Basic to Advanced Blackjack Strategy
Blackjack is different than most casino games. The odds aren’t fixed like roulette, for example. Your chances of winning and the house edge both depend on the decisions you make.
This guide is a crash course on online blackjack strategy. Our goal is to give you clear, easy-to-follow instructions to increase your chances on how to win at blackjack, even if you’re a beginner. We’ll cover:
How To Win at Blackjack
Most casino games leave everything to chance, but blackjack gives you the power to be more in control. Whilst there is no specific way to win at Blackjack every time, this guide is packed with the best strategies. Keep these five main points in mind as you continue reading:
If you’re new to the game, start with our easy beginner blackjack strategies
Memorize our free blackjack charts to learn how to play every hand in every situation
Learn advanced blackjack strategy, including betting systems and card-counting
Avoid costly errors by learning the most common blackjack mistakes
Learn which blackjack games offer the best odds and payouts
Blackjack Basic Strategy
Memorizing lots of information can be challenging but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to win at blackjack. Using Blackjack basic strategy charts and breaking up all the different decisions into groups are two ways to make the learning process a lot easier.
In this section we’ll show you how to play every combination of cards. We’ll explain hard and soft hands, how to split pairs and when to hit, stand, double-down or surrender.
Hard Totals Chart
The card values in blackjack are really simple. Number cards are worth face-value and jacks, queens and kings are all worth 10. Aces, however, can count as either 1 or 10.
The biggest group of starting hands in blackjack are called hard hands. A hard hand is any hand that doesn’t include an ace.
When you’re deciding to hit, double-down or stand, there are two main things to consider. First, add up the value of your two cards. Second, look at the dealer’s upcard.
Use the chart below to learn what to do with every possible hard total hand.
Dealer upcard17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 82 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 AS S S S S S S S S SS S S S S H H H H HS S S S S H H H H HS S S S S H H H H HS S S S S H H H H HH H S S S H H H H HD D D D D D D D D DD D D D D D D D H HH D D D D H H H H HH H H H H H H H H HH HitS StandD Double if allowed, otherwise hitTap, hold and move
Soft Totals Chart
Hands that include an ace are called “soft”. That’s because they have two possible values depending on whether the ace is counted as a 1 or 11. When you get a four and an ace, for example, it’s referred to as a soft 16.
The optimal way to play soft hands is different than hard hands. Having an ace gives you more flexibility since bigger cards won’t cause you to bust.
Use the chart below to learn the best way to play every possible soft hand:
Dealer upcardA,9 A,8 A,7 A,6 A,5 A,4 A,3 A,22 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 AS S S S S S S S S SS S S S Ds S S S S SDs Ds Ds Ds Ds S S H H HH D D D D H H H H HH H D D D H H H H HH H D D D H H H H HH H H D D H H H H HH H H D D H H H H HH Split the pairS Split the pairD Split if "Double After Split (DAS)" is offered, otherwise do not splitDs Don't Split the PairTap, hold and move
Splitting Pairs Chart
When you’re dealt a pair in blackjack it opens up a really interesting opportunity. You have the option of splitting the pair and playing two separate hands of blackjack. In order to split a pair, you must pay a second bet that’s equal to your first.
After you split, each card becomes its own hand and receives a second card. Each hand is then played out independently according to the rules above for hard and soft totals.
The chart below outlines which pairs to split depending on what the dealer’s upcard is.
Dealer upcardA,A T,T 9,9 8,8 7,7 6,6 5,5 4,4 3,3 2,22 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 AY Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y YN N N N N N N N N NY Y Y Y Y N Y Y N NY Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y YY Y Y Y Y Y N N N NY/N Y Y Y Y N N N N NN N N N N N N N N NN N N Y/N Y/N N N N N NY/N Y/N Y Y Y Y N N N NY/N Y/N Y Y Y Y N N N NY Split the pairY/N Split if "Double After Split (DAS)" is offered, otherwise do not splitN Don't Split the PairTap, hold and move
Late Surrender Chart
Another interesting twist in blackjack is the option to surrender your hand and receive half of your bet back. Late surrender refers to a rule that only allows you to concede the hand after the dealer has checked his own cards for a blackjack.
There are actually very few situations where it’s profitable to surrender so it’s easy to remember them. Follow the instructions in the table before and your bankroll will thank you.
Dealer upcard16 15 142 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 AH H HHH Double if allowed, otherwise hitTap, hold and move
Advanced Blackjack Strategy
In this section we cover blackjack betting systems and popular card-counting techniques. All of these strategies come with a warning label. Make sure you understand what you’re doing before putting them into action with real money on the line.
Most people think card counting requires Rain Man-level intelligence, but it’s actually really simple. The hard part is to play live blackjack while trying not to arouse the casino’s attention.
Card counting, while not technically illegal, is definitely not welcome in casinos. If dealers or floor people think you’re counting cards, you will be politely asked to leave and not come back.
However, if you’re able to pull it off, card counting is a real strategy that can turn the odds in your favour.
Follow these simple steps to get started:
- Card counting works by keeping track of every card that’s dealt in the game.
- You keep a running count of the cards depending on each card’s value.
