In our blackjack basic strategy guide, we will teach you everything you need to know in order to get started playing blackjack successfully. From the rules of the game, through various elements of blackjack basic strategy and more advanced concepts such as card counting, we’ve got it covered. So let’s started!
How to Play Blackjack
Before we can start to think about blackjack basic strategy, we need to understand the basic rules of the game. So in this section, we will guide you through all of the rules, as well as common terms found in blackjack. Double down, split pairs and surrender may all be completely alien to you right now, but thanks to this complete guide, all will become clear.
Keep reading to learn how to play this classic casino game, as well as how to deal blackjack.
Blackjack Card Values
The card values are quite straightforward, but you can always refer to the following blackjack cheat sheet if you forget:
- Aces – These can be worth 11 or 1, depending on the other cards in your hand. If a value of 11 busts your hand, then it will play as 1 instead.
- Jack, Queen & King – All of the picture cards in the deck are worth 10.
- Numbers 2 to 10 – All of the remaining cards are worth their face value.
One of the reasons that blackjack is such a casino classic, is the game’s simplicity. Although each casino plays with slightly different rules and there are some subtle nuances, the basic rules of blackjack are extremely simple to pick up and play.
You can always refer to the blackjack rules chart below, should you ever forget anything:
- Each player is dealt two cards, face up.
- There are also two cards for the dealer, but the first is dealt face down. This is revealed at the end of the game, after all bets and decisions are completed.
- Players may request additional cards to improve their hand value.
- If a player’s hand is more than 21, they are out of the game.
- The dealer must draw additional cards while their hand’s value remains below 17.
- Once the dealer reaches a score of 17 to 21, they must stand.
- When the dealer’s hand is higher than 21, all players left in the hand win, regardless of their own hand’s value.
- If you are dealt a pair, you may split.
- Players can double down, increasing their bet size. In such cases, they only receive one additional card.
- Players may surrender their two cards (not all casinos offer this rule variant) and recover half of their bet, ending their turn.
Common Blackjack Terms
The game has its own unique language, which can be quite confusing to beginners. Let’s take a look at some of the most common blackjack terminology.
- Blackjack. If you are dealt an Ace, alongside any card with a value of 10, you have blackjack. Congratulations! Any hand worth 21 using more than two cards is not a blackjack.
- Hit. When requesting an additional card from the dealer, the correct term is hit.
- Stand. If you do not require any further cards and wish to keep your hand as it is, the correct term is stand.
- Bust. When your hand’s value is 22 or higher, you are bust. Unlucky!
- Split. In most forms of blackjack, split opportunities can be taken when a player is dealt a pair. This requires you to place an additional wager to create a second hand. If a further pair is dealt, some casinos will allow you to split again and place a third wager. This strategy allows you to bet more than usual, and therefore potentially win more.
- Double Down. After the initial two cards are dealt, players have the option to double down. The player may double their original bet, but they only get one more card if they do so. This strategy is usually used when the cards seem favourable for the player.
- Surrender. Not all casinos allow players to surrender. But when they do, it gives you the opportunity to take back half of your wager, thereby surrendering the other half. Surrender can be a better tactic than playing a totally useless hand that is likely to lose.
How to Deal Blackjack
If you’re wanting to play at home but you don’t know how to deal blackjack, fear not! We have you covered. It’s a pretty straight forward task once you understand how.
First of all, work out how many decks you are going to play with and shuffle them all together. Once you are ready, everyone must place their bets. When betting is complete, the dealer gives each player a card face up, before dealing themselves a card face down. They then proceed to give everyone a second card, including the dealer, face up.
Now it’s time for players to make decisions. The player to the extreme right of the dealer acts first. If they want to hit or double down, the dealer must issue another card. If they split, then two more cards are dealt to form two new hands, before play continues.
