Blackjack Basic Strategy

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If you’ve played blackjack before you know it’s an easy game to play with just you battling it out against the dealer. You’ve likely had a few wins and are now looking for new blackjack strategies to maximize your game.

It’s the game with the best odds at the casino and a novice can learn the rules of blackjack in just a few minutes. In this article, we are going to lower those odds even further to help boost your bankroll.

The game of blackjack sometimes can be won with just luck on your side but to increase your advantage you should play strategically and narrow the odds in your favour. By making use of basic strategy in blackjack you can lower the house edge to 0.5%.

Blackjack is a fun game but the majority of us are playing to win and not just to have a good time. As it is a game based on mathematical principles it makes sense to incorporate a mathematical strategy into our game to help us win more often. This is why it’s essential to have a knowledge of basic strategy to give yourself that winning edge.

Basic strategy will show you the most advantageous way to play your cards based on your hand and the dealer’s face-up card. This blackjack rules strategy was devised by four mathematicians in 1956, Wilbert Cantey, James McDermott, Roger Baldwin and Herbert Maisel. They published the seminal book on this blackjack strategy in 1957 titled ‘Playing Blackjack to Win’. It is the mathematically correct way of knowing how to play every possible combination that can come into play.

Blackjack players aren’t guaranteed that they will win a hand using basic strategy but by making the most optimal decisions they will lessen the risk of losing their money in the long term. You’ll hear many blackjack players saying that they play by intuition and it works for them but logic says this is a fallacy. As the whole game is based on mathematics then it’s a mathematical strategy that is going to be the best to use.

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How to Play Blackjack with Basic Strategy

With the different rules and variations of blackjack available at land-based and online casinos, there isn’t one basic strategy that will work for them all. It will depend on different factors such as the number of decks in play and the rules. For instance, does the casino allow you to double down after splitting and does the dealer stand or hit on a soft 17?

It’s important if you are using a basic strategy that you stick with it. In the long run, if you start deviating during a blackjack session it’s not going to be effective.

When you are using basic strategy there is a correct order of play. You first decide if to surrender or not, next whether splitting is the best strategy or not, then if you should double or not and lastly to hit or stand. We’d suggest starting by learning the strategies for splitting and hitting and standing first.

To keep them in order of play we begin with surrendering.

Surrendering

The surrender rule is when the casino lets the player fold before drawing more cards. If a player does surrender they lose half of their initial wager and the other half is returned.

The strategy for playing the surrender rule is:

You should always surrender if your hand is a hard 16 and the dealer has a 9, 10 or Ace showing but don’t surrender if you have a pair of aces. If you have a hard 15 and the dealer a 10 you should also surrender.

Splitting

When you are dealt with two identical cards this is known as a splitting pair, for example, two 8’s or two 7’s. If this occurs you can split them into two separate hands and make a second bet. The basic strategy shows us when to split or not.

Strategy for splitting

  • Always split aces.
  • Always split 8’s
  • Never split 10’s
  • Never split 5’s
  • Only split a pair of 4’s if the dealer has a 5 or 6 as their up-card, otherwise hit
  • Pairs of 2’s, 3’s and 7’s should be split if the dealer’s up-card is 2 through to 7 if not hit.
  • Split a pair of 6’s if the dealer has 2 through to 6 as their up card otherwise, you should hit.
  • Split a pair of 9’s if the dealer has a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 or 9 showing if not stand.

Doubling

You can double your bet during a hand but you will receive just one more card. It can be a risky move so it’s essential if you are going to have an advantage you should follow basic strategy. Things aren’t always likely to go your way when you double down but over the long term if basic strategy is combined with doubling down it should increase your winnings.

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Strategy for doubling

  • If you have a hard 11 you will want to double if the dealer has 2 through to 10 as their face-up card, you stand a good chance of hitting. 21 or at least close.
  • When you have a hard 9 double if a dealer has 3,4,5, or 6 showing you stand a good chance of winning.
  • When you have a hard 10 – double if a dealer has 2 through to 9 as their up card otherwise hit. Having a 10 puts you in a great position as you can’t go bust but have a good chance of getting another high card.
  • When you have a soft 13 or 14 double if a dealer has 5 or 6 as their face-up card, if not hit.
  • When you have a soft 15 or 16 double if a dealer has 4, 5 or 6. And yes you know the drill otherwise hit!
  • When you have a soft 17 double if a dealer has 3, 4, 5 and 6 as their up card if they don’t hit.
  • When you have a soft 18 double if a dealer has 3, 4, 5 or 6 as their up card, if not hit.

Hitting and Standing

We’re sure you know enough about blackjack to know what hitting and standing are but for a quick refresher. Hitting is when you ask the dealer for an additional card and standing is when you want to stick with the cards you have in your hand.

