Understand the basic blackjack strategy with hard/soft hands and split, as well as when to place side bets. We also cover card counting systems, common myths, and more!
Blackjack is a game of probability and blackjack strategy has a significant role to play in it. The goal is to reach 21 without busting. Players around the table can stand, hit, double down, split and surrender. These moves can be influenced by multiple factors: guts, card counting, and learned probabilities (e.g., charts and tables).
Basic Blackjack Strategy
The optimum strategy is all about the playing decisions and actions of the players throughout the game, based on his and the dealer's blackjack hand.
The following basic blackjack strategy charts attempt at summarizing the broader blackjack strategy in a crisp way, leaving out the minute aspects and exceptions involved. The actions that players can take (hit, stand, split, double down) depend on the cards they have and the one(s) the dealer shows.
|Player's Hard Hand||Dealer's Hand (2 to 6)||Dealer's Hand (7 to A)|
|4 to 8||Hit||Hit|
|10 or 11||Double||Double if more than the dealer|
|12 to 16||Stand||Hit|
|17 to 21||Stand||Stand|
|Player's Soft Hand||Dealer's Hand (2 to 6)||Dealer's Hand (7 to A)|
|13 to 15||Hit||Hit|
|16 to 18||Double||Hit|
|19 to 21||Stand||Stand|
|Splits||Dealer's Hand (2 to 6)||Dealer's Hand (7 to A)|
|2-2, 3-3, 6-6, 7-7, 9-9||Yes||No|
|4-4, 5-5, 10-10||No||No|
These charts were the various blackjack strategies you need to memorize for split, hard, and soft hands.
In Blackjack, pair splitting is an optional action offered to a player who receives a pair of cards of the same rank. The player is allowed to split their pair into two separate hands. The player must double their initial bet in order to split the pair.
The standard house edge of blackjack is about 2%. But several factors work together to lower this house edge even further. It is important to note here that blackjack, like most casino games, is not just a game of chance. There is a strong element of skill involved in it.
That is why; players who adhere to the basic blackjack strategy can improve their odds of winning to a significant extent by lowering the house edge to about 0.17% for a single deck game and about 0.66% for an 8 deck game. Depending on the specific blackjack variant you are playing, the house edge can go up to 1% or higher as well.
Soft & Hard Hands
The blackjack strategy for hard hands and soft hands varies and the presence or absence of the Ace in the player's hand has a significant effect on the game plan.
Whenever the player has an ace in hand that can be considered as 11, he is having a soft hand. Soft hands are flexible and give the scope to adjust the total.
Speaking of the strategy for playing soft hands, players should ideally hit on soft 13, 14, 15, and 16 unless the dealer's upcard is a 4, 5, or 6 and in such instances, doubling down is the way forward.
The strategy for soft 18, on the other hand, is a bit complicated because three probable actions can be taken. The player should double down if the dealer has a 3, 4, 5, or 6, he should stand if the dealer's card is a 2, 7, or 8 and he should hit in the rest of the cases. Standing is what players should do with a soft 19 or 20, always.
Hard hands are hands without aces. The strategy for playing hard hands is quite different.
For instance, if the player's hand total is 9 and the upcard of the dealer is a 3, 4, 5, or 6, you should double down.
For the rest of the cases, it is best to try and improve your total by hitting. If the player has a total of 10 or 11, he should always double down, unless the dealer's upcard is a 10 or an ace. The strategy for any total that equals 17 or that surpasses this number is the same - the player should simply stand. As for the rest of the possible hard hands - hard 13, 14, 15, and 16, it is best to stand in case the dealer shows a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.
Side bets play a very significant role in blackjack. These offer the players opportunities to increase their bets and win a bigger amount but generally tend to be unfair to players.
Surrendering is an option that the player gets from the house to fold before drawing cards. On surrendering, half of the original wager is returned and the cards are removed from the play. Some casinos might have restrictions on surrendering though.
The strategy behind when to surrender in blackjack depends on whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17. Instances, when a player should ideally surrender, are 16 against a 9, 10, or ace and when the dealer stands on all 17s.
A blackjack game that allows players to surrender has a house edge that is 0.08% lower than a game with similar rules but without the surrender option.
