Blackjack is a very simple game to pick up. Today we’re going to run through the Basic Strategy. This Basic Strategy will give you an advantage, as your decision for every hand is made by following the mathematically optimal way to play that particular hand, but, it does not help you to overcome the house edge that exists at each and every Blackjack table.
The Basic Strategy of Blackjack is best explained by using the coded chart on the left. For each of these colours and letters is an instruction of what you should do when you have the corresponding hand total in relation to the dealer's upcard:
Green D - Double if allowed, otherwise Hit
Green Y - Split the Pair
White H - Hit
White N - Don't Split the Pair
Yellow S -Stand
Blue Ds - Double if allowed, otherwise, Stand
Blue Y/N - Split only if DAS is offered
Many new players have studied how to play Blackjack, but when they start with the Basic Strategy of Blackjack, they may find the full chart a bit difficult to comprehend or memorize. With this in mind, we've included a simpler version, on the right.
Casinos, of course, have a house edge. If they didn’t, they wouldn't make any profit from running blackjack tables. However, believe it or not, there is a way to reduce the edge they have. The initial house edge for casinos stands at around 8% as standard. However, this can be reduced marginally by certain advantages the player has. For example, if you correctly stand or hit, you can reduce this house edge by 3.5%, and you can reduce it even further than correctly doubling or pair splitting.
Being a successful blackjack player is all about knowing how to make the right decision. The decision you have as a player is between hit (to be dealt another card) or to stand (decline another card dealt and hope that you’ve made the right decision). Part of the chart above shows what you should be doing with certain hands, however, that’s not always guaranteed. At the end of the day, it is a game of chance. Nonetheless, you can increase your chances significantly by knowing your position.
If you’re playing a game that allows such a move, surrendering allows you as a player to fold your hand and receive half of your stake back rather than playing on and, potentially, losing your entire stake. This is enticing to players as they want to ‘cut their losses rather than go on and lose everything.
An early surrender allows for you as the player to make your surrender decision before the dealer has had a chance to check as to whether they have blackjack or not.
A late surrender move is done after the dealer has checked whether they have had blackjack and subsequently it has turned out they don’t have blackjack.
The only time you have the opportunity to ‘split’ your cards when playing the game of blackjack is if you have been dealt a pair. You will be immediately offered this as soon as you are dealt your cards. Once you’ve split them, they go into two separate hands and are subsequently dealt a second card respectively.
The main incentive behind people choosing to split cards is, of course, you get to double your winnings. Yes, you have to double your stake however the excitement of being able to win more is incredibly enticing for blackjack players.
Bold Blackjack Strategy – This is where you as the player are already favourite to win due to the hand that you’ve been dealt and if you go ahead and choose to split your cards you've got the best chance of winning more money.
Defensive Blackjack Strategy – This splitting strategy is when you split to try and cut your losses as you’re not statistically likely to win. You will lose more money in fact if you don’t choose to split than if you did.
Offensive Blackjack Strategy – This is where you potentially go from having a losing hand to having two winning hands and is considered by players to be the most satisfying splitting strategy.
Knowing when to split pairs is a vital part of your skill set in blackjack. As there are only ten card values, it's pretty simple to memorize what to do in each situation.
1. Always Split Aces. Splitting your Aces gives you a very good chance for two strong hands! When playing two aces as one hand, you are starting at 12. Only a nine will give you 21. 10 or face makes you play 2nd Ace as a 1 and you are back at 12! By splitting your Aces you can make 21 in either hand by turning 10, J, Q or K!
2. Always Split 8s. If you play the pair as one hand you are taking a big risk to take a Hit as 60% of cards will cause a bust. By splitting you get a free Hit on each 8 and can't go bust!
3. Always Re-Split Aces or 8s (when dealt a 2nd pair). This is the same opportunity to split Aces or 8s as in Tips 1 and 2. If you split this second Ace or 8, you are required to triple your first bet. Be aware that some casinos have house rules that limit the number of times you can split pairs.
4. Never Split 10s. A pair of 10s is a very good hand value. The only card which will improve upon the split will be an Ace.
5. Never split 4s. Hitting your pair of 4s means no matter what you are dealt when you split a pair of 4s, you can't go Bust, and the odds of improving your hand are minimal and will cost you a doubling of your wager.
