If you learn nothing else, at least learn how to play blackjack according to basic strategy. Basic strategy tells you the best mathematical way to play any hand you’re dealt.
This takes the guesswork out of whether you should hit, stand, double, split or surrender. Using basic strategy will typically lower the house edge down to just .5% or less depending on the specific table rules and number of decks being used.
Using basic strategy alone isn’t enough to give you an edge over the house, but it will at least have you losing at a slower rate than most players. That’s a start!
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Blackjack is an extremely popular card game that is enjoyed by players in both online and land-based casinos. The main reason behind it’s wide-world popularity is that players are required to make multiple decisions with each hand, greatly affecting the outcome in a game of blackjack. It’s therefore believed that blackjack requires more skill than any other table game, except for poker.
For sensible and advanced blackjack players who are searching for the best blackjack strategy, won’t find a better option than basic strategy as your decisions rarely deviate while using this strategy during play.
In a game of blackjack, no decisions are made by the dealer and therefore optimal decisions by the player will always remain the same, which is exactly why basic blackjack strategy is the optimal choice.
Once you have a good enough grasp on the basic blackjack rules, the next step is to learn and understand how to successfully increase your chances of winning. Obviously, there are hundreds of different strategies and theories out there to provide you with an edge while playing against the dealer, but you will come to realise that none of them will truly give you an edge over the dealer apart from those that are considered illegal by casinos, such as card counting. In this article, we are going to provide everything you need to know about basic blackjack strategy.
Basic strategy is essentially the best way in which you can play blackjack. It’s formulated using statistical probabilities in order to calculate the most optimal move in any circumstance based on the dealer’s starting card and your cards. The main objective while using basic strategy is not only to maximise your winnings through doubling down, but to win as often as possible as well.
Using basic strategy will also ensure your chances of busting is reduced, and in some cases, minimise your expected losses by choosing not to double down or by surrendering. As with any casino game, the house will always have a slight edge, including blackjack being played with standard rules, but by using basic strategy in blackjack the house edge will be reduced significantly.
It’s worth mentioning that basic strategy does not consider cards that were previously used in hands or other player’s cards which would obviously have an affect on subsequent cards. However, this does not pose a problem when playing blackjack online as the cards are always shuffled after each round. While playing blackjack with 6 decks of playing cards for instance, you will notice that there are 312 cards in total with 24 of each card value. Therefore, unless you consider the odds of 1 card that has managed to appear more than 15 times in a hand, its negligible.
The permutations and statistical calculations forming the basis of the basic blackjack strategy table won’t be included in this article. The table is considered a robust guide and trying to explain how every decision is calculated is quite irrelevant as the end result will basically remain the same. If you consider yourself a newcomer to the world of online blackjack, we highly recommend keeping this handy for quick reference. You can either print it out or keep it open on your desktop while you play. You will soon notice that the more you play, the less you’ll need our guide to make the optimal decision, regardless of the situation. You will eventually be able to play blackjack, while using basic strategy, without taking a peek at the chart.
Taking a look at the basic blackjack strategy guide, you will start to notice general patterns on where exactly to stand and hit. For instance, you will always hit when your hand value is below 11 and will always stand when your hand value is 17 or higher, unless you have a soft hand. The most ideal way to quickly learn basic strategy is to pay attention on the borderline hands as oppose to learning all the possible hands off by heart. For instance, when a dealer displays a 7 the strategy recommended for most player hands will chance drastically as oppose to the dealer displaying a 6.
If you decide to follow the basic blackjack strategy provided in our article and you avoid deviating from its path, the return to player, with standard blackjack rules, will be 99.63%. This is an extremely high RTP and is considered to be the highest in a casino setting, both land-based and online, hence why blackjack is such an immensely popular card game. However, even though the return to player for blackjack is extremely high, it does feature a low variance as the highest payout for a single hand is limited to only 3 to 2 when you get blackjack. For instance, when compared to slot machines where players can sometimes walk away with thousands, players at blackjack tables are highly unlikely to walk away with such a large amount in a single session.
Always keep in mind that using basic strategy in blackjack won’t guarantee winning loads of money. In fact, even if you decide the follow this article religiously, the return to player will always be under 100%. In addition, its important that you follow it even if you run through a few bad hands. Those that play with basic strategy will continuously outperform players that make decisions based on instinct over the long term. Furthermore, always use basic strategy on every decision you make instead of only using it on the initial card drawn that most players tend to make.
Very few players realise that basic strategy charts differ depending on the number of decks being played with and the specific rules of the blackjack table. Below you will see a basic strategy chart that is correct for 4-8 decks where the dealer stands on Soft 17.
Note: If the multi-deck game you’re playing has the dealer “hitting on Soft 17”, then you would double A,8 vs 6 and double A,7 vs 2.
* Reprinted with the permission of RAO Inc.
The foundation of basic blackjack strategy greatly depends on the rules being used in the variation of blackjack you want to play. Common blackjack variations that are extremely popular among players don’t have much of an impact on the basic blackjack strategy and therefore you can play confidently knowing that the basic blackjack chart provided above will be good enough to cover popular variations where the dealer hits on soft 17 and when you double down after a split.
