Never take insurance, always split with a pair of eights, double if you’ve got eleven. Those are three aspects of a basic Blackjack strategy that should, in the long run, give you a better chance of turning a profit. Unlike Poker, where strategy plays a large part of the game, Blackjack is a little less straightforward. In this article, we’ll take a look at some different ways to play the game to see if there’s a way to formulate a winning Blackjack strategy.
Why you should use a strategy for Blackjack
Casinos make money because they have an edge over the player. This means in the long run, they'll earn more from players than they'll lose. The objective of any strategy is to lower the house edge so that while you're playing, you have a better chance of winning. How's this possible? Casinos work in part by assuming the player has little to no prior knowledge of how the game works. And that you're not clued up on probability theory. Now if those last two words have you worried, then don't. You don't need to be a mathematical savant to turn the odds in your favour. The important thing to remember is that it's possible. Just don't expect to win every hand, even by using a strategy.
How does Blackjack strategy impact the house edge?
In Blackjack, the advantage the casino has over a player is around 0.8% but varies depending on the number of decks used in the game. If you're playing a single deck game of Blackjack, the house edge could be as low as 0.18%. However if it's a single deck game but pays out at 6:5 and the dealer hits on soft 17, you won't have as much of an advantage as you might think. Read on to find out why.
The fact is though, that Blackjack has one of the lowest house edges of any table game in a casino. Anything you can do to influence that edge into your favour increases the chances of making a positive return. Remember that following the optimum strategy won’t guarantee a win every time, only make it less likely you’ll lose.
What’s the best strategy for playing Blackjack?
The aim of the game is to reach 21. If you’re unsure of the basic rules of the game, make sure to read our blog on how to play blackjack. This article assumes you’re familiar with the basics.
One of the first ways you can begin to use a strategy for Blackjack is understanding how the rule variations affect your chances. And you can start before you even place a bet.
Printed on the table will be a statement about whether the dealer hits or stands on a soft 17 (a 17 including an Ace). This differentiation is important for strategy purposes as if the dealer hits on 17, the house has an extra 0.2% edge.
Winnings are paid out at evens, you get your stake returned plus an amount equal to your stake. That is, unless you get Blackjack, which is a total of 21 in two cards. The amount you win in this case depends on the casino, but is mostly 3:2, your stake plus 1.5x your stake. However some casinos payout 6:5 on Blackjack.
Should you take the insurance bet in Blackjack?
If the dealer’s up-facing card is an ace, you’ll generally be offered insurance. This is a side bet made in addition to original bet. With the insurance bet, you win only if the dealer has blackjack. In most casinos, you can only stake up to half your original bet on insurance as it pays out at 2:1. The best you can hope for with an insurance bet is to cover your losses.
If you’re dealt a Blackjack hand, you can still take insurance. You’ll get paid out at evens. More often than not however, it doesn’t pay to take the insurance bet.
What are the side bets in Blackjack?
On top of Insurance, there are a number of side bets that may be available on your table. These will be explained when join but these are the most popular:
Lucky Lucky Player hand and dealer's up card sum to 19, 20, or 21
Perfect Pairs Player initial hand is a pair
Royal Match Player initial hand is suited, suited and connected, or a suited K-Q
21+3 Player initial hand plus dealer's card makes a flush, straight, or three-of-a-kind poker hand
Lucky Ladies Player initial hand totals 20
In Bet Dealer upcard is in between the value of the players two cards
Bust It! First card drawn to the dealer will result in a dealer bust
Match the Dealer One or both of the players cards is the same as the dealer’s card
All these bets must be placed before the cards are dealt. In the long run, casinos expect to make money from these bets. So in terms of a winning strategy, they’re not really suitable.
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The basic strategy of Blackjack
Much has been made about basic Blackjack strategy. There are two schools of thought: one is that learning basic strategy is a vital weapon in the gambler’s armoury the other is that the only real way to reduce a casino’s edge is to count cards. It’s difficult to know for certain how much a basic strategy will help players in the long run because of the random nature of the game. The only way we can measure the variation in card distribution is with Monte Carlo simulations. And even those give such a long term view, they can’t really say for certain how successful a strategy will be. If you're ready to play then take a seat at any of our Live Blackjack tables.
Basic Blackjack strategy table
|Player hand||Dealer's face-up card|
S = Stand
H = Hit
Dh = Double if allowed. If not, hit
Ds = Double if allowed. If not, stand
SP = Split
SU = Surrender. If not allowed, hit.
Does basic strategy work?
Bankroll management is certainly the best way for average Blackjack players to stay in the game. It's exciting to go all in but more often than not, you'll end up losing it all. Using basic strategy you can expect to lower the house edge to around 0.5% in an eight deck game. Though casual players may not notice the difference.
A knowledge of basic strategy though is most useful when looking to split or double. As we know that bets are paid back as evens unless you have Blackjack (roughly once every 21 hands), your chances of making a profit over and above your losses are from splitting and doubling your bet.
When should you double down or split
When you’re given the option to double, you’re only allowed to hit one more time. So it only makes sense to double under certain conditions, go back and read the table above for the most effective times to do this. The same conditions are true for splitting. When you choose to split, you separate both cards in your hand and get two more cards. You effectively play with two hands.
Double down restrictions
A good way to tell if a certain strategy reduces a house edge is to see if a certain action is banned. Like not being able to double down on ten or eleven. Not all tables are the same so it's worth checking to see if you're allowed to double on these totals. If you can't, the house enjoys an extra 0.2% edge.
Is card counting worth it?
The notable Blackjack writer, Henry Tamburin Ph.D, claims that this is the only surefire way to put the advantage toward the player. And of course, with the amount of media coverage on card counters, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to win in casinos. But is it sustainable? That’s less clear. Casinos look for betting patterns that gives away card counters, they make it as difficult as possible to keep track of the cards. And it’s only really possible to count cards when you’re physically in a casino. When you’re playing online it’s impossible.
Which strategy is best to win at Blackjack?
There’s no silver bullet to improve your chances at winning Blackjack. Even basic strategy won’t lead to instant mountains of cash. However a combination of knowing the probabilities of winning each hand, staking sensible amounts compared to your bankroll. Cloudbet has a variety of free play Blackjack games that are perfect for practicing your strategy. Then once you’re ready to hit the table and win real money, you can instantly take a seat in our live casino.