How to Play Blackjack

Blackjack is one of the biggest draws at Michigan casinos — both retail and online. It combines strategic play with high return to player rate, or RTP, to deliver an exciting gambling experience.

Of course, you must understand how to play blackjack before enjoying the benefits. This page discusses everything you should know about playing blackjack, along with important strategy.

What is the objective of blackjack?

The objective of blackjack is to beat the dealer’s hand. Additionally, you must avoid exceeding 21, which is referred to as going bust. You can beat the dealer in one of three ways:

  1. Receiving a score that’s higher than the dealer’s score without busting.
  2. The dealer busts while you don’t.
  3. Receiving a total of 21 on your first two cards (aka “natural blackjack”) while the dealer doesn’t.

Some players mistakenly assume that they must get as close to 21 as possible to win. While doing so helps, the main objective remains to beat the dealer through any of the three means covered above.

How to play blackjack at a casino

Blackjack may seem like a complex game at first. However, it offers relatively simple gameplay once you understand the basics, which we cover below.

Available styles

Michigan blackjack is available in three main ways of playing:

Decks in the shoe

A standard blackjack deck features 52 cards. The deck breaks down into four suits of cards, each featuring cards numbered 2 to 10 and then jack, queen, king and ace (i.e., 13 cards in each suit). Most blackjack games feature multiple decks in the “shoe,” a device that holds multiple cards and from which the dealer draws.

A blackjack table can use anywhere from one to eight decks. Six- and eight-deck games are the most common. Blackjack games begin with the dealer shuffling the deck(s). Next, the dealer chooses a player to insert a plastic card (aka “cut card”) into the shoe. The dealer typically instructs the player to insert the cut card in a manner so that the last 60-80 cards aren’t dealt. The purpose of this is to thwart card counters (discussed later).

How scores are tallied

Each numbered card equals its numerical value (e.g., 8 = 8). A king, queen, jack and 10 are all worth 10. An ace can equal either 1 or 11. It’s worth 11 as long as it doesn’t push your total over 21 (e.g., 6 + A = 17). Meanwhile, it’s worth 1 when it would cause you to go over 21 (e.g., 15 + A = 16).

Table setup

A casino blackjack table features a semi-circular shape and seven seats. The table felt contains seven spaces — one for each corresponding seat — where the dealer places the cards. An online blackjack table features a semi-circular layout with one space. It offers one space because each virtual table only seats one player.

Buying into games

In a land-based casino, you must purchase chips to play. Here are the steps for buying into a land-based blackjack game:

  1. Find a table with an open seat.
  2. Sit down and put your money on the table (by policy, dealers can’t take anything from your hands).
  3. The dealer provides chips with an equivalent value to your buy-in.
  4. Use the chips to place each bet.

Casinos don’t allow mid-shoe entry due to card counting (explained later). Therefore, you must wait for the dealer to shuffle before playing.

How blackjack hands work

Each blackjack round begins with you and other players making bets. When the betting round is finished, the dealer starts dealing cards clockwise.

Dealers give each gambler and themselves one face-up card. They go around the table once more and deal every player another face-up card. However, they deal themselves a face-down card (i.e., hole card) on the second pass. The hole card makes blackjack a game of incomplete information for the players.

Blackjack payouts and side bets

You normally receive a 1:1 payout based on your bet when beating the dealer. However, you receive different payouts in some circumstances:

  • 3:2 or 6:5 payout on a natural blackjack.
  • 2:1 payout on an insurance bet.
  • Side bet payouts.

Some blackjack games feature optional side wagers. You typically need to risk only $1 to make these bets. You can win varying payouts with side wagers. Perfect pairs, for example, offers the following payouts:

  • Perfect pair (first two cards are the same rank and suit) = 25:1 payout.
  • Colored pair (first two cards are the same rank and color) = 12:1.
  • Black/red pair (first two cards are the same color) = 6:1.

Blackjack hand types and how to play them

If you receive a natural blackjack (ace plus a 10-value card), then you don’t need to actually play your hand. You automatically win if the dealer doesn’t receive a natural blackjack as well. Most casinos pay 3:2 or 6:5 on your original bet for a natural.

In most cases, though, you don’t receive a natural and must make one or more decisions. Depending on the situation, you can take the following actions:

  • Hit: You ask for another card to improve your score. Of course, you want to be careful when hitting to avoid busting.
  • Stand: You stand on the current total and don’t receive any more cards.
  • Split: When dealt a pair, you can split the cards and form two separate hands. Many casinos allow you to re-split up to 3-4 hands total.
  • Double down: After receiving the first two cards, you can double your original bet and receive exactly one more card.
  • Surrender: You give up your hand and receive half your bet back. A casino can allow either “early” or “late” surrender. Early surrender occurs before the dealer peeks for a blackjack, and late surrender happens afterward.
  • Insurance: If the dealer shows an ace face up (or even 10, in some cases), the dealer will offer you insurance. This means you bet half of your original wager on whether the dealer holds a natural blackjack. If that’s the case, you receive a 2:1 payout on the insurance bet.

