Blackjack continues to be the most popular table game at NJ online casinos. So, there’s a good chance that many of you are already playing it on your favorite NJ gambling websites or thinking about trying it.
However, if you are new to the game or you have not been faring as well in your recent play as you think you could have, you need to take a breather. Before you head to the tables, it is helpful to take stock of yourself as a player. Make sure that you are doing all of the recommended right things to maximize your chances of winning and not doing any of the wrong things that can hurt your chances.
This article, the first of a three-part series on blackjack, will focus on the five most essential gambling skills needed to play this game properly. My second article will focus on blackjack comportment–the five most important things you should do behavior-wise to ensure a pleasant experience playing.
Then, in my third article, instead of describing the most important things that blackjack players should do, I will zero in on the five most important things that blackjack players should not do. How many of these blackjack no-no’s are you guilty of committing now? You might be surprised.
The difference between blackjack and most other casino games
An important difference between blackjack and many other casino games, including slots and roulette, is that blackjack is a game of skill as well as luck. Due to the luck factor, you can be an excellent blackjack player and still have a losing playing session. Or, conversely, you can play the game badly and make many mistakes but win anyway.
However, over the long run, good players do have the best outcomes in this game.
Why blackjack is so popular with NJ online casino players
Blackjack is not the type of casino game that a new player can learn and master overnight. Becoming a proficient player takes time, practice, and patience.
But the bottom line, as many players know, is that of all of the games in the casino, blackjack has the lowest built-in house edge or, in other words, the best chance to win. The best blackjack games have a published theoretical house edge of less than a half of one percent.
The reciprocal of the house edge is the game’s return to player or RTP. Thus, for example, a given blackjack game might have a listed house edge of 1.00% (or RTP of 99.00%).
Golden Nugget Online Casino offers 10 different varieties of blackjack, all but two of which have an RTP of at least 99.00 percent (house edge of 1.00 percent or less). However, players looking for the best game of the bunch should choose the one simply called Blackjack (by IGT), with an RTP of 99.60 percent. The reason why this is the best blackjack game at Golden Nugget Online Casino is that it offers the best rules.
By contrast, the published RTP for many NJ online slots is not even 95 percent, and even the best slots rarely offer an RTP above 97 percent. After extensive play over many playing sessions, these seemingly small percentage variations become increasingly important. They can make a big difference in a player’s bottom line.
The complicating factor—Most blackjack players face a much bigger house edge than they think
Here’s where the picture starts to become more complicated though, The listed RTP for any blackjack game is predicated on the player knowing and using the correct basic strategy. Otherwise, the RTP will be lower and the house edge that the player will be up against will be higher.
Furthermore, basic strategy ranks high on the list of musts to help maximize your chances of winning in blackjack, but it is not the only prerequisite. Even if you have the correct basic strategy down pat, overbetting your bankroll and not practicing good money management can be detrimental to your chances of winning.
Do you want to walk away from the 21 tables with more money? Do the following!
- Be certain you are ready to play.
- Choose the right betting stakes for your bankroll and practice good money management.
- Choose blackjack games with good rules.
- Learn and use the correct basic strategy.
- Trust your gut.
Be certain you are ready to play.
Blackjack is available at NJ online casinos 24/7, so any hour of the day or night, any day of the year, if you get the urge to play, you can. But that doesn’t mean you should.
Before we even get to the other essential skills you will need to play blackjack at an optimal level, practicing good time management to help you decide when you should play and when it’s best not to play is a must.
Only play when you have sufficient time.
The first thing you need to do is prepare a schedule of all of your usual activities for each day of the week, and see which still available time slots you wish to allocate for blackjack. Keep in mind that blackjack is partly a game of skill. So you should avoid simply playing on the spur of the moment or just because you’re bored and you get the urge.
Blackjack is not a good choice while riding the bus or waiting at a restaurant or the doctor’s office because at any moment your play might be interrupted. Likewise, if you know you have to be somewhere else very soon afterward if you are going to play any casino game at all, make it a slot game, where the need for decision-making is minimal. You can pick up (or not) where you left off later. But being forced to quit a blackjack game at a set time, whether you are ready or not, puts extra pressure on you that you don’t need.
Only play when you’re at your personal best
Furthermore, some people are at their best early in the day, while others are night owls. So, know your own circadian rhythms (body’s internal clock) and schedule the times for your NJ online casino blackjack sessions accordingly.
But keep in mind that even when both your daily schedule and your body’s internal clock tell you “yes,” if you’re tired, hungry, not feeling well, or preoccupied with other concerns, the correct answer to the question: “Am I ready to play?” is “no.” You need to be feeling at your best–physically, mentally, and emotionally–to play blackjack at your best.
