It only takes a few minutes to learn the rules of blackjack and play a few hands. That’s a big reason for the game’s global popularity. Of course, blackjack has been around for a long time, and it takes years to truly master. That’s why blackjack strategy is so important.
Blackjack is a game of chance, but compared to other casino games, it has one of the lowest house edges and actually has a lot of strategic potential. As a result, strategies have emerged to help players maximize their chances of winning at a blackjack table, whether it’s online or at a real casino.
On this page, we cover some popular blackjack strategies and discuss the elements of the game that allow players to employ those strategies.
What Are The Basic Types Of Blackjack Strategies?
When you play blackjack, you have five possible actions as a player. You can hit, stand, double down, split, or surrender. We cover each of these terms in more detail in our How To Play Blackjack guide. No matter what action you take, your goal is to get your hand (or hands, in certain scenarios) as close to 21 as possible without going over.
While hit, stand, double down, and split are available at every blackjack table, surrender is a less common option only offered by some casinos, both online and land-based.
Basic strategy in blackjack comes from knowing which action is best based on your hand and the dealer’s upcard. Here’s a rundown of basic strategies you can use to increase your chances of winning.
When To Hit
You should usually hit any hand that does not have an ace and cannot bust. Always make sure the hand should not be split or doubled first (check those specific sections for more detail on splits and doubling down).
From there, hit until your hand totals 17 if the dealer’s upcard is a seven or higher. You should also hit when you have 12 against the dealer if their upcard is a two or three. Make sure to always hit or double a soft 17 (a hand totaling 17 that includes an ace), if the table rules allow it.
The most misplayed hand is a soft 18 (a hand totaling 18 that includes an ace). It should be hit against a dealer upcard of nine, ten, or ace and doubled against all other dealer cards except a seven or eight.
When To Double Down
Doubling down can be extremely advantageous to players if done correctly. There are certain scenarios where doubling down gives you a significant strategic advantage and a chance to double your winnings at the end of a hand.
You should double down on an 11 against any dealer upcard except an ace. If your hand is worth 10 points, double down if the dealer shows any card two through nine. If you have nine points, double if the dealer has a three through six showing.
Soft hands of 18 or lower, meaning an ace and a card seven or lower, should be doubled versus a dealer’s five or six. Soft 15-18 should be doubled against a four, while a soft 17 and 18 should be doubled against a dealer’s three through six. Remember that a “soft” hand is a hand that includes an ace, which can be counted as either a one or an 11.
When To Split
Always split eights and aces. Never split fives or 10s. From there, nines should be split against everything except a dealer’s seven, 10, or ace. Twos, threes, and sevens should be split against a dealer upcard of two through seven. Sixes should be split versus a two through six. Fours should be split against a four through six, but only if doubling after the split is allowed.
Hone Your Strategy With Free Blackjack
Confused yet? Don’t worry, you can test these strategies out using a free online blackjack game to better understand when you should take each specific action.
There are two primary types of blackjack table: 3:2 tables and 6:5 tables. These numbers are the odds that determine payouts if a player hits blackjack.
If you bet $10 on a 3:2 table and hit blackjack, you will receive $15, or 1.5 times your initial bet. At a 6:5 table the same bet would only pay $12 if you hit blackjack, because you receive a return of $6 for every $5 you bet.
Simply put, 6:5 tables pay less overall and are less advantageous to players. If you can, steer clear of 6:5 tables and instead stick to 3:2 payouts, which are better for you as a player.
The House Edge
House edge refers to the advantage that the casino has over you in any particular game. It’s written in the form of a percentage. For example, blackjack with no basic strategy usually has a house edge of 1.5%.
In terms of dollars and cents, this means that for every $1 you spend, the casino makes $.015 from you. You get $.985 back. Since most live blackjack games have a minimum bet of $5, that means that they’re making $.08 per player, per hand. This is meant to represent a general trend, not a guaranteed outcome. Over time, the casino is statistically likely to earn the house edge over thousands of hands. So, despite the casino having an advantage, it’s still possible for individual payers to leave the table with more money than they had when they sat down.
What Can Change The House Edge?
Small tweaks to a blackjack game can change the house edge. Here are a few common factors that affect the casino’s advantage over players:
- Number of decks: The more decks in play, the harder it is to make a blackjack, increasing the house edge.
- Player Options: This includes splitting, (re)splitting aces, doubling down and surrendering. Having these options taken away increases the house edge.
- Dealer Hits Soft 17: Hitting a soft 17 (versus standing) increases the house edge.
- Blackjack Payout: A 6:5 or 1:1 blackjack payout increases the house edge, compared to the standard 3:2.
- Basic Strategy: Having an understanding of basic strategy can lower the house edge to as little as .05%.
Blackjack Card Counting
Despite what you may have seen in movies or TV, card counting is not incredibly complex, and even beginning players can use counting systems to lower the house edge.
In blackjack, card counting involves assigning a point value to each card (separate from the face value of each card in the game). When cards are dealt, you use these values to add or subtract from the final “count,” which helps you determine which action you should take. Head to our full card counting guide for more detailed information.
Basic Card Counting Strategies
There are many different card counting strategies, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. Below are a few of the most common blackjack card counting systems.
- Ten Count: Known as the first mathematically sound system for card counting, the Ten Count system was introduced in 1962. When used correctly, this system gives the player a 1% edge over the casino. Ten Count is only suitable for use in single deck blackjack games.
