When it comes to casino games, there are few that are as popular as blackjack. This is a card game that is significantly simpler than poker, but it still allows players to ensure their winnings with a combination of luck and skill, rather than just luck, which is something that slot, roulette, and craps games require most.
And, of course, since the players are not playing against one another, the situation at the blackjack table is typically much less tense than the situation at a poker table.
So, you want to go to your local casino and play blackjack — how do you boost your chances of winning the game? The answer is simple — by employing tested and reliable strategies. Now, it is important to note that this is still gambling, so some luck will still be necessary in order for the strategies to work. You can have the best strategy in the world, but if you don’t get good enough cards, your chances of winning will not be that great.
How to play blackjack
Before we jump into the strategy, let us quickly explain what blackjack is all about, or rather, how the game works and what is the point.
Essentially, the goal of the blackjack player is to reach 21 without busting. Players who participate in the game can choose one of several actions, including:
- Double Down
However, the decision regarding which of these moves you are going to make is typically influenced by a number of factors. One of them includes learned probabilities, which are a more technical approach that usually includes tables and charts. Another approach is card counting, which many believe is against the rules and a sure way to be escorted out of the casino if you happen to be caught, which is not exactly the case. However, we will talk more about that later in our guide. Finally, some players simply choose to forsake everything and just rely on guts when calling the shots.
With that out of the way, let us dive right into the blackjack strategy, and see what it is like, and what other possibilities and aspects of each blackjack round are you to keep an eye on, use to your advantage, and more.
1) The basic blackjack strategy
Blackjack can be played using a number of strategies, but the most basic one, which most players start with due to its simplicity and effectiveness revolves around the player’s and the dealer’s hand.
In fact, there is a very simple chart that summarizes the strategy in a very straightforward and clear way. The chart does not depict absolutely all situations you might find yourself in, of course, as things like minute aspects and exceptions are not covered by it. As for the actions that players can take, they depend on the cards that they have, as well as the ones that the dealer shows.
The basic blackjack strategy for hard hands would look like this:
|Player’s Hand||Dealer’s hand (2-6)||Dealer’s hand (7-A)|
|10/11||Double||Double (if more than the dealer)|
Alternatively, the basic blackjack strategy for soft hands would look like this:
|Player’s Hand||Dealer’s hand (2-6)||Dealer’s hand (7-A)|
Another thing to note is that in blackjack, there is an optional action called Pair Splitting. Essentially, this is a move that players can get to make provided that they receive two cards of the same rank. If this happens and players engage in pair splitting, they can split the pair they hold into two separate hands. However, there’s a catch — in order to split the pair, the player is required to double their original bet.
With that said, the blackjack strategy for split hands would include the following:
|Splits||Dealer’s hand (2-6)||Dealer’s hand (7-A)|
|2-2, 3-3. 6-6, 7-7, 9-9||Yes||No|
|4-4, 5-5, 10-10||No||No|
As you can see, the strategies for different scenarios that all fit under the umbrella of the basic blackjack strategy are not overly complicated, and with just a little bit of effort, you can easily memorize them and set the stage for the game that will ultimately result in the probability of your victory increasing.
2) House edge
Moving on, let’s talk about the house edge. In blackjack, the house edge is approximately 2%. This might not seem that bad, but you should remember that it is in your interest to reduce it as much as possible in order to increase your odds and reduce the house’s chances of winning against you.
Of course, to do that, the player must keep in mind that blackjack is more than just a game of chance, and that strategizing matters. Strategies are worth learning and remembering, as every little bit against the house means an advantage for you and an increase of your odds.
With a proper strategy, you can actually achieve a lot more than you may expect. We mentioned that the house edge for blackjack in at around 2%, but with the basic blackjack strategy, you can take it down to 0.17% for a single-deck game and around 0.66% for an 8-deck game. Of course, there are also other situations, as different blackjack variants may result in the house odds climbing to 1% or higher also.
3) Soft & Hard hands in blackjack
As part of the basic blackjack strategy, we gave 3 different tables for 3 different scenarios — soft hands, hard hands, and split hands. We already explained the splits, but now, we would like to pay greater attention to soft and hard hands, see how they differ, and how the presence of the Ace can change things during your blackjack game.
