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Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games on the planet. The rules are simple, so you can learn how to play blackjack in just a few minutes, but you can spend a lifetime perfecting your playing strategies.
Unlike in roulette, where the house edge is (nearly always) fixed, so it doesn’t matter what bets you make, blackjack is different. It doesn’t have a fixed house edge, instead, this percentage varies depending on how well you play.
That’s why, after learning the ropes, almost every blackjack player starts to wonder about the steps they can take to improve their chances of winning. This has led to blackjack strategies designed to make your playing decisions more efficient.
While anyone who has watched movies about blackjack wants to jump straight into counting cards, walking before you run is better. That’s why it’s best to start out with basic blackjack strategy which involves knowing whether to hit, stand, split, or double down for each possible hand value.
From there, you can work your way up to what’s called “perfect blackjack strategy”. This turns everything up to 11, with different plays depending on the number of cards in the deck and the house rules.
Want to learn more? Here’s how blackjack strategy works.
What is basic blackjack strategy?
To win in blackjack, you need to make a hand of 21 or get closer to that magic number than the dealer does.
Basic blackjack strategy rests on the mathematical fact that the odds of beating the dealer vary depending on the initial cards that each of you are holding. Essentially, it is just a set of rules that makes it easier to know how to respond to each of the blackjack hands you get, accounting for the dealer’s upcard.
When you learn basic blackjack strategy, you’ll have a set of tables that you will need to learn. They layout the action you should take in each possible scenario.
While there are 34 possible starting hands, there are only a few different responses you can have to them.
Hitting means asking for another card from the dealer. On the other hand, standing means sticking with your cards.
Generally, you hit when you have a weak hand, though exactly when also depends on what the dealer has.
For example, if you have a hard hand (more on those later) of 17 or more, then you stand regardless of what the dealer has. However, if you have 12, basic strategy dictates that you stand if the dealer is showing 4, 5, or 6, but that you should hit if they have anything else.
Doubling down means increasing your wager by two if you notice you have a strong hand and the dealer has a weak upcard.
You double down differently depending on hard and soft hands, but it’s mostly when the dealer has an upcard of 6 or less, though not always.
Splitting can be done when you have two cards the same. This works by splitting your two cards into two separate hands that are then played as usual.
While you should always split AA and 88, you should always stand on 1010.
Surrendering means giving up your bet in exchange for half of it back. It is used to minimize losses on hands you’re likely to lose. It’s generally best to surrender when you have a hand of 15, and the dealer has a 10 or an Ace.
A soft hand contains an ace since you can be more flexible with changing its value from 1 to 11 (and vice versa). Hard hands, on the other hand, don’t contain an ace.
The best decisions change as soon as an A card shows up, so always remember you need to take a different approach with soft hands.
Perfect blackjack strategy is the ultimate level
As the name suggests, basic strategy is only the beginning. The perfect blackjack strategy builds on the concepts to create a more refined set of instructions.
It varies depending on the number of decks in the shoe and whether the dealer is instructed to stand or hit on soft 17.
The more extensive list of combinations makes perfect blackjack harder to learn. Still, if you can do it correctly, it will help reduce the house edge below the 0.5% achievable with basic strategy.
Can’t I just count cards?
Card counting is a legitimate blackjack strategy. It involves keeping a count of the value of the shoe by adding or subtracting amounts depending on what cards you’ve seen get drawn from it.
It can be effective over a long period, but it is not a case of either/or. Before you can count cards, you need to know basic and perfect blackjack strategy.