Blackjack Betting and Card Counting

There are four ways players can alter their bets once the cards have been dealt, doubling down, splitting, insurance, and surrender. Splitting and doubling down aggressively is the secret to winning at basic strategy blackjack, as it gives players the chance to press their bet when they're holding a strong hand.

When a player doubles down, he wagers another bet equal to the original and receives one (only one) more card. It's the choice move when you've got a total of nine, ten or 11 and the dealer shows a weak card such as a six. Remember you can double down only if you haven't taken a hit.

Splitting is an option when players are dealt two cards of the same value. An additional bet equal to the original bet is put out and the cards are split with each played as a separate hand. It's to the player's advantage to be able to double down or split each of the post-split hands, though some casinos limit what you can do.

'Insurance' is a side bet offered when the dealer has a possible blackjack an example of this is if he shows an ace or ten-value card. An insurance bet is limited to 50 percent of the original bet and is lost if the dealer doesn't have a blackjack. If he or she does have a blackjack, insurance pays at two to one. Despite the warm connotations of the word 'insurance', this is a sucker bet. Unless you are a card counter, there is no reason to take insurance even if you are holding a natural blackjack.

If you are holding a natural and the dealer's calling for insurance bets, you can take even money on your bet. If you don't take even money and the dealer has a two-card 21, it's a push. If the dealer doesn't have 21, your natural is paid at 3 to 2.

'Surrender' is an obscure but useful rule that is not in effect everywhere. 'Surrender' permits players to fold and sacrifice half their bet as long as they haven't played their hand. It's excellent way to drop out and minimize losses when dealt weak cards. If used correctly, it increases the player's edge by 0.2 percent.

Card Counting

Card counting is a technique whereby a player visually tracks exposed cards and mentally keeps a running total to determine if the deck is positive or negative. In the simplest count, the ten-value cards and aces are valued at -1, while cards numbered two to seven take a value of +1, the eights and nines have no value. If the running total is positive, players have an advantage and should raise their bets.

Does it work? Yes, but only if you devote weeks of practice to it, are cool under the distractions and pressures of real-time casino play, and develop camouflage skills so that the house doesn't know you are counting. Though card counting is not against the law, casinos frown upon it, and 'back off or bar players they suspect of using the practice. Counting cards is a grueling discipline at which most fail, but successful card counters, especially high-stakes players, are the few gamblers who beat the casinos at their own game. The rest of us should stick to basic strategy. This involves memorizing a chart that contains the answer to every decision in blackjack, based on your first two cards and the dealer's up card.