Blackjack is a casino game in which a combination of luck and skill can work wonders, and many blackjack players have their own blackjack strategies and “rags to riches” stories to tell the rest of the world!
Players who choose to play slots are completely reliant on luck, which is not the case with more complex games like Blackjack. Rather, they combine their luck with skills such as card counting and basic blackjack strategy. If you want to beat the house, you can learn these skills and turn the tables with our ultimate blackjack cheat sheet!
BLACK STRATEGY #1: DOUBLE DOWN ON A HARD 11
With one exception, you’ll always win more money if you double down on hard 11 against any dealer’s upcard rather than hitting in all games. If you’re playing a multi-deck game where the dealer must stand on soft 17, you’re slightly better off hitting against an Ace than doubling down.
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #2: ALWAYS SPLIT A PAIR OF EIGHTS AND ACES
Regardless of the dealer’s upcard, you should always split a pair of 8s and Aces. Unfortunately, when the dealer’s upcard is a 9, 10, or Ace, many players will not split with a pair of 8s. Since they are a significant underdog in this situation, why risk more money by splitting?
They don’t realize that playing two hands, each starting with an 8 (by splitting), makes you less of an underdog than playing one hand of 16. (and hitting). In other words, splitting 8s against a 9, 10, or Ace will cost you less money in the long run than hitting a hard 16.
Bottom line: Always splitting 8s and Aces is your best strategy because, in the case of Aces, it results in significant gains for the player; and, in the case of 8s, it will allow you to cut your losses or win more money depending on the dealer’s upcard.
(Note: If surrender is offered and you are playing a multi-deck game with H17 or a double-deck game with H17 and NDAS, your best strategy is to surrender the pair of 8s rather than splitting them.)
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #3: NEVER SPLIT A PAIR OF 5S OR TENS.
A pair of 5s is also a hard 10, and you are always better off drawing to a 10 than splitting the 5s and playing two hands, each beginning with a 5. Even though splitting 10s is often a winning play, keeping them together as 20 is an even better winning play in all situations.
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #4: ALWAYS HIT A HARD 12 AGAINST A DEALER’S 2 OR 3 UPCARDS
Most players will chicken out and stand on their 12 because they are afraid of busting. The bottom line is that whether you stand or hit against a dealer’s 2 or 3 upcards, you will lose money in the long run; however, you will lose less money by hitting (even if you risk busting some of the time), which is why it is the best strategy.
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #5: ALWAYS HIT ACE-7 (SOFT 18) WHEN THE DEALER’S UPCARD IS 9, 10, OR ACE.
Players mistakenly believe that a hand totaling 18 is a sure win, so they stand on soft 18 (A-7), even when the dealer has a “strong” upcard (e.g., 9, 10, or Ace). These are the facts. When you hold an A-7 against the dealer’s 9, 10, or Ace, you are the underdog whether you stand or hit; however, if you hit A-7, you are less of an underdog.
This is because drawing a small card (e.g., an Ace, 2, or 3) will result in a pat hand that is higher than 18, increasing your chances of winning at blackjack. And drawing any of the four ten-valued cards has no effect on the hand.
Bottom line: Always hit A-7 when the dealer shows a 9, 10, or Ace to get to a soft 19-21 or a hard 17 through 21. (There is one exception to the preceding strategy. When the dealer’s upcard is an Ace, you are slightly better off standing on A-7 in a single-deck game with S17.)
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #6: ALWAYS DOUBLE DOWN ON 10 WHEN THE DEALER’S UPCARD IS 9 OR LESS.
When you have a two-card ten against any dealer’s upcard of 9 or less, you are the favorite, which is why doubling down is the best strategy. When the dealer’s upcard is 9 or less, always double down on 10.
BLACK STRATEGY #7: IF THE RULES REQUIRE THE DEALER TO HIT SOFT 17, ALWAYS DO THE FOLLOWING:
Always double down on hard 11 versus the dealer’s ace, soft 19 (A-8) versus the dealer’s 6, and A-7 versus the dealer’s 2.
If you’re playing an H17 game, the three doubling strategy changes listed above should be made in comparison to the same game played with S17.
(Note: There are also changes to the surrender strategy.) They’re in Chapter 3 of my Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.)
