By
Henry Tamburin Ph.D

There are several different bets that you can make at blackjack. The most important one is the initial bet that you make on every hand. Others include:

In some casinos that offer surrender, you also have the option to remove one-half of your initial bet by surrendering your two-card hand. Shorty, I will show you the best way to make the above bets and which are the most favorable.

## COST OF PLAYING

Every time you make a bet at blackjack, there is a “hidden” cost due to the casino’s mathematical advantage or edge. (The latter arises mainly because players have to draw first, and if they bust, they automatically lose regardless if the dealer subsequently busts in the same round.) The cost of each bet can be determined by multiplying the casino’s mathematical advantage by the amount of the bet.

For example, if you make an initial wager of \$10 on your hand and the house edge is, say, 1%, the cost for making the bet is \$10 x 1% or 10 cents. Now, the dealer isn’t going to expect you to pay her 10 cents every time you make a \$10 wager. In fact, when you wager \$10 you either are going to win \$10 (if your hand beats the dealer’s hand), or you will lose \$10 (if the dealer beats your hand). But over a prolonged number of hands that you play, your expectation is to lose 1% of all the wagers that you make. Sometimes you will get lucky and end up with a winning session, and other times, you will be not so lucky and will end up losing. But what is certain is this: over time you will lose about 1% of all the money you wagered.

In order to make the best bets you can in blackjack, you need to reduce the house edge (and the subsequent cost) to as small as possible (i.e., less than 1%).

The house edge is determined by the following two factors:

1. Playing rules and
2. Playing strategy

## PLAYING RULES

In most gaming jurisdictions, a casino can vary the playing rules as it wishes. For example, it can offer blackjack games using any number of decks of cards. (Most common is single, double, six, and eight decks.) Casinos may allow players to double down on any initial hand or restrict doubling to only hard hands. Some casinos allow you to double down after pair splitting pairs while others won’t. The payoff for a player blackjack could be 3-2 or 6-5. Each of these subtle but important changes can alter the house edge either in favor of the casino or the player.

In order to reduce the house edge (and your cost for playing), you need to play a game where the mix of blackjack rules results in the lowest theoretical house edge. You have a choice: You can play blackjack games where the house edge is over 1% or under 1%; and, by the way, the casino manager isn’t going to tell you which blackjack games in his casino have the lower house edge. That is your responsibility as a player, and you’ll see shortly how to know which games have the lowest house edge.

Below is a table that lists some common rules, which ones favor the player, and which the casino. You should always try to play a blackjack game that has the best mix of player-favorable rules.

## BEST MIX OF PLAYING RULES

As a guide, I’ve listed below the mix of playing rules for different numbers of decks of cards that give the lowest house edge. (Note: all of the games listed pay 3-2 for a blackjack.)

s17 = dealer must stand on soft 17
h17 = dealer must hit soft 17
das = doubling down after pair splitting allowed
rsa = resplitting aces allowed
ls = late surrender allowed (you can surrender only after the dealer checks if she has a blackjack).

## PLAYING STRATEGY

Blackjack is a game of strategy. The above house edges assume you are using the basic playing strategy for every hand dealt to you. A player who uses “intuition” for playing his or her hands stands to face a house edge of 1% or higher (even in a game with a favorable mix of playing rules). Thus, you must play every hand by the mathematically derived basic playing strategy to achieve the lowest house edge.

By way of an example, I’ve summarized below the basic playing strategy for a six-deck game with these player favorable rules: s17, das, and ls. The first column lists your hand; the second column indicates what strategy you should use. (Note: o/w means otherwise.)

It’s perfect legal to take a strategy card with you when you play to avoid making any costly playing mistakes. (Just don’t lay it on the table; instead, hold it in your hand.)

Note: To review the basic playing strategy for any number of decks of cards and a different mix of playing rules, see Chapter 3 in Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.

## HOW TO BET

The best way to bet on every hand is to increase your bet when you have the edge and decrease your bet when the edge favors the casino. The only way to know when you have the edge is to learn a card-counting system. In Chapter 10 of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide, you’ll find some entry-level, card counting systems that are not difficult to learn and use.

For non-card counters, the best way to keep your cost low is to bet the same amount on every hand (known as flat betting). Many blackjack players don’t find flat betting to be very much “fun,” so they use some type of progressive betting system, where you vary your bets based on whether you won (or lost) the previous hand. However, progressive betting will not decrease the house edge, and since your average bet will be higher compared to flat betting, you will be exposing more of your bankroll to the house edge (thus your cost for playing increases). However, if you still insist on using a progressive betting system, I suggest the very conservative “Oscar’s Grind,” which is explained in Chapter 10, Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.

## FINAL TIPS

(FOR NON-CARD COUNTERS)

1. To minimize your hourly cost, play on a table with many players vs. playing alone against a dealer. (You’ll be playing fewer hands per hour thus reducing the exposure of your bankroll to the house edge.)

2. Likewise, don’t play on any blackjack table where the cards are dealt from a continuous shuffling machine, or CSM (i.e., an automatic shuffler where the cards from every round are returned to the shuffler rather than to a discard tray).

3. Taking insurance (or even money, when you have a blackjack) is a bad bet so never make it.

4. Take advantage of comps by using your Player’s Card or using a casino host.

If you want to make the best bets at blackjack in my opinion:

1. Play blackjack games that have the best player-favorable mix of playing rules.
2. Always play every hand accurately using the basic playing strategy.
3. Bet more only when you know you have the edge.
4. Don’t play on any table that uses a CSM.
5. Don’t make the insurance or even money bet.
6. Take advantage of comps to lower your overall cost of playing.