Being one of the most popular games in the world, it’s no surprise that blackjack has a number of strategies aimed at giving the player an advantage over the house.
While some blackjack strategies such as card counting are frowned on by casinos, others are simply ways of structuring bets in such a way as to maximise your chances of winning. If you’re playing blackjack online, the strategies will vary from regular blackjack strategies due to the different format and slight variations in rules in the online version of the game.
Here we’ll look at some of the different strategies for winning at blackjack and see which ones are the most viable.
Splitting one’s hand in blackjack is an option when the first two cards have the same value (e.g. 6 and 6 or 8 and 8). When the player elects to split, each card is placed separately and the dealer deals another card to each hand, at the same time adding another bet for the player to cover the extra hand.
Splitting is often misunderstood and misused by beginners at blackjack. The following are good rules of thumb to keep in mind:
- Never split 5s or 10s
- Always split Aces and 8s
- Split 2s and 3s if the dealer has 4, 5, 6, or 7 up
- Split 9s when the dealer has 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, or 9 (NOT 7)
Many new players are tempted to split 10s because they believe they will end up with the chance at two strong hands rather than just one. But splitting 10s is giving up a very strong hand with which you will win around 83% of the time.
The table below outlines in more detail where you should hit, stand and split on your blackjack hands:
Doubling in blackjack is when the player decides to double their bet at the expense of only being dealt one more card. This option is only available on the first two cards, and under some rules on the first two cards after the player has elected to split (see above).
Doubling is a good strategy when the dealer has an up card of 2 through 6, as they are more likely to bust when one of these cards is showing. It’s also a good idea to double down when you have a total of 9 through 11, even if the dealer has a 9 up (or a 10 up when you have 11).
Many versions of blackjack offer the option to surrender, which is giving up your hand at the expense of losing half the bet. Surrender is a good option when the odds are stacked against the player, such as when the dealer has a ten up while the player has hard 15 or 16.
Surrender should not be used too often. For example, one should not surrender a hard 12 or 13 versus anything the dealer has. While you may lose these types of hands more often than you win, you would need to lose 66% of the time to make surrendering the best option, and this is just not statistically likely over the long run.
A player can take out insurance in blackjack when a dealer has an ace up. The insurance is actually a side bet where the player is betting that the dealer has blackjack. The side bet is separate to the main bet and pays 2:1 if the dealer has blackjack. The side bet can be up to half the size of the main bet and is designed to mitigate the player’s loss the times the dealer does in fact have blackjack.
Insurance bets should be avoided by the savvy player. They are a bad overall strategy because the dealer is expected to get blackjack less than one third of the time, meaning that the 2:1 odds are not enough to show a profit in the long run.
There are a number of other popular blackjack strategies you can try. These include always assuming the dealer has a 10 in the hole, and mimicking the dealer. Mimicking the dealer involves the player employing the default house strategy of always hitting on 16 or less and standing on 17 or more.
Both of these strategies are flawed in that they remove the player’s freedom to make decisions based on the situation, thereby increasing the house edge.
With a good understanding of the different blackjack strategies available – including which ones to avoid – players can approach the game of blackjack with an increased chance of winning. While there is no magic bullet to beating the house, by having a solid understanding of the mathematics and odds involved you can play with the confidence that you won’t be making too many bad decisions.