Blackjack involves much more skill than other casino games, but luckily there’s a set of rules anyone can use to play perfectly, and it’s called Basic Blackjack Strategy. In this blackjack strategy, you’ll learn everything you need to play better blackjack, have more fun and keep the house edge as low as possible.
You don’t need to be a math whizz or practice for years to see the benefits of the best blackjack strategy. The expert knowledge contained in these charts and simple rules of thumb is easy to learn and will instantly improve your play.
A word of warning: There are no blackjack strategies that work every hand or every session, because in the short term, luck will always be a bigger factor than skill. But over the long term, players who follow advice in basic strategy charts will see better results than those who don’t.
WHAT IS BASIC BLACKJACK STRATEGY AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Quite simply, this set of 200 or so individual rules is your roadmap to playing perfect blackjack strategy. Although it’s called ‘basic’, it is actually the ultimate blackjack guide to every decision you’ll face in all blackjack games.
Make no mistake, blackjack strategy won’t help you win at blackjack consistently (counting cards is the only way to do that), but it will help you reduce the house edge.
When you play a blackjack game online, following the best blackjack strategies in every scenario will ensure you are paid out the advertised ‘optimal Return To Player’. This means your bankroll will last longer and you get more bang for your buck.
The purpose of blackjack basic strategy is to lose the least amount of money in the long run.
If a game of European Blackjack has an RTP of 99.29%, that’s based on the assumption that you’ll make the best move every time you play.
Even the most experienced blackjack players may slip up in less common situations where it’s hard to choose between two blackjack tactics. Learning the chart or keeping a copy to hand is the only way to ensure you’re not giving the house more than they deserve!
Strategic errors can turn blackjack from a casino game with the highest RTP to one with the lowest. As you can see from this table, knowing when to hit or stand is the most important decision in blackjack, while doubling and splitting also have a small but significant impact.
House edge if used incorrectly
Stand or hit
BLACKJACK STRATEGY CHARTS
It’s no good calculating the optimal move for more than 9 billion combinations of player and dealer cards if you can’t check them at a glance.
Enter the basic blackjack strategy chart, a simple graphic that contains all of blackjack’s secrets.
Once you know your starting hand and the dealer’s up card, a strategy chart lets you quickly find out the recommended move that will produce the best outcome in the long run.
Because of the luck element in blackjack, it’s still possible to lose any individual hand (even from a winning position). But you can be certain that you took the right mathematical decision that maximized your profit or minimized your loss in that specific situation.
Because blackjack rules can be different from one blackjack game to the next, it’s important to pick the right blackjack strategy chart for the game you’re playing.
The advice in each chart can be different depending on whether single deck games or a multi deck games, if the dealer must stand on Soft 17, and many other rule variations.
As there are many variations of blackjack rules, we can’t cover them all when discussing specific scenarios. Because a single deck game is rare, I’m going to use the most popular set of rules for playing online blackjack in the UK, an 8-deck game where the dealer stands on Soft 17.
SURRENDER RULES IN BASIC STRATEGY
Sometimes when you play blackjack, your chances of winning are so small that it’s better to forfeit your hand, get half your money back and move onto the next battle.
If used correctly, the surrender rule can be worth up to 0.60% in terms of house edge.
The standard blackjack strategy is to only surrender if your chance of winning a hand is 25% of lower, and there are only a handful of blackjack scenarios where this happens:
- Surrender 16 against 9, 10 or Ace. Hitting is the standard play and results in a 57p loss for every £1 you stake. If you surrender, you lose 50p instead.
- Surrender 15 against 10 or Ace. Against an Ace, you lose 64p on average, so surrendering 50p is clearly the better play.
BLACKJACK STRATEGY FOR SPLITTING PAIRS
Of all the decisions you’ll take at the table, splitting pairs is the least important, but doing it wrong will still cost you a small edge in the long run.
There are 2 reasons to split a pair. Either you’re getting more money in play against a weak dealer hand, or your cards work better alone than they do together.
Blackjack strategies for splitting can be summed up with these 3 rules:
- Never split Tens. We turn 1 hand worth 20 that wins most of the time into 2 hands that are likely to end up being worse.
- Always split Aces except against an Ace. You might only get 1 card but Aces are worth 11, the magic number!
- Split any pair except Tens and Fives against a weaker dealer card. This is a broad rule of thumb and there are exceptions.
STRATEGY RULES FOR DOUBLING DOWN
In a game where you’ll win the hand only 42% of the time, you need a secret weapon to balance the scales. Winning 3 to 2 for Blackjack is by far the most important advantage you’ll get, but doubling correctly is a powerful tool as well.
