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How to Win Blackjack: Basic Strategy

Don Johnson
Written by Don Johnson

Enter the first article in our series on blackjack strategies, covering fundamental tactics. Learn essential basics, ensuring adept gameplay and prudent money management for players of all levels.

Along with roulette and slots, blackjack is one of the most popular casino table games amongst UK players. According to research by Casino Alpha, blackjack delivers a gross gambling yield of 4.9%. Providing a simple yet effective alternative to spinning video slots or a roulette wheel, blackjack success comes down to both luck and strategy.

Although winning every blackjack game, either online or at a physical establishment, is the goal for many — it is unrealistic, as with any classic casino game. But, so long as you manage your expectations and take into account the nuance of blackjack, you’ll be in the best possible mindset to take on the dealer with confidence, even as a beginner.

This page discusses all things blackjack for novices, providing key ways to master a basic blackjack strategy next time you’re at the table.

Before unpacking the game plan, it’s important to understand what commonly used blackjack terms mean.

  • DAS: This is a shortened version of the phrase “double after split”. This action refers to splitting a hand, then doubling down straight afterwards.
  • Double: Also referred to as “double down”, this form of play means doubling your bet. You will only receive one further card from the dealer if you choose to do this. It’s also important to note that “double” rules significantly vary from casino to casino. There are times when doubling isn’t permitted, so always check before you play.
  • Hit: Alternatively known as a “draw”, this simply means taking another card and adding it to your hand.
  • Pair: A hand with two cards of equal value.
  • Split: If your first two cards dealt to your hand are equal in value, you can “split” your hand into two. Players are typically allowed to split their hand up to four times during a game, but this can vary depending on the casino.
  • Stand: Putting an end to your hand without taking any new cards from the dealer.
  • Surrender: If you don’t want to continue playing your hand, you “surrender”, which means giving up half the value of your bet. This could potentially result in losing the entire bet depending on the course of the game.

Blackjack Basic Strategy for Beginners

In blackjack, participants aim to assemble a hand as close to 21 points as possible without exceeding it with one deck of cards where each is initially dealt two. The game challenges players to surpass the dealer’s total points, ensuring they do not go over the 21-point limit. A unique aspect of blackjack is the ability to handle up to 11 cards in a single hand without busting, demonstrated by a combination of four aces, four twos, and three threes to precisely reach 21 points.

The cards in a deck are valued by a simple scheme. While those from 2 to 10 of any suit are worth the numeric value indicated on them, a Queen, a King, and a Jack all have 10 points. The Ace is the most powerful card in the deck. It may count both 1 and 11 points.

Have a look at the basic blackjack hand values before passing to the specifics:

blackjack hand values

As mentioned previously, the Ace’s value adjusts based on the hand’s total — all to prevent exceeding 21 points.

Initially, an ace is valued at 11, favouring the hand’s score without surpassing the 21-point limit. But if adding 11 would result in a total beyond 21, the Ace then counts as 1, reducing the risk of busting. This distinction introduces two hand types: “soft” and “hard.”

  • A “softhand contains an ace valued at 11, providing flexibility since the total remains under 21, allowing for additional cards without busting;
  • A “hardhand emerges when the ace must be counted as 1 to avoid exceeding 21, signalling a fixed hand with no ace flexibility.

By reading the cards from left to right, imagine a scenario with the following hand sequence:

3 — Ace — 5 — Ace — 7 — Queen

Here’s a stepwise explanation:

Blackjack Aces counting

  1. The initial sum is 3 with the respective card number.
  2. When the Ace appears, let’s hypothetically assign it a value of 11 for now, increasing our sum to 3 + 11 = 14 and giving us a soft hand. This creates what we might term a “soft 14”, due to the Ace’s dual value potential, allowing room for additional cards without exceeding the limit.
  3. Adding a 5 to our “soft 14” gives us a “soft 19.”
  4. Upon receiving another Ace, we adjust its value to 1, considering the previous Ace’s value at 11. This alteration gives us a “soft 20.”
  5. Introducing a 7 elevates our total to 27, surpassing 21. To rectify this, we reevaluate the initial Ace as 1, reducing 10 from our total, leading to a “hard 17” because it now lacks the flexibility of an Ace valued at 11.
  6. Finally, adding a Queen (valued at 10) to our “soft 17” culminates in a total of 27, which exceeds the limit, indicating the player’s defeat in this scenario.