This is repeated until all hands are completed. At this point, the dealer reveals the hidden card, and the rules are straightforward from here. If their total is 17 or above, the dealer stands. Anything less, and they draw cards until they either reach 17 to 21, or they bust.
What Are the Odds of Winning at Blackjack?
It’s not easy to calculate the odds of winning at blackjack. The game isn’t comparable to a slot machine, which relies on a random number generator paying out at a fixed percentage. Or even a roulette wheel, where probabilities can easily be calculated and returns estimated.
Because the game relies upon humans making decisions, blackjack odds are not easy to estimate. A card counter who plays basic strategy perfectly can make a profit in the long run, but a drunken novice might give the house a massive edge. Then there are the different rule variations. Each one has an impact upon the house edge.
The best estimates regarding blackjack odds suggest that the house usually has an edge of around 2%. But playing perfect basic strategy can reduce it to around 0.5%. Counting cards will also shrink the edge to the point where it becomes slightly profitable for the player in the long run.
How to Win at Blackjack
As we alluded to in the previous section, you need to learn two things if you want to be a long term winner at blackjack: counting cards and basic strategy. Without these two weapons in your arsenal, you will be relying purely on luck. That might work in the extremely short term, but it’s not a sustainable way to win at blackjack.
Blackjack Basic Strategy
We’ve mentioned it a few times already, but what exactly is basic strategy in blackjack?
People have been trying to find the ultimate blackjack betting strategy for decades. But the roots of basic strategy are linked to the “The Four Horsemen of Aberdeen”, who devised the first ever strategy that was proven to be profitable.
As technology has advanced over the decades, we have been able to devise increasingly powerful blackjack simulations to test out and refine our strategies. And today, what we have is known as basic strategy.
Here are the finer points of basic blackjack betting strategy, but you can consult our betting chart later in the article for the full details.
- Stand on 17. Never take a card when you have hard 17 or better. It doesn’t matter what the dealer has, stand on 17.
- Stand on 12 to 15, when the dealer has 2 to 6. Lower value cards increase the likelihood of the dealer busting. So if you have a tricky hand like 12 through 15, don’t risk going bust, let the dealer do it.
- Hit on 8 or lower. Standing on 8 would be completely pointless, even if the dealer is likely to bust. No card can make your own hand bust, so it’s worth having a look at another card to see what happens.
- Double down on 10. If your hand value is exactly 10, you should almost always double. The only exceptions are when the dealer has an Ace, or 10 of their own.
Basic Strategy Charts
Committing basic blackjack strategy to memory can be difficult at first. As you are learning, it would be a good idea to have a blackjack strategy chart that you can call upon. Our very own cheat sheet is the best blackjack basic strategy chart to use. You can thank us later!
One of the best blackjack tips is to learn the art of counting cards. Without card counting, the best you can hope for is to play perfect strategy and simply reduce your long term losses. But with card counting, blackjack can become profitable.
What is card counting in blackjack?
Whenever anyone discusses the topic of blackjack, counting cards is always mentioned. Back in the 1960s, in his book Beat the Dealer, Edward O. Thorp first introduced this idea of keeping a running count in your mind while playing, based on the cards that have been dealt.
Put simply, you are watching the cards as they come out and assigning each one a value. This information would then effect your betting strategy, depending on whether things are in your favour, or the casino’s. More on this later.
Over the decades, many others have improved on Thorp’s system. There are now dozens of card counting strategies. Some of the more well known variations include:
- Hi-Opt I
- Hi-Opt II
- Red 7
- Wong Halves
- Zen Count
How to Win at Blackjack Without Counting Cards
Without counting cards, blackjack can only be beaten with good luck. It really is that simple. You can play a perfect basic blackjack betting strategy, but that only reduces the house edge to around 0.5%. You might get lucky on a single night and win, but 0.5% is still a long term loss-maker.
How to Play Blackjack for a Living
As with any full-time job, the harder you work, the better you will become. You can invest in blackjack trainer software that will help you to learn basic strategy. If money is an issue, there are more simple blackjack calculator websites available online for free, to help you practice. But ultimately, there is no substitute for hard work.