Doubling is as much about capitalising on dealer weakness as it is your own card strength. Of the 48 squares in blackjack charts which advise you to double, 38 occur when the dealer has 6 or less.
- Double on 9, 10 or 11 when the dealer’s up card is the same or lower than yours.
- Avoid doubling on 11 against 10 or Ace. It’s still (very marginally) profitable but hitting is a more profitable play.
- Double on all Soft hands worth 18 or less against 5 and 6. Doubling Soft hands which include an Ace is one of the secrets of winning blackjack. There are exceptions to this rule in strategy charts but in general, this will serve you well.
HITTING AND STANDING: THE BREAD & BUTTER OF BLACKJACK STRATEGY
If you can’t surrender, split or double, you’re left with 2 options, hit or stand. This is the most common situation you’ll find yourself in, which means blackjack strategy rules for hitting and standing are the most important rules to learn.
WHEN TO HIT IN BLACKJACK
While there are various reasons to stand, double or split, there is only 1 reason to hit and take another card in blackjack. Your hand isn’t good enough yet!
Left as it is, your hand won’t beat the dealer’s often enough to be profitable, so you need to improve your score.
If your hand is worth 11 or less, you can hit without fear of busting. With 12 or more, it’s a different story. A lot of blackjack players fear busting and stand instead of hit, choosing to take their chances with a weak hand, probably as they’ve seen it win.
But the numbers are the only thing that matter when you play blackjack, and it’s often necessary to try and improve your hand, even when your risk of busting is high.
When you hit on 16, you’ll bust 62% of the time. But if the dealer has 7 or more, they’ll make 17 or more so often that you must take that risk.
- Hit on 8 or less. You cannot bust yet, so there’s nothing to be scared of. If you have 9, 10 or 11, the same is true but doubling down often becomes the most profitable play.
- Hit 9, 10 or 11 against an Ace or 10. You can’t busy yet and doubling is too aggressive.
- Hit on 13 to 16 against a 7 or more. The dealer will make a pat hand over 60% of the time so your hand won’t be enough as it stands.
- Hit on 12 against a 2. You might not expect to hit with 12 against low dealer cards, but 12 is a special case. There’s an old blackjack saying that “2 is a dealer’s Ace”, as it enables them to make a pat hands so often (about 2 out of 3 times).
- Hit Soft 18 or less against 9, 10 or Ace. With the safety net of not being able to bust, it’s usually correct to hit and try to improve your hand.
- Hit all pairs from Sevens down against a dealer’s 8 or more. Better to take your chances rather than creating 2 new weak hands.
WHEN TO STAND
When blackjack strategy says to stand, it’s usually because your hand is in good shape, or your hand is bad but so is the dealer’s!
In all cases, sticking with what you’ve got is better than risking going bust.
To illustrate why it’s often so important to stand and rely on the dealer busting, here are the bust rates for all dealer up cards.
As you can see, against 4, 5 or 6, you’ll win automatically over 40% of the time, whatever cards you’ve got.
Dealer up cards and how often they will bust
- Stand on Hard 17 or more against any card. Your hand is in good shape against most dealer cards, plus it would suicidal to hit!
- Stand on Hard 12 to 16 against 2 to 6. The dealer will bust between 32-45% of the time, so we shouldn’t risk busting ourselves. There is an exception when you have 12, when standing is not the right play. This is due to a combination of lower dealer bust rate and your own improved rate of making a better hand.
- Stand on Soft 19 and Soft 20. You’re in good shape against any dealer card, and your hand is too strong to risk making it worse by doubling down. The exception is Soft 19 against a 6, when you should double instead. The dealer’s hand is just too bad to pass up the chance to double down.
- Stand on Soft 18 against at 7 or 8. With soft 18 you should double, stand or hit depending on the situation. Standing against a 7 or 8 is the logical play.
HOW INSURANCE WORKS
The Insurance bet and its closely-related cousin Even Money are side bets the dealer will offer you in specific situations.
If the dealer shows an Ace, you might be offered blackjack insurance. If you have Blackjack and the dealer shows as Ace, you’ll be offered Even Money instead.
When you take insurance, you’re playing a new game with a much higher house edge. The general rule is never to take insurance at all.
This is a 2 to 1 bet (for half the stake of your main hand) that the dealer makes Blackjack with a 10 as their second card.
By placing this extra bet and winning, you cover the possible loss of your main hand, although you can still lose both the Insurance bet and the main hand (if the dealer does not make Blackjack, but goes on to make a better hand than yours), so beware!
The best way to look at blackjack insurance is to see it for what it is – a very simple side bet that the dealer’s second card will be worth 10.
The 2 to 1 payout you’re offered is slightly worse than the true odds of the dealer drawing a 10, which is where the 7% edge comes from.
