Blackjack Basic Strategy
If prior history is repeated, I will be inundated with emails asking why I made the game so much harder to beat, along with an equal number asking why I made it so much easier to beat! For a free chart that shows the right play in every case, visit our Blackjack Basic Strategy Engine. You can see how big the casinos edge is in the top right corner of your custom made blackjack strategy chart - the casinos edge naturally varies depending on the blackjack rules. Does the discrepancy have to do with hand composition? Or buy the game Retail: We no longer have the option to count the Ace as 11, because that would go over For a blackjack, players will be rewarded more than the usual winning hand usually 3 to 2 while regular winning hands would pay even money one to one.
A blackjack guide helps you to know the best times to split cards. Splitting cards requires a disciplined approach to prevent breaking up strong hands—especially if the dealer likely has a weaker hand. If you have any pair of 10s, Jacks, Queens or Kings, the strategy chart says to leave them alone and force the dealer to beat you. Unless the dealer gets 21, you have a great chance of winning on the 20 points you got on the deal.
Likewise, the chart says to always split a pair of Aces and a pair of eights, no matter what the dealer is showing. Another good example is when you have a pair of nines—totaling 18 points.
In that case, you would split your cards and hope to improve at least one and preferably both hands. If just one beats the dealer, you get a push.
If both do, you win a lot more cash. Another advanced blackjack strategy is the double down, which gives you a chance to double your wager and potential winnings after the initial deal. The idea is for you to lay an additional wager, but you can only get one more dealt card.
With the double down, when the first two cards in your hand total 11 points, the strategy card says you should always double your wager. If the next card gives you 21 points, you likely will win. When your hand totals 10 points and the dealer is showing a 10 or Ace, the strategy card says to simply take another card, rather than double down. Yet, if the dealer is showing a nine or lower card, and you have a hand worth 10 points, the double down is absolutely the right move.
In fact, choosing to not double down in that situation would be the wrong choice. In such a case, not doubling down would be a big mistake, as you likely would win much more often than lose in that situation. Those who count cards in blackjack can find doubling down to be particularly useful.
Many casinos have a surrender play that cuts your potential loss in half after the deal. The surrender is one that players find useful when dealt a poor hand, and the dealer is showing an Ace or card worth 10 points.
In that case, you can choose to surrender half your bet, but exactly when you can do this may vary between games. Some casinos allow an early surrender, which you do before the dealer checks to see if they have a blackjack. There is also the late surrender, which you can do after the dealer checks to see if he or she has Knowing the right time to surrender requires using proper blackjack strategy. When playing a single-deck game, the time to consider whether or not to surrender is when your initial hand totals between 15 and 17 points.
If you have 15 points or 17 and the dealer is showing a hard 17 or more, the strategy says to surrender. You would not surrender, however, if the dealer shows a soft 17 or lower hand. Yet, if you have 16 points, the strategy indicates you should surrender if the dealer is showing 10 or more points. Like all blackjack strategies, this also adjusts for the number of decks in use.
Another advanced play that can affect blackjack strategy is buying of insurance to protect yourself against the dealer hitting When the dealer is showing an Ace as the up card, you can lay up to half your original wager on whether or not the dealer has a point card in the hole. If the dealer does have blackjack, then you get paid 2 to 1 on your insurance wager.
A lot of players of 21 will choose to buy insurance if they get a hand worth 19 or 20 points off the deal, but the dealer is showing an ace. They view buying insurance as a way to protect a strong hand, but you still could lose both wagers, or wind up with a push and a loss. If your hand is worth 19 points, and the dealer has a 9 in the hole, you would lose your bet, as well as the insurance.
The only time it is useful is to card counters who are deep into counting off multiple decks, a situation that is not accounted for by strategy cards. Card-counting is a strategy that makes it possible to beat certain blackjack games if the conditions are right.
Movies often inaccurately portray this as memorizing every card that has already come out of the deck. There are actually a number of different count techniques, but the gist of all of them is to keep a count of how many high-value, middle-value and low-value cards have already come out. When lots of high-value cards are still in the deck, the player has a statistical advantage over the dealer, since their probability of hitting a natural blackjack is increased which pays out more than a standard winning hand.
