# Blackjack Strategy: The Best Way to Win Consistently

Blackjack may be a skill-based game but, unless an advanced technique such as card counting is used, it still favors the house rather than the players. Since it is played with a known set of rules and uses standard 52-card decks, mathematically correct moves have been determined for every possible hand in this game. This is where the key for winning in blackjack lies – rather than relying on luck, successful blackjack players should follow the correct strategy for the particular version of 21 they play.

Blackjack strategy is the best method to get as close as possible to the incredibly low house edge of around 0.50% in most variations of blackjack. However, even using a perfect strategy does not change the odds of the game and blackjack fans should know that the only way to gain an advantage over the casino is to count cards. Since card counting is a difficult technique for more advanced players and is certainly not tolerated by casinos, most casino patrons prefer memorizing the basic strategy for the game.

In this article, we have described the basic strategy common for most blackjack variations. However, even the slightest change in the standard rules typically requires a change in the strategy, too, so before players sit on the blackjack table, they need to consider the specific rules under which they would play.

## What is Basic Strategy for Blackjack?

### 1Basic Strategy Intro

The simplest and most fundamental system for playing blackjack is referred to as “basic strategy”. It uses the predetermined probabilities for different outcomes in every possible scenario to make mathematically correct suggestions for actions. In other words, the basic strategy for blackjack helps players decide when to draw more cards, when to pat, surrender or double their bets based on what is most likely to happen.

### 2Maximize Your Chances of Winning

For some players, this does not seem a very reliable, sound tactic for guaranteeing a profit. And in fact, it does not guarantee winnings every time. It does, however, maximizes the chances for long-term success by determining the best possible actions against the dealer. The strategy includes several main suggestions – players should always Stand on totals of 19 or more and Hit on weak hands of up to 8. Only two hands should be surrendered, namely 15 against dealer 10 and 16 against dealer 9 through Ace. Players should always split Aces and 8s and never split pairs of 5s or 10s. Bets should be doubled when having a hard 11.

### 3Exceptions

There are, however, plenty of exceptions to consider. Typically, the basic strategy is displayed as a chart where we can find the correct play for every possible player hand and dealer’s upcard. In addition, every variation of blackjack has a slightly different strategy. For this section of our blackjack guide, we have chosen a basic strategy that could be applied to most versions of the game. It is based on the following rules – the game uses 4 to 8 decks, dealer hits on soft 17, surrender is allowed, and players can split to four hands.

Player Hand Dealer’s Up Card
Hard 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
5-8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
10 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H
11 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13-14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H SU/H SU/H
16 S S S S S H H SU/H SU/H SU/H
17 S S S S S S S S S SU/S
18-20 S S S S S S S S S S
Soft 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
13-14 H H H D/H D/H H H H H H
15 H H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
16 H H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
17 H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
18 D/S D/S D/S D/S D/S S S H H H
19 S S S S D/S S S S S S
20-21 S S S S S S S S S S
Pairs 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
2-2, 3-3 SP/H SP/H SP SP SP SP H H H H
4-4 H H H SP/H SP/H H H H H H
5-5 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H
6-6 SP/H SP SP SP SP H H H H H
7-7 SP SP SP SP SP SP H H H H
8-8 SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SU/SP
9-9 SP SP SP SP SP S SP SP S S
10-10 S S S S S S S S S S
A-A SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP
Legend
H Hit
S Stand
SP Split
SU/H Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit
SU/S Surrender if allowed, otherwise stand
SU/SP Surrender if allowed, otherwise split
SP/H Split if double after split is allowed, otherwise hit
D/H Double if allowed, otherwise hit
D/S Double if allowed, otherwise stand

## Tips for Basic Strategy Players

Practice Play
Decision Hands
Action Order
Short Pays Blackjack
Insurance

### Practice Play

To be effective, the basic strategy has to be played perfectly, with no mistakes. Many players memorize the color-coded strategy charts but it is also possible to learn the proper actions accurately by playing online blackjack for free. This should not take long since the strategy is much simpler to follow in practice than it looks when displayed as a chart.

### Decision Hands

It includes several main lessons such as to Hit on weak hands and to Stand on strong ones. But more importantly, the basic blackjack strategy is useful when we are handling the so-called “decision hands”. Usually, all hands from 2 through 18 are described as “decision hands” as they require certain actions – in contrast, players should simply pat on 18 or more. The strategy for totals from 2 to 8 is more or less logical and self-explanatory, which is why players should focus on the instructions for hands with a value of 9 through 17.

### Action Order

Another thing gamblers should know when playing blackjack is that there is a proper order for considering the different actions. First and foremost, they need to decide whether to surrender their hand or not – if the strategy does not call for a Surrender, players should see if it is a pair that could be split. If these actions are not possible, then they should think about standing on their hand or drawing more cards to it with the option to double their wager. Additionally, a couple of further considerations should be made.

### Short Pays Blackjack

Some casinos nowadays offer different payouts for player blackjack such as 6:5 or 1:1. The traditional payout of 3:2 or 1.5 times the size of the bet, however, is much better. Furthermore, the basic strategy has been developed particularly for the standard pay table that includes 3:2 for a natural 21 and 1:1 for a regular win against the dealer.