As a result, the insurance side bet has a much worse return to player than blackjack itself. Unless you’re counting cards and can spot when the deck is rich in Tens, insurance is not a good bet.
THE EVEN MONEY RULE EXPLAINED
Even money is a lot like insurance except that instead of saving money, the benefit here is the prospect of a guaranteed win.
Even money is the blackjack side bet equivalent of the old saying ‘a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush’. Except mathematically it’s not better at all.
Let’s say you make Blackjack, but the dealer shows an Ace. Many players would happily give up the chance of a 3 to 2 payout if they are offered an instant, no-risk 1 to 1 payout. A guaranteed win sounds good, but the maths are bad.
The dealer will only make his own Blackjack around 30% of the time. The other 70% of the time, you win 3 to 2. By taking evens in this scenario, you give up 4% of your winnings in the long run.
HOW MUCH TO BET
Blackjack strategy is all about making the best decisions once the cards are dealt. But the charts won’t tell you how much to bet, or if you should change your bet size from hand to hand.
Basic strategy is about reducing the house edge, while betting strategy is about managing risk.
There are 3 factors that matter most when determining your approach to bet size, your bankroll, your goal and your recent run of results.
Your blackjack bankroll is the total amount of money you are willing to spend in a session (or it could be a proportion of your overall gambling bankroll for the year).
For the purposes of safer gambling, make it entirely separate from your life expenses and an amount you are prepared to lose.
That lets you play blackjack without fear and always follow the right basic strategy play. There’s no point knowing you should split a pair against an Ace if you haven’t got the chips to back it up.
There’s also no point in betting 20% of your stack, as you will bust your stack more quickly. This type of bankroll strategy increases the so-called ‘risk of ruin’, or the likelihood of losing all of your bankroll too early.
In blackjack, betting 5% or even 1% of your chips on each hand is a safer bet.
Players have a wide range of different goals when they join a blackjack table. Some are happy to just be there. They see the money they spend as the price of an hour or two of entertainment.
Some have a number in their head (“I’ll play with £50 and if I get to £150, I’ll take the profit”). Whatever outcome you’re looking for, the pattern of results in blackjack can be harnessed to fit most sensible goals.
Your recent run of results is important. If you’ve been playing for an hour, you’ll either be up, down or roughly where you started, depending on short term fluctuations in luck.
If you’re up or down 20 bets for example, you can choose whether to stick with your original bet size, reduce it or increase it. This depends on your goal for the session, how long you think you’ll continue to play and your attitude to risk.
THE BEST BLACKJACK STRATEGIES FOR BETTING
Choosing how much money to bring to blackjack games and what percentage of it to bet on any hand are critical decisions, but each blackjack player is different and has their own risk profile and blackjack strategies for bet sizing.
In this option, you bet the same amount on every hand, whether you’re up or down.
It’s the simplest strategy to follow – no thinking required! – and a more conservative method of managing your chips.
As long as you play perfect strategy and only ever bet a small proportion of your stack, your bankroll should see you through even the longest of sessions.
The downside of this investment strategy is that while it is low risk, it is also low reward.
You won’t bust your stack quickly, but it would take an incredible run of wins to come away with a big profit.
This might seem a strange approach but it’s more common than you think, especially in land-based casinos where players reach down and grab a chunk of chips from the top of their stack.
Going by feel, hunch, superstition or genuine randomness can keep you interested and keep the dealer on her toes. Although it’s more difficult to track how many hands you’ve won or lost, it is not the worst type of blackjack betting strategy I’ve seen!
Increase when you win
This is the pro’s take on blackjack betting, and indeed many gambling games, if they’re looking to book a big win using the house’s money.
I call it an ‘asymmetric’ model because it minimizes your downside but maximizes your upside.
It was designed to produce the occasional big winning session although it is balanced out by many more small losing sessions.
This blackjack betting strategy usually involves cutting your stake when you’re on a losing run, and it’s this ‘defend-when-you’re down, push-when-you’re-up’ approach that many professional blackjack players and gamblers favour.
Increase when you lose
This is OJO’s biggest no-no. Increasing your bet if you’re down is called chasing losses.
There are many reasons why this is the worst of all the blackjack strategies, not least because you’ll always end up exceeding the table’s maximum bet and you won’t be able to continue.
The most famous version of this strategy is called Martingale Strategy, where you double your bet every time you lose.
There is virtually no upside to this approach, but on the downside, you almost always end up making very large bets which can only get you back to break even, or book a small profit.
If players do get out of the hole by ending a string of losing hand with a win, they usually reduce their stake back to the original amount. This means you can lose big, but only ever win small. If you like to play blackjack online, the speed of the game means you could rack up big losses if you use this strategy.