Blackjack Strategy: Should You Use One?
If you ask around at a casino blackjack table whether players use a strategy they will most likely give different answers. Many gamblers say it’s absolutely necessary to follow a blackjack strategy, while others solely trust their gut feeling. Of course, plenty of players use a mix of both strategy and intuition when playing blackjack.
Although we cannot say that one group of players is right and the other is wrong, it is certainly the case that using a basic blackjack strategy is beneficial. Although it doesn’t guarantee you a win (there is still a house edge in blackjack) it does increase your chances and lowers that casino advantage to the lowest levels possible. After all, using a blackjack strategy is as much about maximising your chances as well as limiting your losses when you are dealt a bad hand in comparison to the dealer’s open card.
In this article we will explain you all you need to know about blackjack strategy, so make sure you read on if you love this exciting casino card game!
Basic blackjack strategy
There are lots of blackjack strategies to be found in gambling guides on the internet. These strategies range from strategies suitable for beginners to highly advanced strategies for the more experienced casino players. Card counting especially is such an advanced strategy – and the only one which in theory could help you overcome the casino house edge if you know how to execute it.
However, what all these strategies have in common is that they are all based on a single basic blackjack strategy. This strategy tells you exactly what you need to know on every hand you play. The strategy is based on the two cards you are dealt and on the open card of the dealer – as both factors determine whether you should ask for a new card or not. If you use the basic strategy you can lower the house advantage of blackjack to just 0.5 percent. That’s one of the lowest house advantages of any casino game – and it shows you exactly why blackjack is so popular among the gambling elite.
Basic strategy table
In the table below we have outlined the basic strategy for you. If you play in an online casino, you can keep this page open (or print it) so you can consult it at any time. When you play in a land-based casino you generally can’t peek on your phone or a printed paper when you sit behind the blackjack table. In that case, it’s important that you memorise the basic strategy table!
Depending on the hand you get and the open card of the dealer, this table will show you whether you need to hit, stand, double or split. The exact action you need to take is based on pure mathematics and odds. All professional card players therefore use this basic strategy.
The blackjack basic strategy table based on your hand and the open card of the dealer. When two options are given (eg. “split & double/hit”) you should always go for the first option if the table rules allow (in this case both splitting and doubling) and when it’s not allowed you should just hit a card. Similarly, “surrender/stand” means you should surrender your hand when possible, but if this is not an option you should just stand.
Surrendering your hand
In many variants of blackjack it is possible to surrender your hand. If that’s possible, it is highly advisable you do so when you have a hand worth 16 points and the dealer has an ace, 10 or 9. You are also advised to surrender when you have a hand worth 15 points and the dealer has a 10.
However, in case there is no surrender option at the blackjack version you play, the table above has outlined the next best possible move. In some cases that could mean you are well-advised to hit a new card, while in other situations standing down is better. Although it’s always good to play at a blackjack table where surrendering is an option, you don’t have to go out of your way for this as the differences are very small.
Splitting at blackjack
As you can see in the basic strategy table, some blackjack hands must always be split regardless what the open card of the dealer is. Two examples of such hands are ace-ace and 8-8. However, there are also situations where it fully depends on the dealer’s card whether you need to split or not. Take a good look at the table above to learn more what you need to do when you are dealt a hand such as 7-7 or 2-2.
In some cases, it is best to double in blackjack. This means you are doubling your stake and get a single extra card on top of the two you already have. As you can see in the table, doubling down is a great option in most cases when you are dealt with cards totalling 10 or 11 points. However, take note that it’s certainly not always a smart decision to do so when one of your two cards is an ace.
Hit or stand
Whether it’s best to hit or stand is perhaps much more about the open card of the dealer than it is about the hand you got. Basically, you always take a card with a hand worth 8 points or less. Is your hand worth 17 points or more, it’s better to stand than to take a card.
Advanced blackjack strategy
There are many advanced blackjack strategies and it is beyond the scope of this article to teach you all of them. However, there are some basic thoughts and tips about advanced blackjack strategies we would like to pass on to you.
Many advanced blackjack strategies are basically more detailed versions of the basic strategy. For example, they might tell you what you need to do after you hit a third card. Other such strategies teach you when it’s best to take out insurance when this is a possible at a blackjack table.
In some cases, such advanced blackjack strategies may even slightly deviate from the basic strategy. There are strategies where it is advised that you should split a pair of tens against a dealer’s 5 or 6. Similarly, some strategies may advise you to stand at 16 if your hand contains a 4 or 5 while the dealer’s card is a high one (a 9 or 10).
Blackjack progressive betting strategy
Just like in roulette, there are gamblers who use a progressive betting strategy in blackjack such as the Martingale System. Another popular progressive betting strategy is the D’Alembert system, while the Paroli or Reverse D’Alembert are also similar. The basic behind all these strategies is that you should double your bet after a loss. The thoughts behind this strategy is that this way, you eventually recoup your losses and make a small profit even when you lose 5 or 6 times in a row.
We however advice players not to use a progressive betting strategy. Although you may of course get lucky when you play on a short-term basis, the fact is that these strategies just don’t work mathematically. Simply put, sooner or later there will be a moment when you will hit your own financial limits or the table limit and you are not in a position to double your bet anymore after consecutive losses. The unfortunate result will thus be that you will have lost a big amount of money or perhaps even your entire casino bankroll.
