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CHAPTER TWO

BLACKJACK STRATEGIES

CHAPTER TWO

BLACKJACK STRATEGIES

Basic Strategy Importance

Blackjack is by far one of the world’s most popular games. It is extremely easy to learn the basics of this game, which is what makes it appealing to so many players. Moreover, blackjack is offered by almost every online casino out there that has table games in their library, so it can’t be easier to play it from the comfort of your chair.

More importantly, blackjack has the lowest house edge of all the casino games you can play. This means that over a longer period of time, you run the lowest chance of losing money compared to all other games.

However, many players do not know that they can lower the house edge even more and basically ensure that they will maintain a positive balance. This can be done by using blackjack strategy and learning how it will affect your game.

By mastering different strategies and learning how, when, and which one to use, you can bring the house edge down to around 0.5% (for comparison, American roulette has a 5.26% house edge).

The article below will provide you with all the information you need about the five most popular and best blackjack strategies: Hit and Stand, Surrender, Pair Splitting, Doubling Down, and Insurance & Even Money strategy.

Let’s learn how to beat the dealer!

Why Should You Use Blackjack Strategies?

If you were a football player and only knew the basic rules of the game, you’d be ready to play it. You would know that you can only play with your legs and your head, that the ball needs to stay in the field, and that you need to score by sending the ball in the opponent’s net.

You’d then start aimlessly kicking the ball with all your might, hoping that you will end up scoring and winning. This plan might work eventually. But, imagine if you were to learn proper ball-handling, dribbling, passing, and other tactics — you’d significantly improve your chances of scoring!

The same goes for blackjack. You can learn the basic rules and start playing, hoping that you will get lucky or learn the rest on the go. On the other hand, you can learn advanced skills (i.e. blackjack strategies) and ensure a starting advantage over the dealer.

Blackjack is a game based on the player’s decisions. Unlike in any other casino game, in a game of blackjack, the outcome almost solely depends on how you play your cards. Since this game is a game of numbers, genius mathematicians have created formulas and principles that tell you what the best possible move is in any given situation during your game.

What Is Casino House Edge and How Does It Work?

As you know, casinos are businesses that are created to make money for their owners. They make profits not by relying on luck but on a built-in advantage incorporated in the games they offer.

This built-in advantage is called the “house edge” and is shown in percents. In simple words, the house edge is the profit casino makes on every bet a player places.

For example, we mentioned that the house edge in American roulette is 5.26%. This means that, over a long period, for every $100 that you bet, the casino is expected to profit $5.26. Of course, if you bet $100 once, you’re not guaranteed to get $95 back. You’re either going to win or lose the bet. But, if you play regularly, you can expect this math to be correct.

Your goal as a player is to bring the house edge as low as possible. Blackjack is one of the rare games in which you can do this to a large degree and reduce it to 0.5% and sometimes even less.

The first step is to choose the correct blackjack game, as different rules either increase or decrease the house edge. But your playing decision will also influence how much money you will win or lose over a long period of time.

Do You Need to Learn Blackjack Strategies?

Many players believe that blackjack strategies are created for newbies who are still learning the ropes and that blackjack “experts” should not lose time with them. Wrong!

Everyone can profit from mastering blackjack strategies by decreasing the number of mistakes they make and increasing the amount of money they win.

Experienced blackjack players usually rely on their experience and past losses to make future decisions. However, that type of learning comes at a cost.

If you believe that you know everything about blackjack, try completing the quiz below. If you get all the answers right, congratulations! If you get at least some of them wrong, you should keep reading and spend more time learning the basics!

A Short Quiz

How would you play the following hands in a game of blackjack with 4-8 decks where the dealer hits on soft 17?

Question 1

You have a hard 8 and the dealer has 10.

Answer

Question 2

You have a hard 13 and the dealer has 6

Answer

Question 3

You have a soft 17 and the dealer has 5.

Answer

Question 4

You have a soft 13 and the dealer has A.

Answer

Question 5

You have an A-A and the dealer has 10.

Answer

Question 6

You have a soft 19 against the dealer’s 6.

Answer

Question 7

You have a hard 16 against the dealer’s 9.

Answer

Question 8

You have a 7-7 and the dealer has 8.

Answer

If this is how you answered, then you have absolutely passed the test and you know your blackjack! But from our experience, it’s likely that you haven’t. In that case, reading the rest of this article about the five best blackjack strategies could benefit you greatly!

