Basic blackjack strategy is a must-know if you want to win at this popular card game. This will show you when you hit, split, double down, or stand against what dealer up-card. Blackjack has a lower edge in favour of the house compared to other casino games. Add in the easy to learn strategy, side bets, and many entertaining variations, and you will quickly see why this game is featured in both live and online casinos in Canada.
Card counters have tried to beat live blackjack games for decades. While this strategy can give you a theoretical edge, it is hard to implement in practice. You will need to massively increase bets when the ‘count’ is positive – making it obvious to casino staff.
This page gives you a practical guide to how to win at blackjack. The rules, strategy, and bankroll management are covered below. In addition to card counting, there are ways to keep the house edge low. They include choosing the best blackjack tables, avoiding expensive side bets, and taking advantage of bonuses and loyalty rewards.
What are the basic rules of blackjack?
Blackjack has many variations. The basic gameplay works for all of them. Your objective in each hand is to beat the dealer. There are only two ways you can do this:
- Get a score closer to 21 than the dealer
- Have a live hand when the dealer busts
Each player starts with 2 cards, face up. You get to see one of the dealer’s cards. In the US version of blackjack, the dealer will check their other card if the card showing is an ace or valued at 10. If they get a blackjack, the hand ends there. In the European variation, the dealer only gets one card – with the other dealt after players have finished. If players are dealt blackjack (an ace + 10 value card) and the dealer does not have one, the hand ends there with a win for the player.
In turn, players decide whether to:
- Hit: Take one or more additional cards
- Stand: Stay with your current total
- Double Down: Take 1 extra card, while doubling your stake
- Split: Split 2 matching cards into separate hands, adding a bet to each
- Surrender: Give up your hand losing half of a bet
Rule variations will show you when you can take each action. For example, some games will let you double down after a split, some rules prevent splitting of aces – and surrendering is an option only at specific tables.
After every player has acted, the dealer will show her cards – hitting or standing depending on the rules and total. Some games will have the dealer hit on soft-17; others will stand on all 17 hands. If the totals match your bet is returned. If the dealer goes over 21, all live hands are winners. Otherwise, your total is compared to the dealer’s total to determine a winner.
What is the basic strategy in blackjack?
Unless you know basic strategy, you will be handing extra money to the house every time you play. Real money blackjack has a low house edge for mathematically correct play. You will find that you do not need to stray far from this to make this house edge huge.
The basic strategy takes the form of a chart. On one side are the totals of your hands, from 2 (two aces) through to 21 (blackjack, which requires no-decisions). On the other side are the up cards the dealer shows, from 2 through to ace.
For each combination, there is a mathematically correct decision. This includes opportunities to split and double – as well as the usual hit and stand. Many decisions in blackjack are easy. You hit with hands below 17 when the dealer shows a picture card or 10. Some are borderline, for example: splitting 8s or hitting on 13 depends on the dealer’s up card.
Once you have memorised the basics, you can adjust your strategy based on the rules used in each game.
Finding blackjack games with the lowest house edge
The rules used in each blackjack game have a big effect on the house edge. The ‘perfect’ blackjack game would have a single deck of cards, pay 3:2 for a natural 21, allow late surrender, have the dealer stand on soft-17, and have liberal double and split rules with resplits and double after split available. This imaginary game could have a house edge of just 0.9%.
Real-life is not so generous. A typical low-stakes table in a Canadian casino will have rules that make the house edge bigger. The number of decks used makes a difference. $10 and under games will use 6 or 8 decks. The dealer will often hit on soft 17. You can split only once (sometimes twice) and will not be able to double down after a split.
A key factor to look out for is how much you are paid for a natural blackjack hand. 3:2 is the standard. Some casinos will pay 6:5 on their smaller stakes tables. This adds significantly to the house edge and should be avoided.
As a rule of thumb, the rules become more favourable as you move up in stakes. In high-limit gaming areas, you can find tables with double-deck games and positive double/split rules.
Blackjack side bets explained
Jackpot side bets include Blazing 777 and Perfect Pairs. These bets have a huge house edge compared to the main game. If playing them adds some excitement to your blackjack sessions, and you can afford the extra bets – then you are giving yourself a shot at some big wins.
Insurance is also a side bet. When the dealer shows an ace, players will get the chance to place an additional bet. You get paid if the dealer has blackjack – which counters the fact that you will lose the main hand (or push if you have blackjack). This has bad odds – with a house edge of more than 7% in a typical 6-deck game.
Jackpot side bets work separately from the main game. Perfect pairs payout if your cards are paired, with bigger prizes for pairs of the same suit (multiple decks are needed for this). Blazing 777s pays big money for 3 suited 7s. You will find different side bets in casinos around Canada.
Using card counting in blackjack
Getting an edge over the casino is possible while playing blackjack – though in practice it is difficult to get away with.