The ace’s dual value plays a strategic role in blackjack, offering players the choice to adapt their hand based on received cards, optimising chances for a favourable outcome.

As for the methods players use to increase their chances to win blackjack, they are multiple. Counting cards, for example, is one of the most well-known, which, however, has a controversial reputation. Widely portrayed in Hollywood films like Barry Levinson’s Rain Man (1988) or Robert Luketic’s 21 (2008), counting cards is considered to be on the advanced strategy spectrum and used by high rollers. So, in this article, we’ll be focusing on the more basic approaches, suitable for those who only start becoming skilled.

Rain Man - a frame from the movie

Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (1988) © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Key Strategy Basics

As with virtually any casino table game, money management is the most important aspect of a basic strategy blackjack-focused. In simple terms, you need to understand exactly how much you’re planning to spend and how you’re going to bet. The secret is investing the right amount of money at the right time.

Once you’ve been dealt your hand, you have several options: stand, double (or double down), split or surrender. Thinking rationally and using logic to make the most reasonable decision is key, and you mustn’t deviate from your initial budgeting plan. Imagine the most obvious steps. For example, you have several cards that give 20 points. Will you ask for more? Will you hit? If you do not want to lose your money, you will not. But what if you have only 7 points? We bet you will hardly stand, right?

This is the simplest, least controversial way to play. This is why we call it a basic blackjack strategy. To establish how these scenarios work, our team has prepared a chart.

HARD TOTALS DEALER UPCARD
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
17 S S S S S S S S S S
16 S S S S S H H H H H
15 S S S S S H H H H H
14 S S S S S H H H H H
13 S S S S S H H H H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
11 D D D D D D D D D D
10 D D D D D D D D H H
9 H D D D D H H H H H
8 H H H H H H H H H H
SOFT TOTALS DEALER UPCARD
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
A,9 S S S S S S S S S S
A,8 S S S S Ds S S S S S
A,7 Ds Ds Ds Ds Ds S S H H H
A,6 H D D D D H H H H H
A,5 H H D D D H H H H H
A,4 H H D D D H H H H H
A,3 H H H D D H H H H H
A,2 H H H D D H H H H H
PAIR SPLITTING DEALER UPCARD
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
A,A Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
T,T N N N N N N N N N N
9,9 Y Y Y Y Y N Y Y N N
8,8 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
7,7 Y Y Y Y Y Y N N N N
6,6 Y/N Y Y Y Y N N N N N
5,5 N N N N N N N N N N
4,4 N N N Y/N Y/N N N N N N
3,3 Y/N Y/N Y Y Y Y N N N N
2,2 Y/N Y/N Y Y Y Y N N N N
KEY H Hit
S Stand
D Double if allowed, otherwise hit
Ds Double if allowed, otherwise stand
N Don’t split the pair
Y Split the pair
Y/N Split only if “DAS” is offered

Gamblizard’s blackjack basic strategy table

Outlining all the information you need to make reasonable and strategic decisions.

We recommend printing our chart and having it on hand when you’re playing blackjack. As there is nothing illegal or controversial about utilising help tables like this, most casinos permit having strategy cards on the table. Still, make sure to double-check with the dealer before you begin.

Key Stake Strategies

After a few games, it can feel tempting to join high-stakes games. However, it’s important to err on the side of caution until you gain enough experience.