Starting with soft hands, let’s talk about the Ace. If you hold an ace in hand, it is a soft hand, and the card’s value can be considered as 11, and that means that the player has a soft hand. One of the advantages of the soft hands is their flexibility, which is useful as it allows for the possibility to adjust the total.
With that said, how does your strategy for playing soft hands work? To put it simply, your goal should be to hit on soft 13, 14, 15, or even 16, and if the dealer’s upcard is not 4, 5 or 6, your plan will be to double down. However, things change and become a lot more complicated for soft 18.
In this scenario, there are 3 things that you can do, and that’s either:
1) doubling down if the dealer has a 3, 4, 5, 6
2) stand, if the dealer has 2, 7, or 8
3) standing, is what the player should do in case of a soft 19 or 20
4) hit, in any other scenario
Simply put, hard hands are the hands that hold no aces. And, interestingly enough, this single change leads to a completely different strategy for this particular round of blackjack.
For example, let’s say that the player’s hand total is 9, and that the dealer’s upcard is either 3, 4, 5, or 6. In any of these situations, it is recommended that the player doubles down. However, for the rest of the cases, the best thing that the player can do is try to improve their total by hitting.
If the player has a total of 10 or 11, they should double down, except under specific circumstances, where the dealer’s upcard is an ace or a 10. Furthermore, there is a different approach for any total that results in 17 or higher, and in that case, the player should simply stand. Finally, there are a few more possible hard hands, including holding 13, 14, 15, and 16, where it would be best to stand, just in case the dealer shows a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.
4) Side bets
Next, we should talk about another very important aspect of the blackjack game, and that is side bets. Side bets are essentially opportunities for the player to increase their bets. Obviously, the player might choose to do this once they are sure that things are going well for them, and that their odds of winning are looking pretty good. By increasing their bets through side bets, they get to win a bigger amount — pretty much at the time when victory seems inevitable.
However, this is not something that should be taken lightly, because side bets are rarely fair towards the players. You see, side bets involve a process of predicting which cards the players and the dealers will receive. But, unlike the main game of blackjack, side bets are specifically designed to increase the house edge, which is a problem for the player.
The first of the side bets that we wanted to talk about is called Surrendering, and it is essentially an option that the player receives from the house itself. The house offers the player to fold before the next cards are drawn, and if the player chooses to accept the offer, half of their original wager is returned, while their cards are removed from the play.
This is how the process goes, although it should be noted that different casinos may have different restrictions on how exactly the process would go down. Essentially, the strategy behind the decision – whether to surrender or not – depends mostly on one thing, and that is whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17.
Essentially, it best time for the player to accept the offer for surrender is during instances when there is 16 against a 9, 10, or Ace, and when the dealer stands on all 17s. It should also be noted that a blackjack game that allows its players the option to engage in surrendering has a house edge 0.08% lower than the game that doesn’t feature the surrender option.
Next, one of the most commonly talked about side bet in the entire game is popularly known as insurance. Insurance is a side bet that is offered to the player when the dealer’s upcard is an Ace. Its purpose is to act as an insurance against the possibility of the dealer’s hand being the first to hit the blackjack.
The way the bet works is that the insurance odds payout is 2:1, with the maximum allowed bet usually being half of the player’s main bet. Players are allowed to place this type of side bet only before the dealer checks the hole card.
What every player needs to remember, however, is that insurance side bets seem like an attractive option to bet for the payout. However, in the long run, insurance bets are very risky. You can reduce the risk by only using this option in single-deck games, particularly if card counting is something that you are good at.
Moving on, we have another very popular side bet, this one known as 21+3. This is a bet that players may choose to place depending on what is the expected outcome of the first two cards that they get to hold in their hand, plus the dealer’s face-up card. If the three combine to make one of the three-card poker hands, then this bet may come into play.
The hands that can emerge include the following five:
- A flush, where there are three cards of the same suit
- A Straight, where there are three cards of consecutive values
- A three of a Kind, where there are three cards that have the same value or face card
- A straight Flush, where three cards of consecutive values come from the same suit
- A suited Three of a Kind, where 3 cards featuring the same suit and the same value or face card are on the table.
