Blackjack is a game of skill as well as luck. While you can’t control the cards you’re dealt or change the house edge, you can always choose how to play, and even a basic blackjack strategy can significantly improve your chances of winning. There’s no perfect blackjack strategy that will give you a 100% win rate, but the proper application of some techniques will make a noticeable difference.
Still, no matter how well you play blackjack, there will always be times when your luck runs out. Let’s explore how you can avoid a losing streak and maximize your winnings.
Blackjack Rules and Variations
Blackjack, also called twenty-one and pontoon, is a casino card game first played in France in the 1700s. It is a deck game of chance and skill and is one of the most popular (online) casino games globally. The origins of the blackjack game can be traced back to an old French card game called Vingt-et-Un (Twenty-One).
The basic blackjack rules are simple – players aim to beat the dealer’s hand by getting a hand value closer to 21 than the dealer without going over. You can play single-deck blackjack, or a multi-deck game.
Before we move on to tips for winning blackjack, here’s the low-down on the most common blackjack variants, each with its own set of rules:
- European blackjack: The classic version of the game, this is single-deck blackjack where the dealer stands on any 17.
- American blackjack: Played with two decks, the dealer is dealt one face-up and one face-down card and hits on soft 17.
- Spanish blackjack: One of the multi-deck games played with eight decks, and the dealer stands on soft 17 (a hand containing an ace that totals either seven or 17).
- Atlantic City blackjack: This game of blackjack is played with eight decks; the dealer hits on soft 17.
- Vegas Strip Blackjack: By Las Vegas rules, blackjack is played with four decks; the dealer hits on soft 17.
Blackjack: Basic Strategy – the Most Popular Approaches
Let’s look at some of the most popular tactics and strategies used in blackjack games.
1. Blackjack Strategy Charts
There are several basic blackjack strategy charts that can help you make better-informed moves while playing online or in a brick-and-mortar casino. The most popular one is the blackjack “basic strategy chart,” developed by Edward Thorp in the 1960s in his bestseller, “Beat the Dealer.” This chart tells you what to do based on the hand you are dealt and takes the dealer’s upcard into account.
The basic blackjack strategy chart has columns and rows showing what action to take for every possible upcard the dealer is showing. The dealer’s upcard is across the top row, while your blackjack hand is presented down the first column. Start by locating your hand or its total count in the first column. Then, go across to the dealer’s face-up card.
The intersecting point in blackjack charts will tell you what moves to make. Memorizing blackjack strategies from a chart may take some time, but is well worth it if you want to make better play blackjack well.
2. Card Counting Strategy
Card counting is a basic blackjack strategy of keeping track of which cards have been dealt and which remain in the deck, especially in single-deck games. This information is used to make betting and playing decisions that lower the house advantage.
The answer to: “Is card counting legal?” is yes, but it is frowned upon by most casinos, so much so that people are often banned from an establishment if found to be counting cards.
The most popular card-counting blackjack strategy is the hi-lo system developed by Harvey Dubner in 1963. This system is relatively easy to learn and use and effectively gives the card counter a slight but still relevant advantage over the house.
To play blackjack using the hi-lo system, players keep track of two numbers – the running count and the true count. To take advantage of this blackjack basic strategy, you’ll need a calculator at your side. The running count is simply the number of high cards minus the number of low cards dealt.
If you’re not playing single-deck blackjack, the true count takes into account the number of decks remaining. To calculate the true count, divide the running count by the number of decks: For example, if the running count is +6 and there are four decks remaining in the shoe, the true count would be +1.5.
The higher the true count, the lower the house edge and the more likely the card-counting player will win. One of the tips for winning at blackjack is that players should bet more money when the true count is high and less when it’s low.
3. Splitting Pairs
When you are dealt two cards of the same rank in blackjack games, you can split them into two separate hands. This is called splitting pairs. To do it, you must place a second bet equal to your original bet on the second hand, and then play each hand independently.
If you get the rare opportunity to split aces, you can only receive one additional card for the split hand. This is called a soft hand (remember, in Spanish blackjack, the dealer stands on soft 17). A soft hand cannot be busted by an additional card.
Splitting pairs can be a perfect blackjack strategy if done correctly. It allows you to take advantage of situations where your winning odds are high and minimizes the risk of situations where you are likely to lose money.
You should always split pairs of eights against dealer upcards, no matter what those are. The same goes for aces – these are rare cards, and by playing two separate hands with aces, you’ll increase your chances of hitting 21.
However, as most blackjack tips will tell you, never split a pair of fives or 10s, as these are both strong hands you should keep together – the latter will win the game if the dealer stands. Also, if you have two fours, keep them in one hand; splitting them will just give you two weak hands.