Limitations on some hand actions

Hit and stand are always available as long as you’re still in a hand. The other actions are only available in some situations and/or as dictated by the casino’s rules. Here’s a recap of when you can make decisions on splitting, double downs, surrendering and insurance:

  • Splitting is only available when you receive a pair (e.g., two 7s). Most casinos let you keep splitting until you hold 3-4 total hands.
  • Doubling down is only available after the first two cards are dealt to you. Some casinos limit you to doubling down on totals of 9-11 or 10-11.
  • Casino venues may offer late or early surrender. However, the majority of casinos don’t feature either rule.
  • Dealers will offer you insurance when their face-up card is an ace or, depending on the rules, a 10.

How do dealers play their hand?

Unlike you, dealers don’t make any decisions when playing their hand. Instead, they draw cards according to the house rules. The house rules fall into one of the two categories:

  • The dealer continues drawing until reaching a hard 17 (ace is worth 1) or higher.
  • Dealer continues drawing until reaching a soft 17 (ace is worth 11) or higher.

Blackjack odds and probability

Blackjack presents one of the lowest house edges in all of gambling. In some cases, it can offer as little as a 0.3% house advantage. However, the house edge varies based on two important factors:

  • Your skill level.
  • The table’s rules.

Regarding the first point, each decision affects the house edge. The more you know about blackjack strategy, the better your chances are of winning. As for the second factor, each casino/table can feature different rules from the next. One table may pay 3:2 on a natural blackjack, while another may only pay 6:5.

Each rule discrepancy affects the house edge. You stand a better chance of winning when more rules go in your favor. Here are crucial blackjack rules, along with how they impact the house advantage:

  • 3:2 natural payout (compared to 6:5): Lowers house edge by 1.39%.
  • Single-deck blackjack (compared to eight-deck): Lowers house edge by 0.59%.
  • Doubling down on any total (compared to only 10 and 11): Lowers house edge by 0.25%.
  • Dealer stands on soft 17 (i.e., A-6): Lowers house edge by 0.20%.
  • Doubling down after splitting allowed: Lowers house edge by 0.17%.
  • Re-splitting aces: Lowers house edge by 0.08%.
  • Late surrender: Lowers house edge by 0.07%.

Why does the house hold an edge?

Casinos provide you with several advantages over the dealer. You decide when to stop hitting, and you can split, double down and, in some cases, surrender hands. You should seemingly hold the edge based on these advantages. Nevertheless, the house maintains an edge.

This is because the dealer acts second in hands. If you bust, then the dealer automatically wins even if that same dealer later busts against other players. Of course, you can use good strategy and other advantages to reduce the house edge. However, the dealer will always enjoy a slightly better chance of winning by acting second.

Probabilities of different blackjack occurrences

The chances of you busting when hitting with various totals are:

  • 11 or lower = 0% chance of busting
  • 12 = 31%
  • 13 = 39%
  • 14 = 56%
  • 15 = 58%
  • 16 = 62%
  • 17 = 69%
  • 18 = 77%
  • 19 = 85%
  • 20 = 92%
  • 21 = 100%

Here are some other important probabilities to consider:

  • Receiving a natural blackjack = 4.80%
  • Receiving a 20 on your first two cards = 10.26%
  • Receiving a no-bust hand (soft hand, or hard hand worth 11 or lower) = 26.50%
  • Odds of winning an insurance bet = 30.74%

Blackjack strategy

Blackjack is one of the most strategic casino games. Your decisions play a big role in your winnings. Therefore, you want to thoroughly understand blackjack strategy. The best place to begin involves understanding the basis behind the game. You want to make the correct decision based on your total and the card the dealer is showing. Here’s an example:

  • Your score is 15.
  • The dealer’s card is 5.
  • The optimal play here is to stand.

Blackjack puts you to numerous decisions throughout the course of play. By making optimal decisions every time, you stand a better chance of winning.

Where can you find blackjack strategy resources?

The internet is filled with blackjack strategy. You can find articles, books, strategy charts, training programs and videos online.

A blackjack strategy chart provides the fastest route for learning strategy. It offers the correct decision for every situation that you’ll encounter. Training software is also a helpful resource. These free programs point out your correct and incorrect decisions while you play.

Rule discrepancies alter the house edge

Again, rules bear an impact on the house advantage. Some tables vary on their house edges by as much as 1.5%.

