Blackjack Strategy


Blackjack strategy is generally a pretty straightforward practice. However, as you gain more experience, you’ll start to pick up some tricks and a deeper understanding of the game that can help you add to the simple strategies that anyone can learn from looking at a short table of basic odds.

Before you get into the strategy of blackjack, you’ll want to make sure you have an understanding of the most basic rules, card values and strategies. A primer on those topics is available elsewhere on this site, and is essential for moving forward into the strategy of the game.

Basic Blackjack Strategy

The most basic piece of strategy in blackjack is that you should always assume an unseen card has a value of 10. Cards that are worth 10 are the most common in the deck (actual 10s, along with all face cards).

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Cards that have a value of 10.

Based on that strategic understanding, you can move forward and make every decision in the game on autopilot. You can find Big Fish’s guide to blackjack odds on the website, which will tell you exactly how to play each situation you’ll encounter.

Some of the simplest and easiest strategies to remember are situations where the dealer’s up card is a 10, a face card, or an ace. In those cases you should assume the dealer has a made hand of 18 or higher, and every time you encounter that scenario, if the hand you’ve been dealt is worth anything less than 17, you should hit.

Conversely, if the dealer is showing a likely bust hand, meaning their up card is anything in the two to six range, you should stay. Unless, that is, you have a hand with a total value of less than 10, so that no matter what card you’re dealt you can’t bust.

Splitting Cards

One of the most common higher level blackjack strategies is called splitting. Splitting is only an option when you are dealt two of the same card. You will then have to decide if you want to double your original bet, split each card off into an entirely new hand, and play from there. If you go that route, you will have one more card dealt face up on each of your original pair, at which point you would proceed with your normal strategy.

Aces can be split for better odds of reaching 21.

Aces can be split for better odds of reaching 21.

The major exception to that rule is if you’re splitting aces. Most casinos will only allow one card to be dealt to each ace, eliminating your option to hit or stay.

There are a few simple rules of thumb when considering whether to split. The only one that is close to universal is that you always split eights. Being dealt two eights gives you a total of 16, the worst starting hand in blackjack. Although you are doubling your bet, going by the basic strategic assumption that unseen cards have a value of 10, you should be turning that 16 into two hands of 18, thus putting you in much better position against whatever the dealer is holding.

Generally, you don’t want to split when the dealer has a strong hand. If they have a high number or a face card showing, splitting your fours will likely only serve to put you in a worse position than you’re already in. At that point, you’re probably better off rolling the dice and hoping you can turn your two fours or threes into something more powerful through the magic of the draw.

But if the dealer’s showing is weak, you have the opportunity to really gamble and win some money, no matter what pair you’re splitting. The opportunity to push a bet against house weakness is a situation most gamblers covet.

Doubling Down

Double down if you are dealt 11.


Double down if you are dealt 11.

Doubling down is another tactic that requires the same kind of shrewd eye for the advantage. The standard play is to double down anytime you are dealt a combination of cards equaling 11. Again, your assumption is that the next card out will be worth 10, so your chance of hitting 21 are greatly increased. Once you double down, though, you are only dealt one more card, without the option to hit or stay.

Doubling down is also something to consider when the dealer has a weak showing and you have been dealt a hand that can’t be busted with one hit (any two cards equaling 10 or fewer). In that situation, you’re betting more on the dealer busting than you are on making your own hand.

In response to that strategy, many casinos employ the “Reno Rule,” which limits double downs to hands of nine, 10 or 11 only.

Other Blackjack Betting Options and House Variations

Dealer showing a soft 17.

Dealer showing a soft 17.

Whenever a dealer is showing an ace, they will offer you “insurance.” Insurance gives you the option to make a side bet that the dealer has blackjack. If you’re correct in your bet, the house pays you 2:1 on your money. So, even if you lose your original bet to the dealer’s blackjack, depending on the size of your insurance wager, you can still salvage some, if not all, of your original bet. In fact, you can even make money on the hand if you lay out enough for insurance.

While there is no better feeling in blackjack than being dealt cards that give you the game’s signature total, sometimes you’ll encounter a decision where you’ve been dealt 21 and the dealer is showing an ace. In that case, they will offer you even money on your bet, as opposed to the 2.5:1 you would normally receive.

The “soft 17” is another quirk of the game that changes from venue to venue. In most places, if the dealer has an ace and a six, which could equal either seven or 17, they are required to hit.

If you’ve really made it up the blackjack strategy ladder, there is the ultimate strategy of counting cards. Keeping an accurate count is an extremely difficult thing to pull off, and has been rendered moot by many of the shuffling machines now employed in casinos, or automated online shuffling. But if it’s something you’d like to explore, there is a short article that covers card counting here on Big Fish, as well as a wide array of books on the subject.