If one of these combinations is formed, the payout is quite huge, being around 5:1 for a Flush; 10:1 for a Straight; 30:1 for Three of a Kind, 40:1 for Straight Flush, and lastly, 100:1 for a suited three of a kind, which is arguably the rarest and most difficult to achieve.
Finally, there is one last side bet that we should talk about, and that is Royal Match. This is a side bet based on the first two cards that the player receives, and the rules of this side bet are pretty straightforward. Not only that, but the odds are also mostly favorable for the player, particularly when it comes to 8-deck blackjack games.
The way it works is simple — if the two cards that the player initially got are suited, then the player gets paid 5:2, while a royal match that is a King and Queen of the same suit pays an incredible 25:1.
Not only that, but the payout is settled immediately after the two cards are dealt, so they have no impact when it comes to the rest of the game. The players can simply choose to take the risk and maybe get a pretty decent amount of money.
5) Card Counting
You have probably seen the shows and movies where players go to a casino and count cards in order to win, which is always presented as being against the rules, at least, and sometimes even as being completely illegal. However, in the real world, blackjack card counting is not only perfectly fine — it is actually extremely crucial when it comes to techniques and strategies that players depend on in order to win the game.
In fact, this is such a big concept that there are several ways and systems for counting cards, which tend to specialize in a specific type of game, depending on the number of decks, variants, and other aspects.
With that said, let’s talk about card counting. Before we start describing different methods, we should first say that card counting is the process that requires players to keep a running and true count of the cards in order to determine which cards were dealt, and which ones remain in the deck. Knowing that improves the player’s decision-making, and gives them an advantage as they will know what to expect moving forward.
Despite the way it looks, KISS actually means something completely different. It stands for Keep It Short and Simple, and it is a method for counting cards that is a lot simpler than most. It doesn’t rely on mathematical equations and complicated calculations. Instead, it is simplified and suitable for everyone, beginners and experts alike.
The system is simple because it allows the player to essentially stop worrying about half of the cards in the deck. The cards are simply not taken into account, and the player, therefore, doesn’t have to count them. That makes the process a lot simpler by default, and there is less room for mistakes.
The second card-counting strategy to consider is the K-O, or Knock Out. This one is known for being a technique that involves assigning different point values to the cards in the deck. As a result, the player can keep track of the cards easily and efficiently. The strategy is also quite easy to learn, although you will have to practice quite a bit until you master it.
Moving on, we have the Hi-Lo system, which is easily the most popular and prominent system in the world, at least among those that are easy to learn and that have ended up being widely practiced across different casinos. The strategy involves assigning values to specific cards, similarly to last one, only this time, cards from 2-6 are assigned the value of +1, cards between 7-9 get a 0, and the rest are considered -1.
Hi-Opt I & II
Next, we have Hi-Opt, or Highly Optimum strategies which are split into two separate ones, actually. This is a system of card counting that relies on the similar principle of assigning values to the cards. Hi-Opt II is not that different from Hi-Opt I, it simply builds upon it. However, both of them are quite complex and not suitable for novice gamblers, so we would recommend leaving this method of counting cards for the future, when you become a more experienced blackjack player.
Finally, the last card counting method that we can recommend is called Omega II. It is essentially a level-two card counting system, which means that it is more complicated than any other system that we mentioned previously, since all of them were level one, despite the fact that they all came at various degrees of difficulty.
What this technique can do is allow players to discover valuable information that lets them make better, educated decisions. And, while it is a highly complex method, the system has proven to be one of the most effective ones.
6) Useful tools for practicing strategies
Employing blackjack strategies can significantly improve your odds at winning, especially if you master them and combine the skills and methods that we spoke about earlier. Some of them may seem easy at first, particularly when it comes to card counting, but if you don’t actually master them, you will quickly get lost in your calculations and the entire technique will fail, leaving you at the mercy of luck alone, and eligible to lose your entire bet. In other words, strategies matter little unless if you become a professional at using them. While it is not our goal to discourage you from using them, or from playing blackjack — the fact is that it usually takes years of practicing these strategies in order to learn how to use them in the best way possible.