6. Never split 5s. Look upon this hand like being dealt a 10. To split weakens your hand with slim chances of winning. You could even make 21 on your first hit. As well, Hit against a dealer's 9, 10 or Ace, and against any other card Double!
7. Only Split 2s, 3s, or 7s if the dealer's upcard is 7 or lower. If the dealer's upcard is an 8 or higher, then don't Split if 2s, 3s or 7s.
8. Split 6s if the dealer's upcard is from 2 to 6. If the dealer's upcard is 7 or higher, then Hit. You will only bust if you are dealt 10 or a face card.
9. Split 9s against 2 to 6, 8, and 9. Don't Split 9s if the dealer's upcard is 7, 10, or Ace - Always STAND, never HIT!
If you’re offered the chance to double down in a game of blackjack by the casino, this means that you can double the stake of your initial bet and allows you to draw more than one card. The consensus is that this is offered of any two-card hand whether you’ve got a ‘hard’ or a ‘soft’ hand. Some other casinos will only allow you to double down on hard 10s and 11s.
Typically, in a game of single-deck blackjack, you’re best doubling down if you have a pair of fives or fours for example. Also, if you’re dealt an 11 you should always double down. If you're a ten, double if the dealer has an up card that is 2 through 9.
The following table below shows when you should and shouldn’t double down. If you see a DH, that means you should double, if not, hit. DS, on the other hand, is to double, or if not, stand.
If you choose to double down and this proves to be the right decision, this can reduce the house edge by up to 1.43% which is something that we touched upon earlier in the article as a way of reducing the casino's house edge. However, when you do double down, you reduce your chances of winning the hand by up to 57%.
Hit and Stand are two of the main decisions you have to choose from when playing blackjack. If you choose to hit, the dealer will deal you another card, this can either increase your count or cause you to bust, meaning you’ve gone over 21. Saying stand means that you don’t want to be dealt another card. The two reasons to Stand are that you believe your hand will beat the dealer's, or, that you believe the dealer will bust. Standing for any other reason is Blackjack suicide.
The correct call to Hit or Stand is one of the most basic elements of the Blackjack Basic Strategy:
Always hit hard 11 or less.
Always hit soft 17 or less.
Always stand on hard 17 or more.
Stand on soft 18 except hit against a dealer 9, 10, or A.
Stand on hard 12 against a dealer 4-6, otherwise hit.
Stand on hard 13-16 against a dealer 2-6, otherwise hit.
Always stand on soft 19 or more.
Insurance is offered if the dealer's up card is an ace. It's offered as there is an obvious concern from the player that there could be a 10 or picture card hidden. If a player chooses to take up the option of insurance, it will cost them up to half of their original wager and if the dealer does have a 10 or picture card, instead of losing their whole bet, the player will only lose half.
Even Money is a form of insurance offered when the dealer is showing an ace card. If you have a blackjack hand and take up the offer of the even money bet, and the dealer ends up with Blackjack (about 30% chance), rather than being out at a ratio of 3:2 which is standard, you’ll be paid out at 1:1, an even money ratio. If the dealer doesn’t have blackjack (almost 70% of the time), you’ll be paid out at 3:2. If you do the math, you will see that an Even Money bet is not worth your while when holding a Blackjack hand, even though most people's instinct is to take it.
Statistically, insurance is going to be a bad decision in most instances within blackjack. The dealer on average is likely to have blackjack less than a third of the time, and so two times (or more) out of three when you place a wager on insurance, it’s going to be in vain and you will have lost your insurance stake with the player not having blackjack. You’re bound to lose more than you are to win on an insurance bet.
The first prerequisite to becoming an experienced and skilful blackjack player is that you have a sound understanding of the basic strategy. Think of it as an introduction to the game as well as providing an insight into how to play each hand as it comes to you. It is in no way a foolproof plan that prevents you from losing but instead provides you with a competitive advantage. It is also based upon maths as essentially blackjack is a game based on numbers so it’s critical to understand the math and analyse your position.
This is a form of a negative bet progression system which, although it seems weird, focuses on increasing your bets despite losing. The philosophy behind this is that each time you win you slowly but surely makes positive gains back rather than going back and forth.
This is one of the more simple negative progressive betting systems and was named after a French mathematician and focuses on ‘betting units’. For example, if you started out betting with $5, that would be your betting unit. If you lost, you’d increase your stake to $10. If you lost again, rather than doubling your stake, you would instead bet $15. If you win a bet, you go back to the previous bet unit before the win and start the sequence again.
