Basic Blackjack Strategy Guide

Basic Blackjack Strategy Guide

There are countless table games available at land-based and online casinos, involving dice, roulette wheels, and, of course, cards. In a majority of cases, there isn’t much a player can do to improve his or her chances of winning (or losing less). Most casino games have fixed odds and regardless of your decisions, you’ll be losing a few percentages with every deal or spin of the wheel.

In the sea of these various games, blackjack stands out as an exception. It is a rare casino game where your decisions actually matter and can make a rather significant difference. Although there is still no way to beat the house, the basic blackjack strategy will ensure you lose the very minimum and significantly reduce the house edge.

This is why knowing the basic strategy is must for anyone who plays blackjack regularly. The good news is, learning the strategy isn’t particularly hard and if you understand how the game works, many things will simply make sense. That said, it will still take some learning, memorizing, and practice to really get the hang of it.

Basic Blackjack Strategy Basics

The game of blackjack is, as most reading this guide know, very simple and straightforward. Your goal is to reach as close to 21 as you can, without busting (going over 21). If your score is 21 or smaller and it is better than the dealer’s (or the dealer’s hand busts), you’re the winner for the round.

On the surface, it may seem like it is all down to luck and how the cards break down. However, there is some fine math behind the game and understanding this math is what led to the creation of the basic blackjack strategy.

Understanding how and why the strategy works would require breaking down these fairly complex calculations. For the purposes of this guide, it suffices to say the strategy has proven very effective over the years and the numbers do add up. If you apply the basic strategy every time you play and do it right, you’ll reduce the casino edge to the bare minimum.

Basic Blackjack Strategy at a Glance

Blackjack is all about deciding when to hit and when to stand. Sometimes the decision is fairly obvious and straightforward. At other times, however, things can get tricky. In these situations, players often fall back to their “instinct” or “gut feel” but this is hardly a reliable method.

Basic blackjack strategy gives you a set of exact rules to follow in every situation that can possibly arise. It considers your hand and the dealer’s hand and provides you with the best possible solution for that particular situation (hit, stand, split, or double up). Once again, these decisions are based on pure math and are 100% correct.

One thing that confuses some players is what to do when there are also other players at the table. The basic blackjack strategy works always, regardless of whether you play alone against the dealer or there are two, three, or five other players. Your decisions do not hurt them (no matter what they may say) and their decisions are completely inconsequential for your play.

Now that we’ve done away with those things, here’s a quick breakdown of the basic strategy that works in all games with 4-8 decks where dealer must stand at soft 17 (which is the case for most online blackjack games these days).
 

Dealer’s Hand
Player’s Hand 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
5 – 8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H D-H D-H D-H D-H H H H H H
10 D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H H H
11 D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
16 S S S S S H H H H H
17+ S S S S S S S S S S

 

With soft hands (containing an Ace)

Dealer’s Hand
Player’s Hand 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
13 – 17 H H H H H H H H H H
18 S S S S S S S H H H
19 – 21 S S S S S S S S S S

 

With pairs

Dealer’s Hand
Player’s Hand 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
2-2 St St St St St St H H H H
3-3 St St St St St St H H H H
4-4 H H H St St H H H H H
5-5 D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H D-H H H
6-6 St St St St St H H H H H
7-7 St St St St St St H H H H
8-8 St St St St St St St St H H
9-9 St St St St St S St St H H
10-10 S S S S S S S S S S
A-A St St St St St S St St St H

Abbreviations:
H – hit
D-H – double when allowed, if not, hit
S – stand
St – split

Three tables above provide an answer on what to do in pretty much any blackjack situation you might encounter. The advantage of playing online blackjack is that you can actually have these charts open at all time and never make an incorrect decision. As the time goes by, you’ll start memorizing things and eventually you’ll no longer need them as you’ll know the basic strategy by heart.

Now, let’s address a couple of things that still remain uncovered and aren’t mentioned in the charts but are important to know to play good blackjack.

What Does Basic Strategy Say About Insurance?

Unless you’re completely new to blackjack, you’re probably familiar with insurance or the insurance bet. Although it isn’t available in all games, most blackjack variations will let you take insurance when the dealer is showing an Ace or a Ten (face card). You will win the insurance if the dealer turns over blackjack (and lose your original wager); if there’s no blackjack, you lose the insurance and continue the hand – and you can still lose.

Once again, without going into exact details, the simplest way to think about it is: never take insurance. The insurance bet is often referred to as “the fool’s bet,” because it is heavily stacked in casino’s favor. There is never a situation where you should take this bet.

Will Knowing Basic Strategy Make Me a Winner?

There is a common misconception among new blackjack players that, if they learn the basic strategy and play it correctly, they will win in the long run. This is not true and you shouldn’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

The basic blackjack strategy can severely reduce the house edge, making it just around 0.5%, but you’re still not winning or even breaking even. The fact of the matter is, all casino games are designed in such a way that you can’t actually beat them. However, if you’re only losing a small percentage of your bet on average, you’ll have much more fun playing and you’ll give yourself more chances of catching a good run of cards and having more winning sessions.

The only time when basic strategy can actually give you an advantage over casinos is when it is combined with card counting. For obvious reasons, card counting is only possible in land-based casinos and it is a technique that requires a lot of work and patience to master. If you become a good card counter and know the basic strategy perfectly, you can expect to be a slight winner over a large sample.

Basic Strategy in a Nutshell: Your Cheat-Sheet

Memorizing the charts by heart can take some time and effort. However, we’ll give you a quick breakdown of the most important things to remember. Knowing these should help you make the right decision in most situations.

  • Insurance is a fool’s bet – never take insurance
  • Soft 13 – 17 you should always hit
  • Never hit soft 19 or better
  • Hard 17 or better, you should never hit
  • Never split 10s
  • Always split Aces, unless the dealer is showing an Ace
  • Always split 8s and 9s unless the dealer is showing an A or a 10
  • Always double on 10 or 11 unless the dealer is showing an A or a 10
  • Stand on 13-16 if the dealer is showing 2-6, otherwise hit

While these quick tips don’t cover everything you need to know to play the perfect strategy, they do address a majority of situations and are fairly easy to memorize. Once you get these, you can easily fill the gaps and learn other stuff from the charts one by one.

Is Learning Basic Strategy Worth My Time?

Some people believe the basic strategy isn’t worth the time and effort and prefer to continue doing things by heart. However, if you play blackjack a lot, you’ll definitely notice a difference once you start implementing the basic strategy. You’ll reduce your average losses by few percentage points and this easily adds up over hundreds and thousands of hands.

So, it is definitely well worth your time to learn the basic blackjack strategy. You can start by learning the most important things and then continue to slowly fill the gaps if learning it all at once feels too much. Once you start noticing positive effects to your bankroll, you’ll certainly be happy that you took time to learn the strategy.

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