Blackjack is a popular game. I think it draws so many people in because it’s relatively easy to learn. And for people like me, people that can’t stand handing money over to the casino, we like blackjack because it’s a game with a low house edge, and one that can be turned in our favor with a little bit of effort.
A little bit of strategy.
And strategy is what you’re going to find on this page. Below I’ve listed a few blackjack strategies that can help you improve your edge against the casino. Further down the page I provide some tips on strategies to avoid, how to improve at blackjack and I discuss whether or not blackjack strategies are illegal.
Strategy For Beating Blackjack
Basic Blackjack Strategy – This page will teach you how to lower the house edge from as much as 6-8% to as little as .4%. Not only will basic strategy lower the house edge, but it’s the foundation for all card counting systems, too.
Hi-Lo System – The Hi-Lo system is considered to be a good starting point for beginners due to it’s 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 many units to bet.
Knock-Out System – This system was developed by Ken Fuchs and Olaf Vancura in 1998. This is an easier system for beginners to learn. However, it’s not nearly as effective as the Hi-Lo system.
Ten Count System – 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. Only 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.
How to Play Specific Blackjack Hands
There are five options when playing blackjack. A player may hit, stand, double down, split, and surrender. A hit is when a player draws a card. A player may hit as many times as possible until the hand has gone over 21. A stand is when a player is done drawing cards and would like to stick with the total.
A double down requires players to put more cash on the table. A wager equal to the original bet is placed and one card is drawn. A player must keep that card and no other cards may be hit.
Split is when a player is dealt a pair. Some houses will allow players to split ten-value cards; however, we do not suggest ever doing that. Our Free Blackjack App does not allow splitting ten-value cards unless they are a pair. Most games will allow players to double down after splitting.
Surrender is available in many casinos. This is where a player gives the house half of his bet and folds.
Casinos also offer blackjack side bets but we don’t suggest you play them because the games have a high house advantage.
When to Double Down
Players should double 11 against all cards except an ace. Ten should be doubled against any card two through nine. Nine should be doubled versus a three through six. Soft hands of 18 or lower, meaning an ace and a card 7 or lower, should be doubled versus a five or six. Soft 15-18 should be doubled against a 4, while a soft 17 and 18 should be doubled against a dealer’s 3 through six.
When to Split
Always split eights and aces. Never split 5’s and 10’s. From there, nines should be split against everything except a 7, 10, or ace. Twos, threes, and sevens should be split against a 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.
When to Surrender
Players should surrender 15 against a ten or ace, 16 against a nine, ten, or ace, and 17 against an ace if the dealer hits a soft 17. Many casinos do not allow surrender.
When to Hit
Players should hit any hand that does not have an ace and cannot bust. Always make sure the hand should not be split or doubled first. From there, players should hit to 17 against a dealer’s seven or higher. Players should also hit 12 against a two or three. Make sure to always hit or double a soft 17, depending on the table rules and the dealer’s door card.
The most misplayed hand is a soft 18. It should be hit against a nine, ten, or ace and doubled against all other dealer cards except a seven or eight.
Avoid 6-5 Blackjack Tables
One of the easiest ways to improve your chances at a blackjack table is to avoid playing 6-5 blackjack tables. Playing at a 6-5 blackjack table rather than a 3-2 table increases the casinos edge by 1.39%!
Blackjack Strategies to Avoid
I just listed 5 blackjack strategies that you want to learn. Here are 3 that you want to avoid.
- Assume the dealer has a 10. This has a house edge of over 10%.
- Mimic the dealer. This has a house edge of 5.48%.
- Never bust. The player never hits a hard 12 or higher. This has a house edge of 3.91%.
How to Improve at Blackjack Strategy
Like anything worth learning, it takes dedication, work and time to improve at blackjack. You won’t become a blackjack master overnight, despite what those infomercials or get rich quick programs tell you.
There are a number of ways to improve at blackjack, though, so long as you’re willing to put in the time. Here is what you can do:
- Read books. There are a number of blackjack books that will teach you how to play blackjack, basic blackjack strategy and a number of advanced card counting techniques. Many blackjack books will talk about the life of a pro blackjack player and how to deal with casinos, too.
- Join blackjack forums. Another option is to join a blackjack forum. Only a couple are truly worth your time. But signing up to one of them will give you access to many knowledgeable players that range from blackjack newbie to blackjack pro.
- Join blackjack courses and coaching sessions. Another way to improve at blackjack is to sign up for a blackjack boot camp, coaching session or video course. You’ll want to do your due diligence, as any person can put together a program. But the right course and/or teacher can drastically shorten your learning curve.
- Do the work. This includes creating flash cards, charts and a deck of cards at home to practice, practice and practice some more.
The best way to improve at blackjack is to use all of these methods. That’s my opinion.
Is Blackjack Strategy Illegal?
No, absolutely not.
In fact, basic strategy is all but encouraged in casinos. Some casinos even provide their players basic strategy cards to use at the blackjack tables. Remember, even though basic strategy reduces the house edge, casinos are still making money off of players that use it.
I think the confusion regarding the legality of blackjack strategy comes from card counting. Since you hear about players being kicked out of casinos, and you see them get beaten up on TV in a dark room somewhere, people apparently think that it’s against the law.
But that’s not the case at all.
Card counting is not illegal. In fact, some casinos can’t punish players for being skilled at blackjack. This is the case in New Jersey.
However, all casinos frown on card counting, and for obvious reasons. With the exception of states like New Jersey, all other casinos reserve the right to ask you to leave, sometimes to never return. If you do return, you run the risk of being arrested for trespassing.
Before it gets to that point, though, casinos will try to make card counting harder for players. They’ll increase the number of decks, shuffle more often to prevent deck penetration and have dealers chat up potential card counters so they lose their count.
Does Blackjack Strategy Work?
Absolutely. Basic blackjack strategy and card counting systems are based on math, and have been proven to work.
Keep in mind that this is all over the long run, too. In other words, just because you have a 1% edge doesn’t meant that every trip to the casino you’ll come out ahead. You might lose your ass. That’s because there is variance involved. In other words, there are ups and downs, and they don’t always coincide with the odds. In the short term the odds are erratic. The odds will only even out after you put in hundreds, if not thousands of blackjack hands.
The one exception blackjack strategy is online. Strategy doesn’t (often) work online because the games are created to use infinite decks, which technically means there can be multiple, identical cards. It’s not possible to track deck penetration, either, and the decks are shuffled after every hand, too.