The lower payouts simply make certain actions from the strategy worthless, even if they are still mathematically correct. This is why short-pays blackjack variations should be avoided if possible.

### Insurance

Just a quick look at the basic strategy chart is enough to see that there is no Taking Insurance marked among the suggested actions and this is deliberate. Insurance could be seen as a side bet that is independent of the original wager and when buying it, players bet that the dealer will have blackjack. It is offered if the dealer’s upcard is an Ace and it assumes that the hole card will be 10, Jack, Queen or a King.

However, the dealer will have a 10-value card in approximately 31.37% of the cases and the probability of such an outcome becomes even thinner if any of the players have already been dealt a 10-value card. Moreover, even if the dealer does get blackjack, the player will only break even on the hand by losing the original wager and winning the 2:1 paying Insurance, which usually costs exactly half of the main bet.

## Composition-Based Strategy

### Composition-Based Strategy Examples

All blackjack players start with the basic strategy charts, which may be quite a few since there is an enormous range of blackjack variations offered by both online and brick-and-mortar casinos. But the basic strategy is never enough for those who want a reliable income from blackjack. Casino patrons who want to play the game at a professional level eventually learn how to adjust the basic strategy to the specific composition of their hand and the cards that have already been dealt or “burnt”.

This method of play is known as composition-based strategy, whereas the strategy charts are used for total dependent strategy. The dynamic nature of the game requires players to not only consider the total of their hand but also the particular cards it is composed of. The composition-based strategy techniques are more beneficial to the player when the game uses 1 or 2 decks. When used correctly, they can reduce the house edge even further and decrease the variance of the game.

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## How to Play Tricky Hands

There are several hands considered by many players – mostly recreational blackjack players, of course, particularly difficult to master. Those who have memorized the basic strategy and have an idea of what composition-based strategy is would probably immediately see the correct action. Still, certain hands in blackjack could be tricky.

8-8 vs Dealer 10
16 vs Dealer 7
11 vs Dealer 10
12 vs Dealer 3
Soft 18 vs Dealer 9

### 8-8 vs Dealer 10

Holding a hand of 16 against a dealer is probably the worst situation in blackjack. The player is expected to win only in 23% of the time. The odds are almost equally bad when having a 16 against a dealer 9 or Ace. When this total is composed by a pair of 8s, however, the situation could be improved by simply breaking up the 16.

Many players believe that if they Split the 8-8, they could lose both hands and while there is a risk that this could happen, splitting is still the correct move. The reason is that in the long term, this decision is mathematically proven to be more profitable. Of course, anything could happen when we are considering only the next 20 or 50 hands but for a reliable, sustainable basic strategy play, we should stick to the Split option in this scenario.

### 16 vs Dealer 7

Most blackjack novices find it difficult to play with hard hands between 12 and 16. Although such totals could be, in general, tricky since they could bust fairly easy, they could also go up to “good” hands such as 18, 19, 20 or 21. When they receive a 16 against a dealer 7, many players would prefer to avoid the risk of busting by choosing to Stand.

But it is better to Hit and hope for a low card since all low cards (from 2 to 5) are still in the shoe – remember that your hard 16 could be composed of only either 9-7 or a 6 plus a 10-value card. In this case, it is best to wait for a low card (up to 5) instead of leaving it to the dealer.

### 11 vs Dealer 10

Hard totals of 11 should always be Doubled against any dealer’s hand, even if the dealer’s upcard is a 10. The reason for this is simple – the player has a greater chance of turning his 11 into 21 than the dealer has in drawing an Ace for a blackjack. In fact, the player will make 20 or 21 with just one card in around 60% of cases, whereas the dealer is less likely to make 20. By Doubling Down, players can win twice as much in a favorable situation.

In most variations of blackjack, the dealer must Hit on soft 17 and Doubling Down on a hard 11 against a dealer 10 is the correct move in these games. But if the dealer must Stand on all 17s, the player should Hit.

### 12 vs Dealer 3

Many inexperienced players who receive a hard 12 against a dealer 3 would prefer to Stand, thinking that it is best to leave the “bust” card to the dealer. But this is a mistake. In fact, totals of 12 can bust only if a 10 is added to the hand and the chances of this happening are approximately 4 out of 13.

In this scenario, you can bust with a 10 (15 or 16 cards) and you can get a nice pat hand (17-21) with cards 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. And there will be around 20 cards of this value still in the shoe. The exact number of “good” and “bad” cards you can draw will depend on the exact cards in your initial hand – whether it is 10-2, 9-3, 8-4, or 7-5.

### Soft 18 vs Dealer 9

It is typically recommended to Stand on totals of 18 or more since these are quite good hands. But when we have a soft 18 (A-7) against a dealer 9, things get a bit more complicated. The reason is the dealer’s 9, which is a great card, allowing the dealer to easily turn it into a 19 by drawing a 10-value card. As we know, there are more 10-value cards in a deck than any other type and a potential dealer 19 will beat the player’s soft 18.