- Zen Count: The Zen Count system was created by Arnold Snyder. It’s a system for advanced players, and uses +1 and -1 like the Hi-Lo and Knock-Out system, but also uses the values +2 and -2.
- Hi-Lo: The Hi-Lo system is considered to be a good starting point for beginners due to its effectiveness and relative ease to learn. This strategy assigns values of +1, 0 and -1 to each card. You’ll figure a true count, and based on the number of decks you’ll know how much to bet.
Card counting comes in many forms, so it’s just a matter of finding the system that works for you.
Blackjack Betting Strategies
Betting strategies work a little differently than in-game strategies. Instead of telling you when to hit or double down or take another action, betting strategies are meant to help you decide how much to bet on each hand. Use them in conjunction with basic strategy to help maximize your chances at a win.
Betting systems almost always fall under one of two umbrellas: positive (progression) and negative (regression). In Positive betting systems, you increase your bet after a win. In negative systems, you increase your bet after each loss to help recoup those losses.
Betting strategies are honed to help you ramp up your potential for big wins and mitigate potential losses. Blackjack is a game of chance, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll win using these systems.
The Martingale is a regressive betting system. When you use the Martingale strategy, you double your bet after each loss. For example, if you make a $5 bet and lose, your next bet would be $10. Lose that one and your next bet would be $20. The idea is that your first win will cover all of your losses, plus put you one (original) unit ahead. If you win a hand, you keep your bet the same.
The Parlay betting system is (nearly) the opposite of the Martingale. What you do here is set up a spread, say, from $10 to $100. Starting at $10, every time that you win, you will double your bet. Once you lose, you reset back to $10. Once you hit the $100 mark, you take your winnings and reset back to $10. The idea here is to take advantage of hot streaks while minimizing your losses and the possibility of losing the money earned during said hot streak.
Where To Play Blackjack Online
Ready to test out your blackjack strategy, card counting, and betting systems? Thanks to its longtime popularity, blackjack is one of the most accessible casino games in the world. Here’s how you can play online.
Real Money Casino Blackjack
In Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, blackjack enthusiasts can enjoy the game for real money online. Online casinos are live in those states with blackjack, giving you a chance to hone your strategy and (hopefully) win some real money.
Some of the online casinos even offer live dealer blackjack, where a real dealer live streams a table and deals cards via video while the computer allows players to place bets and chat with one another at a virtual table. For serious players, it’s hard to beat real money blackjack.
In states with legal, live online casinos, check out DraftKings Casino and BetMGM for some of the best online blackjack for real money.
For players without real money online blackjack, sweepstakes casinos are the best alternative. They’re legal in every state except Washington.
At sweepstakes sites like Chumba Casino (which has a blackjack game), you purchase in-game currency and use it to play casino games. You can even win cash prizes using a second currency called “sweeps coins” or “sweeps cash.” Anyone 18 or over can access sweepstakes sites and play blackjack online.
Free Online Blackjack
Anyone with an internet connection can enjoy free online blackjack right here on our site. There’s a single-player version that allows you to play up to three hands at once. Another option is the multi-player version, allowing you to play with up to two friends.
Free blackjack is the most accessible way to test out your strategies and learn the cadence of the game.
Blackjack Strategy – Common Questions
Yes, in certain regions. New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania all have real money online casinos that offer blackjack. If you’re in one of those states, you can sign up and play blackjack online for real money. A few other states are working through legislation to allow real money online blackjack, but they aren’t live yet.
Sweepstakes blackjack allows you to win cash prizes, but you can’t bet for real money.
Not at all. In fact, strategy is a core component of blackjack and one of the reasons it’s such a popular game. Playing with strategy lowers the house edge and gives you better chances to win. Some casinos even hand out basic strategy cards to beginning players so they can understand the game better.
No, card counting is not illegal. Many casinos frown upon it, though. Instead of prohibiting card counting, most casinos will put measures in place to make it more difficult, such as adding more decks to their blackjack games or shuffling frequently.
Yes, but it’s tricky. Most online casinos shuffle the virtual decks after each hand, making it near-impossible to accurately count cards. Some online casinos may make it easier, but it’s generally difficult to do. Your best bet is to play with basic blackjack strategy online to maximize your win potential.
Usually, no. This is especially true in online games that make card counting difficult. The insurance bet has a high house edge and is unlikely to hit for the player.
However, if you’re counting cards and feel reasonably confident the dealer will hit blackjack, insurance can be a good bet. For the majority of hands, however, it’s not a great bet to place.
Yes. Side bets are used by both land-based and online casinos. Insurance is the most common side bet, and it’s a good example of an option that increases the house edge. Most side bets give the house an extra advantage and should be avoided. Insurance may pay 2:1 but the likelihood of that bet paying out is low for the player.
You can play on our free online blackjack page. Both games–one single-player and one multiplayer–help you familiarize yourself with the game. You can learn about the actions players can take, hone betting strategies, and generally get a feel for the game without risking any real money.
Yes, but only in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Michigan and West Virginia have both legalized online casinos but have yet to actually launch them.
For those in states without legal online blackjack, sweepstakes casinos are a great alternative. You have a shot at cash prizes when playing blackjack at those sites, even if you’re not betting for real money.