Card counting involves keeping track of the proportion of high and low cards that have been dealt. When many more low cards have been dealt compared to high ones, the ‘count’ can become positive. This means that the house edge for the remainder of the shoe is in favour of the player – not the house.
Multiple counting systems have been developed over the years. They include basic high-low counts and complex counts where different cards are weighted. Examples include the Hi-Lo System, Upton Advanced Point Count, and Revere Point Count.
The flaw in card counting is that you need to massively increase your bet size when the deck becomes positive. This makes up for the lost bets while waiting for the right situation. Casinos will notice this – especially if you do it repeatedly. Suspected counters will be watched, and very quickly asked to leave or even permanently banned from the casino.
Counting could still have a use – for example, you could stand up from a game for the rest of a shoe if the high cards have been dealt more than usual. The chances of getting away with counting to consistently beat the games are tiny.
Blackjack bonuses, promotions & casino comps
While card counting will get you banned from live casinos – those same venues actively encourage players to get free play and comps via their loyalty schemes. That free play is usually for slots, not table games. If you get lucky and hit a jackpot or bonus, you might be able to boost your blackjack bankroll before you even play a hand.
Comp schemes vary by province. Some are for all casinos, while others are venue-specific. You hand your card to the dealer, who will get your play and average bet level tracked. The points you accumulate can be swapped for free play. Loyalty schemes often come with discounts in restaurants, plus access to member promotions.
Online casinos also have loyalty reward schemes. Their other bonuses work differently to live venues. You will find no deposit bonus deals (again, slots are the primary target). You will also find matched welcome bonuses, reload bonuses, free spins, and both standing promotions and one-off specials.
The lower house edge of blackjack makes it somewhat harder to clear bonuses by playing it. You should check the ‘weighting’ that each casino gives blackjack in terms of the play-though (wagering) requirement for the bonus. Note that some casinos may exclude table games completely.
Different blackjack games and variations
Casinos have created variations of blackjack to keep the game fresh and interesting. They include novelty games – as well as variants of the main game with different side bets.
The main split between the rules involves ‘Peek’ and ‘No-Peek’ games. While there are rules known as ‘Canadian Blackjack’, games in live casinos are US rules. This is the ‘peek’ game. The dealer will check for blackjack before any of the players act. The no-peek game is known as European blackjack. Here, the players all complete their actions before the dealer takes a second card. This means you will not know whether the dealer has 21 while deciding what to do – making for a slightly more liberal/risky initial strategy.
Here are some other popular blackjack variations you will find in Canadian casinos:
- Spanish 21: This game removes the 10 cards from the deck, though otherwise has the same gameplay as a regular US blackjack game.
- Super Fun 21: This variation has an automatic win for players if their hand has 6 cards with a total of 20. There are liberal splitting and doubling rules.
- Free Bet Blackjack: You can split and double for free in this variation, to balance this, if the dealer busts with 22, all live hands are a push.
- Blackjack Switch: This variation sees you get 2 hands. The difference is that you can swap the cards between them to get the best possible hand.
- Blazing 777s Blackjack: This game has a side bet, hit 777 suited and you could win a giant prize or even a progressive jackpot.
Live dealer blackjack online
Online casinos now let you gamble on real money games, dealt as you play at a remote studio. Live dealer blackjack games have a social element that the software games do not have. You can play behind other players if all the seats are full. Other live dealer options include roulette, baccarat, poker variants, and (recently) social slot games like Blazing Buffalo.
Card counting is not possible at live dealer online casinos. The 8-deck shoe is changed too regularly to get an accurate count. Add to this the visibility of your bet sizes and you will be caught right away. Some players enjoy live dealer blackjack to practice card counting – though the main reason to play is to get a realistic and social casino experience from home.
Recommended blackjack bankroll management
Blackjack has a low variance compared to other casino games – as well as a low house edge. Most of your wins and losses are in single units. This means you don’t need a huge casino bankroll to get the best from this game. Many players buy-in live for 20 bets, topping up as needed.
A bankroll of 100 bets should be plenty enough to enjoy blackjack for a long time. Note that if you enjoy the risky side bets, or don’t have a good grasp of basic strategy then you will need a bigger bankroll to balance this.
Enjoying blackjack with money you can afford to lose is a great way of experiencing casino gaming without the big swings inherent in slots or casino poker variations.
Wrapping up: How to beat blackjack at Canadian casinos
Blackjack is just as popular online as at live casinos in Canada. The advantage of playing online blackjack games is the number of variations and instant accessibility around the clock. The low house edge of blackjack is a big plus. This gives you a better chance of going on a winning run than with other popular casino games. To keep this to a minimum, you need to familiarize yourself with game rules that are good and bad for the players.
With perfect strategy, casino bonuses, and loyalty rewards, you can make the house edge for blackjack tiny. While card counting can give you the edge, this is difficult to execute. Your best strategy is to enjoy blackjack games – and to do all you can to keep the odds in your favour.