You can refer to the blackjack odds” section to see which rules carry the most weight. You’ll notice that 3:2 natural blackjack payouts are of special importance.

The felt displays whether a table pays 3:2 or 6:5 on naturals. It also shows if the dealer stands or hits on a soft 17. When playing Michigan online blackjack, you can check out the info screen to see what rules apply.

Quick blackjack tips

We strongly advise you develop a comprehensive knowledge of blackjack strategy. However, you can quickly improve your skills through the tips presented below.

  • Tip 1: Never take insurance when the opportunity is available. The insurance bet carries a 7.4% house edge.
  • Tip 2: Avoid side bets or at least minimize using them. Most side wagers feature high house advantages.
  • Tip 3: Find a blackjack strategy chart or training program online. Either resource can help you quickly learn strategy.
  • Tip 4: Ignore other players’ advice and learn strategy on your own. Everybody thinks they’re a blackjack expert — even though most players aren’t.
  • Tip 5: Always split 8s and aces.
  • Tip 6: Set a stop-loss limit. You should quit playing as soon as you hit this limit to avoid losing too much money.
  • Tip 7: Take advantage of online blackjack bonuses. Most online casinos in Michigan offer blackjack bonuses.

Where to play blackjack online in Michigan

Online casino apps and websites provide the most convenient way to enjoy this popular table game in the Wolverine State. Below, you can see some popular Michigan internet casinos for playing blackjack.

  • BetMGM Casino: Part of the MGM Resorts brand, BetMGM provides several blackjack variations. You can enjoy the classic version, Blackjack Xchange (switch cards) and Perfect Pairs. Live-dealer games are also available at this casino.
  • DraftKings Casino: DraftKings is a solid place to enjoy blackjack online. The live-dealer blackjack section is particularly interesting, thanks to the “Infinite” version. Infinite Blackjack lets you bet on other players’ hands when no seats are available.
  • FanDuel Casino: Like DraftKings, FanDuel offers a solid selection of blackjack variations. You can enjoy classic blackjack and place interesting side bets at FanDuel. Like the other casinos mentioned here, FanDuel also boasts live-dealer play.

Is counting cards a viable blackjack strategy?

Card counting is known for its ability to help gamblers make profits. It provides one of the few paths for consistently beating the casino. Therefore, you may wonder if it’s still possible to count cards in Michigan. We’ll start by explaining the basics of card counting and then discuss if it’s still feasible.

The objective of card counting

The objective of card counting is to determine when the shoe favors you over the house. At this point, you raise your bets to capitalize on the situation.

The shoe benefits you when it’s rich in aces and 10-value cards. It gives you a stronger chance of receiving natural blackjacks and also increases the odds that the dealer will bust. Meanwhile, the shoe favors the dealer when it features many low-value cards (2-6). The dealer has less of a chance of busting at this point.

How do you count cards?

Various card counting systems exist. These systems differ in their accuracy and complexity.

The Hi-Lo system offers the best of both worlds. It’s relatively simple and provides up to a 1.5% edge over the house (based on your skills).

The Hi-Lo breaks cards down into three groups:

  • High cards (A through 10) = Subtract 1 from your count when they come out of the shoe.
  • Neutral cards (7 through 9) = Ignore because they have no bearing on the count.
  • Low cards (2 through 6) = Add 1 to your count when they come out of the shoe.

You also must account for the number of decks in the shoe (i.e., true count). You do this by dividing your count by the estimated number of remaining shoes. Here’s an example:

  • Your running count is +8.
  • You estimate that four decks remain.
  • 8 / 4 = +2 true count.

The final step is to raise your bets based on the size of the true count. We recommend raising your bet by one unit for each single-digit increase in the count. Here’s an example:

  • You start with the minimum $25 bet.
  • You flat bet until your true count rises above +1.
  • A +2 true count = $50 bet.
  • A +3 true count = $75 bet.
  • A +4 true count = $100 bet.
  • A +5 true count = $125 bet.

Can you make money counting cards at Michigan casinos?

The three main keys to successful card counting in the Wolverine State are:

  1. Skill: Learn the Hi-Lo system and practice keeping up with the dealer’s speed.
  2. Lenient casinos: These casinos won’t immediately kick you out for randomly raising bets.
  3. Deck penetration: The percentage of the shoe that’s dealt before a dealer shuffles.

If you can combine all three of these elements, then you can successfully count cards in Michigan. However, two of these aspects aren’t completely in your control.

You must research which Michigan land-based casinos are lenient toward counters. With 26 casinos in the state, you have plenty of options to research.

As for deck penetration, you want at least 70% to 75% penetration (e.g., six out of eight decks). When going this late into a shoe, you can enjoy more confidence in your count.