Insurance is a widely talked-about side bet in blackjack. Insurance is offered to a player if the dealer's upcard is an Ace as insurance against the probable blackjack in the dealer's hand.
The blackjack insurance odds payout is 2:1 and the maximum bet allowed is usually half of the player's main bet. Players can place the insurance bet before the dealer checks his hole card. Insurance seems to be an attractive bet for the payout but in the long run, it is quite risky and should be placed in single-deck games only, especially when the player is good at card counting.
The 21+3 is a very popular side bet that blackjack players can place based on the expected outcome of the first two cards in his hand and the dealer's face-up card combine to make one of the three-card poker hands.
Such hands could be:
- a Flush (three cards of the same suit),
- a Straight (three cards of consecutive values),
- a Three of a Kind (three cards of the same value/face card),
- a Straight Flush (three cards of consecutive values and from the same suit), or
- a Suited Three of a Kind (three cards of the same value/face card and the same suit).
On the occasion of the hands forming these combinations, the payout is 5:1 for a Flush, 10:1 for a Straight, 30:1 for Three of a Kind, 40:1 for Straight Flush, and 100:1 for a Suited three of a kind.
The Royal Match is an optional blackjack side bet and it is based on the first two cards dealt to the player. The rules are simple and the odds are mostly in favor of the player, especially in an 8 deck blackjack game. If the first two cards of the player are suited, then he is paid 5:2 while a royal match that is a King and Queen of the same suit pays 25:1. The payouts for this side bet are settled right after the two cards are dealt.
Blackjack card counting is extremely crucial when it comes to the strategies and techniques that players can use to win this game. There are different ways and systems of counting cards that tend to specialize in a specific type of game (number of decks, variants, etc).
Card counting is the process of keeping a running count and true count of the cards as a way of determining the cards dealt and the ones left in the deck to improve your decision-making as a player.
KISS stands for Keep It Short and Simple and this method of card counting justifies its name because there are no mathematical equations involved in it. This system is simplified and suitable even for beginner card counters.
The KISS card counting system is simpler because it does not take half of the cards in the deck into account. As a result, players don't need to count half of the cards, which makes the process easier while also significantly decreasing the chance of mistakes.
The Hi-Lo system is the most popular and prominent card counting system that is also easy to learn and widely practiced by blackjack players in casinos. The Hi-Lo strategy requires the players to assign specific values to the cards. Accordingly, cards from 2-6 are assigned +1, cards from 7-9 get a 0, and the rest of the cards in the deck are considered to be -1.
The K-O or Knock Out card counting strategy is similar to the Hi-Lo system and is a level-one system too. The technique involves assigning a particular point value to the cards in the deck, enabling players to keep track easily and efficiently. This strategy can be learned easily, though does require a lot of practice.
Hi-Opt I & Hi-Opt II
The Hi-Opt or Highly Optimum system of blackjack card counting comes with two variations, the Hi-Opt I and Hi-Opt II, with the latter being just an updated version of the former. Although the basic principle is to assign values to the cards, the Hi-Opt system is complex and not suited or recommended for beginners.
The Omega II is a level-two card counting system and it is more complicated than most of the other systems. The technique helps players find out valuable information, which, in turn, enables them to make better decisions. Though complex, this system proves to be quite effective for blackjack players, good at counting cards.
Tools to Practice Blackjack Strategies
Blackjack strategies, especially card counting, might seem to be easy but it actually takes the players years of learning and practice to master the techniques. However, there are tools and resources available for players to practice in the right way.
Multiple Decks with Discard Tray
For a blackjack card counter, visual skills are as important as mathematical skills and the ability to strategize. A multiple deck discard tray is a tool that will help the player develop this visual skill. While counting cards, the player should be able to estimate the number of decks left by taking a look at the discard tray. Thus, practicing with a six or eight-deck discard tray is a good way of becoming more versatile as a card counter.
Blackjack Card Counting Counter
Blackjack card counting can be best practiced using card counting apps that have become quite popular today. Players have the option of mastering the technique using the different systems as well as varying numbers of decks of cards. These counters are suitable for both beginners as well as experts in the game.