The two key factors though, are learning basic strategy, as we covered earlier in the article, as well as counting cards. Let’s look at card counting in more depth.
How to Count Cards in Blackjack
There is one way to beat blackjack: counting cards. A strategy pioneered by mathematician Edward O. Thorp in the 1960s, Thorp realised that you could assign every card a value and keep a running count in your head. You can then make betting decisions when the deck is unusually high or low on 10 value cards.
Every strategy uses a different method, but they all have one thing in common. Aces and 10 are statistically proven to benefit the player more than the dealer.
So when lower value cards are seen, increase the count, as this means there are more higher value cards left in the deck. And when higher value cards are seen, decrease the count. When the running count is high, this means the deck is loaded with beneficial cards. This is a good time to increase your wager size.
If you learn how to count cards, you can greatly reduce the house edge. And depending on how skilled you are, which system you employ and how good your knowledge of basic strategy is, you can even make blackjack into a profitable game.
How to Memorize Blackjack Basic Strategy
Just like counting cards, there is no quick fix when it comes to learning basic blackjack strategy. If you want to play blackjack for a living, you will just have to practice, practice and practice some more, until it sticks.
If all else fails, you can always call upon our blackjack strategy charts, or cheat sheets. Keep it open on your phone while playing at the tables, just in case. They work fine for both land-based and online casino versions of blackjack.
Here are some basic blackjack tips, to help you try to commit the basic blackjack betting strategy to memory:
- Never Split 10s and 5s
- Always Split Aces and 8s
- Split 2s, 3s and 7s when the dealer shows 2 through 7
- Split 4s when the dealer has a 5 or 6
- Split 6s when facing 2 through 6
- Split 9s when the dealer has 8, 9 or 2 through 6
- Always stand on soft 21 and 20
- Stand on soft 19, unless the dealer has a 6 (in which case, double down)
- Double down with soft 18 against 2 through 6; hit against 9 through Ace
- Hit with soft 17, but double down if the dealer has 3 through 6
- Hit with soft 16 or 15, unless the dealer has 4 to 6 (in which case, double)
- Double down with soft 14 and 13 when against 5 or 6; otherwise hit
- Always stand on hard 17
- 13 through 16 should stand against 2 to 6 and hit against 7 to Ace
- 12 should stand against 4 to 6, otherwise hit
- 11 should always double down, no exceptions
- 10 should double down against 2 through 9
- 9 should double down against 3 through 6
- 8 or lower should always hit
- If allowed, surrender a 16 against 9 through Ace
- If allowed, surrender on 15 when facing a 10
Blackjack Basic Strategy - Final Word
Having now read our comprehensive blackjack basic strategy guide, you should be fully equipped to hit casino floor.
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Blackjack Basic Strategy - FAQs
Is there a betting strategy when playing blackjack?
There most certainly is! Blackjack basic strategy is what you’re looking for. This is the term for a systematic playing strategy, which has been shown by computer simulations to bring the house edge down to the absolute minimum.
What does it mean to double down in blackjack?
When playing blackjack, double down is an option that all players have once they have received their initial hand, but before they have made any decisions. If you opt to double down, you must first double your initial bet, before receiving one further card. You give up the right to request additional cards, in exchange for a chance at winning a bigger return
What is the best blackjack betting strategy?
If you want to know the best way to play blackjack, basic strategy is the starting point. Once you master the basic blackjack betting strategy, the house edge can be reduced to as little as 0.5%, assuming you play perfectly, with no mistakes. The exact percentage depends on the specific rules used by the casino.
Is there a blackjack cheat sheet?
Yes. You can use our blackjack chart, or cheat sheet, which neatly summarises blackjack basic strategy for you. No matter what hand you are dealt, the cheat sheet shows you the correct play, according to basic strategy.