Blackjack Basic Strategy
Most people recognize that unlike many casino games, blackjack is a game of strategy. It’s immediately obvious when you sit down to play a little blackjack; players have to make a large number of decisions on almost every hand, and the choices you make often make the difference between winning and losing.
Blackjack strategy can be broken down into two major components: basic strategy and card counting. Basic strategy comprises all of the playing decisions a player should make in order to keep the house edge as low as possible. In other words, a basic strategy chart would tell you the mathematically best play in every possible situation you might encounter during the course of play.
Every good blackjack strategy starts with a full understanding of basic strategy. Without that foundation, other, more advanced strategies – namely, card counting strategies – will fail, as players will simply make too many basic mistakes to overcome. On the other hand, learning just basic strategy will allow you to go into any good blackjack game getting excellent odds, sometimes good enough that you’ll show a profit with the help of comps and other rewards programs. With that in mind, it’s always better to focus on learning basic strategy first, until you feel completely comfortable with it.
Blackjack Basic Strategy
A full basic strategy is quite complex since there are countless situations you could face during a blackjack hand that must be accounted for. There are several factors the player must take into account on each hand:
- The rules of the blackjack game they are playing;
- The score of their hand;
- The dealer’s up card;
- Whether they have the option to split and/or double.
The rules are particularly important because even small changes in the rules being used can noticeably change proper basic strategy. For instance, the right plays against a dealer that must stand on all 17s are not the right plays against a dealer who hits on soft 17. The number of decks, the ability to surrender (as well as when surrendering is offered) and other factors can also affect basic strategy.
With this in mind, it is very hard to suggest a single basic strategy that will work in any situation, especially in the scope of this article. Not only is basic strategy rather complex, but there are also countless versions of the rules which affect what basic strategy you should choose. Full basic strategy charts are available at my casinos (which don’t mind you playing basic strategy, since the casino will still hold a small edge), as well as in many great blackjack books and on some gambling websites.
Simplified Blackjack Strategy
On the other hand, it is fairly easy to suggest a simplified strategy that can help you get started in just about any typical blackjack game. This easy to memorize strategy won’t get you exactly the same odds as a full basic strategy chart, but you won’t be giving much up; the difference in the house edge until typical rules should be .2% or less when compared to perfect, optimal play. To give credit where it is due, this strategy is heavily based on one suggested at wizardofodds.com, an excellent gambling information site. Simply follow the few rules below, and you’ll avoid ever making any major blackjack mistakes!
- Double down if you have a 10 or 11 and the dealer has an up card that is worth less than your hand. Also double down with 9 if the dealer up card is a 3, 4, 5 or 6. In all cases, if you cannot double down, hit instead.
- With all other hands of 11 or less, hit.
- With hard hands of 17-21, always stand.
- With hard hands of 12-16, stand if the dealer is showing a six or lower, except hit hard 12 against the dealer’s 2 or 3. Hit if the dealer is showing a 7 or higher.
- With soft hands of 15 or lower, always hit.
- With soft hands of 19 or higher, always stand.
- With soft hands of 16-18, hit against a seven or higher, and double down if the dealer is showing a six or lower. If you cannot double down, hit instead.
- Always split eights or aces.
- Never split fours, fives, or tens.
- With all other pairs, split if the dealer is showing a six or lower, otherwise, play the hand according to the rules above, depending on your hand’s value.
- Never take insurance or “even money” on blackjacks – it is a sucker bet for the basic strategy player.
There you go! Eleven simple rules that will have you playing blackjack like a pro – or at least, close to it. This is a perfect strategy for anyone looking to quickly learn how to play blackjack very well, without taking the time to memorize an entire basic strategy. In addition, the simplicity of this system means you’re not likely to make mistakes at the table because you forget the correct play.
Many players aren’t content with simply minimizing the house edge. Instead, they want to have the edge for themselves! In blackjack, this is actually possible thanks to card counting.
Card counting works by tracking which cards have come out of the shoe. Because there are a limited number of cards available, it is often the case that the remaining cards in the shoe don’t actually resemble a random assortment. There may, for instance, be a case where very few tens come out on the first few hands of a new shoe. This tells us that the remaining shoe is very rich in tens, which is great for the player.
In general, tens and aces are the best cards for the player to have remaining in the deck, while low cards are the worst for the player. Card counters take advantage of this fact by wagering more money when they know that the deck is rich in cards that are good for the player. They also make other adjustments, such as taking insurance (normally a sucker bet) when the deck is very rich in tens, and occasionally changing their basic strategy plays based on the cards that have been seen so far. However, it is critical to have a complete understanding of basic strategy before moving on to card counting, since counting relies on your ability to make the right plays along with keeping track of the cards that have been dealt. For more information, check out our full article on card counting!
Bad Blackjack Strategy
One final word of warning: it’s often the case that you’ll get bad “advice” from other players at the blackjack table, which contradicts what you’ve read here or seen on a basic strategy chart. Most of the time, the other players will be well-intentioned, but simply don’t have a deep knowledge of blackjack. Often, these players use strategies like always assuming the dealer has a ten in the hole, which – while often pointing the player in the right direction – causes the player to lose more money than with basic strategy.
Luckily, if you use basic strategy, you won’t be making any outlandish plays, which should keep anyone at the table from getting too angry at you or commenting on your play too often. Blackjack players are often a superstitious lot, and while nobody has any idea which card is coming next, many players will still get mad at a player who takes a card that would have busted the dealer, causing the dealer to win the hand instead. If that ever happens to you, don’t let it bother you; be confident that you’ve been playing proper blackjack strategy, and that your results will prove that in the long run.