List of Commonly Misplayed Hands
Playing blackjack in an optimum and efficient way is difficult. Loss of focus and bad intuition are your worst enemies. Some hands see nearly all players use the wrong strategy. The most common misplayed blackjack hands are:
- Pair of 9's vs 9
- 12 vs 3
- Hard 16 vs 10
- Soft 18 vs 10
- Pair of 8's vs 10
- 16 vs 7
- 11 vs 10
- A-6 vs 3, 4, 5 or 6
- A-7 vs 9, 10 or A
There are some prevalent blackjack myths that often come in the way of a blackjack player trying to win a game by implementing various blackjack strategies and techniques.
Your Goal is to Reach 21
That the ultimate goal of a blackjack player is to reach 21 is a myth or rather, an oversimplification of the concept as a whole. The objective, in reality, is to beat the dealer and there are two ways of doing so. First, by getting a higher final total than the dealer. Second, by not busting before the dealer busts. If a player always tries to get as close to 21 as possible, then they will often lose out before the game ends.
Dealer Always Have an Unrevealed 10
Assuming that the dealer will always have a 10 in the hole is completely wrong. It is a myth that players should play assuming that the dealer has a 10. The fact is that there are 16 cards with a 10 value in a 52 cards deck. This implies that only for about 31% of the time, the dealer will have a 10 in the hole, and the rest of the time, he will not.
It is Illegal to Count the Cards
Often, there are discussions about how card counters have been banned from casinos and so on. But this does not make card counting illegal. In fact, card counting is a technique that takes considerable time to be learned and mastered. Counting cards is like using one's brain and skill to improve the odds of winning in blackjack. The practice is not to be considered illegal at all.
Blackjack is Always about Luck
Luck does play an important part when it comes to a casino game. But it is a myth that blackjack is all about luck and that the casino is perpetually at an advantage. The truth is that players need to beat the house edge and overcome the luck factor by applying skills and strategies that are ideally suited for the game. Blackjack is, on the contrary, a game that has a lot to do with abilities and less luck factor.
Insurances are Profitable Bets
Insurance is not a profitable bet unless the game is played with a single deck of cards and the player is really good at counting cards. Although the payout is 2:1, insurance bets, in the long run, lead to losses for the player.
Blackjack Strategies: FAQ
Answers to the most common questions about blackjack strategies and tips.
When should you double your bet?
Doubling down is a good option in blackjack when the player has a hard hand of 9, 10, or 11 and soft hands of 16-18, considering the dealer's hand too.
What hands should I split?
8-8 and A-A are blackjack hands that should definitely be split irrespective of the cards the dealer holds.
What is the house edge on blackjack?
The standard house edge of blackjack is 2%, which can be altered by the player if he adheres to the blackjack strategies and techniques like card counting.
What is the difference between soft and hard hands in blackjack?
The difference between a hard hand and a soft hand in blackjack is that hard hands are without Ace and hence, less flexible while soft hands contain Aces and are more flexible for the players.
What is surrendering in blackjack?
Surrendering is the process of folding up or withdrawing before drawing any further cards. On surrendering, the player gets back half of the amount of his original bet.
How can card counting help a player?
Card counting helps a player by letting him get an estimate of how many cards are being dealt and how many are left in the deck. This will, in turn, help him take the right playing decision.
How much can you win with the 21+3 side bet?
The maximum payout is 100:1 if the player gets a Suited Three of a Kind. There are five possible combinations that players can have in this 21+3 side bet.
What is the KISS card counting system?
The KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) is a card counting technique that does not take half of the cards in the deck into account. It is a simplified technique that involves no complex mathematical equation.
Is it possible to use card counting on online live dealer blackjack games?
Card counting is not impossible but extremely difficult to be done in online live dealer blackjack games because of various factors such as multiple decks of cards, the use of continuous shuffling machines, and strict monitoring.
Should players always try to have a score close to 21?
No, instead of trying to go as close to 21 as possible, players should aim at beating the dealer by either getting a higher final total than him or avoiding busting before the dealer busts.
Many blackjack strategies and various techniques are available for blackjack players to maximize their chances of winning. However, memorization and practice are what truly separate winners from losers at a blackjack table - online or offline!