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How to Win at Online Blackjack – A Practical Guide

A Practical Guide on How To Win at Online Blackjack

In earlier articles I’ve talked about the basics of blackjack and basic strategy, as well as briefly touching on card counting. In this article I’ll give you more specific, hands-on advice that will help you win more at the table. It might get a bit technical at times, but I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible. Check out my Basic Blackjack Strategies or Advanced Black Jack Strategies for more info!

The Omega II Card Counting System

Card counting is essential to erase the house edge and hopefully get it into the negative. On Better Casinos I wrote an article about Counting Cards at Online Blackjack.  I prefer using the Omega II card counting system. It’s very similar to the most popular system out there, Hi-Lo. Omega II is a bit harder to learn and use than Hi-Lo but has slightly better results. In online blackjack every little bit helps, so we’ll take what steps we can to improve our chances.

The card values in Omega II are: 

2,3                +1 

4,5,6             +2 

7                   +1 

8                    0 

9                   -1 

10, J, Q, K      -2 

Aces are counted separately. This is because they are valued at 2 points for betting purposes but 0 points for play decision purposes. There is one ace per 13 cards, and if 13 cards have been dealt with no ace appearing you would be at +1 ace, and if two aces had been dealt you would be at -1 ace. Multiply this figure by 2 and add to your running count temporarily when deciding your bet. This can be mentally taxing compared to Hi-Lo but if you play online, you can use pen and paper or an Excel sheet to keep track.
During play keep track of all the cards dealt from the card shoe and add together the values above to keep a running count. Divide the running count by the estimated number of decks left in the shoe to get the true count.
Then use the following basic strategy chart with deviations for your playing decisions. The chart only contains deviations of -10 to +10 true count for the sake of clarity. It’s very rare that online shoes go above or below that, if it happens just extrapolate from the existing values or look them up.
This chart can look confusing at first but the numbers in it are the true counts at which you should start deviating from the basic strategy. If the number is in the bottom half, it means you should deviate at true counts lower than that number and up to that number. If the number is in the upper half, it means you should deviate at true counts of that number and up. You’ll get the hang of it when you’ve played for a while. While I give you the deviations for negative true counts, I recommend that you don’t bet at all when the true count is negative, play from 0 true counts and up.

Only use insurance on true counts of +6 or above.
The splitting section is divided into two charts, a ‘can double after split’ chart and a ‘can’t double after split’ chart, make sure you use the correct one as they’re slightly different. Some of the splits might feel bad but remember that in online blackjack on many hands it is often the case that there are no good choices, you’re choosing between bad and worse.

