Blackjack Strategy – Beginner to Expert in minutes.

What is Blackjack Strategy?

Blackjack is a game of skill and luck.
We can’t always rely on luck. Following basic Blackjack strategy we can make sure we’re making the right decisions.

If you are brand new to the game, consider first reading our guide on how blackjack is played.

Blackjack strategy is essentially a guide highlighting what decision you should make, for any given hand.

There are hands in Blackjack where the decision is not clear and obvious.
Fortunately, the mathematicians have crunched the numbers, so that we don’t have to.

Using math and probability, we can increase our expected profits on good hands and decrease our expected losses on the bad ones.

Basic strategy can reduce the house edge to less than 0.5%.

To put the odds in your favour you should combine the strategy outlined in this guide with additional strategies, like card counting and casino matched betting.

Why should I follow basic blackjack strategy?

We want to reduce the casinos advantage by refusing to go bust as much as possible.

Basic Blackjack strategy helps us find the right balance between putting ourselves at risk, but also avoiding over reliance on the dealer to go bust.

Memorize the below as best you can, print them out or have them open in another tab if you’re playing online Blackjack.

BlackJack DEALER bust rates

Statiscally speaking, the dealer will make a hand more often than not.
On average the dealer goes bust only 28.3% of the time.

The below infographic breaks down the expected bust rate of a dealer per card.

The maths behind the dealer bust rate is rather complex, considering all the possible scenario’s for each card. A big thanks to BlackJack age for running the numbers.

As well as knowing the the dealers expected bust rate, you should be conscious of the players bust rate.

BlackJack PLAYER bust rates

The math’s behind this one is relatively straight forward.
There are 13 different card values.
We can assign each card the probability of 7.7% (100 ÷ 13).

For example; If we have a hand value of 12 there are only 4 cards that can make us go bust.
10, Jack, Queen and King.
4 x 7.7% = 30.8%

On the other side of the spectrum, a score of 20 means 12 of the 13 cards will make us go bust (Everything but an Ace).
12 x 7.7% = 92.4%

Knowing both the dealer bust rate and player bust rate is important.
Combining the two, we can create the optimum Blackjack strategy, for each and every hand scenario.

Blackjack strategy chart

The Blackjack strategy chart highlights your best decision, when considering your hand, and the dealers upcard.

The Blackjack strategy chart starts at a score of 5.
Any score lower than a 5 has to be either a soft hand or a pair of 2’s.
Pairs and soft hands are discussed in more detail in a separate infographic.

Blackjack strategy card explained

It goes without saying that any hard total from 5 to 8 should be a hit, regardless of the dealers card. We can not go bust, and can only get closer to 21.

Player score of 9

With a score of 9 our strategy changes slightly.
The reason players don’t win is because they don’t make the most of opportunities available.

If the dealer is showing a particularly week card that puts them at risk of going bust we should consider making the most of this opportunity.

With a score of 9, Blackjack strategy dictates that you should double if the dealer is showing a 3,4,5 or 6.

Some of you will feel uncomfortable doubling in such situations, and if this is you then we recommend that you just hit.

However, bear in mind that you are leaving potential winnings on the table.
There is money to be made in these situations, and although they will not always play out in your favour, by doubling down you are giving yourself the best chance.

Player score of 10 or 11

A score of 10 or 11 and your eyes should really light up.

Unless the delaer is showing a 10 or an Ace you should be reaching for your chips to double down straight away.
If you are not doubling down with a score of 10 or 11 against a weak card (2,3,4,5,6) you need to stop playing Blackjack. Cashout your chips, walk away from the table and go home.

You will never be  a winning player if you don’t make the most of these opportunities.

When the dealer is showing a 7,8 or 9 you should also double this hand. Mathmatically speaking you are the favourite to win this hand.
Just hitting isn’t a disaster, as mentioned here, doubling down when done properly separates the winners from the losers.
This is one of those occasions.

Blackjack strategy suggests that you double 11 against any dealer card.

Please be aware that this is only in a game where the dealer has 2 cards, and has already checked for Blackjack.

If the dealer has already checked and declared no Blackjack then doubling is the right move.
There is nothing worse than doubling down on 11, receiving 21, only to see the dealer turn over a Blackjack and take your chips.

11, is the best hand to take advantage of double downs. There are 4 cards  (10, Jack, Queen and King) that will give you 21. Do not waste the opportunity.

Player score 12

One of the most difficult hands that many beginners get wrong.

Players that have no knowledge surrounding BlackJack strategy, would hit a score of 12 without any consideration.
Fortunately for you, you know there’s more to it than that.

With a score of 12, we will go bust 30.8 % of the time. 4 cards (10, Jack, Queen and King) will make us bust.