A system based upon the Fibonacci sequence of numbers: 1-1-2-3-5-8-13-21-34-55...with the next number being the sum of the two previous. You increase your bet per the sequence of numbers (when you are losing) until you win a hand at which point you revert back to the initial 1 unit bet.
One of the most simple yet extreme systems in blackjack. You place bets in a sequence of 1-2-3-5 units and each time you win, you move to increase your bet, but after winning on the 5-unit bet, you revert to the 1-unit bet and begin again. At any point where you lose, revert to the 1 unit bet and start the series again.
Each time you win a hand you increase by a single betting unit. If you lose you repeat the previous bet.
Progressive betting systems aren’t a guaranteed way for you to win and, in fact, can sometimes be detrimental meaning you lose more money quicker. The deception many players fall under is that if one of these systems works the first time, they’ve tried it, they will be under the illusion that it works all the time when in fact it’s still a game of chance. These betting systems also don’t remove the house edge which will always be present no matter how much it is reduced.
As with any other game, there are many myths about blackjack, some of which are known stories and some that players perceive to be true. One of the myths of blackjack is that the main aim of the game is to get as close to 21 as you can. This couldn’t be further from the truth when you’re playing blackjack, you’re playing against the dealer and nobody else. The main aim of the game is to attain a higher-scoring hand than the dealer. Another myth is that everybody always assumes that the player has a ten or a picture card hidden. When in fact, there is only a 31% chance that there is a ten in the hole, after all, only 16/52 cards in a single deck have a value of 10.
Just like with the game itself, card counting has an array of myths that have turned out not to be true. The major one is that many of us assume that card counters are somehow immune to lose and will always win. Studies have found that card counting only increases the chances of winning by 10% and card counting will only benefit them in an average of 1 out of 6 hands. Another myth is that card counting only works for single-deck blackjack games, however, in truth, it’s just as easy to card count in an 8-deck blackjack game.
Frowned upon by casinos, card counting is a technique used by players to establish how many cards have been dealt already so that they can make an educated assumption on how many cards of a particular suit or number are left in the deck. Card counters will increase their bets when they know that the cards that have yet to be dealt have a value of ten or higher.
This is the most common card counting system and was first introduced in 1963 and uses a score of +1 for the small cards from 2-6, 0 for the middle cards (7-8-9) and a -1 for large cards (10s and Aces). As the cards are dealt a running count is made with the more negative the score the more chance of larger cards to be dealt.
A good example of a card removal effect in card counting in a single deck game would be where four kings have been dealt in the first hand. With these four large cards gone you’re up against it and for the next hand would bet the minimum amount until a new deck is brought in.
Speed Count – this system focuses on the average number of cards in a blackjack hand being 2.7 (3 out of 10 times it will be just two cards, and the other 7 times it will be three cards. It also leads to you focusing on counting just small cards adding +1 each time you see a small card.
K-O Rookie – with KO standing for ‘Knock Out’, this counting system is alike the rest save that if a card has a value of between 2 and 7 will count as +1 and any aces and 10’s on the other hand count -1. Therefore, when the count is positive this is an indicator you should raise your bet.
Kiss Count – KISS stands for keeping it short and simple and this is one of the easier systems to pick up and learn. Using this system only picture cards are counted and also cards between the values of 3 and 6. The intention behind this system is to eliminate as many cards as possible.
Ace/10 Front Count – This counting system focuses purely on cards above the value of 10 and indifference to the others doesn’t have a +/- system. You add all of the large cards you see, for each, add +1. The larger the positive number the less chance you have of winning.
Ace/Five Count - Establish a minimum (amount divisible by 2) and maximum bet. Count +1 for each five observed and -1 for each Ace. if the count is greater than or equal to 2, then double your last bet, up to your maximum bet. If the count is less than or equal to one, then make the minimum bet. Use basic strategy throughout.
Unbalanced card-counting systems are a lot preferable should you play blackjack with multiple decks. There are two main systems when it comes to unbalanced counting.
The Red 7 Count is popular amongst the more casual and laid-back blackjack players. In this system, cards from 2 through 6 will have the same value as 7’s. 8’s and 9’s will have a value of 0. 10’s and Aces have a value of -1. You want to aim to have a value of +2 running through the game.
The KO or Knockout card counting system is similar to the Hi-Lo system, the only difference in this instance is that 7’s, usually counted as 0, are instead given a value of +1.
