We start with one of the least common decisions, but it is appropriate to begin
with surrender, because this decision must be made before any other choice about
playing your hand. Not every game offers surrender, and those that do fall
into two categories which bear expanation: Early vs Late.
Surrender offers you as a player the choice to fold your hand, at the cost
of half of the original bet. You must make that decision prior to taking any
other action on the hand. For example, once you draw a third card, or split,
or double down, surrender is no longer an option.
The two varieties of surrender, early and late, differ only in the way
a dealer blackjack is handled. In an early surrender game, a player may
choose to surrender before the dealer checks his cards for a blackjack,
offering a cheap way out even if the dealer turns out to have a blackjack.
Because this offers a healthy advantage to the player, this version (early
surrender) is rarely offered. The much more common variation is late
surrender, where the dealer checks for blackjack first, and then only if he
does not have blackjack will he allow players to surrender their hands.
Surrender is an excellent rule for players who use it wisely.
Unfortunately, many players surrender far too many hands. If you play in a
game with surrender, use our Blackjack Basic Strategy Engine
to determine when surrender is
the appropriate play. To understand how bad a hand must be to properly be surrendered,
consider the following: To lose less with surrender, you must be only 25%
likely to win the hand (ignoring pushes). That is, if you lose 75% of the time,
and win only 25% of the time, your net loss is about 50% of your bets, equal
to the amount you'll lose guaranteed by surrendering. So, learn to use the
surrender option, but make sure you know when it is appropriate.
It's worth mentioning again that the vast majority of surrender is LATE
surrender, after the dealer checks for BJ. Make sure you choose the right
option over on the Strategy Engine. And if you do find a game that offers
early surrender, drop me a note. Good opportunities like that are rare.
The most common decision a player must make during the game is whether
to draw another card to the hand ("hit"), or stop at the current total
("stand"). The method you use to indicate your decisions to the dealer
depend on which kind of game you are playing.
In the face-up shoe game, you indicate that you want another card by
tapping the table behind your cards with a finger. You'll be required
to make the hand signals, rather than just announcing "hit" or "stand"
to the dealer. This is to eliminate any confusion or ambiguity in
what you choose, and also for the benefit of the ever-present surveillance
cameras. If you go over 21, or "bust", the dealer will collect your
bet, and remove your cards from the table immediately. When you decide
to stand, just wave your hand in a horizontal motion over your cards.
In the face-down game, things are a little different. You'll hold
the first two cards with one hand. To draw another card to your hand,
simply scrape your cards across the table felt lightly. Watch another
player at first to see how this works. The dealer will deal your
additional cards on the table in front of your bet. Add them to your
total hand value, but leave the actual cards on the table. If you
go over 21, just toss the two cards in your hand face up on the table.
The dealer will collect your bet, and discard your hand. When you
decide to stand, you should tuck the two cards you are holding face-down
under the chips that you have bet. This can be a bit tricky the first
few times. Don't pick up the bet to place the cards underneath.
Remember, once the cards are dealt, you can't touch the chips in the circle.
Simply slide the corner of the cards under the chips.
The descriptions are a lot tougher than the actual play. Just pay
attention to what other players are doing and you'll fit right in.
Among the more profitable player options available is the choice to "double
down". This can only be done with a two card hand, before another
card has been drawn. Doubling down allows you to double your bet
and receive one, and only one, additional card to the hand. A good
example of a doubling opportunity is when you hold a total of 11, say a
(6,5) against a dealer's upcard of 5. In this case, you have a good
chance of winning the hand by drawing one additional card, so you might
as well increase your bet in this advantageous situation. If you
are playing in a face-down game, just toss the two cards face-up on the
table in front of your bet. In either type of game, add an
additional bet to the betting circle. Place the additional bet adjacent
to the original bet, not on top of it. The dealer will deal one additional
card to the hand. In the face-down game, he'll probably tuck it face-down
under your bet, to be revealed later.
Players are allowed to double down for any amount up to the original
bet amount, so you could double down "for less" if you wanted. Just
remember that you do give up something for being allowed to increase your
bet: the ability to draw more than one additional card. If
the correct play is to double down, you should always double for the full
amount if possible.
The question of when it is appropriate to double down is easily answered
by using the Blackjack Basic Strategy Engine.
When you are dealt a matching pair of cards (remember, ignore the suits),
you have the ability to split the hand into two separate hands, and play
them independently. Let's say you are dealt a pair of eights for
a total of sixteen. Sixteen is the worst possible player hand, since
it is unlikely to win as is, but is very likely to bust if you draw to
it. Here's a great chance to improve a bad situation.
