Blackjack Strategy Guide & Charts

Blackjack provides one of the best chances to win in the casino. However, it also requires you to use proper strategy to capitalize on the favorable odds. This involves making correct decisions amid the countless scenarios that you’ll face throughout a lengthy session.

While blackjack strategy may appear confusing at first glance, you can master the game and beat the dealer more often with the right approach. This page discusses the steps you must take to use expert strategy and dramatically improve your odds.

How basic blackjack strategy works

In a blackjack hand, each decision bears an impact on the long-term house edge. Your goal is to make the right choices and reduce the house advantage to its lowest point.

You can choose from various actions when playing a blackjack hand. Depending on the game, these actions include some or all of the following:

  • Hit: You request another card.
  • Stand: You receive no more cards.
  • Split: With a pair, you can split your hand and form two new hands.
  • Double down: You double your original bet and receive one more card.
  • Surrender: You give up your hand in exchange for half your bet.
  • Take insurance: If the card the dealer is showing is an ace, you can insure your hand against a natural blackjack (21 on the first two cards).

We’ll cover some of these actions in depth later. The point is that you must choose from various actions when making decisions.

Putting blackjack strategy into action

Blackjack strategy begins with looking at your total and the dealer’s face-up card. Generally, you want to improve your hand with a weak total if the dealer is showing a strong card. In contrast, you can play more conservatively with a quality hand versus a weak card for the dealer.

Of course, situations will differ. You want to know how to handle each scenario to boost your odds. Here are a few examples of making the right strategic choices:

Example No. 1

  • Your total is 14.
  • The dealer is showing a 6.
  • You should stand.

Example No. 2

  • Your total is 11.
  • The dealer is showing a 9.
  • You should double down.

Example No. 3

  • Your total is 12.
  • The dealer is showing an 8.
  • You should hit.

Game rules come into play, too

While you can influence the house edge through strategy alone, you also need to consider the rules at a given table as well. Some tables offer more favorable rules than others. You inherently stand a better chance of winning on such tables. Here are some of the important rules to consider when choosing to play a game of blackjack:

  • Natural blackjack payout: A 3:2 payout lowers the house edge by 1.39% compared to a 6:5 payout.
  • The number of decks: Single-deck blackjack reduces the house advantage by 0.5% versus an eight-deck game.
  • Double down: No restrictions on doubling down lowers the house edge by 0.25% versus when you can double down only on 10 or 11.
  • Dealer’s action on soft 17: The dealer standing on soft 17 reduces the house advantage by 0.2% compared to the dealer hitting.
  • Double down after splitting (DAS): DAS drops the house advantage by 0.17% compared to no DAS.
  • Late surrender: Being able to surrender your hand after the dealer peeks for a blackjack lowers the house edge by 0.07%.

Impact of perfect strategy on the house edge

Depending on the rules and variation, the blackjack house edge can go as low as 0.3%. Of course, you need to use optimal strategy to reduce the house advantage to its lowest point.

Assuming you do make the correct decisions over time, then you’ll enjoy the best odds that blackjack can offer. Below, you can see the potential house edge for multiple blackjack variations if your strategy is perfect:

  • Atlantic City rules: 0.35% house edge
  • Blackjack Switch: 0.58%
  • Double Exposure: 0.67%
  • Downtown Vegas rules: 0.33%
  • European blackjack: 0.62%
  • Spanish 21: 0.40%
  • Super Fun 21: 1.16%

These house edges are subject to change when subpar rules are involved. However, if player-friendly rules are in place, you can anticipate these house advantages with optimal play.

Best blackjack resources for beginner players

You can see that live and online blackjack strategy involves many elements, and you may feel overwhelmed when learning the subject. Luckily, you can quickly master strategy with the right approach. The following resources will help you improve your blackjack skills.

