There are many reasons why blackjack has consistently been a very popular game in casinos. The easy-to-understand rules and simple gameplay are no doubt contributory factors, and the low house edge is very appealing. Many players enjoy the game since they have a direct influence on the results through the decisions they make.
Blackjack is a game of chance but, unlike many other casino games, the decisions made by players do affect the outcome. As such, it's possible to play blackjack well or poorly for that matter. Game strategy is essentially mathematical, and if you make the correct mathematical decision every time, you'll maximize your potential return.
There have been a number of books written about blackjack strategy, and there are considerable complexities involved. The truth is, however, that most people aren't really interested in learning all the ins and outs of the subject; they just want to know how to have the best chance of winning. This is where basic blackjack strategy comes in handy.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
If you just want to concentrate on enjoying the game, and also improve your chances of winning, basic strategy is really all you need to know. It's not very complicated, and it's ultimately just learning what decisions you should make based on the cards you have and the exposed dealer's card you can see.
In blackjack, there are a limited number of options for any decision you have to make, and a finite combination of cards that you can have. Therefore, it's not impossible by any means to memorize all the mathematically correct decisions for each possible situation in which you find yourself. The easiest way, by far, to memorize basic blackjack strategy is to study a strategy card.
Blackjack Strategy Cards
A strategy card is a matrix that lists all the possible two card hands you can be dealt down one side, and all the possible dealer cards across the top. To use the card, you simply look for your hand, look for the card that the dealer is showing, and the point on the grid at which they intersect tells you what action you need to take.
Here's an example of what a blackjack strategy card looks like, along with a key to explaining the abbreviations used.
S = Stand
H = Hit
P = Split
D = Double Down (if allowed, hit if not)
D/S = Double Down (if allowed, stand if not)
H/P = Split if doubling is allowed after splitting (otherwise hit)
H/R = Surrender (if surrendering is an option, otherwise hit)
You can see from the key that there are certain provisions to some of the required actions. The rules vary depending upon where you are playing and what variation of the game you are using. For example, you may be allowed to double down after splitting at some casinos, but not at others.
Because there are many variations to blackjack (please see blackjack game variants), perfect strategy depends on the exact rules that apply. Variables such as the number of decks, when you can double, when you can split, etc. can all have an effect on the correct decision. The card that we have shown here can be used for a multi-deck game where the dealer stands on soft 17.
Technically speaking, you want to use the perfect strategy card for the precise rules of the game you are playing. In practice, however, most of the decisions are the same. Even when they vary, they only make a very small difference to the overall house edge.
If you follow basic strategy correctly, you should be able to keep the house edge pretty much as low as possible in the long run. It won't stop you from going on the odd losing streak, unfortunately, but over time it will ensure that the house advantage is minimal. Ideally, you should try and memorize basic strategy so you automatically know what decision to make every time.
Many casinos actually give out strategy cards to their players, so it isn't absolutely necessary to memorize everything. Of course, if you are playing online, then you can easily have a strategy card in front of you as well. For a list of the best casino sites at which to play blackjack, please see our main blackjack page.
Other Blackjack Strategies
For most players, an understanding of basic blackjack strategy is all they need to enjoy the game with the added benefit of reducing the house edge. There are others, however, who like to employ other strategies with the aim of enhancing their potential return.
Many players like to use betting systems, such as the Martingale. While using a betting system can produce positive results in the short term, in the long term they do nothing to affect the house edge at all. Some of them, in fact, are quite dangerous and can lead to significant losses.
There is, however, one blackjack strategy that can be profitable in the right circumstances: card counting. This is a difficult technique to master, but it can be done. Please see our guide to card counting for further information.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2015
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