The 6 Worst Blackjack Plays You Can Make

Closeup of a Blackjack Hand on Left and a Blackjack Table Being Dealt on Right

Every blackjack player can decide how to play their hand because they’re paying to play. But I still cringe every time I see players doing certain things that cost them money. And it’s even worse when a bad player tries to tell another player how to play a hand in a terrible way.

This article includes details about the six worst blackjack plays I’ve seen. If you’re making any of these plays, you need to do your bankroll a favor and stop right now.

And the next time you hear a person at the blackjack table say one of these plays is a good play, simply ignore them and keep playing your way.

1 – Take Insurance Because You Break Even

This is by far the most common bad blackjack play that I see being made. I understand why some blackjack players think that taking insurance is a good play. But a simple look at the facts proves that it’s a terrible play.

The reason why many blackjack players take insurance is because they know they lose when the dealer has 21. They also know that when the dealer has an ace there’s a decent chance that the dealer has 21. Furthermore, they’ve probably not taken insurance in the past and lost to a dealer 21, and they rationalize that breaking even is always better than losing.

While breaking even is better than losing, most of these things don’t really mean that insurance is a good bet. The main point that gamblers are missing is that when the dealer doesn’t have 21, they lose the insurance bet. And they still have to play their original hand.

What this means is that even though the casino wants you to think you break even when you take insurance, and they even call it even money sometimes, the fact is that you lose money on average every time you take insurance.

In order to truly break-even, the insurance option needs to pay out at even odds based on the possibility of the dealer having 21. The bet pays 2 to 1, but the odds of the dealer having 21 are only 2.25 to 1. This is why taking insurance is a mistake.

2 – Split a Pair of Fives

I admit that I don’t see this play often, but I have seen it made. When you have a pair of 5s you have a hard 10. This is 1 of the best hands you can start with, because any card 7 or higher gives you a good hand.

The question you need to consider is what exactly are you hoping to get on each of the 5s when you split and get another card?

An Active Blackjack Table

The absolute best card you can hope to get on a split 5 is a 6, and the second best card is another 5. You already had another 5, so you literally have a 1 in 13 chance of improving either hand. This means that you have a 1 in 13 chance of ending up with the same hand you started with, and 11 out of 13 chances to end up with a worse hand.

What happens most of the time is that you end up with two hands that are worse than the pair of 5s you started with.

3 – Split a Pair of Cards Worth 10 Points Each

What’s the second-best hand you can start with when you play blackjack? Everyone knows that a total of 21 is the best hand to start with.

You could make an argument that a hard 11 is the second-best hand because it can be profitable to double down with a hard 11 in most situations. But I believe that a hard 20 is the second best hand in blackjack.

On every hand that the dealer doesn’t have 21, you either push or win. And you only push the few times that a dealer has 20. Just like splitting a pair of 5s, what do you hope to draw on each of the 10-point cards after you split them?

The best card to land on a 10 is an ace, but this is at the same 1 out of 13 odds that you can draw a 6 on a 5. The second-best option is to draw another 10-point card, but this is what you started with.

I understand if you want to make the argument that when the dealer has a weak card showing that you can get more money on the table by splitting 10-point cards. But the long-term returns for these hands is higher by standing on a hard 20 than by splitting.

4 – Double Down Every Time You Have 9, 10, or 11

These plays are a little tricky because it is more profitable to double down most of the time you have a 9, 10, or 11. But it’s not the best play in every situation. It depends on what card the dealer has showing.

When you have a total of 11, the most profitable play is to double down every time, unless the dealer has an ace showing and the dealer stands on a soft 17. And the truth is that if you simply double down every time you have an 11, you’re not losing much in the way of long term value.

Closeup of a Blackjack Hand

With a total of 10, you need to double down on every hand where the dealer has a 9 or lower. But you shouldn’t double down when the dealer has an ace or 10-point card. Instead, you need to hit.

If you have 9, it’s only profitable to double when the dealer is showing a 3 to 6. On all other dealer cards, the most profitable play is hit.

5 – Always Stand on a Hard 16

This is another play that I understand. If you have a hard 16, 8 out of the possible 13 cards you can draw make you bust. This means that only five cards help your hand. And isn’t it better to let the dealer have a chance to bust than busting before the dealer even plays?

The problem is that this isn’t the most profitable long-term way to play a hard 16. The truth is that you’re not going to make an overall profit on hard 16s, so you have to make the plays that lose the least amount of money.

This means that you have to hit with a hard 16 when the dealer has a 7 or higher. When the dealer has a 6 or lower, they have a higher chance to bust. But when the dealer has a 7 or higher, they have a better chance to get at least a 17, and a much smaller opportunity to bust.

The only other thing to know is that if you have a hard 16 and the table has the surrender rule, you need to surrender this hand any time the dealer has an ace, a 9, or a card worth 10 points.

6 – Never Hit a Hard 12 Because You Might Bust

This is somewhat like the play in the last section, but it turns out that this play is even worse. Some blackjack players never hit on any total of 12 or more because they don’t want to run the risk of busting. If you bust, you still lose when the dealer busts.

The play that gives you the best average return with a 12 is to hit when the dealer has anything except a 4, 5, or 6. Yes, you’re going to bust sometimes when you hit a hard 12. In fact, you’re going to bust 4 out of every 13 times that you hit this hand. But you’re also going to improve to a 17 to 21 total 5 out of every 13 times.

Blackjack 17 on Table

You need to learn the best way to play every hard hand from 12 to 16, because all of them have times when it’s best to hit and times when it’s best to stand.

Conclusion

Every play you make at the blackjack table is either right or wrong, and the proof is in the results. Of course, if you don’t look at long-term results, the only thing you can base your decisions on is what happens in the short term.

Every blackjack play listed in this article is wrong because making a different play provides a higher long-term, or average, return. Now you know why each of these plays is bad, but these aren’t the only bad plays I see being made.

The best way to avoid making bad blackjack plays is to learn basic strategy.