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #8: ALWAYS DOUBLE DOWN A-2 THROUGH A-7 WHEN THE DEALER’S UPCARD IS A 5 OR 6.
In all games, the best strategy is to double down an A-2 through A-7 (i.e., soft 13 through 18) when the dealer’s upcard is a 5 or 6, increasing your chances of winning.
(Note: Depending on the number of decks used and the playing rules, the range of dealer’s upcards where you should double down with soft 13 through 18 varies. In a double-deck game with H17, for example, if you were dealt an A-3, you should double down not only when the dealer’s upcard is a 5 or 6 but also against a 4. However, if the dealer’s upcard is a 5 or 6, always double down with A-2 through A-7.)
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #9: ALWAYS STAND WITH A PAIR OF 9s WHEN THE DEALER’S UPCARD IS A 7.
When the dealer’s upcard is a 9 or less, most players know to split a pair of 9s. When the dealer shows a 7, they fumble the ball. In this case, standing is the better option because you’ll win slightly more money than splitting. The following is one way to remember the best strategy.
Because there are four times as many ten-value cards in a deck as in other ranks, there is a good chance that the dealer will have a ten in the hole. As a result, when the dealer’s upcard is a 7, she frequently has a part 17. Your pair of 9s, which equals an 18, would defeat her potential 17, making standing the better option over hitting.
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #10: SURRENDER HARD 16 AGAINST A DEALER’S 9, 10, OR ACE UPCARD AND HARD 15 AGAINST A DEALER’S 10 UPCARD.
A hard 15 and a hard 16 are two of the worst blackjack hands, especially when the dealer has a strong upcard (e.g., 9, 10, or Ace). You are the underdog, but you can limit your losses by surrendering the hands listed above against the dealer’s upcards. Surrendering is your best option because it will save you money in the long run.
(Note: Other hands where surrender is the best strategy depends on the number of decks of cards used and the blackjack rules.)
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #11: ALWAYS DOUBLE DOWN ON 8 AGAINST DEALER’S 5 OR 6 UPCARD IN A SINGLE-DECK GAME.
You never double down with a two-card 8 in double- and multi-deck games; however, in a single-deck game, the odds of blackjack shift to make doubling down the superior strategy over hitting.
(With one exception, the best strategy outlined above includes a pair of 4s. If the rules are DAS, instead of doubling down, split a pair of 4s.)
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #12: WHEN DEALING A PAIR OF 2S OR 3S AGAINST A DEALER’S 2S OR 3S UPCARD, SPLIT IF THE RULES ALLOW DAS AND HIT IF THEY DO NOT.
Splitting is the better strategy with DAS because if you split, say, a pair of 2s and draw a 9 for an 11 or an 8 for a 10, you can bet more money (by doubling down) in a very favorable situation.
(Note: There is one exception to the preceding rule: If you are playing a single-deck game, split a pair of 2s when the dealer shows a 3 upcard, even if the game is NDAS.)
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #13: NEVER PLACE THE INSURANCE BET
Because the insurance bet is a sucker bet, your best strategy is to avoid it when the dealer’s upcard is an Ace. Yes, even if you are dealt a good hand (such as a 19 or 20), you should not place the insurance bet. Because the payoff for the insurance bet (2 to 1) is less than the odds of the dealer having a blackjack, it is a sucker bet.
(Note: In most casinos, if you have a blackjack hand and the dealer has an Ace upcard, she will offer you “even money,” which is the same as making an insurance bet. When you have a blackjack, it’s tempting to get paid even money before she looks at her down card; however, you will win more money in the long run if you decline the even money payoff.)
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #14: IF YOUR 16 IS MULTI-CARD, STAND ON HARD 16 AGAINST A DEALER’S 10 UPCARD.
The traditional blackjack basic strategy only considers the player’s hand total and the dealer’s upcard. The strategy is to hit with a hard 16 against a dealer’s 10 upcards (assuming surrender is not offered). Even though this strategy is correct, you can improve your playing accuracy by considering whether your 16 is a multi-card 16. In the latter case (for example, 7-5-4), your best bet is to stand against the dealer’s 10 card.
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #15: NEVER EVER PLAY A 6 TO 5 BLACKJACK GAME.