They are also mathematically more likely to be successful when doubling down, and the dealer is more likely to bust when being forced to hit on a 12 or higher. The most basic counting technique has players add one unit to the count for when a low card comes out, and subtract one unit when a high card 10 and face cards comes out. The 7 to 9 cards are considered neutral value and not tracked. As the count value gets higher, the player has more of an advantage and bets higher.
There are more complicated counting techniques that are considered more accurate and profitable, but there is an increasing trade-off between tracking the count and continuing to play with the perfect strategy needed to make the system work. Even with perfect play, it takes a large bankroll and sometimes many hours of play to see a significant profit from card counting.
Unfortunately, card counting is completely useless at video blackjack games such as the ones seen on Game King machines , as well as the similar online counterparts. Live video streaming blackjack creates an interesting possibility for card counting. Players can use strategy cards without detection to take some of the mental workload off, focusing solely on their count. They may also be able to use apps and software that aid in counting, though apps that interact directly with the casino software may be detected and get the player kicked out.
The absolute biggest player-unfriendly rule is when the house has the dealer win any sort of push. This can swing the house edge from 3. Short pays increase the house advantage by anywhere from 0.
Individually these rules each give the dealer about a fifth of a percent of an advantage, and all three together give the dealer about a full half of a percent. Certain other rules have a negative impact, like not allowing the player to split beyond three hands, but they generally have a trivial impact on the house advantage in isolation. There are no government or state laws prohibiting card counting, including at online games.
Some regions actually have laws preventing casinos from barring card counters, like Atlantic City and Mississippi. However, outside of these odd exceptions, casinos are largely free to set the terms of their games and rules about player conduct. This means they are allowed to bar players they suspect of card counting. One might get in trouble for suspected card counting at a live video streaming blackjack game, however.
Casinos usually track card counters by their changes in bet size, especially as the shoe runs out. This means they need to monitor an extended period of play to determine if someone is actually counting cards. Once a card counter is identified and asked to leave a casino, however, they can expect that information to be shared with some amount of other casinos and to find themselves unwelcome at their blackjack games even if they have never played there before.
You need to keep an eye on the chip piles of other players relative to your own, and also be mindful of how far along you are in the tournament to determine the best bet amount for any given hand. Some general tips are to match the biggest bettor when you are leading in chips, bet opposite of the leader when you are trailing in the chip count, and hold back one chip when everyone else goes all-in on the final hand.
This technique involves observing a table and keeping count without actually playing, then jumping in only when conditions are favorable. Some tables forbid new players from joining in the middle of a shoe specifically because of this technique. After all boxes have finished playing, the dealer's hand is resolved by drawing cards until the hand busts or achieves a value of 17 or higher a dealer total of 17 including an ace, or "soft 17", must be drawn to in some games and must stand in others.
The dealer never doubles, splits, or surrenders. If the dealer busts, all remaining player hands win. If the dealer does not bust, each remaining bet wins if its hand is higher than the dealer's, and loses if it is lower.
If a player receives 21 on the 1st and 2nd card it is considered a "natural" or "blackjack" and the player is paid out immediately unless dealer also has a natural, in which case the hand ties. In the case of a tied score, known as "push" or "standoff", bets are normally returned without adjustment; however, a blackjack beats any hand that is not a blackjack, even one with a value of Wins are paid out at 1: Many casinos today pay blackjacks at less than 3: Blackjack games almost always provide a side bet called insurance, which may be played when dealer's upcard is an ace.
Additional side bets, such as "Dealer Match" which pays when the player's cards match the dealer's up card, are sometimes available. After receiving an initial two cards, the player has up to four standard options: Each option has a corresponding hand signal.
Some games give the player a fifth option, "surrender". Hand signals are used to assist the " eye in the sky ", a person or video camera located above the table and sometimes concealed behind one-way glass. The eye in the sky usually makes a video recording of the table, which helps in resolving disputes and identifying dealer mistakes, and is also used to protect the casino against dealers who steal chips or players who cheat.
The recording can further be used to identify advantage players whose activities, while legal, make them undesirable customers. In the event of a disagreement between a player's hand signals and their words, the hand signal takes precedence. Each hand may normally "hit" as many times as desired so long as the total is not above hard On reaching 21 including soft 21 , the hand is normally required to stand; busting is an irrevocable loss and the players' wagers are immediately forfeited to the house.