- Cards between 2 and 6 have a value of -1.
- 7, 8 and 9 have a value of 0.
- Cards with a value of 10 or higher, including aces, have a value of +1.
- The higher the running count, the better the odds of you winning and the more you should bet.
Think of a betting system as a set of instructions on how much to bet on each hand, depending on whether you won or lost the previous hand. These systems can be used for any game or bet that has roughly 50/50 odds so blackjack is perfect.
Betting systems can’t change the odds of the game, or guarantee a win. They can, however, help you win more often from session to session. All of the following systems start by choosing a basic betting unit which is small compared to your overall bankroll for the session.
- Double the size of the bet after a losing hand
- Get back to the initial stake after a winning hand
- It is recommended to start at an affordable level
Advantages: one win covers previous bets, pretty easy to use
- Increase the size of the bet by a unit after a winning hand
- Decrease the size of the bet by a unit after a losing hand
- Each player can set the preferred unit to match the initial bet
Advantages: simple to use, rewards winning streaks, very safe
- The bet is increased by one unit after a winning hand
- The bet remains the same on losing hands
- The session ends once a profit is achieved
Advantages: benefits from streaks, works well in blackjack
- Start with betting 1 and advance to the next amount if you win
- A loss will reset the system back to the initial value
- After four consecutive wins, you can start over
Advantages: easy to remember, can be used online, low risk
- Increase the bet based on the Fibonacci sequence when losing
- Decrease the bet by one number in the sequence when winning
- The betting pattern is as follows: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 13, 21, …
Advantages: not as aggressive early on, can cover past losses
- The bet is increased after a win by adding the received payout
- A losing hand resets the stake to its initial value
- The strategy can be stopped, and the winnings can be collected
Advantages: profitable for winning streaks, very exciting
How does Blackjack House Edge Work?
Every gambling game has been designed to give the casino (the house) an advantage. The actual percentage can differ a lot from one option to another. The good news is that blackjack generally has one of the lowest house edges on the casino floor, or online lobby.
It works like this:
- The casino has an advantage of about 2-3% per hand in blackjack, mainly because the player has to act first and can bust.
- The blackjack house edge can be improved to as low as 0.5% by playing well and following basic strategy.
- The more decks being used, the bigger the house edge. More players in the game also increases the house edge in blackjack.
- Side bets in blackjack have a much higher house edge than the standard gameplay options and should always be avoided.
How do you get an edge in blackjack?”
There are definitely a lot of factors to consider when playing blackjack. Different rules can change the house edge in a big way. Look for games that have as many of these features as possible:
- Dealer must hit on soft 17
- Single deck is used
- Pairs can be re-split multiple times
- Tied hands result in a push
- Blackjack pays at least 3:2 (2:1 is even better)
If some or all of these rules are not followed, the casino advantage can balloon to over 5%. Make sure to find good games and use basic strategy to keep the house edge below 1%.
How to Improve Blackjack Skills
Memorize and follow the basic strategy charts above
Make sure to only play games that have favourable odds
Play free blackjack to practice, without risking any money
Use a welcome bonus or other offer to grow your bankroll
Play within your bankroll by setting win and loss limits
What to avoid when playing Blackjack
At low limit tables both live and online, you’ll see people making the same common mistakes day in and day out. Even if you’re using basic strategy, it won’t take long for these leaks to sink your bankroll.
Not splitting pairs of aces and pairs of eights.
This is included in the charts but it bears repeating. Not only will your chances of winning suffer, you’ll be judged harshly by other players if you choose to play these hands without splitting.
When the dealer has an ace showing, some blackjack games offer you a side bet on whether the dealer has a blackjack. The odds are poor on this bet and it should always be avoided.
Always avoid all side bonus bets (like getting a pair).
There are lots of different side bets and bonus bets. They all have a much higher house edge than regular blackjack bets.
Blackjack Strategy FAQs
The fastest ways to improve your odds of winning at blackjack are to learn basic strategy, and only play games that have favourable rules for the player. Both of those points are covered in detail above in this guide.
The house edge in blackjack is usually 2-3%, depending on the version of the game. However, perfect strategy can bring the house edge down to as low as 0.5%.
As discussed in our blackjack casino guide, each betting system has different advantages and disadvantages. In general, we think the more moderate systems like the D’Alembert or Martingale are the most reliable.
Understanding when to hit, double down, split or stand is a key part of blackjack strategy. The best way to learn is to study the blackjack charts included earlier in this guide.
Depending on the game, there are lots of different ways to signal your decision to the dealer. Pointing at your cards means you want to hit, while waving your hand over your cards means you want to stand.
Blackjack basic strategy does not guarantee you money. However, it helps show you all the possible combinations of your hand against the dealers. You may well have better days than others, but the basic strategy should stand you in good stead.
If your basic strategy is poor or inconsistent, you will never make money playing blackjack. The better understanding you have of the game, and the more consistently you play, the more success you are likely to have. If you improve your basic strategy and knowledge, this will be key to any success you may have.
Blackjack strategy cards are legal, and you can use them within a casino. They often cost less than C$5 to purchase and they can help you when you first start playing blackjack.
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