A common mistake by people new to the game of blackjack is shooting for 21. It’s an easy mistake to make. Since a 21 cannot be beaten (only tied) by the dealer, then it seems like a smart strategy is to try to get as close as possible to 21. However, that is a bad strategy. Your goal isn’t to get as close to 21 as possible. Your goal is to beat the dealer, which you can do in one of two ways. If you don’t bust (which is to draw over 21), you can win by having a hand total greater than the dealer or by having the dealer bust. Therefore, you can win without even getting close to 21, depending on what happens to the dealer.
The reason trying to get close to 21 is a bad strategy is that is causes you to bust quite often. Players using this strategy will often take a hit in a situation where they should stand. By taking that extra card, they are put over the 21 limit and lose the hand. Instead, your decision should be based on what you have as well as what the dealer’s upcard is.
Blackjack basic strategy takes both into account and plays the percentages. Following that strategy gives you the best odds of winning. The biggest mistake players make when trying to get close to a 21 is to always hit on stiff hands, which are hands between 12 and 16. There are times when you should hit stiff hands, times when you should stand, and times when you should surrender, if it is allowed. Complete strategy for stiff hands can be found in this blog post.
Aside from making the wrong decisions on stiff hands, people that go into a blackjack game with the intention of getting close to 21 and not knowing basic strategy will likely miss good opportunities to double down or split. There really is no substitute for learning blackjack basic strategy. Even if you count cards, you can’t be a good blackjack player without it.