Blackjack, or 21, is one of the popular casino card games in the world. The history of the game dates back to the 17th century, where historians believe it originated in Spain. There was also a game with similar rules in the early 1700s in France called Vingt-et-Un, which translates to twenty-one. Whether it originated in France or Spain, the main thing that is guaranteed is that you need to learn some basic strategies for the game if you want to become a skillful player and earn a lot of cash. These strategies can work for both veteran players, as well as new ones. So even if you are an experienced blackjack player, and you think you already “know the ropes,” you should always look for more strategies to enhance your arsenal because “knowledge is power.” If you want to test your blackjack skills, check out this quick quiz. We will present you with some Blackjack hands, and you should decide whether to hit, split, stay or double. For the sake of this quiz, we assume it's a regular Blackjack game, with six decks, the dealer will stay at 17, and you can split and then double down.
- Hand No. 1:Your hand: A + 7 Dealer: 9
- Hand No. 2: Your hand: A + 10 Dealer: A
- Hand No. 3: Your hand: A + 8 Dealer: 6
- Hand No. 4: Your hand: 10 + 4 Dealer: A
- Hand No. 5: Your hand: 8 + 8 Dealer: 10
According to the strategy, the correct answers in order are “Hit, Stay, Double, Hit & Split.” If your answers were not 100% right, do not worry, as even the most experienced players fail it, but we do recommend checking out this blackjack strategy.
Basic Strategy Case Study
To show you how important it is to learn it, we will conduct a simple yet effective case study. Let the cases be you and me if we both do the following in our lifetime:
- Play 100,000 blackjack hands (a regular BJ game with six decks).
- The average wager is $5
- Each would place a total of $5,000,000 in bets
Case 1: I would play according to my intuition and knowledge without using the basic strategy. If we assume a house edge of 2%, I will lose around $100,000 at the blackjack table.
Case 2: If you learn the basic strategy and stick to its rules, you will decrease the house edge to a mere 0.4%. It means that you will lose around $20,000, thus saving $80,000.
The Basic Blackjack Strategy
The Basic Strategy is several rules that will help you make the best decision for each blackjack hand. Of course, in Blackjack, the only information you have is your hand and the upcard of the dealer. The strategy is mathematically correct and will help you maximize your profits over time while minimizing the number of hands that you will lose. The reason why Blackjack is one of the few games where you can beat it if you play smart is that inherently, it is a mathematical game, and unlike other games, it is not 100% luck.
Blackjack Hit and Stand
These are two of the most frequent decision that you will make while playing Blackjack, whether to hit and get another card, or stand and let the dealer play. Of course, if you hit and go past 21, you will lose, even before the dealer plays his hand.
There are some terrible hands that you will get during your blackjack adventures. The worse kind is when you get a hard 12 to 17. The main reason behind that is that regardless of the upcard of the dealer, you will lose more than you will win. The only exception is that getting 17 vs. a six might be a winner. You are expected to get one of these losing hands in about 4 out of every ten hands. So when you end up with these hands, what are you going to do? You cannot change the cards you get, but you can change the way you play them. You will increase your winning possibilities if you play as per the basic strategy, rather than your intuition. So always count your odds, and the odds of the dealer before you make a decision.
Surrendering has a negative stigma, as it makes players feel that they are letting go and surrendering, instead of trying to win. The reality is, if you know when to surrender, you will cut down on your total losses over time. If you smartly use the Surrender option, you can save a lot of money.
You can surrender after you see your initial 2-cards and the dealer's upcard. If you think you have a low possibility of winning, you can surrender and give up your hand and lose half the wager. It can be the best option instead of playing a doomed hand and losing the entire bet.
The Numbers behind Surrendering
You should always surrender your hand if the chances of winning are less than 1 out of 4 hands, which means that your chances of victory are less than 50%. So, statistically, if you have a hand with a 25% chance of winning, you will save your money in the long run if you surrender the hand rather than playing it, so it is essential to know when and why to surrender and blackjack hand.
There are two types of surrendering.
It is a type of Surrender that the US casinos rarely offer, as it is more prevalent in Asian and European casinos. Early Surrender allows you to surrender after seeing your two cards and the dealer's up-card before the dealer checks his other card for Blackjack. Therefore, it is called the “no-hole-card” rule. So early Surrender allows you to surrender the hand to a dealer's ten-value card or ace before they can determine if they have a blackjack. Therefore, it is in favor of players more than Late Surrender. If you early surrender against an Ace will gain you an additional 0.3%, and against a 10 is 0.24%.
So the real question is when to take that Early Surrender decision. For a multi-deck game, you should surrender in the case of these blackjack hands:
- Your hand is a hard 5 to 7, or 12 to 17 and dealer has A
- Your hand is a hard 14 to 16, or 12 to 17 and dealer has 10
- Your hand is a 10-6 and 9-7, the dealer has 9
Late Surrender only allows you to surrender after the dealer checks if his hand is a blackjack, and if it is, you cannot Surrender. So you can only take that option if the dealer checks and verifies that the hole card will not result in a blackjack hand. If you use the surrender option wisely and correctly, it will reduce the edge of the casino by 0.07% in multiple deck blackjack games.