However, you cannot learn them without practice, and practicing in casinos where you have to put your money on the line can get very expensive very quickly. This is why there are numerous tools that you can use for practice before you ever sit at the actual blackjack table. For example:
Multiple decks with discard tray
The first thing to note for blackjack card counters is that their visual skills are of extreme importance. In fact, you could argue that they are as important as the ability to strategize itself, or math skills that allow the players to do complex calculations and build a strategy based on the results.
Like all other skills, visual skills can be trained and developed, and the multiple decks discard tray is the best tool for the job. It will help you count cards, and along the way, it will also help developing your ability to estimate the number of deks left simply by taking a look at the size of the discard tray. Basically, this tool teaches you to recognize important details about the deck purely based on the size of the discount pile.
Practicing with six or eight-deck discard trays is a good way to develop this skill and precision when making deck assessments, which will help with becoming a versatile card counter inthe long run.
Blackjack card counting counter
While a mouthful, this tool can help you quite a bit as well. It is a card counting app — seemingly one of many that have grown to be very popular these days — where players get the chance to master the technique by using different systems. Other things can be changed along the way too, such as the number of decks, in order to make each situation unique, and allow players to figure out how to count cards with great precision in any situation. Eventually, the circumstances you find yourself in will be irrelevant, as your card counting skills will kick in, and you will be able to navigate any situation like a pro.
This counter can be used by professionals and beginners alike, so we can recommend it as one of the best options available right now.
List of commonly misplayed hands
When it comes to playing blackjack in an optimum and efficient way, that is not the easiest thing for most people to do. It is very easy to lose focus, and if you happen to have a bad intuition, that can make matters significantly difficult for you, which can be quite unfortunate. There are also some hands that manage to mislead nearly all players, and they all end up using the wrong strategy. If this happens, it might mean that you are not yet ready, but that is not necessarily true in 100% of cases when players make a mistake. With that said, some of the most common misplayed blackjack hands include the following:
- Soft 18 vs 19
- Hard 16 vs 10
- Pair of 9s vs 9
- A7 vs 9/10//A
- 12 vs 3
- 16 vs 7
- A-6 vs 3/4/5/6
- 11 vs 10
Remember – even professionals make mistakes sometimes, but they also know how to bounce back when they do make a slight error, so don’t get discouraged and don’t lose hope. There are simply some hands that are tricky and deceptive, and if you memorize them from our list above, you will already find yourself in a situation where you will be prepared and know what to do.
7) Blackjack Myths
Finally, we have noticed that there is a number of myths and misconceptions involving blackjack that players from all over the world seem to be adopting as truth. Many of these can be major limitations that are preventing the players from becoming the best blackjack professionals out there, and the reason why they adopt those limitations is simply false.
So, let’s complete our guide by listing some of them and what they are about. You may have heard of one, several, or all of them, and we are happy to inform you that they are all false.
Your goal is to hit 21
If you ask pretty much anyone familiar with the game what is the goal of Blackjack, they will reply that it is to reach 21. This is not exactly a myth, but rather an oversimplification of the game’s goal and concept as a whole. You see, the real objective is simply to beat the dealer, and you can do that in two different ways. The first one is to get a higher final total than the dealer, which sounds simple enough, but can still be quite challenging. The second method would be to manage to avoid busting before the dealer. If the dealer busts first — that’s it, you have won, and so this should be your goal if you notice that the cards will not let you reach a higher final total score than the dealer.
On the other hand, if you were to believe a myth and try to reach 21 as quickly as possible, you would simply lose pretty much every time.
Dealer has a secret weapon — an unrevealed 10
Someone somewhere has seemingly lost to dealers under rather specific circumstances enough times to develop a myth which is completely false, but potentially believable enough for a lot of people to start believing in it, and that is the assumption that the dealer always has a 10 in the hole. Eventually, players even started developing entire strategies meant to deal with the assumption that the dealer has a 10 in the hole, which led to a completely wrong approach to the game.