Hit and Stand Strategy

To hit or to stand, that is the question. This is an age-long conundrum that has baffled blackjack players ever since the game was invented. Making that big call and learning what the best solution is every single time may take some time. However, by mastering the hit and stand strategy, you can improve your likelihood of success and cut that time down.

Hitting and standing are the two most common moves that you will make. That’s why it is incredibly important to learn the mathematically correct decisions for all situations in which you will find yourself.

What Does It Mean to Hit or Stand?

Hit and Stand are the two basic moves in blackjack. That’s why the hit & stand strategy is often called the “basic blackjack strategy” as well. When you play blackjack, you will always receive two cards at the beginning. If you choose to hit, you will receive another card and the dealer will receive one as well. You can hit for as many times as you want until either you or the dealer go over 21.

On the other hand, if you like the cards that you have in your hand, you can choose to stand. This means that you do not want to be dealt any additional cards and you want to compare your hand to the dealer’s.

During the live game, you will need to swipe your fingers towards yourself or point towards your cards to show the dealer that you want to hit. If you want to stand, you need to wave your hand over your cards with the palm facing down.

How Hit and Stand Is Used?

Even though hit and stand are the two basic moves in blackjack, they are not the first ones you should consider when playing. Before deciding whether you need to stand your ground or ask for additional cards, you need to consider whether you can surrender, split, or double down first. After you have concluded that the three latter options are not a good choice, you should start thinking about hitting and standing.

To determine whether you should hit or stand, all you need to do is memorize the basic blackjack charts. These charts were created by mathematicians and have a purpose of comparing your hand to the dealer’s hand.

However, these are not the only two factors that should be considered. You should also think about the number of decks the game is played with and other playing rules, the most important of which is whether the dealer hits or stands when they have a soft 17, as this factor changes a lot of things for you and the outcome of the game.

When to Hit or Stand in Blackjack?

As we have already mentioned, determining when to hit or stand is not always an easy decision. You need to consider the rules of the game and the number of decks in play. However, you always need to consider both yours and the dealer’s hand, which is not something that all players do.

One of the worst scenarios you can find yourself in is when you have hard hands 12 to 17. The reason is that no matter what you do, your chances of losing are higher than your chances of winning. Therefore, when you get such hands, you should focus on trying to cut your losses as much as possible and wait for better hands.

Another bad situation that you might encounter is when the dealer’s upcard is an ace. In this case, the dealer has a good chance of having a high total, as it is likely that they will draw a 10-value card. Therefore, you should aim at making a strong hand of 17 or above to increase your chances of winning.

If the dealer has a 10-value card, you should hit if the value of your hand is 10-16 and stand on 17 and anything higher. To see all other possible situations and to learn how to play your cards in those cases, take a look at the charts below.

 

Common Hit and Stand Mistakes Players Make

One common mistake that many blackjack players make (both rookies and experienced ones) is to always stand on hard 12-16 hands. The reason is that they are afraid they will draw a 10-value card and bust, which is quite common when it comes to these hands. Of course, you should stand in some situations, but definitely not always.

For example, when the dealer has a hand value of 7 to 10, there is a high chance that they will end up with a high-value hand of 17 to 21. For that reason, we need to hit and chase a high-value hand as well. Therefore, if surrendering or splitting is not an option, you should hit in these situations.

Another common mistake players make is when they play with soft hands. For example, you should always stand on hard 17, but you should hit on soft 17. There’s a good chance that you can get the same or higher hand value if you hit.

Important Factors to Consider

If you want to have the absolute best chance of winning against the dealer, you need to learn the exact rules of the table you planto play at and find the blackjack hit & stand strategy chart that is created for that specific table.

Here are some of the most important factors that can change the blackjack strategy you use:

  • The number of decks in play.
  • Whether the dealer stands or hits on soft 17.
  • Whether there are any limitations when it comes to splitting and doubling.
  • Whether the dealer peeks to check for a 21
  • Whether the surrender option is available.
  • Whether the players wins automatically after drawing a certain number of cards.
  • The payout for blackjack wins

Once you know all these factors, you are ready to choose the correct blackjack strategy chart and start winning some hands.

Surrender Strategy

In life, it might sound like a cowardly move to surrender when you face a hard situation. But, that’s far from the truth when it comes to blackjack. In certain situations in blackjack, the surrender move is the best one you can make. By playing it right, you will significantly reduce the house edge and increase your chances of having a positive balance after finishing your session.