  • Strategy chart: A blackjack strategy chart provides the most impact when studying the game. It lays out correct decisions for every situation that you’ll come across. These color-coded charts show when to hit, stand, split and double down. You can reference a chart when playing online or land-based blackjack.
  • Blackjack trainer: A trainer is a free program that offers tips as you play blackjack. It points out when you make incorrect decisions so that you can eventually eliminate mistakes. Trainers are perfect for when you’re starting out with blackjack. They help you improve through repetition as you gradually learn what choices to avoid.
  • Articles: If you’re up for some reading, then you can turn to articles that provide a detailed analysis of strategy. Do you want to know why always splitting 8s is a good idea? You can get a detailed breakdown through an article.
  • Forums: Forums provide meeting places for like-minded blackjack players to improve their skills together. These sites feature topics on blackjack and other popular casino games. They’re especially helpful when you’re learning advanced concepts like card counting. You may even pick up tips from professional card counters through forums.

When to split in blackjack

Splitting presents one of the toughest challenges in blackjack. It calls on you to know exactly when to split pairs based on the card the dealer is showing. The general idea is to split hands when you’re strong. However, some splitting situations are tricky.

Here are examples of various situations where you should split hands:

Example No. 1

  • Your hand is a pair of 7s.
  • The dealer is showing a 7.
  • You should split.

Example No. 2

  • Your hand is a pair of 3s.
  • The dealer is showing a 6.
  • You should split.

Example No. 3

  • Your hand is a pair of 4s.
  • The dealer is showing a 5.
  • You should split.

The following situations call for the same splitting decision no matter what:

  • You should always split a pair of aces.
  • You should always split a pair of 8s.
  • You should never split a pair of 10s.

When to double down in blackjack

Like splitting, doubling down also creates tricky situations. The most common mistake involves hitting in a scenario when you could maximize profits by doubling down instead. Here are some borderline situations where you should double down rather than merely hitting:

Example No. 1

  • Your hand is A-2.
  • The dealer is showing a 5.
  • You should double down.

Example No. 2

  • Your hand is a pair of 5s.
  • The dealer is showing a, 8.
  • You should double down.

Example No. 3

  • Your hand is A-4.
  • The dealer is showing a 6.
  • You should double down.

You’ll also run into unclear situations where you’re tempted to double down when it isn’t necessary. You can see some of those scenarios below:

Example No. 1

  • Your score is 9.
  • The dealer is showing a 7.
  • You should hit.

Example No. 2

  • Your hand is A-6.
  • The dealer is showing a 7.
  • You should hit.

Example No. 3

  • Your score is 9.
  • The dealer is showing a 2.
  • You should hit.

Should you ever take insurance in blackjack?

Dealers offer insurance whenever they are showing an ace. In some casinos, they also offer insurance on a card with a value of 10. When insuring your hand, you place a bet that’s equal to half of your original wager (e.g., $10 bet/$5 insurance). You stand to win 2:1 on the insurance portion if the dealer flips over a 10 for a natural blackjack.

This concept sounds appealing, considering that it theoretically protects you against a dealer blackjack. However, the following math shows that you should never accept insurance.

If the dealer shows an ace, then only 16 cards — four 10-value cards in each suit — will make blackjack. Accounting for the 51 remaining cards in the deck (every card but the ace that the dealer is showing), the dealer will get a blackjack 31% of the time (16/51).

The 2:1 payout isn’t enough to counteract the low winning percentage. Therefore, you face a 5.9% house edge whenever you take insurance.

Odds of the blackjack dealer busting

You can play perfect blackjack by honing your skills with a strategy chart or trainer. However, you may want to know why you should make specific decisions.

Probabilities offer the best illustration for why you hit, stand, double down or split in various situations. You’ll especially want to understand the odds of the dealer busting and your advantage at these points.