Blackjack card counting strategy
A much better advanced strategy – and the only one that could theoretically break the house edge in blackjack – is the card counting strategy. To use this strategy you must however play in a land-based casino, although sometimes card counting is also possible at live dealer games in an online casino. However, it certainly won’t work in virtual blackjack games at an online casino.
The reason why is that in order to make card counting work, you have to count each and every card which is being dealt until the deck is reshuffled. When you play virtual games, the software automatically reshuffles the cards after each and every played hand. Sometimes this also happens at live casino games – which is why this strategy is best applied to real-time blackjack games in a land-based casino.
How to count cards
So how does the card counting strategy work? As the name implies, you have to count the cards which are already dealt so you can make an educated guess which cards are still remaining in the deck and will therefore still be dealt. This is of course vital information, as your choice whether to hit a card or not might depend on it! If you have a total score of 14 points, you know that with many high cards still remaining in the deck there is a big chance of going bust when you hit a card, so perhaps standing is now the better option.
Most beginning card counters use a system called Hi-Lo to keep a count of all the cards. This works in the following way.
– If a card is being dealt (to any player on the table) with a value of 2 to 6, you add 1 point (+1) to the total count.
– The cards 7, 8 and 9 are considered neutral cards. Let’s say these have the value of 0 so you don’t do anything with them.
– However, with every high card which is dealt (10, J, Q, K and A) you distract a point from the total count (-1).
A card counting example
So let’s say during a game of blackjack the following cards are being played and visible for everyone on the table: 5, 7, 2, A, 10, J, 8, Q, A, 10, 4. The score after this round would therefore 0 + 1 + 1 – 1 – 1 – 1 – 1 – 1 – 1 + 1 = -3 points. Any score under 0 basically tells us that more low cards than high cards are remaining in the deck. If the score would be a positive number, it would mean that more high cards remain in the deck. The higher the count, the better the ratio of high cards versus low cards remaining is.
How to implement a blackjack card counting strategy
To give you an example how you can use card counting: If your count would -20 at a certain point, it would tell you that almost all high cards are gone from the deck. Let’s say you have a hand of a 10 and 4. Normally it would be quite risky here hitting a new card as the chance would be great that you would go bust. However, as we know now that a lot of high cards are already out of the deck, it is a lot safer to hit. After all, chances are suddenly a lot greater that you will receive a card like a 3 or a 5, substantially strengthening your hand!
As the dealer always plays according to pre-set rules, you can thus use this vital bit of information to your own advantage. In most blackjack variants, the dealer must take another card until he reaches 17 or more. This is another vital bit of information which you can easily use in this situation.
Another blackjack situation
Let’s say now that you counted cards and at one point came to a score of 20 points. This means that a lot of high cards are still remaining in the deck. Let’s assume you have a hand consisting out of a 7 and 5 (12 points) and the dealer has an open card of a 4. Remember, the dealer must take a card as long as he didn’t reach 17 yet. You know that there is a very high chance he will go bust as there are many more high cards remaining in the deck than there are low cards. He will very likely get a 10-card (14 points), after he must again take another card which likely won’t get him where he wants to be. So the best advise for you in this situation would be to stand.
Decks in play
There are of course some complications when it comes to card counting. Simply put, the more decks that are used in a game, the harder it is to implement a card counting strategy. That is certainly the case when the cards are shuffled at multiple intermediate points – as you have to start your card counting all over again.
Therefore, it is best to find a blackjack table where only one or two decks of cards are being used. Alternatively, watch the action first at blackjack tables where multiple decks are being used and check how often the dealer reshuffles the cards. If many hands are played until the dealer reshuffles the cards, it could be a good table for card counters! The tables you want to avoid are the ones with automated shuffling machines – as here decks are often reshuffled after just one or a couple of hands only.
House advantage when using a blackjack strategy
If you successfully use the basic blackjack strategy, you can bring down the house edge (house advantage) of the casino back to just 0.5%. It’s certainly one of the lowest house advantages you can find of any game in a casino. However, also a house edge of 0.5% means that the casino will win from you when you play on a long-term basis and eventually you are likely to lose more money than you win.
Of course, if you just play for a couple of minutes or a few hours everything is possible. You may get lucky and win a nice amount of money. However, even when you follow the basic strategy you might have some bad luck with the cards you are dealt and end up losing quite some money. It is important that you realise this!
If you want to overcome the blackjack house advantage on a long-term basis, the only way to do so is to master the more advanced card counting strategies and use them together with the basic strategy. Remember that even in that case you still may have a hard time beating the house, as all would still depend on finding the right table in the casino where you can actually implement the strategy!
Blackjack is a fantastic casino card game and by applying a proper strategy you can hopefully improve your winning chances. You should however take note that not all blackjack strategies are equally good. Some strategies, like the basic blackjack strategy, are an absolute must to implement if you want to get the casino’s house advantage to the lowest level possible. Other strategies – especially betting strategies like the D’Alembert System – should however be avoided as they have never proved to work and may even end up costing you a lot of money in casino losses!
A worthy blackjack strategy to follow is card counting – as especially in combination with the basic strategy this is very useful. However, only with the more advanced card counting strategies can you possibly overturn the casino house edge. This will be extremely hard – and it’s certainly not possible for every gambler as you do need some talent, mathematical skills and some very quick thinking and a good memory.
Moreover, having a good blackjack strategy is useless when you select the wrong blackjack table in a casino. Always opt for the blackjack table with the most advantageous rules for players, so compare tables in terms of decks being used, payouts for a natural blackjack, whether there is a surrender rule in place and whether doubling after splitting is possible.
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