In this scenario, the player will win 8 out of every 20 hands if he decides to Stand. If he decides to Hit, he will win 9 out of every 20 hands. So, having just slightly better odds, the option for Hitting is better.

## Blackjack Strategy Charts

As soon as players master the basic strategy for multi-deck, H17 blackjack, they can try adding some changes that would be more appropriate for the particular variation they play. There is a wide variety of blackjack games and each of them comes with a slightly different set of rules that could change the odds for certain hands.

The basic strategy presented above benefits those who play a 4 to 8-deck game where the dealer Hits on soft 17. While this is the variation that is most commonly played at land-based casinos, there are other versions of blackjack with better odds and different house edge. The basic strategy for them would differ in some cases.

Multi-Deck Blackjack, Dealer Stands on all 17s
European Blackjack
Single-Deck Blackjack

### Multi-Deck Blackjack, Dealer Stands on all 17s

This strategy chart would be beneficial for those who play traditional Vegas Rules blackjack. The game uses 4 to 8 decks of 52 cards and the dealer stands on all 17s.

Player Hand Dealer’s Up Card
Hard 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
5-8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
10 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H
11 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13-14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H SU/H H
16 S S S S S H H SU/H SU/H SU/H
17-20 S S S S S S S S S S
Soft 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
13-14 H H H D/H D/H H H H H H
15 H H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
16 H H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
17 H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
18 S D/S D/S D/S D/S S S H H H
19-20 S S S S S S S S S S
Pairs 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
2-2, 3-3 SP/H SP/H SP SP SP SP H H H H
4-4 H H H SP/H SP/H H H H H H
5-5 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H
6-6 SP/H SP SP SP SP H H H H H
7-7 SP SP SP SP SP SP H H H H
8-8 SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP
9-9 SP SP SP SP SP S SP SP S S
10-10 S S S S S S S S S S
A-A SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP
Legend
H Hit
S Stand
SP Split
SU/H Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit
SU/S Surrender if allowed, otherwise stand
SP/H Split if double after split is allowed, otherwise hit
SU/SP Surrender if allowed, otherwise split
SP/D Split if double after split is allowed, otherwise double
SP/S Split if double after split is allowed, otherwise stand
D/H Double if allowed, otherwise hit
D/S Double if allowed, otherwise stand

### European Blackjack

European blackjack does not have a hole card, which changes some of the rules and the strategy of the game a bit. More importantly, the player loses all bets if the dealer has blackjack – this includes any additional wagers for splitting and doubling down. Besides, this variation of 21 is usually played with 4 to 8 decks and the dealer Stands on all 17s. Players are to Double only on hard totals of 9, 10, and 11 and after a split.

Player Hand Dealer’s Up Card
Hard 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
5-8 H H H H H H H H H H
9 H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
10 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H
11 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13-16 S S S S S H H H H H
17-20 S S S S S S S S S S
Soft 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
13-17 H H H H H H H H H H
18 S S S S S S S H H H
19-20 S S S S S S S S S S
Pairs 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
2-2, 3-3 SP SP SP SP SP SP H H H H
4-4 H H H SP SP H H H H H
5-5 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H
6-6 SP SP SP SP SP H H H H H
7-7 SP SP SP SP SP SP H H H H
8-8 SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP H H
9-9 SP SP SP SP SP S SP SP S S
10-10 S S S S S S S S S S
A-A SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP H
Legend
H Hit
S Stand
SP Split
D/H Double if allowed, otherwise hit

### Single-Deck Blackjack

Only a handful of casinos offer single-deck blackjack and usually, the rules vary slightly between casinos. The chart below describes the strategy for a single-deck variation where the dealer Hits soft 17.

Player Hand Dealer’s Up Card
Hard 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
4-7 H H H H H H H H H H
8 H H H D/H D/H H H H H H
9 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
10 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H
11 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
13-14 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H SU/H
16 S S S S S H H H SU/H SU/H
17 S S S S S S S S S SU/S
18-21 S S S S S S S S S S
Soft 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
13-16 H H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
17 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H H H H
18 S D/S D/S D/S D/S S S H H H
19 S S S S D/S S S S S S
20-21 S S S S S S S S S S
Pairs 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
2-2 SP/H SP SP SP SP SP H H H H
3-3 SP/H SP/H SP SP SP SP SP/H H H H
4-4 H H SP/H SP/D SP/D H H H H H
5-5 D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H D/H H H
6-6 SP SP SP SP SP SP/H H H H H
7-7 SP SP SP SP SP SP SP/H H SU/S SU/H
8-8 SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP
9-9 SP SP SP SP SP S SP SP S SP/S
10-10 S S S S S S S S S S
A-A SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP
Legend
H Hit
S Stand
SP Split
SU/H Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit
SU/S Surrender if allowed, otherwise stand
SP/H Split if double after split is allowed, otherwise hit
SP/D Split if double after split is allowed, otherwise double
SP/S Split if double after split is allowed, otherwise stand
D/H Double if allowed, otherwise hit
D/S Double if allowed, otherwise stand
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