These unbalanced card counting systems are preferable amongst players who are playing against a dealer with multiple decks and even more so if the dealer uses 6 decks.
Balanced card-counting systems are a bit more difficult to pick up and understand, and for this reason, are more popular against hardcore skilled blackjack players. Essentially it includes a lot more math than its unbalanced rival. In unbalanced card counting, you have a running count, however, with a balanced card counting system, this is a true count. The conversion from Running Count to True Count is done by working out the formula below:-
TRUE COUNT (TC) = RUNNING COUNT (RC) / NUMBER OF DECKS IN USE
Balanced card-counting also makes skilful use of betting and insurance correlation. There are several different balanced card counting systems with the most popular being Hi-Lo and KO.
Penetration and its effect in improving your edge
If you hear the term penetration it’s going to be focusing on the percentage of cards that have been dealt out before the dealer shuffles the deck. It’s incredibly useful for card counters however if you’re using basic strategy, it’s not as important. The reason it improves your edge is if you use it to your advantage you can increase your penetration by up to 10%, therefore, reducing the house edge.
Number of Decks – the higher the number of decks that are being played with the bigger your edge due to the increased numbers of 10s, picture cards and aces.
Bet Spread – this is used in conjunction with card counting and focuses on increasing/decreasing your bets as and when the table is hot/cold. The difference in the bet size is known and referred to as the ‘bet spread’.
Back Counting – back counting is a strategy where you increase the size of your bets dependent on the improvement you see in the deck. It also focuses on joining a table at these times of improvement and moving the table when you see the deck deteriorating.
A side bet in Blackjack refers to an additional stake that is placed at the start of the round before any bets have been dealt. It’s also placed at the same time as your primary bet. However, there are different types of side bets, as follows:
21+ 3 – This involves you as the player's first two cards and the first card visible from the dealer’s side. Your side bet in this respect will be based upon whether your two cards and the dealer’s card will make a flush, straight, straight flush or three-of-a-kind.
Perfect Pairs – this revolves around betting on whether the first two hands dealt to yourself will make a perfect pair.
Insurance – this is where you can bet and protect yourself against a potential loss should the dealer hit blackjack. This has been discussed in more depth in a previous section of this article.
Classic Blackjack – the most popular and basic type of blackjack.
Progressive Blackjack – the same as classic save that the player has a chance of winning a jackpot.
European Blackjack – this is played with two decks of cards and the dealer has one card facing up.
Atlantic City Blackjack – this is played with 8 decks of cards and the dealer can preview his hole card.
Pontoon – Blackjack is simply referred to as ‘Pontoon’.
Live Blackjack – this is when you are playing in person against a real dealer.
Six Card Charlie Rule - Pays out on six-card hands of 21 or under, even if the dealer gets Blackjack.
Online Blackjack involves playing online over the internet either against the computer or against a Blackjack live dealer. The amount of decks being used in a game of online blackjack is never quite clear and can range from a single deck up to 8 decks.
The Top Blackjack Tips to reduce your chances of losing against the casino:
1. Avoid progressive betting systems.
2. Never play at tables with shuffling after each round. Only play where the dealer or a mechanical shuffler is used after a designated amount of cards has been played.
3. Avoid insurance wagers.
4. Don’t allow alcohol (or any other substance) to affect your judgement.
5. Play at tables with lots of players. This way you have less bankroll exposure to the house edge and you play at a slower, more relaxed pace.
6. Never assume you’re going to win.
7. Don’t make wagers under the influence of other players.
8. Start with small wagers.
9. Learn the basic strategy inside and out. Use your strategy card until it is absolutely second nature! Play it faithfully and the house edge will be from 0.3% to 0.5%!
10. Only bet what you can afford to lose!
Once you have the Basic Strategy down pat, move on to Card Counting and let your knowledge put you in control of your next move at the virtual Blackjack table.
The most common and easiest form of blackjack strategy to learn and master is the Basic Strategy. There are plenty of other strategies which you’ll be able to pick up later when you start to understand the game better. These strategies are there to help you understand the game and better your chances of winning but are by no means a winning formula. Their sole purpose is to better your edge and to reduce the House Edge. However, when it comes down to it, you could end up losing more than you win despite totally understanding the strategy. Card counting should also be done with caution as it is frowned upon by many casinos and is made redundant in most online blackjack due to random number generators.
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