A blackjack hand has always been paid out at 3 to 2 odds. For example, if you bet $10 and get an (untied) blackjack, you will be paid $15. Many casinos now pay a winning player’s blackjack at 6 to 5 odds. (In a 6 to 5 game, a $10 wager would net you only $12.)
In a single-deck game with 6 to 5, the house edge rises to about 1.45%; if 6 to 5 is offered in a double- or multi-deck game, the house edge rises to more than 2%. The best strategy is to only play blackjack games with a 3 to 2 blackjack payoff.
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #16: CHART FOR BLACKJACK
The best blackjack playing strategies are shown in the strategy chart below. The dealer’s upcard is across the top row, and your hand is down the first column. To use the chart, start in the first column with your hand (or the total count of your hand) and work your way across to the column representing the dealer’s upcard. The best playing strategy for that hand is at the intersection.
Assume you are dealt a pair of 6s, and the dealer’s upcard is a 4. You find the 6-6 row, cross to the dealer’s 4 upcards, and see a P at that intersection, indicating that the best playing strategy is to split the 6s when the dealer’s upcard is a 4. Assume you were dealt a 10-5 (15), and the dealer’s upcard was a 6.
The best strategy for any given blackjack game is determined by the number of decks of cards and the combination of the playing rules. Any changes to either may cause the playing strategy to shift slightly. Nonetheless, you could use the strategy shown in the chart below for all games without incurring too many costs, though my recommendation is to use the strategy designed for the specific game that you are playing.
Note: In Chapter 3 of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide, you can find the best playing strategy for any combination of playing rules and decks of cards.)
BLACKJACK STRATEGY #17: REMEMBERING A STRATEGY CHART
Here are four methods for memorizing the best playing strategy.
- Make index cards into flashcards. On one side, write the player’s hand, and on the other, the best playing strategy. (For example, “A-6” on one side and “Double down on 36; otherwise hit” on the other.)
- Create a blank strategy chart with pencil and paper, and then fill in the correct strategy for each hand from memory. To save time, if a play repeats itself all the way across a row, such as your play for holding hard 17, write the letter once and use an arrow pointing to the right.
- Using a deck of cards, practice making the correct playing decision. Turn over a dealer’s upcard and deal yourself two cards (representing your hand). Determine how you would play the hand, then use a strategy chart to double-check your answer.
- Using commercially available blackjack software, you can practice making the best playing decisions on your smartphone or personal computer. (There are also online practice sites that deal with basic strategy mistakes and tell you if you made them.)
Note: For more information on how to memorize the best strategy, see Chapter 4 of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.
BLACKJACK STRATEGY FAQ
Can I bring a cheat sheet with the best blackjack strategy with me when I play?
You certainly can. However, because they are laminated, sturdy, color-coded, and simple to use, I recommend using a commercially available strategy card, such as Don Schlesinger’s Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Cards. Hold the strategy card (or any strategy sheet) in your hand rather than laying it on the blackjack table for security reasons.
How long will it take to memorize the chart strategy?
It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to practice using one or a combination of the four methods mentioned above. You can also bring a strategy card with you to the game and refer to it if you are unsure of the best play.
When I go to a casino, I like to have a good time. Memorizing a strategy chart appears to be an unnecessary burden.
Investing time in learning the best playing strategy can reduce the house edge to less than 1%. (Depending on the rules, you could cut it in half or less.) This increases your chances of winning or losing money when playing blackjack and, at the very least, increases your playing time.
If you decide how to play each hand by the seat of your pants, or worse, guess, you will end up spending a lot more money in the long run. Trust me: your blackjack experience will be more fun and enjoyable if you invest the small amount of time required to learn the best playing strategy.
(Note: How much more will you pay if you don’t learn? For an analysis of how much it will cost you if you don’t take the time to learn the best playing strategy, see Chapter 2.1 of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide.)
Which of the 15 “best strategies” you mentioned is the most important?
The best bet is to avoid any blackjack game in which an untied blackjack pays only 6-5, or worse, even money. Instead, only play blackjack games where blackjack is paid 3-2.
Can I use the best blackjack strategy when playing at an online casino?
Yes. You can and should use a strategy card when playing online as long as the rules are similar to those discussed above.