After a bust or a stand, play proceeds to the next hand clockwise around the table. When the last hand has finished being played, the dealer reveals the hole card, and stands or draws further cards according to the rules of the game for dealer drawing. When the outcome of the dealer's hand is established, any hands with bets remaining on the table are resolved usually in counterclockwise order: If the dealer's upcard is an ace, the player is offered the option of taking "insurance" before the dealer checks the hole card.
Insurance is a side bet that the dealer has blackjack and is treated independently of the main wager. The idea is that the dealer's second card has a fairly high probability nearly one-third to be ten-valued, giving the dealer blackjack and disappointment for the player. It is attractive although not necessarily wise for the player to insure against the possibility of a dealer blackjack by making a maximum "insurance" bet, in which case the "insurance proceeds" will make up for the concomitant loss on the original bet.
The player may add up to half the value of their original bet to the insurance and these extra chips are placed on a portion of the table usually marked "Insurance pays 2 to 1". Players with a blackjack may also take insurance, and in taking maximum insurance they commit themselves to winning an amount exactly equal to their main wager, regardless of the dealer's outcome. Fully insuring a blackjack against blackjack is thus referred to as "taking even money", and paid out immediately, before the dealer's hand is resolved; the players do not need to place more chips for the insurance wager.
Insurance bets are expected to lose money in the long run, because the dealer is likely to have blackjack less than one-third of the time. However the insurance outcome is strongly anti-correlated with that of the main wager, and if the player's priority is to reduce variation , they might choose to pay for this.
Furthermore, the insurance bet is susceptible to advantage play. It is advantageous to make an insurance bet whenever the hole card has more than a chance of one in three of being a ten. Advantage play techniques can sometimes identify such situations.
In a multi-hand, face-up, single deck game, it is possible to establish whether insurance is a good bet simply by observing the other cards on the table after the deal; even if there are just 2 player hands exposed, and neither of their two initial cards is a ten, then 16 in 47 of the remaining cards are tens, which is larger than 1 in 3, so insurance is a good bet.
This is an elementary example of the family of advantage play techniques known as card counting. Bets to insure against blackjack are slightly less likely to be advantageous than insurance bets in general, since the ten in the player's blackjack makes it less likely that the dealer has blackjack too. The rules of casino blackjack are generally determined by law or regulation, which establishes certain rule variations allowed at the discretion of the casino.
The rules of any particular game are generally posted on or near the table, failing which there is an expectation that casino staff will provide them on request. Over variations of blackjack have been documented. As with all casino games, blackjack incorporates a "house edge", a statistical advantage for the casino that is built into the game.
The advantage of the dealer's position in blackjack relative to the player comes from the fact that if the player busts, the player loses, regardless of whether the dealer subsequently busts. The loss rate of players who deviate from basic strategy through ignorance is generally expected to be greater. Surrender, for those games that allow it, is usually not permitted against a dealer blackjack; if the dealer's first card is an ace or ten, the hole card is checked to make sure there is no blackjack before surrender is offered.
This rule protocol is consequently known as "late" surrender. The alternative, "early" surrender, gives player the option to surrender before the dealer checks for blackjack, or in a no-hole-card game.
Early surrender is much more favorable to the player than late surrender. Most medium-strength hands should be surrendered against a dealer Ace if the hole card has not been checked. For late surrender, however, while it is tempting to opt for surrender on any hand which will probably lose, the correct strategy is to only surrender on the very worst hands, because having even a one in four chance of winning the full bet is better than losing half the bet and pushing the other half, as entailed by surrendering.
With no hole card, it is almost never correct basic strategy to double or split against a dealer ten or ace, since a dealer blackjack will result in the loss of the split and double bets; the only exception is with a pair of A's against a dealer 10, where it is still correct to split. In all other cases, a stand, hit or surrender is called for. For instance, holding 11 against a dealer 10, the correct strategy is to double in a hole card game where the player knows the dealer's second card is not an ace , but to hit in a no hole card game.
The no hole card rule adds approximately 0. The "original bets only" rule variation appearing in certain no hole card games states that if the player's hand loses to a dealer blackjack, only the mandatory initial bet "original" is forfeited, and all optional bets, meaning doubles and splits, are pushed.
