Blackjack Strategy

Your complete guide to implementing a winning blackjack strategy.

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Blackjack Top Tips

  • Implementing basic blackjack strategy can reduce the house edge drastically to between 0.5% - 1%.
  • If you have a soft 17, always take another card.
  • Play single deck blackjack as more decks mean a higher house edge.
  • Games where the dealer hits on soft 17 have a 0.22% higher house edge.
  • In some scenarios, doubling can reduce the house edge by 0.18%.
  • When a dealer’s up card is five or six they have a 42% chance of busting.

Blackjack is one of the easiest casino games to play but one of the hardest to master. The numerous options a player faces in practically each and every hand make blackjack not only a game of chance, but also a game of skill. It should be obvious that “hitting” while holding a card value of 20 is a bad decision in any scenario, but what about hitting while holding 16? Depending on the dealer’s upcard, the player can make an informed choice by using the strategy table in this section derived from mathematical analysis performed on the game. This is referred to as basic blackjack strategy.

Since the player is the first to act, the casino has a big house edge based on the simple idea of drawing to hit 21. The house edge in blackjack can be reduced by the player’s decisions, which, depending on how well they play, could mean the casino’s edge is reduced to below 1%. However, since the player has the option to beat him or herself by making a bad decision (usually busting), the house edge percentage could be a lot higher. It’s very important to know the configuration of any blackjack table before you play, since your decisions will change depending on the rules.

When looking at the configuration, the main factors that work in the casinos’ favor are:

  • More card decks
  • Lower payouts; i.e., blackjack payout of 6 to 5
  • Limiting player options such as restricting the re-splitting of aces or doubling after splitting.

And factors that work in the players' favor are:

  • Extra options, such as surrender
  • Extra boxes with fewer decks. If playing seven hands at once, in certain scenarios a more informed call can be made. For example, if eight tens can be seen on the table, then drawing for a ten is probably not a great idea.
  • Comps points for blackjack. If you’re playing with the house edge as low as possible, some casinos will give you reward points, which can actually give you an advantage over the house!
  • The dealer must usually stand on all 17s, and “hit” soft 17s. Both are frequently used.

By referring to the blackjack strategy chart laid out below, a winning, basic strategy can be played with ease.

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Hitting and Standing

Knowing when to take a card and when to stand is the most basic form of strategy in blackjack, and the first thing anyone who plays for real money needs to learn. Here’s the basic idea on how to master this angle:

You want the dealer's upcard to be five or six.

The dealer having an upcard of five or six suits the player best, since it gives the dealer a massive 42% chance of busting. The dealer having a four is also very good for the player, since it gives the dealer a 40% chance to bust. You need to know these odds: It’s important to remember never to hit if you have a chance to bust when facing a four, five or six.

Here are the dealer's bust percentages...

Upcard Ace 9 & 10 8 7 2 3 4 5 & 6
Bust Percentage 17% 23% 24% 26% 35% 37% 40% 42%
Always take a card when facing a soft 17. Never stand on soft 17, with the exception of when you face a three, four, five, or six, when you should double down first then take another card.

Never take a card with soft 19 or 20. Although you have a chance to improve your hand, there’s a much greater chance that you’ll bust.

Don’t be scared to take a card at 16.

Many players don’t like to take a card here because of how close the “bust” is, and prefer to leave it up to the dealer to bust. When holding a hand from twelve to 16, and the dealer has seven or above (which is just under 50% of the time), the right move is to take a card.

Never stand with eleven or less.

In the basic blackjack strategy, this hand can only be improved, and never hurt, by hitting. This could, however, conflict with certain complex card counting techniques — for example, if the deck is ten rich and the dealer has a six — but, for basic strategy, it’s a rule that should always be followed.

Stand at 17.

When holding 17, always stand (provided it isn’t soft). A made hand should be held onto even when facing an ace. This hand features a 69% chance to bust and, although the dealer bust percentages table shows the ace has a 17% chance to bust, the possibility to tie (push) must be taken into account.

Splitting

Splitting your hand can be advantageous in two situations. It allows you to double your stake when the dealer is at an obvious disadvantage (such as holding a five), or it can turn a bad hand (two or 12) into two good hands, like holding a pair of aces.

Never split tens or fives (and sometimes fours).

One of the biggest mistakes players make is splitting tens against a dealer’s five or six. Knowing that, in this situation, the dealer has a 42% chance of busting, you may easily think that two hands will double your winnings, but this is a bad decision.

Splitting fives gives you a good chance of getting two stiffs (hard hands with a value of 12 to 16).

Fours should never be split if the casino doesn’t allow you to double afterwards.

Always split aces and eights.

Two aces combined make two or twelve, and neither is a good starting hand. The odds are more in favor of better hands being made out of the split aces.

Eights should always be split because, combined, they give you 16, which is the worst hand you can have.

Doubling

Doubling down at the right time reduces the house edge significantly and, if used correctly, can mean the difference between having a good run and being wiped out altogether.

Never double with a hard hand greater than eleven.

It’s one thing to take a card, but to increase the wager with a chance of busting is a definite no-no.

Always double a soft stiff against a five or a six (if allowed)

Some casinos will only allow doubles on hands with less than twelve. Why? Because doubling with a soft stiff is very much in the player’s favor when facing a five or a six, and should always be done (apart from when dealt two aces, in which case splitting is better).

Double with eleven (unless the dealer has an ace).

If the dealer doesn’t have an ace, then maximize your payout with doubling. There’s a good chance you’ll hit a ten (just under a third of the cards in the deck hold the value of ten).

Always double the initial wager.

Some casinos allow you to double for less than the initial bet. Unless you don’t have any money left, it’s better to double the full amount, otherwise you’ll reduce the amount you can win from the double feature, which increases the house’s edge.

Insurance

Insurance is a side bet offered in almost all casinos. Blackjack insurance is in the house’s favor and pays 2 to 1 in the event the dealer scores a blackjack. In a brick-and-mortar casino, the dealer usually offers a player who holds a natural 21 even money when facing an ace. This works out the same as insurance in an online casino but saves the player from having to put a chip on the table.

Never take insurance (unless you’re counting cards).

Insurance is a bad idea for the player. Why? When the dealer shows an ace, and knowing that a third of the deck are ten cards, you’re only getting a 2 to 1 payout for 3 to 1 odds. Unless you’re using a counting strategy or can see under the dealer’s cards, stay away from this insurance.

Surrender

Surrendering, or sacrificing half your bet if the initial deal is unfavourable, is rarer online than offline: Almost no online casinos offer surrender as a standard option, but you’ll certainly come across brick-and-mortar casinos that do.

When holding a hard 16, if facing a nine, ten, or an ace, the right move is to surrender.

The only other time you should use the surrender option is when holding a hard fifteen and you’re facing a ten. Every other time, leave it out.