Blackjack is a very simple game to play but, like all games in the casino, a difficult one at which to win. However, there is a mathematically proven way of maximising your chances of doing just that and it’s the way the pros play. It is called basic blackjack strategy, and whilst it’s not exactly most people’s idea of basic, with a little effort it can be learned, memorised and used at land and online casinos.
Unlike the vast majority of betting systems (for example the famous Martingale roulette system) it is scientific, logically and mathematically sound and not simply an ill-conceived scam. In other words – it really works! It won’t guarantee you can quit the day job and buy that yacht you always wanted, but what it does mean is that whenever you play blackjack you are giving yourself the very best chance of success.
There are numerous variations on the rules of blackjack depending on what country you are in, what casino you go to and which form of the game you choose to play. Before we explain about basic strategy we will explain the basic rules.
Rules of Blackjack
The aim of basic blackjack strategy is to teach you to beat the dealer more often, pure and simple. If you do your stake is paid out at even money. To beat the dealer (the other players are irrelevant) you must get closer to 21 than him, without going over. A tie is called a push and your stake is returned. If you go over 21, you bust and the dealer automatically wins.
An ace counts as either one or 11 and the other cards have their traditional values with 10 for the jack, queen and king. The players are dealt two cards face up whilst the dealer gets one down and one up. The players can either “hit” – take a card – or “stand” – stay with what they have.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
What basic strategy does is to tell a player whether they should hit or stand in any given situation, based on what card the dealer is showing. The dealer’s “decision” is dictated by the rules of the game and in simple terms he must hit on any number up to and including 16 and stand on 17 and over. However, what the player does is down to them and this decision is what we will look at here.
As well as simply hitting or standing, there are various other options open to a player depending on the exact variation of the game being played. These include doubling down (taking only one extra card and doubling your stake), splitting pairs to create two or more (if a new pair is created) separate hands and taking insurance when the dealer may have blackjack (an ace, and a ten or face/picture card).
Again, in any of these given scenarios there is one decision that is “right” based on the dealer’s card. You may not win, but playing this way, the way dictated by basic strategy, will give you the best results over time. This is a simple, mathematical fact of probability and is indisputable. In other words, if you are serious about playing and winning at blackjack, basic strategy is the way to play.
In the accompanying table you can see exactly what to do in any given situation. Whether you should double down, hit, stand, split or anything else. Whilst the table may look a little intimidating, with regular practice it will soon become second nature. Playing at home you can always refer back to this table but the simplest (and I do mean very simplest) few rules to remember are listed below.
Basic Blackjack Strategy Key Rules
- If the dealer’s upcard is a seven or above (including an ace) you have to take more cards (in some circumstances you would double) until you reach 17 or above.
- No standing on 16!
- Always double on 11 (except if the dealer has an Ace).
- Never split 10s but always split aces and eights.
- Never (ever!) take insurance.
Just following those few simple rules will dramatically increase your chances of winning but getting to grips with the complete version of basic strategy is the only way to go if you want to play like a pro. For example, you are roughly 10 times more likely to lose by following a “copy the dealer” strategy (ie, no splitting or doubling, hitting to 17) rather than using the table above? Do you want to lose 10 times as often or 10 times as much? Well welcome to basic strategy, come on in.