What actually is surrender?

Surrender is a move that is offered in blackjack games in many casinos. It allows players to fold their hand (surrender) and lose just half of their bet instead of risking to lose the entire bet.
Many blackjack players claim that the surrender move is a sucker bet and should never be played. But we disagree with that opinion. If you know what you’re doing and you use this option in the right situations, you can bring the house edge down.

Let’s learn the basics below!

Why Should You Surrender?

Many blackjack experts would say that the goal in blackjack is to beat the dealer. While that’s true, we’d like to highlight an even more important one. The main goal in blackjack (and any other casino game) is to leave with more money than you had in the beginning.

That’s where the surrender rule comes handy. There are certain situations when, whatever you do, your chances of losing are much higher than those of winning. That does not mean that you will lose those hands every single time, but there’s a high probability that will happen.

In those situations, it’s better to part with just half of your bet than risk losing the entire sum.

Basic Playing Strategy for Surrender

The strategy you will use regarding the surrender move in blackjack depends on whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17. The situations when you should surrender are easy to remember. There are four such instances when the dealer stands on soft 17 and another seven when the dealer hits a soft 17.

For example, the basic surrender strategy says that players should always surrender a 16 when the dealer’s upcard is a 9, 10, or A and they stand on soft 17. One exception to this rule is the 8-8 hand that should always be split if that option is available at the casino where you’re playing.

On the other hand, when the dealer hits a soft 17, the rules change slightly. For example, the 8-8 hand should be surrendered if the dealer’s upcard is an ace. In other cases, it should be split. Moreover, players should surrender their 17 against the dealer’s 10.

Check out the chart below for a full list of situations when you should use the surrender move:

Early Surrender Blackjack Strategy

Unfortunately, early surrender is not offered by many casinos out there. Hence, when you encounter it, you should definitely make good use of it. However, you should first make sure that the other rules are advantageous as well.

The early surrender rule lets you surrender your hand before the dealer checks their cards for a blackjack. This rule is not often featured in casinos because it reduces the house edge by 0.39% when played right, which is substantial.

Here are some of the situations when you should use the early surrender rule. If you the dealer has an ace and you have some of the following hands, you should surrender:

 

  • Pair of 3s, 6s, 7s or 8s. Surrender a pair of 2s as well if the dealer hits a soft 17.
  • Hard 5-7
  • Hard 12-17.

Moreover, if the dealer has a 10, you should surrender the following hands:

  • Pairs of 7s and 8s.
  • Hard 14-16.

Late Surrender Blackjack Strategy

Late surrender, as you can guess, is a rule that allows a player to fold their hand and lose only half of their bet after the dealer has checked their cards for a blackjack. If the dealer has a blackjack, you will lose your whole bet (unless you have blackjack as well).

Late surrender is much more common in casinos as it does not decrease the house edge that much. However, if you use it the right way, you can still significantly benefit from it.

For example, with this rule, you should surrender a 17 against the dealer’s ace if they hit a soft 17. Also, if you’re playing singledeck blackjack and your hand is 10+7, you should also surrender it.

If the value of your hand is 14, you should surrender it against a dealer’s 10 in single-deck blackjack. You should also surrender a pair of 7s against a dealer’s ace if they hit a soft 17.

There are other situations as well when it’s best if you surrender, which you can see in the chart below.

How Does the Surrender Strategy Affect the House Edge?

Depending on the rules imposed by the casino, the surrender rule can either decrease or increase the house edge. If you play the surrender strategy correctly, you will always decrease the casino’s profit. However, that might come at a higher price for you.

This means that, for example, early surrender is usually offered at tables that have 6:5 payouts for blackjack wins. Such a payout increases the house edge by 1.39%, so even if you use the surrender move the right way every time, you will still have a better house edge on a 3:2 table with no surrender.

That’s why it’s important to check all the rules of the table before you throw your money on it and trying your luck.

Pair Splitting Strategy

Splitting a pair of cards in blackjack means doubling your chances of winning, right? Well, not every time. Winning in this game will often come down to how well you gauge when you should and when you should not split a pair.

In the best-case scenario, splitting a hand will increase the amount of money you win in that round. However, it can also help you reduce the amount of money you lose, which is a good thing as well.

What does pair splitting mean?

