Blackjack strategies: Basic strategy is not enough

30-second summary:

  • Blackjack is one of the few casino games where your skills can really make a difference. From memorising Blackjack charts to practising frequently, developing your own Blackjack strategy can help you beat the house more regularly.
  • This guide will start by teaching you a basic strategy for this card game, but this alone won't be enough. This is why we will follow it up with a Blackjack perfect strategy, or rather, as close to perfect as possible.
  • Becoming a capable player takes time, but the process is fun and engaging. Once you have understood the Blackjack basic strategy you'll move on to playing this exciting card game, putting your skills to good use.
  • As you play, you will certainly pick up additional Blackjack tactics which suit your playing style. To top it all off, we include some of the most useful Blackjack tips to guide you as you play.

Blackjack is an age-old card game which has been played in some form for hundreds of years. It's a thrilling game whose rules are easy to understand, and this makes it an attractive game for casino players. Like any other casino game, luck plays a significant role, however, your skill can also affect the end result. In fact, having a well-thought-out and proven Blackjack strategy can improve your odds or, at the very least, minimise any losses.

This guide will cover all you need to know to develop a Blackjack strategy based on mathematical facts. Whilst it is impossible to guarantee a Blackjack perfect strategy, it will certainly come as close as possible.  We will start with the basic strategy and move on an advanced one. It is a good idea to keep this guide handy every time you play so as to revert back to it whenever you need to.

Blackjack Basic Strategy

In order to implement the basic strategy you need to first understand four important Blackjack tactics:

  • Surrender - If the casino you are playing at offers this option you will be able to use it on the first two cards in your hand. There is a slim time window when you can use this tactic so it needs to be at the front of your mind when you start playing.
  • Split - If your first two cards are a pair you will have the option to split.
  • Double - Some Blackjack games allow doubling and, as you will see in the next part of this Blackjack basic strategy, the possibility of doubling is normally a sign that you're likely to win the hand.
  • Hit or Stand - This is the most basic Blackjack tactic and is all that is left if you do not proceed with any of the above alternatives.

The best Blackjack strategy is normally defined as a basic strategy chart. This chart contains 270 squares and guides you on the best action based on your cards and those of the dealer. It is based on mathematical calculations and is a useful tool to have with you when you play. For your convenience, we have summarised the Blackjack basic strategy chart into the following points:

  • It's a good idea to hit if you're holding an Ace and a 6.
  • Stand if you've got an Ace and a 7 or higher.
  • You should only split 7s if the dealer's card has a value of 7 or lower.
  • Always split a pair of 8s or Aces.
  • Double down on a 10/11.
  • Continue to hit until you've reached 17, then stand.

Advanced Tips for Blackjack

With the simple Blackjack strategy in place, it's time to move on to more advanced decisions. Following these Blackjack tips should help improve your game performance significantly.

Let the dealer go bust

Should the dealer show a card of low value, such as 4, 5, or 6, you should not hit unless you have a soft card. A soft card is one whose value is low enough that no additional card can bust you. Since the dealer is bound by strict rules of when to hit and stand, he/she is likely to go bust in such a situation. It is a good idea to double or split in order to increase the potential prize.

Always split Aces

Two Aces together are insignificant but if you split them you have a real chance of getting two hands of 21. Similarly, you should always split 8s, since 16 is quite a dangerous value which almost never wins. on the other hand, if you have two 10s don't ever split them.

Hold onto hard 17

If your hand totals a hard 17 or higher then hitting could easily bust you. In such a case, stand with your hand. Depending on the dealer's cards he/she might go bust or draw. Of course, there is also a chance that the dealer wins, but the risk of going bust by hitting at 17 is higher than that of losing by standing.

Don't be tempted by insurance

The best Blackjack strategy is one which does not include taking insurance. This opportunity normally arises when the dealer shows an ace and allows you to place a side bet worth half your original one. Should the dealer land a Blackjack your side bet pays 2:1, allowing you to break even. It might sound like a tempting proposition, but in actual fact, it's a losing strategy most times.

Odds of winning blackjack with basic strategy

With Blackjack tactics and tips in mind, you should now start looking to better understand the odds of the game. Using the basic strategy we have outlined should get the house edge down to about 0.45%, making the game almost equal. This is not a guarantee that for every €100 you play you will lose €0.45. However, by not using this Blackjack basic strategy the calculated odds in the house's favour increase to around 5% or more.

The house gets its strong odds from the way the game is designed. For example, you always play first and the dealer second. This means that you have a higher chance of going bust than the dealer since the game ends as soon as you go bust, irrespective of what the dealer's next card would be.

It's far from all doom and gloom for players, however, since you have certain options which are not available to the dealer. You can, for example, double your bet when it looks right to do so, allowing you to win bigger. Similarly, whilst you can split a pair, the dealer cannot. You can also choose between hitting and standing at 16, whereas the dealer is bound to hit at 16 and stand at 17 or higher. Moreover, a Blackjack pays you a 3 to 2 bonus whilst the dealer only gets a 1:1 payoff.

Read our new article about card counting in Blackjack to learn more about this technique.

The fun of the game

Blackjack is a fun card game which combines an element of skill with luck and randomness. Each round in the game is not influenced by previous results and there is no guarantee that either the dealer or player will win. Whilst it's certainly a good idea to improve your odds by implementing a Blackjack strategy, you should never wager any funds you are not comfortable losing.

Before you start playing, determine the size of your bankroll and ensure that you do not go over it. Staying in control will help ensure that you adhere to the basic strategy and do not get emotionally influenced. Once you have exhausted your funds just stop playing.

Blackjack is, essentially, a mathematical game. This has made it possible for a sound Blackjack strategy to be developed. It is important to remember that this basic strategy is only effective with the classic game which follows the standard rules. You will find several Blackjack variants with different rules, odds, and side bets which can significantly alter possibilities and results. If you're ever in doubt what rules the Blackjack game follows you should check these out on the help section of each respective game.

Key takeaways section

  • By properly utilising the Blackjack basic strategy you should be able to bring the house edge down to just about 0.45%.
  • Keeping a Blackjack strategy chart next to you whilst you play can help you make the right decisions. It's a good idea to memorise parts of the chart, however, especially if you're playing a live Blackjack game.
  • Always split Aces and 8 and never split 10s. The dealer must hit at 16 or lower and stand at 17 or higher. Use the dealer's limits to your advantage.
  • Every rule change in a variant alters the ultimate odds of the game. Blackjack tactics listed on this guide might not be valid when playing a game with different rules.
  • Blackjack is primarily a game of luck which also involves skill. Following these Blackjack tips can help improve your odds but do not guarantee a win.

FAQs

How can a Blackjack chart help me win?

By following a strategy chart you should be able to make the best decision based on the probable outcome of your hand and the dealer's card.

What should I do once I've learnt the simple Blackjack strategy?

You can only learn so much by reading. Once you have understood the basic strategy you should start playing the game. The more you play the more you'll learn.

When should I take insurance?

According to the basic strategy you should never take Blackjack insurance. Although it might look tempting at times, statistically it is not a helpful option.

Does the basic strategy work on Blackjack variants?

This strategy and the Blackjack chart are designed for the classic version of the game. Variants normally feature different rules and odds which alter the effectiveness of the strategy.

Why does the Blackjack hand chart only show 270 squares when there are 340 possible hands?

The 21 strategy chart ignores hands with a value of seven or less since the logical action in such cases is to hit and increase the hand's value.