Learning new blackjack skills is a multi-layered process. The basics of blackjack are fairly easy to learn, if you want to know the basic rules that help you bet and play blackjack. But if you want to learn the best move in every single blackjack scenario, this becomes much harder to learn. As they say, blackjack takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.
Learn new blackjack skills one at a time. I would suggest learning blackjack rules first, then "basic strategy" second, then move on to more advanced blackjack concepts like card counting last. Don't take on everything at once, or you won't learn any of the basic blackjack skills well. Once you have a thorough understanding of one blackjack skill, then and only then begin to master other blackjack skills.
Betting in blackjack is fairly simple. To get into a hand, you place a minimum qualifying bet. The dealer begins by dealing one card face down to every player at the blackjack table in a clockwise fashion, then one card to himself. The blackjack then deals a second face-down card to each of the players, and finally deals himself a second card facing up. At this point, players can raise their bets.
Blackjack "basic strategy" teaches a player how to make the best play according to the odds. People can run simulations and break down the numbers for each possible combination in blackjack, so that basic strategy charts for blackjack exist in many places on the internet. These charts tell you how to play each hand in blackjack, cross-referenced with the face card the dealer is holding.
Most blackjack players learn basic strategy, because it helps them reduce the house edge to a minimum. "Optimal play" in blackjack means you get the most out of your odds. This doesn't mean you are certain to win. It means you are reducing the house edge, increases your chances of winning.
Not everything is covered on a basic strategy chart. Basic strategy only covers what to do with the first two cards dealt to you. After learning basic strategy, players know when to stand or hit. Players will also learn about special moves like doubling down. But there are other rules and scenarios you'll need to learn about to become a master blackjack player.
Players should always hit on an 8 or less. When you get a 9, double when the dealer has a 3 through 6. If the dealer has a higher card, simply hit on a 9.
If you have a 10, double when the dealer holds a 2 through 9. If the dealer has a high card, simply hit on a 10. If you hold an 11, double when the dealer has a 2 through 10. If the dealer is showing an Ace, simply hit when you have an Ace. If you hold "12", stand when the dealer is showing a 4, 5 or 6. Otherwise, hit when you hold a 12.
If you hold a 13, 14, 15 or 16, you should stand when the dealer holds a 2 through a 6. If the dealer is showing a higher card, hit on a 13 through 16. And finally, if you hold between 17 through 21, simply always stand.
A soft hand is a hand in which you hold an Ace and some other type of card. They call it a soft hand because the Ace can be one of two values: 1 or 11. So if you hold a Ace-5, you are holding both a 6 and a 16. This gives you a few more options.
When you hold an A-2 or A-3, double when the dealer is showing a 5 or 6. If the dealer is showing other cards, hit. When you hold an A-4 or A-5, double when the dealer is holding a 2 through 9. If not, simply hit on an A4 or A5.
When you hold an A-6, double when the dealer has a 3 through 6. Hit if the dealer is showing any other card.
If you have an A-7 and the dealer is showing a 2, 7 or 8, stand. If the dealer is showing a 3, 4, 5 or 6, you should double. When the dealer is holding an 8 or higher, you should simply hit. And finally, if you hold an A-8 or A-9, you should always stand.
Learning when to split pairs is another blackjack skill you need to learn. If you receive a pair of card (two 2's, two 8's, two Aces), you can split them. Splitting cards when you have an advantageous card allows you to increase your odds of winning, because you'll be betting on two advantageous hands instead of one. When splitting pairs, you essentially double your bet.
Aces and Eights should always be split in blackjack. 2's and 3's should be split when the dealer is showing between 2 and 7, and hit whenever the dealer holds a higher card. When you receive a pair of 4's, you should split when the dealer holds a 5 or 6 and hit when any other card is held.
When players are holding a pair of 5's, you should double when the dealer shows a 2 through a 9. Otherwise, you should hit on a pair of fives. With a pair of 6's, you should split on a 2 through a 6 and hit on a 7 through Ace.
If you hold a pair of 7's, you should split when the dealer shows a 2 through 7. When the dealer holds an 8 through Ace, hit when holding a pair of sevens. If you hold a pair of 9's, you should split when the dealer holds a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9. You should stand when the dealer is showing a 7, 10 and an Ace. And finally, you should stand when you hold a pair of 10's.
If you have mastered basic strategy, you might eventually want to learn about card counting. Counting cards allows blackjack players to keep count of which cards have been dealt, so the player can make guesses about which cards are likely to be dealt next.
When card counting, a player keeps a running count of high cards (Ace, K, Q, J and 10) and low cards (2, 3, 4, 5 and 6). Low cards leaving the deck are considered good for the player, while high cards are considered bad. That's because a player wants more 10 or 11 cards remaining in the deck.
So in basic card counting, you will add +1 when a low card appears and a -1 when a high card appears. The higher into the positives the count gets, the better for the player. That's when the player increases the initial bet. The further the numbers get into the negatives, the less the player should bet. So card counting allows a player to bet more when the odds are in his favor and less when the odds are against him.
The Hi-Lo card counting method is just one of many card counting techniques. Most are more complicated. Other blackjack counting methods are the wizard ace/five, the KO, the Hi-Opt I and the Hi-Opt II, the Zen Count an the Omega II.