Splitting a pair means that you can play two (or more) separate hands when your two initial cards are the same. For example, if you split a pair of 8s, you can then place another bet on the second 8 and play them individually (hit, stand, double down, surrender, split again, and so on.).

This is an extremely important blackjack strategy to understand, so let’s try our best to master it below.

How Pair Splitting Is Used?

If you carefully read this article, you know that deciding whether to hit or stand comes after deciding whether to split or not. However, even before that, you should first decide whether the best option is to surrender your hand or not, if that option is available. If you decide that surrendering is not the best move you can make, then you can start analyzing whether you should split the pair or not.

If you were dealt two cards of the same value, for example two 5s, you can either play them as a 10, or split them and play two hands with 5s. However, you must decide whether or not you want to split before you hit the first time or double down. Splitting must be your first move of the round.

You should also consider the fact that you need to back the second hand with a bet amount equal to your original bet, so make sure that you have sufficient funds.

When You Should Split Pairs in Blackjack?

The mathematics of splitting pairs in blackjack change depending on the general table rules, the number of decks in play, the cards you have been dealt, and the dealer’s upcard.

For example, whether or not it is allowed to double down after splitting a pair makes a huge difference when it comes to which hands you should split or play together. Moreover, the surrender rule can also make a difference for some hands, so make sure to learn whether it’s allowed or not.

On the other hand, whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17 does not make a huge difference for hands that are always correct to split.

Therefore, the answer is not all black and white.

The Main Blackjack Splitting Rules

In the section below, we’ll cover the general rules for splitting all pairs you might encounter when playing blackjack.

Doubling Down Strategy

In our humble opinion, doubling down is one of the most exciting and the most profitable moves you can make while playing blackjack. If done right, you can double your original profit finish a round very fast. However, doubling down is a pretty risky bet. If not done right, you risk losing twice the amount you would have lost with your original bet.

What does doubling down mean?

Doubling down is a move in blackjack that allows you to double your original bet after you have been dealt your two original cards. After you double down, you lose the right to choose whether to hit or stand. Instead, you will be dealt only one card which will determine whether you win or lose the round.

You can win either by getting a better hand than the dealer or by the dealer busting their hand.

Why Should You Double Down?

The reason for doubling down is quite simple — why shouldn’t you? If you are certain that you will get a winning hand after you hit the first time, there’s no good reason why you should not double your bet and double your profits that way as well.

Yes, you increase the risk of losing double as well, but that’s why you only double down when the mathematics tells you to. In case doubling down is not allowed in the casino where you’re playing, you should always hit when you would have doubled down instead.

When Doubling Down Is a Good Idea?

One of the first rules that you will learn when you’re first starting out with blackjack is to assume that any card you cannot see has a value of 10. That’s the best rule to use when choosing whether or not to double down. There are 16 cards with a value of 10 in a single-deck blackjack game, so there’s a good chance that the secret card will be a 10-value one.

Because of that, the main rule when it comes to doubling down says that you should never play this move when the combined value of the cards in your hand exceeds 11. If that’s the case, there’s a chance you will bust when hitting after doubling down.

However, doubling down is not always allowed, or is only allowed in certain cases. For example, in many casinos, you can only double down if the value of the two cards in your hand is 9, 10, or 11. In that case, you should always double your bet if the dealer’s upcard is valued 2 through 7. There’s a good chance they have a stiff hand and will bust when they hit.

Another situation when you should always double down is when you have a soft 16 to 18 and the dealer has a 2 through 6.

You can take a look at the additional situations below and try to memorize them:

 

Doubling Down

Doubling down chart

Consider the Game Rules

The rules of the blackjack game you’re playing will also determine whether or not to double down. Therefore, you should make sure that you understand them completely before you decide which move to play.

For example, some casinos allow players to double down only when they have two cards in their hands. But there are some exceptions when casinos allow players to double down with three or more cards. Naturally, if that’s the case, you will encounter many more hands when it would be advisable to double down, so pay attention to this rule.

Similarly, some casinos only allow doubling down with hard hands and not with soft hands. So if you have an ace, you won’t be allowed to double down when the strategy and math say you should. In such cases, you should hit and increase your likelihood of at least winning the original bet.

Double Down Winning Strategy

One of the golden beliefs among experienced blackjack players is to always double down a hand that totals 11. If you are a beginner, that is a good rule of thumb that will allow you to win many hands. However, if you are a card counter, you will probably disagree with this rule.