Each blackjack game has a basic strategy , which is playing a hand of any total value against any dealer's up-card, which loses the least money to the house in the long term.
An example of basic strategy is shown in the table below, and includes the following parameters: The bulk of basic strategy is common to all blackjack games, with most rule variations calling for changes in only a few situations. For example, if the above game used the hit on soft 17 rule, common in Las Vegas Strip casinos, only 6 cells of the table would need to be changed: A, surrender 15 or 17 vs.
A, double on A,7 vs. Also when playing basic strategy never take insurance or "even money. Estimates of the house edge for blackjack games quoted by casinos and gaming regulators are generally based on the assumption that the players follow basic strategy and do not systematically change their bet size. Most blackjack games have a house edge of between 0. Casino promotions such as complimentary matchplay vouchers or 2: Basic strategy is based upon a player's point total and the dealer's visible card.
Players may be able to improve on this decision by considering the precise composition of their hand, not just the point total. For example, players should ordinarily stand when holding 12 against a dealer 4. However, in a single deck game, players should hit if their 12 consists of a 10 and a 2. The presence of a 10 in the player's hand has two consequences: However, even when basic and composition-dependent strategy lead to different actions, the difference in expected reward is small, and it becomes even smaller with more decks.
Using a composition-dependent strategy rather than basic strategy in a single deck game reduces the house edge by 4 in 10,, which falls to 3 in , for a six-deck game. Blackjack has been a high-profile target for advantage players since the s. Advantage play is the attempt to win more using skills such as memory, computation, and observation. These techniques, while generally legal, can be powerful enough to give the player a long-term edge in the game, making them an undesirable customer for the casino and potentially leading to ejection or blacklisting if they are detected.
The main techniques of advantage play in blackjack are as follows:. During the course of a blackjack shoe, the dealer exposes the dealt cards. Careful accounting of the exposed cards allows a player to make inferences about the cards which remain to be dealt. These inferences can be used in the following ways:. A card counting system assigns a point score to each rank of card e.
When a card is exposed, a counter adds the score of that card to a running total, the 'count'. A card counter uses this count to make betting and playing decisions according to a table which they have learned. The count starts at 0 for a freshly shuffled deck for "balanced" counting systems. Unbalanced counts are often started at a value which depends on the number of decks used in the game.
Blackjack's house edge is usually between 0. Card counting is most rewarding near the end of a complete shoe when as few as possible cards remain. Single-deck games are therefore particularly susceptible to card counting. As a result, casinos are more likely to insist that players do not reveal their cards to one another in single-deck games. In games with more decks of cards, casinos limit penetration by ending the shoe and reshuffling when one or more decks remain undealt.
Casinos also sometimes use a shuffling machine to reintroduce the exhausted cards every time a deck has been played. Card counting is legal and is not considered cheating as long as the counter isn't using an external device, : Sometimes a casino might ban a card counter from the property. The use of external devices to help counting cards is illegal in all US states that license blackjack card games.
Techniques other than card counting can swing the advantage of casino blackjack toward the player. All such techniques are based on the value of the cards to the player and the casino as originally conceived by Edward O. Shuffle tracking requires excellent eyesight and powers of visual estimation but is more difficult to detect since the player's actions are largely unrelated to the composition of the cards in the shoe. Arnold Snyder's articles in Blackjack Forum magazine brought shuffle tracking to the general public.
His book, The Shuffle Tracker's Cookbook, mathematically analyzed the player edge available from shuffle tracking based on the actual size of the tracked slug. Patterson also developed and published a shuffle-tracking method for tracking favorable clumps of cards and cutting them into play and tracking unfavorable clumps of cards and cutting them out of play.
The player can also gain an advantage by identifying cards from distinctive wear markings on their backs, or by hole carding observing during the dealing process the front of a card dealt face down. These methods are generally legal although their status in particular jurisdictions may vary. Many blackjack tables offer a side bet on various outcomes including: The side wager is typically placed in a designated area next to the box for the main wager. A player wishing to wager on a side bet is usually required to place a wager on blackjack.
Some games require that the blackjack wager should equal or exceed any side bet wager. A non-controlling player of a blackjack hand is usually permitted to place a side bet regardless of whether the controlling player does so.
The house edge for side bets is generally far higher than for the blackjack game itself.