Basic Strategy for Blackjack

Nice Payback for a Popular Game

Basic StrategyBlackjack is one of the most popular games in a casino. This is, in large part, due to the incredibly low house odds if playing with proper blackjack strategy. If playing this way, you can achieve a payback rate of 99.5%!

That means that for every $100 you bet, you will get back $99.50 on average. This is one of the best house advantage percentages you can find. Below we are going to cover the rules to follow to attain these odds, and the basic rules you need to follow.

Rules

Blackjack is played with a standard 52-card deck. Most games will be played with several combined decks of cards. Most popular is a six-deck game. All decks are shuffled together and placed in a holder called a shoe, then dealt to the players from there.

Each player is dealt 2 cards to start the round. The dealer will have one face up and the other face down. Player cards are both dealt face up. The point of the game is to end the round with a higher hand than the dealer’s hand, without going over a total of 21. Each card is worth its pip value, with all face cards worth 10. Ace values can vary, being worth either 1 or 11.

A score of 21, an ace and face card or ten, on your first two dealt cards is called a blackjack. Depending on whether a player or the dealer is dealt a blackjack, the procedure will be slightly different than with any other valued hand.

If the dealers face up card is an Ace, they will check their hole card (face down card) for a blackjack. They will offer a bet called “insurance” which we will cover a little later. If they reveal that they do in fact have a blackjack, the round ends there. All bets are taken, and payouts given.

If a player is dealt a blackjack, they will be paid at a rate of 3 to 2, instead of even money. You are done with that round. You will simply wait for everyone else to finish playing the hand.

Being that a blackjack is not all that common of an occurrence, the basic strategy of blackjack comes into play on any other hand value. You can ask for another card from the dealer in order to attain a higher hand. In fact, you can ask for as many cards as you’d like, until going over 21.

Asking for another card is called a “hit”. When you have decided to stop being dealt more cards and stick with the hand value you have, you will say you want to “stand” or “stay”. If you go over a final hand value of 21 this is called a “bust”.

The dealer has a set of rules they play within, in regard to when to hit and when to stay. In most games, this will be the number 17. If the dealer reaches a number equal to or higher than 17, they will stay. Otherwise, they will hit until they reach that number.

This gets a little trickier when an Ace is involved in the dealer’s hand. Remember an Ace can be worth both a 1 or an 11. When the dealer reaches 17 with an Ace, their hand could also be worth 7. This is called a “soft” 17. Whether the dealer will take another card or stay on a soft 17 is variable between game variation and location.

In addition to deciding whether to hit or stay, there are other moves you can make. One choice is to double down. This is placing another bet equal to your original, before being dealt your next card. In most games, this can only be done before being dealt your first additional card (3rd card total). If you win the hand, you will be paid for both bets. On the flip side, if you lose the hand, you will lose both bets.

Another option during gameplay is to split your first two dealt cards. This can only be done when you are dealt two cards of the same rank (on most blackjack variations). To split the pair of cards, you will place another bet equal to your original. Your cards will then be separated into two different hands. A second card will be dealt to each of your hands. You will then play each hand as its own and can choose to stay, hit, or sometimes even double-down or split a pair again.

There are, of course, some exceptions to these rules. For example, many casinos will only deal one card each to split Aces. This can deter you in your decision to split them, knowing that you do not have the option of additional cards after your split.

Also, only some places will allow you to split your cards again if another pair is dealt on an already split hand. It’s always a good idea to review the rules for the blackjack table you chose to play at. The rules should be posted, or you can always ask your dealer if playing at a land-based casino.

One more option you can come across while playing blackjack is the option to surrender your hand. This only fits in with good blackjack strategy on a few hands (which we will cover in this article) but is important to know.

A surrender is exactly what it sounds like; giving up on your hand without finishing. If you chose to do this, you will get half of your wager back, while the dealer will take the other half. Your hand is then over until the next round.

Strategy Basics

If played properly, blackjack has a house advantage as low as 0.5%. This makes it one of the most player friendly games in gambling. Some can take this a bit further and actually have a negative house advantage. This would mean that they would statistically make money in the long run from playing blackjack.

Many people refer to that scenario as card counting. It requires a high mathematical aptitude and perfect strategy, but it is possible. However, most of us will be hoping to employ basic blackjack strategy to keep our odds around the 0.5% area. This is done by following a specific set of rules on what to do with each hand you are dealt.

