Let’s be honest – blackjack is a casino game that everyone has heard of before. For many, it serves as the best card game available at a casino. Because of its high level of popularity, many people over the years have come up with strategies.
These systems of betting or playing aim to assist you in reducing the house edge and gaining more of an advantage. Some of them will work. Some won’t. It may even be the case that one strategy works for one player and not another. Whatever the case may be, blackjack remains as a game that many gamblers choose in its various incarnations.
While a series of strategies exist online, varying in difficulty, the most well know is the basic strategy. This basic strategy aims to instil in its users the ability to reduce the house edge and increase longer term value for the player.
The basic strategy behind playing blackjack is easy enough to learn and remember. In this guide, we will provide the details of this strategy and you can learn it and put it to use when you next play blackjack.
Basic strategy may be enough for some people, but not for others. It all depends upon how you like playing, the stakes you want to place, and so on. It is the case that basic strategy cannot overcome the house edge but it can reduce it.
The Basic Strategy Explained
Each blackjack game you play comes with a basic strategy. This defines the most ideal way of playing any hand. When using such a basic strategy, the long-term house edge does decrease. Let’s look at the general basic strategy, which applies to a game using the following specifications:
- Between four and eight decks of cards.
- The dealer always hits on a soft 17.
- A double down is possible after a split.
- Only original bets are lost on a dealer blackjack hand.
In this circumstance, you should always consider the following actions:
- Always split ace cards and 8 cards.
- Hit or double down on hands between ace and 6.
There is some further, in-depth information about splitting, doubling, and so on below.
Splits & Doubles
- You should never split 10s.
- A pair of 9s splits against dealer 2 through 9, except for 7. Otherwise, you should stand.
- A pair of 7s splits against dealer 2 through 7. Otherwise, you should hit.
- A pair of 6s splits against dealer 2 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- A pair of 5s doubles against dealer 2 through 9. Otherwise, you should hit.
- A pair of 4s splits against dealer 5 and 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- A pair of 3s splits against dealer 2 through 7. Otherwise, you should hit.
- A pair of 2s splits against dealer 2 through 7. Otherwise, you should hit.
If you have an ace as one of your first two cards, then this will be a soft hand. The ace counts as 11 to start, and you should consider the following actions in this case:
- Always stand on soft 20.
- Soft 19 doubles against dealer 6. Otherwise, you should stand.
- Soft 18 doubles against dealer 2 through 6, and hits against 9 through ace. Otherwise, you should stand.
- Soft 17 doubles against dealer 3 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- Soft 16 doubles against dealer 4 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- Soft 15 doubles against dealer 4 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- Soft 14 doubles against dealer 5 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- Soft 13 doubles against dealer 5 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
A hand not starting with an ace or does not have an ace dealt can only be 1 instead of 11. This is a hard hand, and you should use this method of thinking in this instance:
- Always stand on 17 and up.
- 16 stands against dealer 2 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- 15 stands against dealer 2 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- 14 stands against dealer 2 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- 13 stands against dealer 2 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- 12 stands against dealer 4 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- Always double down on 11.
- Double down on 10 against dealer 2 through 9. Otherwise, you should hit.
- Double down on 9 against dealer 3 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit.
- Always hit on 8.
Further Insight into the Basic Strategy
There are different variations of blackjack to play online and offline. Most basic strategy decisions remain the same for all blackjack games, though. Rule variations call for changes in a few situations. Regardless of this, it is vital to make one specific point and remember it. You should never take insurance side bets. It’s never the correct play under basic strategy and even under many advanced strategies.
Most games of blackjack come with a house edge of between 0.5% and 2%. This makes it one of the best casino games for a player to access. Basic strategy is very dependent on your point total and the visible card from the dealer.
That’s why you should always check the dealer’s up card before taking any sort of action. Does it look bad for them (between 2 and 6) or good (7 through ace)? What card the dealer displays can make all the difference to what your next action should be.
Furthermore, it’s not ideal to go in with huge bets to start off. Especially if you’re new to the game or the variation you are playing. Start out with smaller wagers to be able to gauge the situation you’re in. This way, you’re not only protecting your bankroll, but you’re becoming accustomed to the game. You’ll know more about what to expect from it and be able to adjust the basic strategy.
One other thing to keep in mind is other players. If you’re playing blackjack in live dealer format or in a physical casino, others may be at the same table as you. The decisions of these other players won’t have any impact on how you can operate. Your hand is going up against the dealer’s hand separate from other players’ hands. The dealer does not know what cards you have, and vice versa. That’s why it’s better to tackle blackjack as though you are playing alone.
Why Should You Use the Blackjack Basic Strategy?
Now that you know what the basic blackjack strategy is, you may be asking why you should use it. Well, the truth is that many seasoned players make use of the basic strategy. These players know that it provides everything required to have as big an advantage as possible. Basic strategy can also prepare you for difficult situations. With the strategy memorised, you know how to proceed in these circumstances.
Of course, you cannot guarantee that you will win in any casino game. There is no game that offers the possibility of 100% wins. Otherwise, the casinos would never make any profit. Instead, basic blackjack strategy helps you with figuring out the best possible decisions. As a result, you minimise your chances of losing. That’s all because the casino’s house edge ends up reduced through it.
The exact reduction of that edge is rule-dependent, of course. The number of decks used by the version of blackjack you’re playing also has an influence. Yet if you do play in an optimal way through the basic strategy, it’s possible to reduce the house edge by up to 0.50%. To put that in a better way, basic strategy users can play an almost break-even game.
To simplify that even more, a basic strategy player can reduce their loss rates in a significant way. Sometimes to as little as 50p for every £100 wagered on a game. Of course, you also have to be willing and capable to play thousands of hands. Only then will the house edge reduce enough for you in this way. Basic strategy is a lot more effective over the long-term period.
It’s something that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse proved. That name is not something relating to religion in any way. It’s the name given by gambling authors to four U.S. army engineers. Back in the 1950s, these four men found the best way of playing blackjack through this strategy. They were Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott. By 1957, they published a book called Playing Blackjack to Win. This featured all the details of the basic strategy for losing the least amount of money in blackjack. All four became members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2008.
Without the use of this basic strategy, the house edge can surge to around 2%. This means that long-term losses can also balloon as a result. If you’re someone who isn’t familiar with blackjack, that can have a huge impact on your bankroll. This is why it’s always best to understand and learn the basic strategy. Yes, you may want to utilise an advanced strategy later on alongside or instead. In the first instance though, we always recommend the basic strategy. Novice players need patience with it, and you should always expect to lose at least some of the time. Yet if you’re in it for the long-haul, you’ll be better off.
The Basic Strategy Chart
Some people prefer to use a visual chart aid when it comes to the basic strategy. This works as a reminder of what action to take and when. This chart is viewable below, with the following key to letters also applying:
- H = Hit
- D = Double Down
- S = Stand
- SP = Split
Blackjack Basic Strategy Chart
|Player Hand||Dealer’s Up Card|
This chart may look quite imposing at first glance with all the letters and numbers. Yet it’s pretty easy to memorise if you practice enough. Various approaches are possible for this, with different players having different preferences.
It is ideal to play an online game of free blackjack and have the chart open as well. This way, you can take your time, see what’s happening and take the appropriate action. You also have the option of using a piece of computer software to learn the moves.
Whatever your choice, learning this basic strategy is the optimal way to continue with blackjack.