If you are playing a hand-held game, toss the cards face-up in front
of your bet just like a double down. Then, in either type of game,
place a matching bet beside the original bet in the circle. Note
that you must bet the same amount on a split, unlike a double-down, where
you are allowed to double for less. The dealer will separate the
two cards, and treat them as two independent hands. Let's say you
draw a 3 on the first 8, for a total of 11. Many casinos will allow
you to double down on that hand total of 11 at this point. When this
is allowed, the rule is called "Double after Split", predictably enough.
Regardless, you can play the first hand to completion, at which point the
dealer will deal a second card to the second hand, and you can begin making
play decisions on it.
If you get additional pairs (in the first two cards of a hand), most
casinos will allow you to resplit, making yet another hand. The most
common rule allows a player to split up to 3 times, making 4 separate hands,
with 4 separate bets. If double after split is allowed, you could
have up to 8 times your initial bet on the table if you chose! Some
casinos restrict resplitting, and some allow unlimited splitting.
Another fine point is that you are allowed to split any 10-valued cards,
so you could split a (Jack, Queen) hand. However, this is usually
a bad play: Keep the 20.
The other complication for pair splits concerns splitting Aces.
Splitting Aces is a very strong player move, so the casino restricts you
to drawing only one additional card on each Ace. Also, if you draw
a ten-valued card on one of your split Aces, the hand is not considered
a Blackjack, but is instead treated as a normal 21, and therefore does
not collect 3:2 odds. Some casinos allow resplitting Aces if you
draw another, while many do not allow resplitting Aces although they often
do allow resplitting of any other pairs. With all these restrictions,
you may wonder whether it makes sense to split Aces. The answer is
a resounding YES. Always split pairs of Aces.
For accurate pair splitting advice, consult the
Blackjack Basic Strategy Engine.
Insurance and Even Money
Insurance is perhaps the least understood of all the commonly available
rules for Blackjack. This is not necessarily a bad thing because
the insurance bet is normally a poor bet for the player, with a high house
advantage. However, that's not always the case. So, here we
If the dealer turns an up-card of an Ace, he will offer "Insurance"
to the players. Insurance bets can be made by betting up to half
your original bet amount in the insurance betting stripe in front of your
bet. The dealer will check to see if he has a 10-value card underneath
his Ace, and if he does have Blackjack, your winning Insurance bet will
be paid at odds of 2:1. You'll lose your original bet of course (unless
you also have a Blackjack), so the net effect is that you break even (assuming
you bet the full half bet for insurance.) This is why the bet is
described as "insurance", since it seems to protect your original bet against
a dealer blackjack. Of course, if the dealer does not have blackjack,
you'll lose the insurance bet, and still have to play the original bet
In the simplest description, Insurance is a side-bet, where you are
offered 2:1 odds that the dealer has a 10-valued card underneath ("in the
hole"). A quick check of the odds yields this: In a single
deck game, there are 16 ten-valued cards. Assuming that you don't
see any other cards, including your own, the tens compose 16 out of 51
remaining cards after the dealer's Ace was removed. For the insurance
bet to be a break-even bet, the hole card would have to be a ten 1 out
of 3 times, but 16/51 is only 1 in 3.1875.
The situation is often thought to be different when you have a Blackjack.
The dealer is likely to offer you "even money" instead of the insurance
bet. This is just the same old insurance bet with a simplification
thrown in. Let's ignore the "even money" name, and look at what happens
when you insure a Blackjack. Let's say you bet $10, and have a Blackjack.
You would normally collect $15 for this, unless the dealer also has a blackjack,
in which case you push or tie.
Let's assume that the dealer has an Ace up, and you decide to take
insurance for the full amount, or $5. Now, two things can happen:
1) The dealer has a Blackjack. I tie with
the $10, but collect 2:1 on the $5 insurance bet for a total profit of
2) The dealer does not have Blackjack. I lose
the $5, but collect $15 for my BJ. Total profit, again $10.
In either case, once I make the insurance bet, I'm guaranteed a profit
of $10, or even money for my original bet.
So, casinos allow me to eliminate the insurance bet altogether, and
simply declare that I want even money for my blackjack when the dealer
has an Ace showing.
You're probably thinking that sounds like a pretty good deal.
You're guaranteed a profit even if the dealer does have Blackjack.
Just remember that the guaranteed profit comes at a price. You'll
win more money in the long run by holding out for the $15, even though
you'll sometimes end up empty-handed. Nonetheless, many players
are adamant that they prefer to take even money when offered. Just
be aware that you're costing yourself money when you make that choice.
The basic strategy player should simply never take the insurance bet,
even the "even money" variety. Card counters on the other hand can
often detect situations where more than one-third of the remaining cards
are ten-valued, and the bet is then a profitable one. So, unless
you know the bet is favorable, just ignore it.