Choose the right betting stakes for your bankroll and practice good money management.
Any form of gambling you do should be done with discretionary money set aside specifically for that purpose. Do not use money that you need for rent, utilities, food, medical expenses, bill payment, and other necessities to pay for your online casino play or other gambling.
Whether or not you decide to separate your blackjack bankroll from the funds you will be using for other games is optional. But in any case, based on the total amount you have available, you can then make a smart decision about how much of that total amount to allocate for each playing session.
For example, let’s say your total bankroll is $2,500. Don’t even think about bringing all of it with you to the table. Break it down instead into a sufficient number of equal size portions to give you multiple opportunities to recoup in case your first session or your first couple of sessions don’t go your way.
If you allocate $250 of the total $2,500 for each playing session, that would ensure at the very least 10 playing sessions. Also, depending on how often you intend to play, it would allow you to play at least once a week for 10 weeks or twice a week for 5 weeks.
However, if you follow all of the recommendations in this article, including those given below for choosing the right bet size, it is extremely unlikely that you will lose your entire stake that many times in a row. Moreover, some of your playing sessions will probably be winning ones. So, your longevity as a player should continue well beyond this initial period.
Choosing the right bet size
Once you know the amount of money you will bring with you to the table, you have another important decision to make–your bet size for each hand.
I recommend that you divide your total table buy-in by 16, or preferably 20.
Therefore, if you bring $250 to the table, don’t bet more than $15 per hand.
Different blackjack tables have different size minimums. Here are the various table minimums that you are most likely to find at NJ online casinos.
|Table Minimum||Recommended Buy-in|
|$5||$80 to $100|
|$10||$160 to $200|
|$15||$240 to $300|
|$25||$400 to $500|
|$50||$800 to $1,000|
|$100||$1,600 to $2,000|
Be sure to start every playing session with a minimum of 16 betting units. If you start with any less, you will be undercapitalized. However, 20 units are better. That way, if the correct play is to double down or split a pair, you will be able to do so with less hesitation. Also, if you’re having a great run and you want to double your bet, with your extra ammunition, you can probably do so with no worries. On the other hand, if you experience a really bad run of cards, you are less likely to tap out.
Choose blackjack games with good rules.
If you thought that all blackjack games follow identical rules, think again. Most of the NJ online casinos offer multiple varieties of this game, and some are clearly better than others.
Rules favoring the player vs. rules favoring the house
Here is an easy-to-use chart showing you at a glance which rules favor the player and which favor the house. Don’t be fooled by the rules!
|Type of blackjack rule variation||Rule favoring the player||Rule favoring the house|
|Payout on blackjack||Blackjack pays 3-2||Blackjack pays 6-5|
|Dealer’s hand is soft 17||Dealer stands on soft 17||Dealer hits soft 17|
|Doubling down||Allowed on any 2 cards||Allowed on 9-11 only|
|Doubling after splits||Allowed||Not allowed|
Golden Nugget is one site that clearly describes all of the important rules at each blackjack table along with the game’s RTP and minimum and maximum bets. Therefore, you can see at a glance what your best options are and which games you should avoid. Not all of the NJ gambling websites provide all of this information, so if you don’t see it immediately, it behooves you to dig further or ask.
You can also do your own research online. Once you know the exact name of the game and the manufacturer, you can perform a Google search to obtain the rules and RTP.
Another useful tip is to play the game you are considering in demo mode first and then decide if you wish to continue for real money. None of the live dealer blackjack games can be played for free. But you will usually find this option available for other blackjack games.
Games and bets to avoid
If all of the other rules are the same, the fewer the number of decks, the better. However, be wary of single deck games because much more often than not, they incorporate a different set of rules that favor the house and more than offset any advantage you get from playing with just one deck.
A notable exception is a single deck Classic Blackjack game offered at Tropicana and Virgin online casinos. According to the information on their websites, this game has an RTP of 99.91, making it one of the very best games you can play online.
Zappit, Unlimited Blackjack, and Live Dealer Blackjack
Other games to avoid are gimmicky games like Zappit, which sound like they might offer an advantage over other blackjack games, when in fact they are inferior to standard blackjack. Zappit gives you the option to “zap” a starting hand of hard 15-18 for another hand. However, to compensate for this favorable rule, the dealer hits soft 17 and no resplitting of pairs or doubling down after splitting a pair is allowed. As a result, the RTP on this game is only 98.87%. Why settle for that when you can do so much better?
Likewise, if you’re tempted to play live dealer blackjack or unlimited blackjack, keep in mind that other varieties of blackjack offer better rules. Playing with a live dealer makes the game more fun because it offers you much the same social experience that you get in a real casino. But you pay for the privilege with tougher rules than in many standard blackjack games.