Splitting can be confusing for most players. Some of them would always split, and some never do it. Sometimes it is even worse, as they can recklessly split pairs without any concept. Splitting became a part of the game as a way through which players can reduce casino advantage, but because of how many players treat it, it turned out to be the casino's monkey maker.
Rules of Splitting
The rules are simple. Whenever you get two cards that have the same value, you can split them into two hands. So if you place a wager of $5 on a pair of 2, you can split it to two hands and add an additional bet of $5 next to the new hand. There are two kinds of games, DAS, which means you can double your wager after splitting, and NDAS, which is the exact opposite. The decision when to split depends on the game types and their rules.
Splitting Strategy for Single Deck S17 DAS:
- 2s or 6s split against dealer's 2 to 7
- 3s or 7s split against dealer's 2 to 8
- 4s split against dealer's 4, 5 or 6
- 5s or 10s never split
- 8s or Aces always split
- 9s split against dealer's 2 to 6 and 8 or 9
Splitting Strategy for Single Deck S17 NDAS:
- 2s or 6s split against dealer's 3 to 7
- 3s or 7s split against dealer's 4 to 7
- 4s, 5s or 10s never split
- 6s split against dealer's 2 to 6
- 7s split against dealer's 2 to 7
- 8s or Aces always split
- 9s split against dealer's 2 to 6 and 8 or 9
These are the splitting strategy for Single Deck S17 NDAS and DAS games, and you can use the concept and apply it to other game types. For example, for a double-deck DAS game, if you get 4s and the dealer has a 5, you split. In a double-deck NDAS game, if you get 4s and the dealer has a 5, you should not split. In the case of a 4/6/8 deck DAS game, and you get 9s, and the dealer has a 9, you should split, and so on.
Blackjack Doubling Down
One of the reasons that can help you break even and win when you have a winning percentage of around 47% is the doubling down option. The rules of doubling down state that you can down your wager amount in return of getting only one card. So by doubling down, you are giving up the option to draw more than a single card. Casinos offer different rules as to when you can double down. Some casinos only allow for that when you get any 2-card hands, while some casinos restrict it to specific starting hands.
When to Double Down?
Two variables would help you decide whether to double down or play as usual. The first one is the total of your hand, and the second one is the upcard of the dealer. As a general rule, you should usually double on hands that are hard 8 to 11, and soft 13 to soft 18 hands (from A-2 to A-7).
The logic behind doubling on soft hands is sometimes not clear to blackjack players, so they often miss the chance. The reason behind doubling down on soft hands is not to only outdraw the dealer, but to get more cash on the table while the dealer is vulnerable to busting. For example, when the dealer shows an upcard with a low value (from 2 to 6). If you follow the strategy for doubling, you can gain an advantage of 1.3% for hard hands, and an additional 0.13% for soft hands.
Doubling down, ironically, can sometimes reduce your winning chances, as you can only draw one card. For example, if you get a 6-3 against an upcard of 5. If you double down and get 2, you will have 11. You will only win when the dealer goes higher than 21 and busts. Nevertheless, doubling down was the right play as it puts more money on the table. Here is the essential blackjack strategy guide for when to double during a single deck blackjack game.
- Hard 8 double against dealer upcard 5 and 6
- Hard 9 double against dealer upcard 2 to 6
- Hard 10 double against dealer upcard 2 to 9
- Always double with a hard 11.
- A-2 to A-5 double against dealer upcard 4, 5 and 6
- A-6 double against dealer upcard 2 to 6
- A-7 double against dealer upcard 3 to 6
- A-8 double against dealer upcard 6
In a single deck, you should always double on pairs of 5 and sometimes pair of 4s.
- Double on pairs of 4s against dealer upcard 5 and 6 (if it is NDAS)
- Never double on pairs of 4s (if it is DAS)
- Double on pairs of 5s against dealer upcard 2 to 9
Doubling Down on Three Cards
Some casinos let players double down when they have three, or sometimes more than three cards. So, for example, if you have a 5-3 hand, and you draw a 3, you will have a total of 11. You can double down after that third card. The option is rare, and not all casinos offer it, but it increases your chances of winning by 0.2%.
Doubling Down with Less than the original wager
Some casinos offer another rare option when doubling down, which is letting you double down with an amount less than the original bet. It is not the best option, as you will increase our gain by maximizing the amount of the double-down wager, rather than making it less.
Insurance is a side bet that some casinos permit to blackjack players. You will have to take that decision before you decide to split, double down, hit, stand or surrender. It is a side bet that you will place that gives you the perception that you are protecting your hand from a dealers' Blackjack.
The Casino Rules for Placing Insurance
When the dealer has an Ace for his upcard, you will get the chance to place the insurance bet. It is a separate and optional bet. You will place that wager, so if the dealer reveals a ten-value card as his hole card and get a blackjack, you will win the insurance bet. It is a 2 to 1 odds bet, which means you will win the same amount as the initial bet. The value of the insurance bet is usually half (or sometimes less than half) the original wager. While this looks and sounds great, but if the dealers do not reveal a 10 -value hole card, you will lose the insurance bet, and you will continue playing the hand regularly.