Finally, you should split pairs of sevens against dealer upcards of two through seven. You can look at an online blackjack strategy chart whenever you need assistance with making the correct decision in a blackjack game.
4. Doubling Down
This is one of the blackjack strategies that can make all the difference. Doubling down, as the name suggests, is when you double your original bet after seeing your first two cards and receive an additional card. This strategy can be very profitable if used correctly.
There are a few things to consider before doubling down. The first is your hand total: If it’s 11 or less, you should always use this blackjack strategy. This is because you have a good chance of getting a card worth 10 points, which would give you a strong hand, or even a blackjack.
The second thing to consider is the dealer’s up card. If the dealer’s upcard is weak, such as a five or six, you have a good chance of winning if you double down. The third thing to consider is the number of decks. If you’re playing single-deck blackjack, or there are fewer decks in use, the odds of getting a 10-value card are higher. Therefore, it makes more sense to double down in a single-deck game, than in, say, a game of Atlantic City blackjack.
Finally, you should always use this simple blackjack strategy on a soft hand, as you can hit the ace and not bust your hand.
5. Making an Insurance Bet
This is one of the optional side bets you can make in blackjack games. An insurance bet is made when the dealer has an ace up and pays out 2:1 if the dealer has a blackjack. Lots of players consider it too risky. So why would you ever want to make this bet?
Well, the odds of the dealer having a blackjack when they have an ace up are actually pretty good. In the long run, you’ll end up winning this bet more often than not. Even though this blackjack betting strategy offers a payout of only 2:1, it’s still a nice little boost to your winnings.
Using card counting, players can estimate when the deck is favorable to them and place an insurance bet when there are fewer 10s left and if the count is +4 or higher.
6. Surrender Strategy
Surrendering isn’t available at many blackjack tables, but it’s a smart play that can reduce the house edge and save you money in the long run. Surrendering allows you to fold your hand and receive half your bet back.
This blackjack table strategy is straightforward and can be early or late. Early surrender is offered before the dealer checks for blackjack, and late surrender is offered afterward. Early surrender is much more beneficial to the player, so if it’s an option at the table you’re playing at, and you have a weak hand, it will be the perfect blackjack strategy to save money in the long run.
If you’re unsure whether to apply this tactic, here’s a rule of thumb: A hard 15 and 16 are the worst hands you can have in blackjack. If you have 15 and 16, but the dealer has a strong upcard such as 9, 10, or an ace, surrendering might be the best blackjack betting strategy you can use to minimize your losses.
7. Hit or Stand
One of the most important decisions you’ll make when playing blackjack is whether to hit or stand. Hitting means taking another card in an attempt to get closer to 21, while standing means sticking with the cards you currently have.
You should always stand on a hand of 17 or higher, no matter what the dealer is showing. Second, according to the blackjack strategy chart, you should always hit on a hand of 11 or less. These hard rules should never be broken.
Between those two extremes, there is some room for debate. Generally, you should stand on a hand of 12-16 if the dealer is showing a six or lower; otherwise, hit. But this isn’t set in stone – there are always exceptions to the rule.
Some players like to use “hit or stand” strategy charts found online, but honestly, it’s not worth the trouble. Once you get a feel for the game, you’ll be able to make the right decision without explicitly developing an advanced blackjack strategy.
Blackjack can be won with some skill and basic game knowledge. All these blackjack strategies, tips, and tricks we’ve discussed can be used for blackjack tournaments and cash games. Remember – practice makes perfect, so play online blackjack or at your local casino before you venture into a high-stakes game. Good luck!
What is the best strategy for blackjack?
The odds of winning at blackjack with a basic strategy are certainly higher than if you just guessed each hand. However, the game has no “best” strategy, as you can beat blackjack in different ways, depending on the cards you are dealt and the casino you are playing at.
However, some basic strategies that can help you improve your chances of winning include hitting when you have a soft hand of 16 or less, standing when you have a hand of 17 or more, and always splitting aces and eights.
Do you hit or stay on 16?
According to the blackjack strategy table, if you have a hand of 16, you should hit if the dealer shows a seven or higher. If they show a six or lower, it’s better to stand.
Is it illegal to count cards?
No, it is not illegal to count cards in blackjack in the US. Counting cards has been around for decades and is a perfectly legal way to gain an edge over the casino. However, casinos are well aware of card counters and often use various methods to discourage them from playing, such as blacklisting them or increasing the minimum bet amount.
Even though it’s usually frowned upon in casino games, nothing is stopping you from employing this popular blackjack strategy the next time you’re playing blackjac
Why should you not split 10s?
Splitting tens is never a good idea. When you split tens, you’re essentially splitting a hand that has a good chance of winning as is. Another reason to avoid splitting tens is that it can be a risky move – if the dealer hits when they have a ten up, they now have a much better chance of winning the hand.