Doyle Brunson, an American poker player whose professional career spanned 50 years, famously said:

Gambling is a hard way to make an easy living.

As The Daily Mail reports, blackjack players lost over $1 billion on the Las Vegas Strip in a single 2023 year, showcasing the sheer scale of monetary loss this game can cause. However, there are plenty of contrasting success stories, including Deivis Karklins, who won £54,000 after betting just £1 on the blackjack side bet game ‘Ace King Progressive’ in Aberdeen’s popular Grosvenor casino. Blackjack, thus, is a game that can produce big highs but equally big lows, that is why it’s important to calculate your moves.

In terms of blackjack basic strategy single deck decisions, only raise the bet if you win.

Again, it may seem tempting to try to win back money if you’re on a losing streak, but it’s important to stop if you lose.

Here are some key tips that align with this strategy:

  1. Don’t increase your bet significantly – 1 unit is more than enough.
  2. Always start from the lowest bet players can make, even if it is only a quid.
  3. If you increase your bet and lose, go back to the lowest bet.

Now, onto another plan of action.

1-3-2-6 Blackjack Betting

An additional blackjack basic strategy comes in the form of the 1-3-2-6 approach.

For example, let’s say you begin your game by betting £10. You make this first bet (number 1 in the formula, hence the £10 bet) and win. Then, the ‘3’ comes into play, meaning you’ll bet £30 as it’s 3 times the value of your initial bet. If you win again, you’ll bet £20 in line with the formula, and £60 if another win follows. Then, you go back to ‘1’ again:

blackjack betting strategy 1-3-2-6

The 1-3-2-6 Blackjack formula

However, the 1-3-2-6 strategy only comes into play if you continue to win. If you lose at any point, you must bet the lowest value akin to your ‘1’ bet.

In this example case, even if you’re at the ‘3’ stage, you must still only bet £10 following a loss. This mitigates overall risk, making it a good basic blackjack basic strategy table tactic.

More Advanced Strategies

While we’re focusing on initial strategies suitable for beginners, it’s important to still be aware of some of the most advanced schemes professional players use. Become familiar with these options in other Gamblizard articles, and you’ll be on your way to start advancing your gameplay as you get more confident with the game.

The Martingale strategy and counting cards are popular. Ken Uston, a professional blackjack player, became well-known for his use of the counting cards method. The Martingale strategy involves increasing your stake as many times as needed to outweigh all previous losses. All counting card techniques follow a simple mantra: if the count is positive, then there’s a higher chance large cards will be drawn. If the count is negative, the situation is the opposite and doesn’t favour the player.

To Sum Up

Equipped with these key blackjack strategy pointers, you now have a roadmap for acquiring the basic techniques. Remember, it’s crucial to remain cautious at a physical or online casino and specify exactly what you’re willing to bet. This way, you’ll never be caught out losing more than you can afford.

If playing online, don’t be afraid to print the offered blackjack basic strategy table to refer to as you play. Over time, your decisions will become more automatic. If visiting a physical casino, make sure it’s 100% reputable and trustworthy by providing players with genuine chances to win. Gamblizard prepared a list of the most creditable ones in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Bristol, Newcastle, and Leicester to narrow your search.

References

  1. Glossary of Blackjack Terms, Blackjack Apprenticeship, https://www.blackjackapprenticeship.com/glossary-of-blackjack-terms/. Accessed 7 March 2024.
  2. Pennock, Lewis. Gamblers are wagering more than ever on the Las Vegas Strip – with blackjack players losing almost $1 BILLION in the last year as casinos make these changes that favour the house, Daily Mail. 29 May 2023, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12136251/Gamblers-wagering-Las-Vegas-losses-increase.html. Accessed 7 March 2024.
  3. Fleming, Graham. Dad wins £54,000 from £1 bet placed in Aberdeen casino, The Press and Journal. 2 November 2023, https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/aberdeen-aberdeenshire/6246432/aberdeen-casino-blackjack-win/. Accessed 7 March 2024.
  4. “Rain Man”, directed by Barry Levinson, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1988, IMBd, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095953/?ref_=tt_mv_close. Accessed 8 March, 2024.
Author
Don Johnson
Don Johnson Game Expert, Blackjack

