a few free drinks (always welcome!). Gamble a lot, and you can get hotel stays, trips and other gifts. While some online casinos do offer comps, they tend to ignore the low rollers, and don’t offer such a personal touch. While gambling at home is cheap, dedicated trips to Vegas or other casinos resorts are pricey. However, such trips are usually memorable and can feel much more relaxed. A Wednesday gambling in your own lounge isn’t really ever going to offer the same experience as a Wednesday at the tables in the Bellagio. Well, unless you win a progressive jackpot of course!

I love a few days away and the anticipation as the dealer turns over that real card

Online casinos offer generous sign up and comeback bonuses, which aren’t so common at land based casinos. But then these bonuses aren’t usually that fantastic for blackjack players anyway. So of course, blackjack players all have their own preferences. Some people just aren’t social beings, and would hate playing at a public table. Others prefer the ‘all-in’ package that land based casinos offer, and the chance to escape your everyday life for a few days. I don’t view either as better – they both offer different things. I love playing blackjack online whenever I want, and am used to the speed of play. But then I love a few days away and the anticipation as the dealer turns over that real card. I wouldn’t replace one with the other though – and to me that’s why online casinos have added something new to players, rather than replacing what I love about traditional casinos. Most players will play at both in their lifetime, and so where ever you’re playing have the best of luck!

Why do online casinos hate blackjack players?

Every few months I sign up at a new casino. Usually it’s based on personal recommendations, or part of our research for As a blackjack fan, more often than not I end up feeling let down by my experience. It feels like us blackjack players are unloved, or even unwanted. There isn’t a problem with the flashy web 2.0 website, nor the installation and account registration process. The selection of games is usually more than adequate, and they play pretty well too. The graphics don’t make my computer stutter, and support is timely and courteous. So what’s the problem I hear you ask? Well, if you’ve been playing blackjack online, you’ll already know.

Bonuses. One word, yet it says it all. I usually don’t claim it, or worse, I have to email them to get it removed from my account. Bonuses are meant to be an enticement, a method of drawing players in, and keeping them playing. More often than not they are a hindrance to we blackjack players, a guaranteed way to make us look elsewhere, or to go without. Just look at some of the offerings out there; sticky bonuses with wagering requirements of 50 x (deposit + bonus), cashable bonuses with 20 x (deposit and bonus) – but blackjack only counts 10%, and only 50% of wagering can be completed playing blackjack. I’m sure you get the point. So why would I want to ‘take advantage’ of these deals, and if I don’t want to then surely that diminishes the likelihood of me signing up?

But to me, it’s a bit like marketing Alcopops to whisky drinkers

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. Casinos used to offer everyone bonuses. Some with barely any wagering requirements at all. I remember and their $200 sign up with 1 x wager (bonus only, blackjack allowed). But then, look at what happened. Hordes of players abused promotions at every casino by playing blackjack for a quick profit. Entire populations of countries were banned from receiving bonuses, and entire markets of the gambling population were stigmatized. Roulette was first to go, and blackjack soon followed. Wagering requirements rocketed, and then we were left with a situation where the casinos only allowed slots wagering for bonus purposes. The casinos see this as an adequate way to draw in gamblers. But to me, it’s a bit like marketing alcopops to whisky drinkers. Gamblers are not some generic group that will necessarily happily play any game (although a minority will). Most have particular focuses, be it poker, blackjack, slots, bingo or sports wagering. By offering everyone ‘slots only’ bonuses, the casinos have failed to target the different player types; and that means me – a blackjack player.

I completely accept the need to tackle bonus abuse, and to attract good quality players. As a gambling webmaster, my earnings are completely dependent on ‘real’ gamblers, not those who chase bonuses as an income. Bonuses should be a supplement, an attraction to play. Most blackjack players will play without them, as they’ve learnt that they are a nuisance in their present form. Of course, existing player bonuses are much better than sign up bonuses for blackjack players in many situations. But the fact remains, blackjack players looking for new casinos often face hurdles. A new experience that results in a blackjack player throwing money away on slots is unlikely to tempt them back, and nor is the frustration of feeling hated by the casino.

So casinos, you don’t need to focus on huge sign up bonuses all the time. I’d rather receive a $10 cashable bonus that I can play at the blackjack tables on a $100 deposit, than $200 that I don’t enjoy spending. Offer blackjack players different sign up options – tournaments, free competitions, nice quality merchandise. Any of these would be better than forcing those sickly alcopops down our throats.