While you are learning the rules of basic blackjack strategy, it might be a good idea to carry a strategy card with you at the table. This is a table that shows the proper move to make on every hand you could be dealt.

There is one area to discuss before covering the basic rules of gameplay, and that is insurance bets. Not all blackjack games offer this bet, but you will find that the vast majority do. An insurance bet can be made when the dealer’s up card is an ace.

You will be offered the chance to make a bet up to half of your original wager. You are betting that the dealer does, in fact, have a blackjack. If this is the case, you will be paid at a rate of 2 to 1 for your insurance bet. Of course, if the dealer does not have a blackjack, you will lose that bet.

Strategy Cards

Strategy CardHere you will see a sample blackjack strategy card. If followed exactly, you should have the highest odds of winning attainable without card counting.

According to basic blackjack strategy and the strategy card, your rules of gameplay should follow these procedures:

Hit:

  1. You will always hit with an 8 or less, and a pair of Fours
  2. Always hit on 9, 10, or 11, unless hand belongs in the double down category
  3. Hit on 12, unless the dealer is showing 4, 5, or 6. Unless hand belongs in double down or split categories.
  4. Hit on 13, and 14, if the dealer is showing a 7, 8, 9, 10, or Ace. Unless hand belongs in double down or split categories.
  5. Hit on 15 if the dealer is showing a 7, 8, 9, or Ace
  6. Hit on 16 if the dealer is showing a 7 or 8. Unless hand belongs in double down or split categories.
  7. Hit on every hand Ace-2 through Ace-6, unless hand belongs in double down category
  8. Hit on A-7 if dealer is showing a 9, 10, or Ace

Stand:

  1. If the dealer is showing an Ace or 10, stand on 21, 20, 19, and hard 18, and 17
  2. If the dealer is showing a 9, stand on 21, 20, 19, and hard 18 and 17. Unless you have a pair of nines, which you will split.
  3. If the dealer is showing an 8, stand on 21, 20, 19, 18, and hard 17. Unless you have a pair of nines, which you will split.
  4. If the dealer is showing a 7, stand on 21, 20, 19, 18, and hard 17
  5. If the dealer is showing a 6, 5, or 4, stand on 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, and 12. Unless hand belongs in double down or split categories.
  6. If the dealer is showing a 3 or 2, stand on 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, and 13. Unless hand belongs in double down or split categories.

Double Down:

  1. For Hard Hands (hand without an Ace):
  2. Never double down if the dealer is showing an Ace
  3. Otherwise, always double down with an 11
  4. Double down with 10, unless the dealer is showing an Ace, or 10. This is true even if your hand is a pair of Fives.
  5. Double down on 9 if the dealer is showing a 3, 4, 5, or 6
  6. For Soft Hands (hands containing an Ace):
  7. Ace-7, and Ace-6: Double down when the dealer is showing a 3, 4, 5, or 6
  8. Ace-5, and Ace-4: Double down if the dealer is showing a 4, 5, or 6
  9. Ace-3, and Ace-2: Double down if the dealer is showing a 5, or 6

Split:

  1. Always split Aces and Eights
  2. Split Nines, unless the dealer is showing a 7, 10, or Ace
  3. Split Sevens, unless the dealer is showing an 8, 9, 10, or Ace
  4. Split Sixes if the dealer is showing a 3, 4, 5, or 6
  5. Split Threes and Twos if the dealer is showing a 4, 5, 6, or 7

Surrender When Allowed, or Hit:

  1. When you have a 16 and the dealer is showing a 9, 10, or Ace
  2. When you have a 15 and the dealer is showing a 10

Conclusion

Following the basic strategy card will keep you on track with making smart decisions at the blackjack table. It is important to keep emotional decisions out of your gameplay. The game may have ups and downs, but following good strategy will allow you to lose a minimum amount of money in the long run.

One of the biggest mistakes in blackjack strategy is not correctly seeing the purpose of the game. To win, you do not have to get close to 21. The only aspect of the game that matters in terms of winning the hand, is that you must beat the dealer’s hand. Your biggest factor in choosing what to do with your hand should not be just your cards, they should be the dealer’s cards too.