A lot of players new to Blackjack will tell you that the object of the game is to get a points total as close to twenty one as possible.
It isn't. Thinking like this has led many an unsuspecting gambler into losing their entire bankroll.
The simple fact is that the object of Blackjack is to beat the dealer, and you can do this with a points total of nineteen, fifteen or even twelve.
Like all casino games, the rules of Blackjack favor the house in the long run. Although the house edge in Blackjack is the lowest of all casino games (around 0.6%) it still means that the casino expects to make an overall profit from Blackjack players. Most of this will come from those trying to get twenty one!
But although it may seem that the dealer has the advantage, in certain circumstances the player has the edge.
This is because you are free to play your hands any way you like. You can decide to Hit or Stand on any points total. The dealer is not free. He has to abide by a set of house rules that dictate whether he Stands or takes another card. These rules are set up to ensure the house edge in the long run, but they don't always work in the dealer's favor.
(NB There are numerous Blackjack variations, but for the purpose of this article we'll assume you're playing one of the versions that has the standard rule that the dealer must stand on seventeen.)
Consider the situation: you have a points total of thirteen and the dealer has a five showing. You know he's going to Hit the five because the House rules dictate that. His next card is always going to leave him on a points total less than seventeen, so you know he'll have to take another card after that. Even if his next card was an eight, nine, ten (or picture card) or Ace, meaning he had a higher total than you, he couldn't stand - he'd have to take another card, increasing the likelihood of him going bust (over twenty one).
If you thought that Blackjack was about you getting twenty one, you'd be tempted to Hit your thirteen, hoping for an eight. But you could just as easily get a nine or ten value card and go bust. Now, knowing that you just have to beat the dealer and that taking two more cards means that he has a fairly high chance of going bust, you'd Stand on thirteen.
I can guarantee there aren't many beginners out there who would think of standing on thirteen, as if there's something shameful about winning on such a low score, but I can also guarantee that there are thousands of successful Blackjack players who do!
Of course, your decisions are never going to be completely accurate as you can only see one of the dealer's cards, but basic probability and a little bit of intuition will give you an indication as to his total.
Winning at Blackjack, then, is a simple matter of calculated risk. Given your total and the dealer's shown card, what is the most likely result that can occur? The answer, as always, is: it depends. But in Blackjack, the variables are much less than for games such as Roulette and the best strategy can be predicted.
Numerous strategy cards exist that show you what you should do under every possible combination of your hand and the dealer's face up card. Learning these should be your ultimate aim if you want to be a winning Blackjack player.
If you're relatively new to the game, you may find these cards a little daunting. That's why I've devised a simple 3-stage Blackjack strategy that will take you from beginner to high stakes Blackjack player with the minimum of fuss. Best of all, it's completely free! Just visit Fortune Palace (see the resource box below) and check it out. And you can also play Blackjack there for free, courtesy of our recommended casinos.
So forget twenty one, and remember - to win at Blackjack all you have to do is beat the dealer!
About the author: Andy Follin runs Fortune Palace, an impartial casino gambling portal that explains rules and strategies for popular gambling games, including a simple 3 stage Blackjack strategy. The site also features a detailed guide to online casino deposits and payouts.