Practical Advice for Online Blackjack

I recommend you start out playing on the tables that the game providers use for mass play. On these tables everyone plays the same hand of cards, but still make their own choices. These would be for example, Infinite for Evolution, All Bets for Playtech and One for Pragmatic. Why? It’s because it is much easier to count cards when fewer cards are dealt in a hand, and the true count doesn’t swing as much inside a game round compared to a normal table. It is also much easier to wong out – to not play at negative true counts – on these tables. The minimum bets are in the one-dollar range, letting you drop your bet to near-zero if the count goes negative. You can even skip several rounds without getting kicked out of the game since you’re not taking up any space. This lets you keep counting cards so you can rejoin the game if the count becomes positive again.
I’ll leave it to you to decide how much to raise your bet if the true count goes up, just remember that with most online blackjack games only half the cards of an eight-deck shoe get dealt, and there will always be a lot of variance left in the shoe at all times. Raising the bet will increase your edge, just don’t overdo it.
Since you are playing online blackjack, you don’t have to keep the count in your head between card hands, you can just write it down. I recommend making an Excel sheet for this purpose, this way you can let the sheet calculate how many cards have been dealt and do the true count calculations, so you don’t have to. Either add a field for the number of cards dealt and keep track of that or assume an average of six cards per hand (it’s 2.7 or so per hand on a regular table, but there are always a few weird or unskilled players who hit on just about everything on the mass play tables, increasing the average a bit). You can keep track of other things on the same sheet. The following fields/cells and their formulas can be useful to add to the sheet:
  • Hand #: most shoes are 35 hands or less, so making room for 40 hands in your sheet should be enough.
  • Running count: This is where you enter the current running count.
  • Cards dealt: Keep track of the # of cards dealt here. If you estimate the number of cards dealt instead you can remove this field.
  • Decks left: ((8 * 52) – cards dealt) / 52; either you count the cards dealt to get an accurate value or use (6 * hands played) instead of cards dealt as an approximation. If the game you play has a different number of decks in it than 8, change the 8 to the actual number.
  • True count: Running count / decks left
  • Aces dealt: Just add the number of aces dealt.
  • Ace count: (# cards dealt / 13) – aces dealt; substitute cards dealt with (6 * hands played) if you’re not counting cards played, just as in the decks left formula.
If you build your sheet logically with these formulas it will do a lot of the work for you, especially the true count division and ace count calculations, letting you focus on keeping track of the cards. At first you might get a bit stressed over entering the information every hand, but over time it will become second nature, it saves you a lot of work so it’s worth it.
Try to start playing when the shoe is fresh to get the maximum possible information. You can start in the middle of a shoe, but it’s the same as if you would play a shoe that didn’t deal the cards that were dealt before you started playing. The more cards dealt in a shoe, the better your information is, so this is a bad thing. You will also always have the nagging feeling that a lot of 10s and aces were dealt at the start of the shoe.
How much should you bet? Well, quite big swings in luck happen even if you play well, it is not unheard of to lose a hundred betting units or more in a long loss streak over many shoes. If you choose to play with a fixed bet level, I recommend betting somewhere in the region of 1/200th of your bankroll. It might be that your bets are too small to be worth your time if you do this, and you’ll want to bet higher than this but prepare yourself for the very real possibility of bankrupting your bankroll if you do. Your other option is of course to adjust your bet as your fortunes change.

What Expectations Should You Have?

From experience, if you play using the advice above your edge will be in the 1% range. Not playing on negative counts is included in this figure. An average shoe in the games we talked about above will be roughly 35 hands. So, you’re expected to win 0.35 betting units per shoe, statistically. Which is less than the smallest win margin you can have in practice, 0.5 units, if you’re wagering at a fixed bet level. So, if you’re ahead after a shoe you’re beating statistics. Don’t get lost in dreams of easily obtained riches is all I’m saying. Also, the 1% is a statistical edge over a very large amount of hands, you will still hit large loss streaks – or win streaks – when the cards go or don’t go your way, no strategies will change that.
Your results, and ours, will often be slightly lower than this because of playing mistakes. As you can see, even a single misplay can cost you several shoes of statistical winnings. To get into 1% edge territory you’re not allowed to make mistakes. The 1% figure is based on using a fixed bet level and you can improve your results a bit by raising your bet when the true count goes up but be prepared for a wild ride when a six-hand loss-streak happens when the true count is at +7 and you have tripled your bet level. Don’t overdo it.
It is hard to overstate that playing blackjack this way is a numbers game. The idea is to play a lot of hands for statistics to take over, instead of luck being the main driver in short sessions. The more you play, the more statistics take over. Just be mentally prepared for the fact that sometimes you can hit bad shoe streaks that are very long indeed.

Words of Caution

While some people might look at the above information and think that they can make a living from it, I need to warn you that the levels of perfect play needed are quite high, and it will take you time to get to that level. Even when you’ve reached that level of skill, sometimes you will hit long loss-streaks that will make you question everything I’ve said above.

In the end blackjack is just a game and you should play it for fun, not with the expectation that you are guaranteed to make money out of it. But the information above should at least let you play for way longer than if you don’t know how to play well.


We wish you the best of luck, see you in the next one!

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