Learn how to play the game with the lowest house edge - Blackjack!
To the newbie matched bettor, it may be not be immediately obvious what this card game has to do with matched betting. Following on from the last guide, you may recall Blackjack being touted as one of the possible games available in casino.
You should have some understanding of how advantage play works in the online casino world. If not, have a read through the casino guide.
Most of us would typically use slots to grind through the arduous wagering requirements. The problem is slots usually have a house edge of 5%, which is TEN TIMES more than Blackjack's wafer thin 0.5%!
The casinos are well aware of this so you'll often find the weighting of Blackjack reduced for most (not all) offers. This means you will often need to wager more playing Blackjack than you would if you were playing slots.
Blackjack basic rules
Before thinking about how we can take advantage using Blackjack, we need to first learn how to play.
The objective in Blackjack is to beat the dealer by having a hand that's of greater value than theirs - without exceeding 21.
The value of a hand is calculated by adding the value of the cards. Face cards (kings, queens, and jacks) count as 10 points, and an ace is either 1 or 11 points - depending on which works out best. All the other cards (2s through to 10s) hold the numeric value shown on the card.
Anyway, here's the deal (pun intended):
- You receive two cards and you decide whether to hit or stand (other options are sometimes available - more on that below)
- If the value of your cards exceeds 21 you 'bust' and automatically lose
- After you stand the dealer will deal herself more cards until she has 17 or more
- If the value of your cards is closer to 21 than the dealer's you win
- If the value of the dealer's cards is closer to 21 than yours you lose
- If the value of the dealer's cards exceeds 21 you win
This is simplified slightly but the idea is very simple.
Playing Blackjack online
Here are the steps for completing a round of Blackjack online. Some variants will differ slightly but for the most part they're the same.
1. Decide how much you wish to bet
In some Blackjack games you can play as many as five hands in one go - such as the original version on Paddy Power Casino.
For each hand played you need to click on a chip and then in the circle where it says 'Place Your Bet'. A combination of the chips will need to be selected to change the bet size - for example, a £7 bet can be done by clicking on the 5 chip once and the 1 chip twice.
2. Hit 'Deal'
For each hand you will be dealt two cards (both face up) and the dealer will deal herself two cards, one of which you can see (known as the 'upcard') whilst the other is face down (known as the 'hole card').
You can change the colour of the table if you click the paint brush on the top left (below 'Color').
3. Consider your options
When you are dealt the two cards you will have a decision to make:
- Hit - You will receive another card. After that, assuming you don't bust, you will have to make another choice (on this list) again.
- Stand - You stick with what you have and the dealer stops giving you cards. The dealer will then show the hole card and you will see who has won.
- Double - Your bet is doubled and exactly one more card is dealt. You must then stand.
- Split - If both your cards hold the same numeric value (known as a 'pair') you can split them into two separate hands. You then choose what to do (on this list) for each hand.
Each hand is numbered for reference so we can analyse the play later.
After you stand (or have busted) the dealer will move to the next hand. The order runs clockwise (right through left), so the first hand here would have been 8 of spades and 10 of hearts.
After all hands have been complete the dealer will show the hole card and all payouts will be made.
No better feeling than when the dealer busts!
How do I know what to do?
We advise you use this strategy card to find the best strategy for any given hand.
How to read a Strategy Card
- See dealer's upcard - this is column you will focus on in the table
- See cards you are dealt. The total of the two cards will decide the row you should look for in the table
- If one of your cards is an ace you have a 'soft' hand. You will find a separate table for this below.
- If both your cards are the same number you have a pair. You know have the option to 'split' so there's a separate table for pairs at the bottom.
Let's return to the five hands above and think about the best course of play, following our annotated card on the right. The dealer's upcard is 5, this means we should look under the column '5'.
- HAND 1 - Dealt an 8 and 10 which means the player has an 18 (or 'hard 18'). Strategy is to stand.
- HAND 2 - Dealt an ace and 4 which means the player has a 5 or 15 (or 'soft 15'). Strategy is to double.
- HAND 3 - Dealt two aces which means the player has a 2 or 12 (or 'pair of aces'). Strategy is to split.
- HAND 3 (1) - On the first ace a 2 is dealt which means the player has a soft 13. Strategy is to hit. (Note I accidentally chose to stand instead)
- HAND 3 (2) - On the second ace a 9 is dealt which means the player has a soft 20. Strategy is to stand.
