Blackjack is the ultimate strategic casino table game, one that offers different levels of strategy for different kinds of players. If you just want to show up at the blackjack table after learning a few basic blackjack strategy tips, that’s enough to get you playing at a level that will make blackjack one of the best games in the casino.
If you go further by learning the complete optimal basic blackjack strategy, you’ll be playing on close to even terms with the casino. And finally, if you learn blackjack card counting techniques, you’ll actually be able to have an advantage over the casino – as long as you don’t get caught.
Blackjack Basic Strategy
In terms of blackjack strategy, basic strategy refers to the mathematically correct plays in every situation you could find yourself in. Casinos often sell cards that include basic strategy charts, while detailed charts for dozens of different rule variations are available online so that you can always play the best possible blackjack strategy, regardless of the specific rules being used at your local brick and mortar casino, or if you play blackjack online.
However, if you’re looking for a simpler strategy that can be quickly memorized and still gives you nearly as good odds as the optimal blackjack strategy, the following strategy tips are for you. Many of them are based on the “Wizard’s Strategy” by Michael Shackleford, with a few extra tips designed to cut down the house edge even further. This strategy is nearly as good as optimal blackjack strategy, adding only about 0.1% to the house edge.
First, let’s just talk about when you should hit and when you should stand – we’ll deal with doubling down and splitting in a moment, so for now, imagine that those options are not available. If you have a hard hand of 11 or lower, you should always hit. If your hand is between 12 and 16, you should hit only if the dealer is showing a high card – from a seven up through an ace. With a hard hand of 17 or more, always stand.
Soft hands should be dealt with slightly differently. A soft hand is one in which you hold an ace that still counts as 11; these hands can never bust, since that ace could revert to counting as just 1 if you’re in danger of going over 21. With soft hands, always hit with 18 or less, and always stand with 19 or more.
Blackjack Strategy: Doubling Down
Doubling down can be a powerful and important part of your blackjack strategy, when used in the proper situations. You should double down when holding a hand of 10 or 11 whenever the dealer’s up card is lower than your hand. For instance, if you hold an 11 against a dealer king, you should double down. You should also double down with a hand of 9 if the dealer is showing a card between 3 and 6.
With soft hands, there are also some great doubling opportunities you can take advantage of. With a soft hand of 13-15, double down against a dealer 5 or 6. With a soft hand of 16-18, you should double down against a dealer showing between 3 and 6.
Blackjack Strategy: Splitting Pairs
If you want to get the best returns possible, your blackjack strategy will also have to incorporate splits. If you are dealt a pair of eights or aces, you should always split, regardless of the dealer’s card. Conversely, you should never split a pair of fours, fives or tens.
The remaining pairs – twos, threes, sixes, sevens and nines – should be split only when the dealer is showing a low card, between 2 and 6.
Other Blackjack Tips
Make sure never to take insurance, as this is a sucker bet. The same goes for taking “even money” on a blackjack, which is exactly the same bet (with the same high house advantage) as taking insurance. In addition, if you have the option, don’t be afraid to surrender some hands; the most “profitable” hand to surrender is when holding a 16 against a dealer 10.
It’s also important to make sure you’re picking the right blackjack tables to play on. Always pick blackjack tables that offer 3-2 on blackjacks! Some tables may offer 6-5 or similar “short” odds on blackjacks; avoid these tables, as lower paying blackjacks raise the house edge significantly.
Card Counting in Blackjack
Blackjack card counting isn’t quite like it’s depicted in the movies, but it is the most effective form of blackjack strategy available to players, and can give a good card counter a fairly decent edge over the house. Card counting systems work not by predicting what cards are coming, but by tracking which cards have left the shoe. When the remaining cards are favorable to the player, card counters will wager more money; when the shoe turns against the player, they will bet less or leave the table. While card counting is not illegal, a casino may choose not to allow a player to play blackjack if they believe the player is counting successfully.
The most basic form of card counting strategy is known as the Ace-Five count. There are many variations, but essentially, the player simply keeps track of how many aces and how many fives have left the shoe, scoring each five as +1 and each ace as -1. This is because aces are the best card in the shoe for the player, while fives are the least favorable. When the count gets high, the player should wager more money. This isn’t a sophisticated count like many others used by professional gamblers, but using this count to decide when to raise or lower bets is enough to cut into the house edge significantly, and potentially even gain a slight edge over the house.