Blackjack Strategies & Tips
Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games out there, and for a good reason – it’s one of the only casino games with an exciting mix of luck, chance and skill.
While there are some aspects of the game you can’t control – (such as the cards you, the dealer and other players are dealt, as well as the number of players or decks in the game), there are several strategies for playing which will increase your chances of winning, and decrease the house edge.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
The basic strategy is easy to learn and master – all you need to do is memorize a series of numbers, relating to what the dealer’s up-card shows. You can either memorize the basic blackjack strategy chart.
This basic strategy relates to the following game rules:
- The variant in play is using between four to eight decks;
- The dealer stands on a soft 17;
- Doubles are allowed after splits;
- Only your original bet is lost when the dealer gets a blackjack.
It’s well worth learning about the blackjack variants to which these apply.
If you find yourself playing a variant which does not follow the rules laid out above – for example, a dealer hits on a soft 17, or there are fewer decks in play and you don’t know whether to hit or stand, then there are a few changes to the above. These are:
- Double on 11 when the dealer has an Ace;
- Surrender 15 or 17 vs the dealer’s Ace;
- Double on an Ace and a 7 vs the dealer’s 2;
- Double on an Ace and 8 vs the dealer’s 6;
- Surrender (if your variant won’t allow this, then hit) on 8 and 8 vs the dealer’s Ace.
One rule remains the same, however – always refuse the insurance bet*, or offers of ‘even money’. These increase the house edge, and don’t benefit you at all. Insurance bets are rarely, if ever, there to protect your hand – they’re there to get more profits for the casino.
Most blackjack variants have a house edge of 0.5% to 1%, making it one of the cheapest casino table games to play when you’re testing out your strategy – provided you don’t take the insurance.
*There is one circumstance where you should accept the insurance bet, which will be discussed in the Advanced Blackjack Strategy section.
It’s important to know the right times to make a blackjack split:
- If you’re dealt a pair of 8s or Aces, split them. Two 8s means a 16, which is a tricky number to get a blackjack with – you’re better off splitting them and playing two hands.
- If you have a pair of 10s and want to risk it, it’s one of the best hands to do so. However, you’re a magical 1 away from blackjack – so if the dealer’s hand looks in bad shape, maybe it’s better to wait it out.
- Only split 2s and 3s if the dealer has 4-7 as an up-card. Anything higher is too risky.
- Don’t split 5s – you should either double down or hit, if the dealer’s card is a 10 or an Ace.
- Split 6s and 7s if the dealer’s card is 6 or below. This will give you the upper hand.
- Always double a total of 10 – unless the dealer shows a 10 or an Ace.
- Always double an 11 – unless the dealer shows an Ace.
- Only ever double a 9 if the dealer’s card is a 3-6.
Surrendering depends on the blackjack variant you are playing – in some variants, late surrender (after the dealer checks their cards for blackjack) is allowed. These tips relate to the early surrender option – surrendering your hand before the dealer checks for blackjack.
You should surrender when:
- The dealer has an Ace and you have a hard 5-7;
- The dealer has an Ace, and you have a hard 12-17;
- The dealer has an Ace, and you have pairs of 3s, 6s, 7s or 8s;
- The dealer has a 10, and you have a hard 14-16;
- The dealer has a 10, and you have a pair of 7s or 8s.
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As mentioned above, it’s always possible to decrease the house edge, just as it’s possible to actually increase it if you play the wrong strategy – see ‘Bad Strategies’ for more information on how to avoid this.
By using the above basic blackjack strategy, you can change the house edge of 7-8% (depending on the variant being played) to 0.5-1%.
There are some advantages which players have over dealers, allowing players to increase their odds, such as:
- Players will win 3:2 on blackjack (in most variants), while the dealer only receives 1:1;
- Players can double down on their hands if they have a favourable one;
- Players can split pairs, and dealers can’t;
- Players can choose whether to stand or hit on 16s, whereas dealers usually (depending on the variant) have to hit on a 16.
Advanced Blackjack Strategy
Once you have the basic strategies above perfected, it’s time to move on to the advanced strategy.
This is more of a refined version to the above basic blackjack strategy, but the principles remain the same – your moves depend on what the dealer holds. Plus, this requires some basic card counting – if you can. You need to see which cards other players hold, and from there you can try to estimate how many 10s are left in the shoe.
Otherwise, here are some quick and easy advanced blackjack strategies:
- Insurance: in the above basic strategy, we told you to never take insurance. However – if you can tell that there are a high number of 10s left in the deck (this becomes much more tricky when you’re playing a variant with more decks!), and if your count is 4 or higher, you should take insurance when the dealer holds an Ace.
- Know when to stand on a 16: in the basic strategy, when you have a 16 and the dealer has anything from a 7 to an Ace, you have to hit. However, in the advanced strategy, you should stand on a 16 against a dealer’s 10 up-card.
- Standing on a 15 against a 10: similar to the above rule, 15 is an uncomfortable number to be stuck on, you should stand on a 15 against a dealer’s 10.
- Splitting 10s: it might seem strange to you, to split a 10, but in certain cases – such as if the dealer’s up-card is a 6, you have a better chance of hitting more high numbers with your split hand.
- Splitting 10s…when faced with the dealer’s 5: again, this might sound a bit unusual, but – if you know that there’s a run of 10s to come, this could net you pretty big profits in the long-game.
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As with most casino table games, there is no shortage of fake or bad strategies out there (most of which have no mathematical basis, and have not been developed through steady play and practice), leading to a depleted bankroll.
To avoid having you fall into that trap (and to know when splitting 10s is the right thing to do), here’s just a few of the worst ones you need to be aware of:
- Copying the dealer: This sounds good in theory – the house has an edge, after all – but hitting/standing on hard 17s etc has its limits: dealers never double or split hands, so if you copy the dealer, you’re actually increasing the house edge to 5.48%, instead of the usual 0.5%-1%.
- ‘Never Bust’ – i.e., not making any move which could bust your hand – so in practice, never hitting a hand of 12 or higher. This can increase the house edge to around 3.91% in some forms of blackjack.
- Dealer hole card is a 10: this strategy tells you to assume the dealer hole card is a 10. Then, when the dealer shows an ace, they have to reveal a blackjack. This type of strange play causes the house edge to rise to around 10%.
These strategies tend to backfire badly, and cost you your bankroll. It’s best to stick to basic or advanced strategy, as outlined above.
These are just a few quick tips about the way you play blackjack and manage your bankroll, rather than any hard and fast strategy. These tips are probably more important to learn for any blackjack player than strategy. After all, if you don’t have a bankroll to play with, you won’t be playing!
- Work out your budget – your bet size and your bankroll. If you have only enough money to make one bet, then you run the risk of losing it all in one go. If you reduce your bet size according to your budget, you’re going to be playing for a longer time.
- If you’ve had a winning streak, there’s no harm in raising your bets a little – but be careful, and lower them if you start losing.
- On that note, don’t bet more when you lose to try and chase your money – you’ll end up depleting your bankroll instead.
- You can limit yourself in several ways – by not playing for longer than three hours, and by only taking a certain number of bets (let’s say 50) per playing session.