Don used to work in Treasure Island casino in Vegas for 4 years as a dealer before joining Gamblizard. Name a card game — Don knows all the stone-cold nuts. His passion is Blackjack, and the approach to studying it — scientific. A total ace in our deck, Don can ensure you will learn all about the Vingt-et-un.
Mail: [email protected]

FAQ

Is blackjack the best, most profitable game for a player?

In short, users who play online, as well as players who play offline have the best odds. The house edge is usually just 1%.

Is there any 100% correct strategy to play blackjack?

The basic blackjack strategy may be considered the “correct strategy” because it is simple, safe, and even obvious. According to it, if you have a lot of points, 20, to be exact, you will not hit. If you have a few points, for example, 5, you will not stand. As for all other strategies, that may work for some players and be absolutely poor for other ones. There is no strategy that would allow you to win all the time.

What are Las Vegas rules, and how are they different from classic blackjack rules?

In Vegas, two versions of blackjack are played the most frequently. They are the double-deck 21 and the multiple decks 21. As for the special rules, here are the most important requirements and nuances: you can double down, re-split, a dealer can hit a soft 17, you can use insurance.

What is the most important thing to consider to win in blackjack?

There is no single strategy that would allow you to win every time you play blackjack or another game. There are some strategies you can use, and some of them are described in the article, but there are different situations, different types of blackjack, so we cannot say that one of these strategies is better than other ones. Just choose your favorite method and never forget about money management – these are the most important things when it comes to blackjack.

Should I play a single deck or multi-deck blackjack?

It is up to you. It is considered that the single deck version of blackjack is slightly better, in particular, because it is easier to understand what cards were discarded. However, casinos provide players with an opportunity to enjoy multi-deck games and set good conditions and reasonable rules. What is more important for you? Make your decision.
On the other hand, finding player-friendly conditions and good rules in multi-deck shoes is much easier. Therefore, single and double-deck games have an inherent advantage over multi-deck games, but they are also easily manipulated to the casino’s benefit.

What should I consider when choosing a variation of blackjack?

Well, that depends on your priorities and plans, in particular, on the strategy you are going to use. Try to learn everything about the variations of blackjack offered in a reputable casino and make your choice considering the strategy you are going to use.

Can you “hack” the game?

There is no single blackjack strategy that would work all the time. You need to develop the skill, learn to count automatically or almost automatically, learn all the combinations, choose the strategy that works for you by trial and error. You cannot find a method that would bring you a lot of money at once, but you can become an experienced gambler and regularly win if you are lucky and skilled enough.

What is the best card counting technique?

There is no perfect optimal strategy that, along with the hand chart and basic table would allow you to win all the time. Moreover, none of them can provide you with the 100% accurate, right recommendation on the actions you need to take in a particular situation. The basic system is good enough, like plus-minus count and true count, as well as many other less common blackjack count techniques.

Do I cheat when I count?

You are not exactly cheating. We would say that you are violating an unwritten rule that is very profitable for a casino. Moreover, even if you play in a land-based casino but if you are experienced enough, and play a one-deck version of blackjack (it is much easier to count when playing it), someone will hardly notice this. Still, you should not show this when you are offline. It is much easier to do this when playing online, even if you are playing in live mode.

Should I use insurance?

No, you should not, at least if you use the basic strategy. Experienced gamblers note that only beginners usually use it, but it doesn’t make much sense.

Any other blackjack tips?

Always think about the current situation. Ignoring the circumstances and relying on certain tactics, counting, secret betting, whatever, may lead to bad consequences. It is a game of skill and a chance – after all, every game is random to some extent, so make reasonable decisions.