Of all the casino games invented, blackjack may just provide the deepest instructional material a player can learn. Basic strategy charts can be purchased for a few dollars at any casino gift shop, and there are plenty of experts who have written books covering many aspects of blackjack strategy. With so much knowledge already in the gambling public, what secrets might blackjack have? Well, if you’re like the vast majority of casual casino gamers, blackjack is known to have a lot of secrets. While most players can recite the rules of the road like “always keep aces and 8s apart” or “double every 11”, blackjack’s configurable rules and historical evolution combine to create the most complex ever one of the casino games. Don’t take my word for it, though; just check out this list of six amazing blackjack secrets no one told you to see for yourself.
1 – Card counting is not a real crime
Ever since Edward Thorp’s seminal research was published in Beating the Dealer, savvy gamblers have known that tracking exposed hands in a game of blackjack gives players a distinct advantage. Thorpe’s method of “counting” cards was codified into the system of ten, and in the five decades since, dozens of different alternatives have been devised. Of course, casinos are not known for spreading actions that give players any advantage, so they were quick to resort to countermeasures aimed at eliminating counter-attacks. Those responses included banning mid-level entry and multi-layer shoes, which forced counter staff to wade through hundreds of cards instead of the standard 52-card array.
But even as these wrinkles in the rules work wonders at stopping casual players from counting, some experts still use their memory and math skills to intimidate the table. One of those experts was Ken Uston, a legendary edge gambler who heroically defended the rights of card counters everywhere in the 1980s. After Uston and his card-counting team suffered huge losses, the Atlantic City casino, owned by Resorts International, opted to nip the problem in the bud by banning dominant players altogether. Uston appealed his ban to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission (NJCCC), and the subsequent case – Uston v. Resorts International Hotel Inc., 445 A.2d 370 (NJ 1982) – eventually reached the New Jersey Supreme Court. After reviewing the Garden State’s gambling regulations and Uston’s conduct, the court upheld his card-counting rights in a decisive 5-0 ruling. Here is a direct quote from the court proceedings:
“All in all, without an effective committee rule excluding card counting machines, Respondent Uston would be free to use his card counting strategy at the resort’s blackjack table. There are currently no committee rules that prohibit Uston, Resorts does not have the authority to exclude him from card counting. However, it is unclear whether the committee would pass a rule involving card counters if it knew that resorts could not exclude Uston. As a result, the court continues to enforce the interim order as of the date of this opinion Uston is barred from the resort’s blackjack tables for 90 days. After that, the defendant is free to play voslot blackjack at the resort’s casino if there are no effective committee rules to exclude the defendant.” Not surprised, as he previously told PEOPLE that the game of advantage is a constitutionally protected right. “Banning me from winning is like major leagues saying they won’t play with anyone but minor leaguers. Someone has to show these people that winning is not unconstitutional.” The precedent set by Uston’s exploration still stands today, so While casinos can “frow” to count cards, they cannot ban players or withhold winnings.
2 – Monolayer blackjack is not extinct
If you like to play blackjack the old-fashioned way, with a 52-card deck shuffled after every third or fourth hand, modern advancement is not your friend. Corporate casinos are unashamedly tilting their blackjack odds and house edge even further, relying heavily on six- and eight-tier shoes to deter would-be card counters. As a result, most blackjack tables in Las Vegas — or any casino industry in the country — will use multi-layered shoes. But that doesn’t mean the single-card games that offered basic strategy players a much lower house edge of just 0.17% disappeared entirely.
3 – Online blackjack doesn’t have to be digital
By now everyone knows that you can go online and gamble for real money through online casinos, poker rooms, and sports betting adventures. But while most of these online venues transform your favorite tabletop games into pixelated and animated graphics, some go the extra mile. Using a dedicated casino studio, Live Dealer Blackjack connects players on laptops or smartphones directly to live dealers using real tables and cards. It’s not quite the same as experiencing the sights and sounds of Sin City, but live dealer blackjack definitely beats tedious digital alternatives.
4 – Blackjack can be played in tournament format like poker
The poker boom may have died out a decade ago, but tournaments still capture the imagination of the average gambler. Believe it or not, blackjack tournaments are an increasingly popular niche that appeals to a certain group of players. Once you know these tips, check with your favorite casino operator to see if their property hosts weekly or monthly blackjack tournaments.
5 – Casinos are happy to teach gamblers how to play
If you’re not quite used to playing for real money, don’t hesitate to accept the casino’s offer to teach you blackjack for free.
6 – Surrender doesn’t have to be a fool’s game
Every once in a while, you’ll see other players catch the dealer’s attention, slide their cards forward, and take back half of their bets. This bizarre move is known as “surrendering” the game of blackjack, and it’s much maligned among self-styled blackjack experts. Here’s how it works. When the dealer presents a 10 or an ace as their up card, they scan their down card to see if there is a blackjack. When they don’t get 21 naturally, players can let the dealer know they want to surrender, or fold the hand on the spot in exchange for half their stake being returned. Betting $10 and having $5 of it sent directly to the house is so prohibitive for many players that many vow to give up entirely.
Blackjack hides its best secrets near the vest, as this list of untold revelations makes it clear. Still, once you gain these valuable insights, you can take your 21 games to the next level. Gaps in the rules, rarely used tactics, and broader knowledge of the law of blackjack are all essential skills mastered by experts.