As mentioned previously, the basic blackjack strategy will all depend on the game rules and even though the rules are usually the same at both land-based and online casinos, there are slight variations that you need to be aware of. However, in this article we will primarily focus on blackjack being played with common rules in most casino establishments. The most vital rule which usually differs and has a huge effect on the basic blackjack strategy we are discussing here is whether you’ll have the ability to surrender and if the dealer is required to hit on hard/soft 17. Therefore, our basic strategy article won’t pay attention to these situations as they are considered to be part of a total-dependent blackjack strategy.
The basic blackjack strategy chart will outline the best possible decision for those that don’t count cards. It goes without saying that the cards which constitute a hand, without the inclusion of an Ace, will have an impact on the chances of making a correct decision in certain scenarios. However, this is only applicable in a handful of scenarios where the blackjack variation uses one deck of playing cards. With that said, this is irrelevant when playing blackjack online. This type of strategy is known as composition-dependent instead of total-dependent as it doesn’t deviate from the basic blackjack strategy, regardless of what is displayed in your hand.
Always remember to split when you have a pair of Aces. Even though you will only receive one additional card on both your Aces, always keep in mind that 11 is an excellent starting point even if you are limited to only one card. It remains the best option to take with a pair of Aces. In addition, the same steps can be taken when you receive a pair of 8’s. For all other scenarios when it comes to splitting your hand, please refer to the above basic blackjack strategy chart.
Simply put, never consider taking insurance in any variation of blackjack you decide to play. It’s far more profitable to risk losing your original wager in the long term than protecting it against a dealer that hits blackjack.
The best way to reduce the house edge while playing blackjack is to always consider doubling-down. By deciding to double down, while you are in an extremely strong position with a great hand, you can easily capitalise on such situations and essentially swing the power controlled by the dealer away from them and into your favor. A golden rule when it comes to this betting option is to always double down when you have 11 in your hand, unless when you’re up against a dealer with an Ace. You should also double down when you have a hand total of 10, such as 5-5, unless the dealer is sitting on 10 or has an Ace. In addition, you should consider doubling down when you have a hand total of 9 and the dealer displays 6, 5, 4, or 3. As previously explained, you will find tables that will restrict you from doubling down on 11, 10, and 9, but for blackjack variations where doubling down is allowed on other hands, both late and early, there are several situations with soft hands where it is highly recommended to consider doubling down. Lastly, as indicated on the basic blackjack strategy chart, if you are unable to double down due to the blackjack variation you are playing, you should hit except for 4 scenarios where its highly recommended to rather stand. This includes when you display a soft 18 and the dealer displays a 6, 5, 4, or 3.
If you have a good understanding of the different betting options in blackjack, you should be well aware that surrender will allow you to avoid an unfavourable position where standing or hitting isn’t preferable. In these unexcepted scenarios, you can surrender your hand and sacrifice half of your initial wager which will ultimately result in losing significantly less in the long term. It’s worth mentioning, however, that the only time basic blackjack strategy will recommend that you surrender is when you have a hand value displaying a hard 15 and the dealer displays a 10 or when you have a hand value displaying hard 16 and the dealer displays an Ace, 10, or a 9. Should surrender not be permitted at the blackjack variation you are playing, its highly recommended that you hit.
Most blackjack variations, both in land-based casinos and online, will allow you the option to partake in a wide range of unique side bets that function separately on their own but alongside your current hand. Please be aware that you will need to place an additional wager on your blackjack hand if you wish to partake in any of the offered side bets. In most blackjack variations that are two extremely common side bets that will always be featured, including Luck Lucky and Perfect Pairs, but there are countless other side bets that are available with new side bets being created every single day. With the basic blackjack strategy, its not recommended to pay attention to any of the side bets in blackjack. They rarely offer any value to you and the house edge of most side bets is far higher than the normal game of blackjack.
It’s always a good option to first do some research on the number of decks used in the blackjack variation you want to play before sitting down as it will affect the house edge, even if its just slightly. Below, we included the number of decks used as well as the house edge in percentages:
- Single deck of playing cards: 0.17%
- Double deck of playing cards: 0.46%
- Four decks of playing cards: 0.60%
- Six decks of playing cards: 0.64%
- Eight decks of playing cards: 0.65%
As you will notice, the differences between the number of decks used is rather small but you will agree that the less decks of playing cards are used, the better it will be for you. You will also come to find that eight decks and double decks are rarely available online with four decks and six decks being the most common. You will also find some casinos offering single deck blackjack variations, but you will usually be limited to only one hand and the playing cards will be shuffled after each hand.
Therefore, the advantage can only be found with exceptional hands where a large number of a particular card will appear several times which is an important factor when it comes to decision making.
Here is a basic strategy chart that is correct for a double deck game where the dealer stands on Soft 17.
Note: If the multi-deck game you’re playing has the dealer “hitting on Soft 17”, then you would double A,8 vs 6, double A,7 vs 2 and double A,3 vs 4.
Here is a basic strategy chart that is correct for a single deck game where the dealer hits on Soft 17 and players cannot double after splitting.