The fact is that it is not that difficult for a dealer to produce a 10 out of a deck. There are 16 cards with a 10 value in a 52 cards deck, which means that the dealer will have a 10 in the hole around 31% of time. However, they are not entitled to having a 10 there – it just tends to happen very often. That still leaves you with 69% of the time when no card with the value of 10 will be there, so your chances of finding something other than a 10 over there are actually quite good.
Counting cards is illegal
We mentioned this misconception a while ago in this very guide, but that mention doesn’t quite do it justice. Players around the world seem convinced that this is a real thing, when in reality, it is nothing more than a myth. Players tend to discuss about alleged cases where card counters were banned from casinos, or even arrested for cheating, and alike, but none of it is true. Card counting is not illegal, and in fact, it is necessary in order to build up a strategy.
Card counting is a technique that requires a lot of time, effort, and even talent. Not to mention developing visual skills as we talked before, plus knowing how to use the information that you gathered from the blackjack table in order to set up mathematical equations that will allow you to count the possibilities for the cards in the deck, which way they might come next, and alike. In other words, card counting is already too difficult for most people to bother, and there is no need for casinos to make it illegal.
If you heard that someone was arrested or banned from the casino while counting cards, we can guarantee with certainty that card counting was not the reason why it happened.
Blackjack is all about luck
There are some people who would have you believe that blackjack is a game of luck, and luck alone. We mentioned this previously too, when we said that blackjack is indeed a gambling game, and that means that some luck is required.
Many would say that investing is gambling too, but that is not the case. When it comes to investing and investments, there are analyses, predictions, data, historical information, and other things that allow skillful analysts to come up with accurate predictions of what will happen next. That is not possible with gambling. One can predict the rise or fall of stocks based on the company’s performance, but drawing a card is purely a game of luck, random chance, and nothing else.
As such, yes, blackjack does have a luck element to it, and that is something that cannot be predicted. However, given that we dedicated this entire guide to blackjack strategies and things that you can do to reduce the house edge and improve your own odds of winning, whether through strategy or side bets, is proof enough that this game takes skill to master. There are entire tools that players are using for years in order to practice their skills, and there is no way of winning without knowing what you are doing. Blind luck will only get you so far, and blackjack actually requires a mix of skill, strategy, and luck in order to master it and become a winner of most blackjack games you become a part of. The luck factor, while present, is actually only a minor thing needed to win.
Insurances are profitable bets
Finally, the last misconception or myth that we would want to address is the belief that insurance is a profitable bet. This is simply not the case, unless if the game is played with only a single deck of cards, and the player happens to be an expert at counting cards. And while the payout is 2:1 for insurance bets, typically, in the long run, players will experience losses by turning to insurance too often.
Blackjack is a great card game, and so popular that pretty much all casinos out there have it on offer, including online ones. However, if you play to win and not simply to have fun, you must remember that strategizing and combining skill and good planning is the key to victory.
Luck is a desirable aspect as well, of course, since this is, after all, a gambling game. However, you can win money with very little luck on your side if you have enough skill and a good plan. With that said, we hope that this guide has been helpful in understanding how blackjack works, how strategies and different parts of the game work, and alike. All that remains now is to get some practice at things such as counting cards and memorizing strategy. After that, find a casino, and put your newly-acquired skill to the test.
Absolutely, all of the casinos that we recommend enable players to enjoy blackjack for a wide range of stakes. Simply choose the blackjack game that best matches your needs.
Yes, all of the casinos that we recommend offer the option to play blackjack for free. You can then practice playing until you are ready to play for real money.
Hit - After the player is dealt the two initial cards, the player has the option to hit (request an additional card). The player should keep asking to hit until they feel that they have a sufficiently strong hand to win (as close to 21 as possible, without going over 21).
Stand - When the player has cards that they feel are sufficiently strong to beat the dealer then they should “stand.” For example, a player may wish to stand on a hard 20 (two 10 cards such as a 10, jack, queen, or king). The dealer must keep playing until they either beat the player or go bust (going over 21).
Split - After the player is dealt the first two cards, and if those cards are of equal face value (for example, two queens), then the player has the option to split their hand into two separate hands with equal bets on each hand. The player must then continue to play both hands with regular blackjack rules.
