What Every Blackjack Player Needs to Know About Basic Strategy

Blackjack Hand on a Purple Table

Let’s be honest. You’ll probably never make it as a card counter.

If you’re serious about winning more when you play blackjack, then I encourage you to utilize the following Best Blackjack Strategies I’m about to share with you.

Note: The following strategies can be used in all games unless stated otherwise. The strategies discussed below also assume you are a recreational player, and not a card counter.

Still, blackjack offers relatively good odds for players who understand a few simple rules.

I tapped into my inner circle to find out how rookies can win at the table.

Training Wheels

The cards, the cash, the cocktails. As a game, blackjack just looks cool. In casino movies from “Rain Man” to “21” to “Vegas Vacation,” Blackjack plays a major role and is one of those iconic casino games everyone wants to give a shot.

If you’re new to the game or a casino veteran in need of a refresher, here’s what every blackjack player needs to know about basic strategy. Hopefully your luck is a bit better than Clark Griswold’s.

The goal of blackjack is for a player’s hand of cards to add up to as close to 21 as possible without going over, known as busting. Numbered cards count as their number; that’s simple enough. Aces can be played as 1 or 11, and face cards count as 10.

To start a game, each player is dealt 2 cards, usually face up, from a shoe usually with four, six, or eight decks. You can find single- and double-deck blackjack at higher stakes. The dealer also is dealt 2 cards with only one of those face-up. The dealer has a major advantage in getting to act last.

A player dealt an ace and a 10 or face card hits a “natural” 21, also known as blackjack. The player is paid immediately in most circumstances at 3-to-2 (bet $200 and win $300), although more casinos have gone to the inferior 6-to-5 payout (bet $500 to win $600).

If the dealer is also dealt a blackjack, however, the hand is a push. No win, no loss.

Blackjack strategy is pretty simple: If your hand is closer to 21 than the dealer’s, then you win. Also, if the dealer happens to bust (go over 21), you win. It sounds easy, but there are more caveats and things to remember.

Hit Me

The worst hands you will get at blackjack are hard 12 through 17. The reason is that no matter what the dealer’s upcard happens to be, you stand to lose more hands than you will win in the long run.

One exception: in a soft 17 game with two or more decks, a 17 vs. a 6 is a slight winner. In other words, virtually all these hands are overall losers for blackjack players.

Surprised?

Here’s one more grave statistic. You are going to be dealt one of these losers about 4 out of every 10 hands.

Closeup of Two Blackjack Hands

So what’s a blackjack player to do when 40% of the time you are going to get a 12 through 17 whether you like it or not?

Since you can’t change the cards that you are dealt, the best you can do is follow the basic playing strategy for hard and soft hands. You’ll still take your lumps but you’ll lose less money in the long run when you follow the basic strategy than if you depend upon divine intervention, or worse, play by the seat of your pants.

Maybe you’ve seen someone playing blackjack in a movie say “hit me.” That means you’re taking another card in the quest to get the elusive 21. A tap of the finger or hand also works, and the dealer will deal you another card.

When to Stand

You “stand” when you don’t want any more cards. Usually this happens when you hit a 17 or higher and sometimes even lower depending on the dealer’s card.

A simple waving of the hand as if saying “no” will do the trick. The dealer will then go on to the next player.

Soft 17

If you have a “soft 17,” that means you have an ace and 6. Because an ace counts as 1 or 11, this hand can be either 7 or 17 and a player isn’t hurt by taking a hit as a 10 won’t bust this hand.

Dealers must draw until reaching 17 or higher, but usually must hit a soft 17. Staying on all 17s works in the player’s favor. Different casinos have different rules dictating the dealer’s move on soft 17.

Don’t Take Insurance

A bet players can make when the dealer’s upcard is an ace. The player can usually bet half of his bet and “insure” some of his bet against a Blackjack. This is a sucker bet and a loser in the long run.

Splitting Hands

The casino rules for pair splitting are pretty straightforward. When you are dealt two cards of the same value, you may split them into two separate hands.

For example, if you bet $5 and receive a pair of 2s, you have a single hand totaling 4. You could play the hand as a 4 and draw additional cards or you could split the 2s into two hands.

You activate the pair splitting option by placing another equal bet next to the original bet on the layout. If your original bet was $5, then you would place another red chip on the layout. Do not place your chips on top of the original wager. Simply place it next to your original bet.

Closeup of Dealer Chip Tray on a Blackjack Table

By doing this, you are signaling the dealer that you want to split your 2s, and play two hands. One hand has a $5 bet and contains a 2, ditto for the second hand. You must play out your first hand (to your right) before you are permitted to play out the second hand.

Got two 10s?

Never split, that 20 already has a high likelihood of being a winner.

Two fives?

Another hand that’s a keeper. That 10 has a nice likelihood to get another high card, hopefully, an ace and the win.

Double down

When a casino allows you the option to double down, it means you can double the amount of your initial bet in return for receiving one, and only one, drawcard.

Most casinos allow you to double down on any two-card hand, whereas some restrict doubling to specific starting hands, e.g., doubling is allowed only on hard 10 and 11.

The best player-friendly doubling rules are when you can double down on any two cards.

The two variables that determine whether or not you should double down are the total of the cards in your hand and the dealer’s upcard. As a general rule, the hands you are most likely to double are hard 8, 9, 10, and 11, and the soft 13 (A-2) through 18 (A-7) hands.

Players are allowed to (and should) double their bets on certain hands for an extra score.

The catch to doubling down is the player will only receive one card, so if you pull a 3, and have 13, you’re done. Consider carefully before making this move.

It’s important to know the best strategy when it comes to splitting and doubling down

Play basic strategy

Memorizing the right way to hit, stand, split and double down your hand is a must if you want to win long term. You can cut the house edge from 1 to 2 percent to 0.5 percent by following a few simple rules.

A good base looks like this:

  • Stand when your hand is 12-16 when the dealer has 2-6.
  • Hit when your hand is 12-16 when the dealer has 7-Ace
  • Always split Aces and 8s
  • Double 11 versus the dealer’s 2-10
  • Hit or double Aces-6

Pro tip: Purchase a basic strategy card in the gift shop so you don’t have to memorize all this.

To win at blackjack, you need to get closer to 21 than the dealer, without going over. That sounds simple, but a key to blackjack for beginners is understanding the odds and basic strategy of when to draw another card (hit) and when to stop (stay).

This blog will cover what every blackjack player needs to know about basic strategy. So, you’ll get the basic rules, strategy, and lingo so you can feel comfortable playing real money blackjack online or in a brick-and-mortar casino.

Conclusion

Blackjack is one of the best games in the casino for a player, but it’s important to learn basic strategy if you want to take it seriously and have the best odds of winning. With numerous cards valued at a 10 or 11 (10, jack, queen, king, ace), there are a variety of things to consider when it comes to hitting, standing, doubling down, or splitting.

There are numerous resources to check out and learn the best strategy when playing blackjack, and it’s highly recommended. Applying the strategy perfectly can reduce that house edge down to as low as .05 percent.

There’s also one more thing to remember: Unlike the movies, players are not allowed to touch the cards. Simple hand movements are the norm in most games. Gamble on.