This chart shows the chances of the dealer busting versus your edge:

Dealer's upcardChances of bustingYour edge
1021.4% -16.9%
Jack 21.4% -16.9%
Queen21.4% -16.9%
King21.4% -16.9%

How to manage a blackjack bankroll

Bankroll management doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be a blackjack winner. However, it does help you stay in the game longer. You can use simple variables and math to come up with a bankroll management plan that works for you. Here’s an example:

  • You deposit $100 on an online casino app.
  • You typically make $1 minimum bets.
  • You play a game with a 1% house edge.
  • You log approximately 300 hands per hour.
  • 300 bets x $1 x 0.01 = $3 in theoretical losses per hour.
  • 100 / 3 = 33.33.
  • Your bankroll will theoretically last for 33.3 hours.

What’s a good starting blackjack bankroll?

Land-based blackjack is more expensive than the online version. Minimum bets range from $5 to $25 at brick-and-mortar casinos. If you want at least 20 bets/units for land-based casinos, you’ll need a bankroll worth $100 to $250.

Online blackjack is much cheaper due to its $1 minimum wagers. You can deposit $20 to $40 and still last a while at an online casino in Michigan.

Should you use betting systems?

Betting systems are popular in blackjack. The most common system is flat betting, where you use the same wager size on every hand. Trend betting is another popular strategy. It sees you raise wagers during a losing streak under the assumption that you’re due for a win. For example:

  • Your average bet is $10.
  • You lose three bets in a row.
  • Anticipating a win, you raise your bet to $25.

The reality is that your odds don’t improve just because you’ve lost several consecutive hands. They stay the same with each hand. Neither trend betting nor any other wagering system will overcome the house edge. For that, you need to look to card counting.

Blackjack card counting strategy

Card counting carries a reputation for being difficult to learn. However, it’s actually not that complicated — especially if you already know basic strategy. The idea is to track each card value as it comes out of the shoe. The hope is that the shoe eventually becomes rich in aces and 10-value cards.

At this point, you stand a better chance of being dealt a natural blackjack. Also, the dealer, who must hit on any value up to 17, faces higher odds of busting due to the abundance of high-value cards.

How do you learn card counting?

Various card counting systems exist. You need to choose one and thoroughly study it to gain an advantage over the casino. The Hi-Lo system is a good strategy for beginners. It offers a solid advantage (0.5% to 1.5%) and is relatively easy to learn.

You should also practice your system before heading to the casino. If you don’t, you’ll feel overwhelmed when trying to keep up with the dealer’s speed.

How does basic strategy come into play?

Card counting strategy calls for you to increase your bets when the count is in your favor. For example:

  • You place the table’s $10 minimum bet until the count reaches +2.
  • You increase your bets to $25.
  • The count reaches +3.
  • You increase your bets to $50.
  • The count reaches +4.
  • You increase your bets to $75.

You raise your bets with a positive count because you hold the advantage. Until you reach that point, though, you’re still at a disadvantage to the casino. Most of the time, you’ll just be playing blackjack normally. If you understand basic blackjack strategy, you’ll suffer fewer losses until the count swings in your favor.

Blackjack Strategy FAQ

Assuming other player-friendly rules are in place, single-deck blackjack is the best game you can play. Here are the house edges on various numbers of decks (assuming 3:2 payouts):

  • One deck = 0.16% house advantage
  • Two decks = 0.46%
  • Four decks = 0.60%
  • Six decks = 0.64%
  • Eight decks = 0.66%

Blackjack can offer the best odds. However, you need a combination of favorable rules and good strategy to win. With this combo, you may only face between a 0.3% and 0.5% house advantage. You can also use card counting to gain an edge over the casino.

You should follow these rules to get along with your fellow players and the dealer:

  • Don’t touch the cards.
  • Tip $5 every hour (see below).
  • Don’t touch chips after a hand is dealt.
  • Make decisions within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Avoid giving advice to other players.

Opinions vary on when to tip a blackjack dealer. Generally speaking, though, you should tip $5 for every hour you’re at the table. This amount ensures that you don’t get carried away with tips while keeping you from looking like a cheap player.