Blackjack strategy is a complex topic upon which entire books have been written. The purpose of this basic guide is to provide you with the optimal blackjack strategy in as few words as possible.
The basic strategy explained below is based on math, but I’ve left all the math out for the sake of simplicity. What I have here instead is a simple, straightforward guide to playing blackjack well. There are other places you can go to see the math behind the game. I’m just here to help you play better.
The ultimate key to playing smart blackjack is to make the mathematically correct move every single time. If you want to win at blackjack, it’s important that you ignore your gut feeling and past results.
Remember also that there are no such things as hot or cold “streaks” in blackjack. Past results have no effect on future results. This is such a basic, fundamental rule in all of gambling, but it trips people up all the time. We’ll talk about this more later.
Blackjack Strategy Charts
Blackjack strategy charts are simple printouts in which the correct move in every circumstance is explained. These charts are organized to show your hand total along the left side and the dealer’s up-card on the top. You then see where those rows/columns intersect and the correct move is explained right there.
Most blackjack strategy cards are divided into three sections: situations in which you hold hard totals, soft totals and pairs. Each section explains which action you should take based upon the dealer’s up-card. Hard totals are hands that are made without using an Ace. Soft totals include an ace and pairs are simply two cards of the same rank.
Wherever you see the number “10” on a blackjack strategy card, that number represents the actual 10 card plus all face cards. Since those cards are all worth the same number of points, these charts save space and just call them all 10.
Blackjack strategy charts are by far the easiest way to dramatically reduce the house advantage. Most casinos have no problem with you even printing off a blackjack strategy card and using it at the table. The same thing also goes for online casinos, obviously. Check out my blackjack strategy chart page to find both small and large printable charts + free excel spreadsheets.
Hitting and Standing Strategy
If you don’t want to memorize an entire blackjack strategy chart, the following hit and stand strategy is much simpler. It’s not as good as playing perfect blackjack but it helps if you’re in a hurry and just want to play some blackjack without getting robbed blind.
- If your hand totals less than 12: Hit
- If your hand totals anything more than 16: Stand
- With totals 12-16: Hit if dealer’s card is 7 through Ace
- With totals 12-16: Stand if dealer’s card is less than 7
Double Down Strategy
Doubling down is advantageous when the dealer is likely to bust or when you are likely to improve to a powerful hand. My blackjack strategy charts explain exactly when to double, but the following rules of thumb will get you close to optimal.
- Double down when the dealer is showing 2-6
- Double down every time you have a total of 11 unless the dealer has an Ace
- Double down every time you have a total of 10 unless the dealer has a face card or Ace
It can be scary to double down, but remember that doubling down is the mathematically correct play in certain situations. If doubling down makes your bet too large for comfort, it means you are playing at stakes that are too high. You should always play in games in which doubling down and splitting multiple times does not make you cringe.
Know the Rules and Number of Decks
Optimal blackjack strategy is affected by the rules and number of decks in use at the casino. One rule that changes often is whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17. If you plan on using a blackjack strategy card, make sure you know which rules your casino uses. This has an effect on how you should play certain hands.
The number of decks doesn’t affect your strategy much, but it does affect the house advantage. The fewer decks a casino uses, the better that is for you. Most casinos use anywhere from 4-8 decks but you can sometimes find single deck blackjack games. If you can find a single deck blackjack game, consider yourself lucky.
Note – some casinos now offer single deck blackjack but they change the blackjack payout from 3:2 to 6:5. This means you get paid less for blackjacks and will experience a much higher house advantage. Make it a point to never play at a blackjack table that only pays 6:5.
There are No Streaks in Blackjack
I know people who are usually pretty smart. They have careers, they can hold an intelligent conversation and they generally understand how the world works. But for some reason, these people turn into complete idiots when it comes to gambling.
These people are convinced that streaks can be used to predict the future in gambling games like blackjack. They think that if the dealer has hit a blackjack 4 hands in a row, the dealer is either on a “hot streak” or he’s likely to “go cold” any time now.
This kind of thinking is patently false. Cards and dice have neither the brains nor the muscle to remember past results and make sure that they stop being so random. You can flip a coin and get heads 10 times in a row and STILL have an exactly 50% chance of seeing heads on the 11th flip.
I’ve gotten into legitimate arguments with people who are otherwise logical. No matter how much math and logic I throw at them, they refuse to believe that streaks are just something we use to describe the past. If you don’t believe me, I don’t care. It’s impossible to change the minds of the truly deluded. If you insist on deviating from optimal blackjack strategy and going with your gut, that’s fine. Have fun losing all your money.
One of the main reasons casinos are willing to sell blackjack strategy printouts for a dollar is because they know people just can’t resist deviating from optimal strategy. Every time you make a non-optimal play, it puts money in the casino’s pocket.
Blackjack does not have a high house advantage when played perfectly, but few people have the discipline to do so. That is why the casino makes so much money on what should otherwise be a low house advantage game.