Double - After the initial two cards are dealt, if a player feels that they have a strong hand (such as a king and an ace), then the player may choose to double their initial bet.
Blackjack - This is an ace and any 10 value card (10, jack, queen, or king). This is an automatic win for the player.
Hard 20 - This is any two 10 value cards (10, jack, queen, or king). It is unlikely that the player will receive an ace next, and the player should always stand. Splitting is also not recommended.
Soft 18 - This is a combination of an ace and a 7 card. This combination of cards offers the player different strategy options depending on what cards the dealer is dealt.
As the name implies this is blackjack that is played with only one deck of 52 cards. Many blackjack aficionados refuse to play any other type of blackjack as this blackjack variant offers slightly better odds, and it enables savvy players the option to count cards.
0.15% compared to multi-deck blackjack games that have a house edge between 0.46% to 0.65%.
This offers more excitement as players can play up to 5 simultaneous hands of blackjack, the number of hands offered varies based on the casino.
The key difference between American and European blackjack is the hole card.
In American blackjack the dealer receives one card face up and one card face down (the hole card). If the dealer happens to have an Ace as his or her visible card, they then immediately peek at their face down card (the hole card). If the dealer has blackjack with a hole card that is a 10 card (10, jack, queen, or king), then the dealer automatically wins.
In European blackjack the dealer receives only one card, the second card is dealt after all of the players have had the chance to play. In other words, European blackjack has no hole card.
The game is always played with 8 regular decks, this means anticipating the next card is more difficult. The other major difference is players have the option to play a "late surrender".
A late surrender enables a player to toss their hand after the dealer checks his hand for blackjack. This could be wanted if the player has a really bad hand. With a surrender the player loses half their bet.
In Atlantic City blackjack players can split twice, up to three hands. Aces however, can only be split once.
The dealer must stand on all 17 hands, including soft 17.
Blackjack pays 3 to 2, and and insurance pays 2 to 1.
As the name implies this is the most popular version of blackjack in Las Vegas.
4 to 8 standard decks of cards are used, and the dealer must stand on soft 17.
Similar to other types of American blackjack, the dealer receives two cards, one face-up. If the face-up card is an ace, then the dealer peaks at his down card (the hole card).
Players have the option to play a "late surrender".
A late surrender enables a player to toss their hand after the dealer checks his hand for blackjack. This could be wanted if the player has a really bad hand. With a surrender the player loses half their bet.
This is a rare variation of blackjack that increases the odds in the players favor by enabling the player to see both of the dealers cards face up, versus just one card. In other words there is no hole card.
Another key difference is that the dealer has the option to hit or stand on soft 17.
This is a version of blackjack that is played with 6 to 8 Spanish decks.
The Spanish deck of cards has four suits and contains 40 or 48 cards, depending on the game.
The cards are numbered from 1 to 9. The four suits are copas (Cups), oros (Coins), bastos (Clubs), and espadas (Swords).
Due to the lack of 10 card it is more difficult for a player to hit blackjack.
This is an optional side bet that is offered to a player if the dealer’s up-card is an ace. If the player fears that there is a 10 card (10, jack, queen, or king) that would give the dealer a blackjack, than the player may opt for the insurance bet.
The insurance bet is half of the regular bet (meaning if the player bet $10, then the insurance bet would be $5).
If the dealer has a blackjack then the player is paid 2 to 1 on the insurance bet.
If both the player and the dealer hit blackjack, then the payout is 3 to 2.
An insurance bet is often called a "suckers bet" as the odds are in the houses favor.
5.8% to 7.5% - The house edge varies based on the previous card history.
In American blackjack players are given the option to surrender at any time. This should only be done if the player believes they have an extremely bad hand. If the player chooses this than the bank return half of the initial bet. (For example, a $10 bet has $5 returned).
In some version of blackjack such as Atlantic City blackjack only a late surrender is enabled. In this case, a player can only surrender after the dealer has checked his hand for blackjack.
Lloyd is passionate about online gambling, he lives and breathes blackjack and other table games, and he enjoys sports betting.