For instance, if you place a bet of $10 on your hand, you don't have a 21 and the dealer's upcard is an Ace. You will be presented with the chance to place a $5 (or less) in the insurance circle that pays 2 to 1. So if the dealer reveals his hole card and it's a 10, thus achieving a blackjack, it means you lost the hand. Therefore, you will lose the original $10, but you will win the insurance bet of $5 with odds 2 to 1, to collect a total of $10. So you will break even, even though the dealer had a blackjack.
Insurance Bet – Yea or Nay?
On the surface, it looks like a great idea, as you can get your money back even if the dealer has a blackjack. So it seems logical and recommended, but in reality, it does not.
- Despite that casinos might make you believe it is an essential wager, it is only a side bet. It does not affect your winning opportunities and percentages.
- The insurance bet is only a wager against the dealer's hole card, and you will win it if it is a 10-value card, so it does not really “insure” anything.
- It is not worth it, and you should not consider it if you are following a smart blackjack strategy.
Even Money Offer
Even Money is similar to the insurance bet to a great extent. It is when the dealer shows an Ace or his upcard, and you have a blackjack. The dealer will ask you if you would like “Even Money.” If you accept, you will get even money on the wagers, and your cards will go to the discard pile. You will get that payment even before the dealer checks its hole card for a Blackjack. Therefore, Even Money is basically an insurance bet, but only when you have a blackjack hand. The Even Money offer is usually half the original wager.
Players are mostly confused when the dealers ask about “Even Money,” and they tend to seek help from other players or the dealer. Most people will recommend taking the bet, as even money means that you cannot lose. Such an option was not available years ago, but it is starting to be a thing at many casinos.
The reason why people recommend it, as it ensures players that they will get a payout, regardless of the hand of the dealer, so it sounds too good to be true.
Is Even Money Really an Opportunity You Shouldn't, Miss?
To answer that question, we need to review the four different possibilities in case of a $10 primary wager.
Case number one:
You accept the “Even Money” wager, and the dealer has a blackjack. You will push on the blackjack hand, but win $10 on the Even Money bet. So you earn $10 in total.
Case number two:
You accept the “even money” wager, and the dealer does not reveal a blackjack. You will win $15 on the blackjack hand, but lose $5 in the Even Money wager. So you earn $10 in total.
Case number three:
You do not accept the “Even Money” wager, and the dealer has a blackjack. You will lose.
Case number four:
You do not accept the “Even Money” wager, and the dealer does not reveal a blackjack. So you will win $15 on the blackjack hand.
From these cases, we note that if you insure the blackjack hand (case one and two), you will always win even money, regardless of the outcome of the hole card. That is the reason why the casinos prefer the Even Money option when players reveal a blackjack against a dealer's ace; that way, they won't lose more money if they do not have a blackjack.
The reason why most player support using the Even Money offer is the outcome of case number three. It is because if you do not insure, you are not going to win anything if the dealer has a blackjack. On the other hand, players do not notice and fail to realize the fact that if they do not insure and the dealer doesn't get a blackjack, they will win 1.5x the original bet.
The Math behind Even Money Insurance
When you get your cards, and the dealer shows an ace, he is going to end up with a 10-value hole card 15 out of 49 times, which is around 30.6 percent (in a single-deck blackjack game). So, 30.6% of the time, you are going to get your money back if you insure the blackjack hand. On the other hand, if you do not make the insurance bet, what will happen?
- 30.6% of the time, when the dealer gets a blackjack, you will not win anything.
- The remaining 69.4%, you are going to win 1.5 times the stake
So, you are more likely to earn 1.5x the original wager if you pass on the Even Money option by placing an insurance stake. So if you do the math of it, in general, you will average a win that is equal about 1.04 units for every time you pass up on the insurance option to get even money.
So here is a quick summary of all the points we covered in this basic blackjack strategy guide:
- Millions of Blackjack players end up misplaying the hands and losing money
- Following the basic strategies in this guide is going to provide you with the most efficient way to play your blackjack hands.
- Using the strategies for Surrender, doubling, hitting, and splitting will help reduce the house edge to less than one percent.
- Surrender is an advantageous option at times, which allows you to forfeit your hand and lose half the stake. It is more useful than Late Surrender, but not all casinos offer it
- Surrendering lets you minimize your losses when you have a weak hand against a strong upcard.
- Late Surrender is the same, but it comes after the dealer checks his hands for a blackjack
- Double down lets you go on the offensive and increase your wager if you have the better hand
- Splitting pairs gives you the chance to win more money, or lose less when the dealer has better cards, and can even turn a bad hand into two winning hands
- Insurance is a side bet that you can place whenever the upcard is an Ace
- The insurance bet is a side bet against the dealer that he has a 10-value card as his upcard, hence, getting a blackjack
- Payout of the insurance bet is two to one
- Even money is available when you have a blackjack, and the dealer has an Ace upcard
- Even money pays one to one
Therefore, for the best possible outcome, always think before you decide to hit, split, or double down. With the help of this guide, you can make the most profitable move against the dealer.