When to hit? When to stand?

The Strategy for when to hit and when to stand is:

  • If you have a hard 12 always stand if the dealer has a 4, 5 or 6 as their up card, if not go ahead and hit.
  • Always stand on a hard 13 to 16 if the dealer has a 2 to 6 showing as their up card, if not hit.
  • If you have a hard 17 or over then you should stand, adding one more card to a hand with between 17 and 21 is a very risky move. Remember to win the game you just need to beat the dealer not get 21!
  • You should always hit soft 17 or less.
  • Always Stand on soft 18 but hit if the dealer has a 9, 10 or Ace as their up card.
  • On soft 19 or more you should always stand.
  • The Strategy for when to hit and when to stand is:

Insurance

If you are playing blackjack using basic strategy then you should ignore the Insurance bet. In this bet, if a dealer shows an Ace as their up card you can make a side bet of half your original wager that the dealer will hit a natural blackjack. If the dealer does achieve 21 the bet is paid out at 2:1. In a standard six-deck game there’s around a 31% chance of this occurring so you can understand why not to play the insurance bet.

Tips for Learning Basic Strategy

While you can always refer to a basic strategy chart to show you the best hand to play, all the serious blackjack players will agree that the best way of using basic strategy is to memorize the different combinations. This will ensure that your blackjack game flows and you don’t have to keep on reaching for your strategy chart every time you take any action.

We’ve found that there are three methods to help you retain this knowledge better. To begin with, some of the strategies are fairly obvious, for instance, to always stand on a soft 19 or hit on a hard 11 or less. So if you have been playing for a while then you can cross the strategies that you usually play off the list.

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Just like any other study where you need to remember dates or numbers repetition is the key, carry a list with you at all times and read through it multiple times when you get some free time for instance when commuting to work. Once you remember a few, recite them to yourself when having a shower in the morning, saying them aloud helps them stick in the mind better.

When you have a bit of spare time grab a pack of cards and start playing a solo game of 21, see how far you can get playing basic strategy without having to look at your list.

Lastly, all the best online casinos offer free versions of blackjack to play, practice your skills with these and try not to look at your list or strategy chart. Once you have primed yourself to lower the house edge with your knowledge you can start winning for real money.

Card Counting

If you want to put in the work and add an extra edge to your game then you could add card counting to your blackjack strategy though it does come with some risk. Be aware that if you are suspected to be a card counter at a casino you could be asked to leave the casino and even blacklisted. Using a device or machine to count cards is illegal so don’t go that route!

You need to have mastered basic strategy before you even start thinking about card counting so if you haven’t memorized all the different basic blackjack strategy rules then don’t worry about card counting yet.

Hi-Lo Card Counting System

The easiest card system to learn is Hi-Lo. Each card is given a positive, negative or neutral tag. The low cards 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are valued +1 and the high cards 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace are valued -1. The rest of the cards we don’t need to worry about and have a 0 value.

You need to keep a running count of all the cards played so you add and subtract each value to a card as it appears. Finally, as blackjack is never played with a single deck of cards, you will divide the running count by the number of decks that are left that will give you the true count. The higher the true count is the more you can potentially bet and win.

Blackjack Basic Strategy FAQ

Most casinos don’t mind if you use a basic strategy chart as long as you keep it off the table. You’ll even find them for sale at some casinos! Online is even better as you can keep it next to you at all times and if you are playing a virtual game you can take as long as you like to find the best action to take before betting.

Yes, to a certain degree, the game has an element of luck involved, for instance, you could get a blackjack and beat the dealer with your first two cards. In the long term though the odds of you winning are compounded by learning basic strategy. If you don’t play with the basic strategy you are giving the casino an unneeded advantage.

All casino games have a house advantage but blackjack has the lowest house edge and by using basic strategy it can be reduced to close to zero. A skillful player with good bankroll management stands a better chance of winning than at virtually any other casino game.

Good question! The reason is that most recreational players don’t play with any strategy in place giving the house a distinct advantage.

We’d say not splitting aces and 8’s would be a common play mistake that’s pretty dumb, the obvious worst play would be hitting on a 19 or 20. As long as you keep to basic strategy making a rookie play won’t be an issue.

This will depend on your skill level, if you are a new player you might be better off playing at a full table as there will be fewer hands played per hour reducing your losses. For the experienced player who has mastered perfect strategy, they are likely to prefer a solo game or a less crowded table so they can play more hands. The house edge will be the same no matter how many players are at the table.

One of the best strategies is to play at online casinos, you won’t necessarily get better odds but you won’t be paying out tips to the dealers and other staff or buying food and drink. This gives you extra cash to add to your bankroll. In addition to this online casinos offer welcome bonuses and other exciting promotions that can also boost your bankroll for free.

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