Namely, when you have a total of 11, there’s a good chance that you will hit a 10-value card and get a blackjack. Moreover, if you have a total of 10, you might get a pretty strong hand of 20.

However, if you’re good at counting cards, you know that is not always the case. If the card count is very negative, it means that there are many low-value cards in the deck. If you double down in this case, you might draw a low card and ruin your hand. In case the dealer has a high-value upcard, you’re looking at some trouble.

Thus, the general doubling down winning strategy for beginners is to always double down when they have a total of 10 or 11 in their hands. However, if you’re a card counter, let your count dictate your next move.

Hard vs Soft Hands Make a Difference

Whether you have a hard or a soft hand makes all the difference when you’re deciding if you should double down or not.

For example, you should never double down with a hard 16, but if you have an ace and a 5 (soft 16), you can double your bet much more safely. If you get a low card (2–5), you will end up with a very strong hand. However, if you get a high card, you can end up with the same or a higher hand than you initially had and busting is not an option.

Insurance & Even Money Strategy

Last but not least, we come to the most disputed bets blackjack world has ever seen — insurance and even money. Usually, blackjack players are not sure if these are good strategies to use or they are sucker bets and should be avoided at all costs.

We believe that they are both. However, it’s completely up to you, your skills, and your decision to determine whether they will help you make money or lose money.

What are Insurance and Even Money bets?

Insurance is basically a bet you place on the dealer to get a blackjack. So you’re betting that your opponent will win and you will lose. This bet is only available when the dealer’s upcard is an ace, as there is a chance that their second card is a 10 card.

If you play the insurance bet, you need to place another bet which may amount up to half of your original bet with a payout of 2:1. If the dealer has a blackjack, you will win, but if they don’t, you will lose the bet.

Even money essentially is a special type of insurance. It is offered to players who have a blackjack and the dealer has an ace showing up. If they accept it, they will receive a 1:1 payout no matter what the dealer’s second card is.

Who Should Use Insurance and Even Money Bets?

The short answer to this question is that basic strategy players should never accept insurance and even money bets. If you are not counting cards, you will not know whether this bet is profitable or not. A card counter will play this bet using skills, whereas basic strategy players will play it relying on pure luck.

The reason for this, when we talk about even money, is that you are much better winning a 3:2 payout sometimes than winning even money every time. If you have a blackjack and the dealer is showing an ace, you should simply take your chances and go for it.

However, when it comes to insurance, you should accept this bet if you have been tracking the cards on the table and you know that there is a strong possibility that the dealer will get a blackjack. This way, you will cut your losses in the long run.

On the other hand, although even money is the only bet that guarantees a win, you will end up losing money in the long run because of all the 3:2 payouts you will miss out on.

Insurance Rules and Odds

The first thing that you need to understand about the insurance bet is that it is a side bet. This means that it has no effect on your original bet. No matter what the outcome of this side bet is, your original bet will play out as if nothing has happened.

Next, the insurance bet is the only case in blackjack where the value of your cards makes no difference to the outcome. You’re betting that the dealer will get a blackjack so it does not matter if your total is 20 or 15.

Finally, if we know that the dealer will get a blackjack 4 out of 13 times, that means there’s a 31% chance they will get 21. This means that you need to be right 30 per cent of the time when taking insurance bets since the payout is 2:1. This means that just to break even, you need to guess correctly once out of three times. If you want to profit from this bet, you should guess right 50% of the time. That’s something that is highly unlikely to happen.

Therefore, we come to the same conclusion as before. There is no reason to make insurance and even money bets unless you are a card counter and you’re almost certain that the dealer will get a blackjack.

Insurance and Even Money Strategy Through Numbers

If we look at the numbers, we will see that insurance and even money bets are not good blackjack side bets. In the long run, they will cause you to lose more money than you stand to win.

For example, if the original bet is $20 and you take insurance, you will bet another $10 on the dealer getting a blackjack. If you have a blackjack and the dealer does as well, you will profit $20. If the dealer does not have a blackjack, you will also profit $20.

On the other hand, if you have blackjack and you choose not to get insurance, you will get no money if the dealer gets a blackjack. But if they don’t, you will win $30 with a 3:2 payout, which is 30% more.

So, according to mathematics, unless you are counting cards, it is much better for you not to take insurance than to take one.

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