This means there’s a 70% chance that we don’t go bust. As its not 100%, we still want to take caution.
There is no reason for us to put ourselves at risk when the dealer has a 4,5 or 6.

This is true for all hands over 12:

If the dealer has a 4, 5 or 6 and there’s any chance that we can go bust, Stand.

Stick to this general rule and you have restricted the house edge immensely.

When the dealer has a 3 it is now a smarter move to hit, despite the 30% probability we will go bust.

Highlighted in the dealer bust rate chart:
3 for a dealer is a weak card, but not as weak as we would hope.
The same applies to a dealers 2.

Player score between 13 -16

For all other hands, if we are at risk of going bust but the dealer has an up card of 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 we stand. Don’t put yourself at risk of going bust when the dealer is also at risk.

When the dealer has a 7 or higher this now changes to needing to hit. The probability of them going bust has dropped to 30%.

Player score 16 against a dealers 7

The mathematicians have spoken.
The strategy card shows the optimum decisions for each hand.

Personally I have no objection to standing on 16 when the dealer shows a 7.
If you want to minimise the house edge by limiting the number of times you’ll go bust, then there is a good argument to be made for not hitting a 16 against the dealers 7.

You’ve likely heard self proclaimed experts telling you “always assume the dealers card has a value of 10. “
That’s because there are more 10 cards than any other card.

Assuming the dealers second card is a 10, mathematically speaking, is not a wise assumption.
However only 4 of the 13 (30.8%) are valued at 10.
The other 69.2% of the time they do not have a 10.

Blackjack strategy will become second nature with continued practice.
If you are a newer player, feel free to print out the blackjack strategy chart for reference.

You need to make the most of opportunities if you want to make money at blackjack.
Soft hands and pairs bring more opportunities.

Playing soft hands and pairs:

These hands present huge amounts of opportunity and it’s very important to learn how to play them effectively.

How to play soft hands:

Most casinos allow you to double down on hands other than 9,10 and 11.
If given the option we want to get more money on the table with our soft hands when the dealer has a weak card.

Some of the decisions might make you feel uncomfortable, and the thought of doubling down on the likes of a soft 15 might be something that you had never considered before.

If your risk tolerance is low with these types of hands then continue to hit them, but be aware, you are letting good opportunities to make money pass you by.

Here are some general BlackJack strategy rules when playing soft hands:

The dealer has a 5 or a 6

We want to double every hand lower than 17. If we aren’t able to double then hitting is the next best option.
With a score of 18 we also want to double, if this is not an option we should stand.

It is a profitable decision to double when the dealer has a 6 and we have a score of 19.
99% of players would cringe at the thought of doing this. And this is why 99% of players will continue to lose money playing blackjack.

6 of the remaining 13 cards give you a score of 19 or higher (46%) which is a good score. There are 2 more cards that will still give us a score of 17 or higher. This puts the hand at a 62% probability of having a made hand (17 or higher).

Add in to the fact that we can expect the dealer to go bust 42% of the time, meaning we win no matter the total score of our hand, this is an opportunity missed by the majority of players to double their winnings.

Table etiquette and social acceptance is probably the biggest reason why many players disregard this double down opportunity.

If you turn your soft 19 into a 15 and then watch the dealer make 21 you are going to feel a little silly.
The other players on the table might give you a hard time.
You can be at peace knowing that statistically speaking you made the right move.

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The dealer has a 4

Be slightly more cautious. We no longer want to double our soft 13’s or 14’s, just hitting is the optimal strategy.

The dealer has a 3

The bust out rate for the dealer has decreased to just 37.5%, put the brakes on and just hit our soft 15’s and 16’s.
Doubling soft 17 is still a smart move.

Player Soft 17.

You should always be taking another card when you have a soft 17.
You can’t go bust and 17 really isn’t a good hand.

A score of 16 is regarded as the worse hand in BlackJack.
Consider this:
You will win exactly the same amount of hands with a score of 17,the difference being you now push when the dealer scores 17.

With soft 17 you’re given the opportunity to take a risk free card. Take it.

Player Soft 18.

Don’t be scared to double down if the dealer is showing a 6 or lower.
This is a good opportunity to get more on the table whilst the dealer has a weak hand.
If you don’t want to double, just stand.

Player Soft 19, 20 or 21

Your unlikely to improve these hands. Other than soft 19 against a dealers 6, be thankful for a good hand and stand.

Blackjack paired hands:

The blackjack strategy card above highlights the optimum decision for every paired hand.

Pair of 2’s and 3’s:

When the dealer has a weak card (2, 3, 4, 5 or 6) take this opportunity to make 2 hands.
Unless your hand turns into a 12 or 13 (30% chance of that happening) you’re in a good spot to make a relatively strong hand.