Another big disadvantage is that you can only play live dealer games for real money, so you don’t get a chance to practice for free beforehand. Unlimited blackjack has a smaller minimum than you will find at most blackjack tables (only $1), and yet there is never a wait for a seat. However, again, the house edge is greater than for most standard online blackjack games.
Insurance and other side bets
When the dealer’s up-card is an Ace, many players like to take insurance when their own hand is blackjack or a very strong hand like a 20. This is a bad move, and in the long run, it will cost you.
While insurance, in conjunction with card counting, is sometimes the correct play, card counting doesn’t work in online casino games. With the exception of live dealer games, a continuous shuffle is used, and in live dealer games, the cut card is placed in the middle of the shoe, thereby rendering card counting useless.
Otherwise, if the game you decide to play offers optional side bets, your best bet is not to make those bets either. They almost always come with a higher house edge than the recommended standard plays.
Learn and use the correct basic strategy.
All casino games have a built-in house edge, but blackjack, when played correctly, has the lowest. That means adhering to the optimal basic strategy for the particular game you are playing at all times. Doing so won’t guarantee a winning session, by any means, but you will be doing everything in your power to ensure that the casino’s statistical edge against you is not any bigger than it needs to be.
Basic strategy charts are very easy to find online if you don’t already have one. However, if it’s from an unknown source, don’t just trust it blindly. Make sure that the chart indicates all of the correct plays based on the rules of the game you are playing.
Select basic strategy charts carefully
Certain rule variations such as the dealer hitting soft 17, no doubling down on soft hands, or no doubling down after splits will have a bearing on the correct way to play certain hands. For example, the correct basic strategy for splitting pairs includes much more liberal guidelines when you are allowed to double down afterward than when you are not.
On the other hand, some basic strategy charts contain information that is erroneous for any game. As a general rule of thumb, be more inclined to trust a basic strategy table from a known casino gambling expert than from an individual or website you have never heard of or even a casino. I have seen material offered on casino websites on how to play the game where some of the information and advice given is blatantly inaccurate.
You don’t necessarily have to understand the rationale for the correct basic strategy in every instance as long as you apply it consistently. If you are new to the game and haven’t committed all of the correct plays to memory, it is fine to have a basic strategy chart with you to refer to as necessary while you are playing.
Most importantly, keep in mind that you will be playing your hands the way that has been proven to be most optimal in the long run. Yet there will be times when you lose anyway. However, don’t let those losses or your observation of someone playing the same hand differently and winning cause you to abandon what you know to be the correct play. You won’t win every time, but in the long run, you will fare better than if you ignore what blackjack experts say is the correct strategy.
Trust your gut.
Last but certainly not least, trust your gut. This advice might seem to be inconsistent with the other advice to pick games with good rules and learn the correct basic strategy, but it isn’t. Successful blackjack players are also very adept in picking up cues from the environment about whether or not playing at a particular table is a good idea.
For example, if you’re playing with a live dealer or at a table with other players, there might be something about the dealer or other players that turn you off. Even if it’s just a vague negative vibe rather than anything specific, listen to your gut and stay away because more often than not, your undeniable sense that something is amiss is correct, and you will save money. The same principle applies after you sit down to play. If for any reason, the game makes you uncomfortable, leave immediately.
Don’t learn the hard way.
On one occasion, I entered a Las Vegas casino with a companion, who immediately complained intensely that the place was too dark. However, since he was already there, he decided to stay and play rather than accept my suggestion to go elsewhere. He sat down at a $5 blackjack table and very quickly lost $200.
Another instance proved a lot more costly. I was playing alone at a high stakes blackjack table and holding my own. Then, all of a sudden a new dealer with flame-red hair and a name tag that read “Genie” seemingly came down from the ceiling to replace my previous dealer.
Although an inner voice told me right away that she was bad news and I shouldn’t play another hand, I didn’t listen. It was only after she dealt herself three consecutive multi-card hands of 21, that I finally saw the handwriting on the wall loud and clear.
Maybe Genie was dealing an honest game, or maybe not. I will never know because I never saw her again.
If you’re winning, and suddenly the cards do a 180 on you and you start to experience the worst luck possible, or better yet, you get a strange vibe to that effect before the fact, don’t wait until you lose all of your chips. Listen to your gut and get up from the table immediately.
Summary and Conclusion
I have now described what I believe to be the five most essential skills needed to be a successful blackjack player. But this article only scratches the surface of the many different things that blackjack players should and should not do. Look for the upcoming Parts II and III of this article series to continue this important discussion.