- HAND 4 - Dealt a 3 and 9 which means the player has a hard 12. Strategy is to stand.
- HAND 5 - Dealt a king and 9 which means the player has a hard 19. Strategy is to stand.
Other things to be aware of
- If you win the hand without getting Blackjack (i.e. higher total than dealer or dealer busts) you will be paid out at even money (2.00 in decimal odds)
- For example, in the round above a £5 bet was placed on each hand. As the dealer went bust £10 was returned (so £5 profit) in each of hands 1, 2, 4 and 5. As the third hand was split £10 was returned in each of those too.
- If you win by getting Blackjack (i.e. if dealt a face card and an ace) you will be paid out at 3 to 2 (2.50 in decimal odds)
- If you and the dealer have the same total you will have your bet returned - this is known as a 'push' (1.00 in demical odds or void bet)
- If the dealer has a higher total then you (or you bust) you will lose your stake and the dealer wins the hand
When the two cards you are dealt add up to exactly 21 you have what is called Blackjack. This is only possible with a face card (any card which has a value of 10 - so 10s, Jacks, Queens and Kings) and an ace. When this happens you get paid out at 3 to 2 instead of even money. Some games offer a 6 to 5 payout for Blackjack instead - avoid these!
In case you're wondering, it's not Blackjack if your total is 21 with three or more cards. In this instance you will be paid out at even money as usual - assuming you win the hand.
If the dealer's upcard is an ace you will be offered the opportunity to take out insurance as they have the opportunity to make Blackjack. This is a side bet (with stake of 50% of the bet) where the dealer with pays out at 2 to 1 (3.00 in decimal odds) should it win.
If you take out insurance and the dealer goes on to get Blackjack you will lose your main bet but win the side bet - which means no money will be lost in total.
According to basic strategy you should never take insurance as you will lose money in the long run (it's a -EV bet).
Remember, just like any other casino games Blackjack involves risk. But it's a low variance game and if you follow basic strategy you can get the house edge to around 0.5% (99.5% RTP).
Some variants may have different rules so the average return may vary, but all games are in the range of around 98.7% - 99.8% RTP when played optimally.
In some Blackjack variants you may see the option to surrender after being dealt a hand. In this case you would receive half of your stake back and lose the bet. It can be a useful strategy when you have a particularly bad hand.
Games that include the surrender option are usually excluded from promotions, but it's worth knowing in case you come across it.
When playing we should aim to reduce the variance as we want to minimise risk where possible.
As a rule of thumb: the smaller the bet, the smaller the variance. Playing £1 hands is significantly less risky than playing £5 hands (as I have done above). And playing a single £1 hand is less risky than playing five £1 hands in a round.
When the wagering requirements are high, particularly on live casino, it's sometimes not feasible to bet such small stakes as it can take (seriously) hundreds of hours to complete.
While an offer may be quicker to complete when the bet size is increased, it's more risky and the likelihood of busting out increases.
Reducing the bet size doesn't increase the EV of an offer, but it's advisable when starting so that you can minimise the risk and maximise your chances of profiting somewhere around the EV.
It's a bit of a balancing act. After a few sessions you'll have an idea of where your sweet spot is between risk and time spent.
- Grosvenor Casino
- Offer: Deposit £20 and get £20 bonues
- When is the bonus credited? After playing through your £20 once
- Any wagering requirements? 5x the bonus amount
- EV: £19.40
- Notes Good starter Blackjack offer - shouldn't take longer than an hour to complete.
- Coral Casino
- Offer: Deposit £10 and receive a £50 bonus
- When is the bonus credited? Immediately after depositing
- Any wagering requirements? 24x the bonus amount
- EV: £20.00
- Notes £6,000 needs to be wagered in total as Blackjack only contributes 20% towards the wagering. Would advise doing this over several days and taking regular breaks.
- Coral Live Casino
- Offer: 100% Matched Deposit up to £100
- When is the bonus credited? Immediately after buying-in
- Any wagering requirements? 40x the bonus amount
- EV: £80.00
- Notes £4,000 needs to be wagered in total. This is live casino so would advise doing this over several days and taking regular breaks.
- William Hill Live Casino
- Offer: 100% Matched Deposit up to £100
- When is the bonus credited? Immediately after buying-in
- Any wagering requirements? 50x the deposit and bonus amount
- EV: £50.00
- Notes £10,000 needs to be wagered in total. This is live casino so would advise doing this over several days and taking regular breaks.
Check out the casino offers forum for all the latest blackjack offers.