If you are unlucky enough to receive a 12 or 13 basic blackjack strategy dictates not to put yourself at risk of going bust if the dealer has a 4, 5 or 6.

The probability of going from 2 to 12 to 22 is only around 9%. (30% x 30% = 9%).
Do not be afraid to split your 3’s and 2’s when the dealer looks weak.

Pair of 4’s:

There are cases to be made that you can split 4’s when the dealers up card is a 5 or 6.

We understand the thinking behind this and its not a completely stupid move to make. Depending on the cards you receive you can easily end up putting yourself into a sticky situation.

We recommend hitting your 4’s against all of the dealers up cards, 8 is a good score and you’re in a strong position.

Pair of 5’s:

Don’t think of this hand as a pair of 5’s. Look at it as a hand value of 10.
10 is a brilliant hand and you can maximise profits by doubling against all dealer cards with exceptions of 10’s and Aces.

If you’re splitting 5’s you might want to reconsider if BlackJack is the game for you.

Pair of 6’s:

You should play these with the same strategy as your pair of 2’s or 3’s.
Split them up when the dealer has a weak card. If the dealer has a card 7 or higher, take another card.

If you’re lucky enough to receive a hand total of 10 or 11 after splitting, make sure you maximise profits again by doubling down.

Pair of 7’s:

As well as splitting when the dealer shows a weak card we should also split when the dealer has a 7. There’s a couple of reasons for this:

Optimal strategy suggests that we need to take a card with a score of 14 against a 7. Taking a card with a score of 14 means that we will go bust 46.2% of the time.

If we can avoid this situation by splitting our hand then we should do it.
Then why don’t we split against 8’s, 9’s 10’s and Aces your probably asking?

That is because if we turn our 7’s into two 17’s we are likely to lose twice.

Pair of 8’s:

This hand has been argued over since the inception of BlackJack. There are good cases to be made for lots of different theories on how to play a pair of 8’s.
As you can see in the infographic we advise splitting 8’s every single time.

Only split 8’s against a 10 or an Ace if the dealer has already checked and confirmed they do not have BlackJack.

The last thing you want to do is put extra money on the table only to watch the dealer pull BlackJack and lose twice as much.

The reason behind splitting 8’s, is relatively simple. 16 is the worse hand you can have.
The probability of going bust is 61.6%.
Splitting 8’s gives you the opportunity to get away from a score of 16 we should take it.

If the dealer has a weak card it’s a great opportunity to get more money on the table.
If the dealer has a 7 or higher, rather than go bust 6 out of 10 times, we could find ourselves with a much more attractive hand.

There will be times when you split a pair of 8’s and lose both hands.
Mathematically speaking this will happen less often than winning 1 or even both hands.

If the thought of splitting 8’s against a strong card like a 9, 10 or Aces makes you uneasy then do what makes you comfortable. But you should know that in the long run splitting will reduce your losses.

Notice that I suggest reducing losses rather than winning money in this situation.
If you are dealt a pair of 8’s against a 9, 10 or Ace you are favourite to lose your money no matter the option you take.

Pair of 9’s

Split against all weak cards to maximise profits.

With a score of 18 you are favourite to beat the dealers 7 but not much else.

With this in mind stand against a 7 but split against a dealers 8 or 9. Hopefully at least one of your hands can make a score better than the original score of 18.

Against a 10 or an Ace unfortunately the casino is a slight favourite but you have more chance of winning with 18 than you did with 16 so you can leave them alone and stand.

Pair of 10’s:

Stand. It’s that simple.
The cardinal sin of Blackjack is to get greedy and split your 10’s.
If playing in a live casino with other players, you’ll quickly lose alot of friends by splitting this hand.

20 is a difficult hand to beat. If you split your hand in 2 you are asking for trouble.
Be thankful for the good hand and leave it alone.

Pair of Aces:

Your eyes should light up when you receive a pair of Aces.
Reach for your chips and double down.

Without splitting them up your hand total is 2 12 or 22 (Not really but you get the point). All pretty bad hands.
Your chances of making a strong hand are very high, and you have a 30% chance on each hand to make the unbeatable score of 21.

Casinos know that Aces are extremely profitable to split.
For that reason the majority have implemented a rule, when splitting Aces you receive only 1 card and have no option to hit or double after.

Even with the casino stopping us from taking any further action when we split Aces, it is still a profitable move to split Aces all the time.

Combine blackjack strategy with casino matched betting

Don’t expect to win every hand all of the time by following blackjack strategy.
You can be confident that mathematically speaking these decisions are best for your chip stack.

Use basic blackjack strategy to turn casino bonus money into withdrawable cash.