Each decision you make while playing blackjack has a positive or negative impact on your potential profit or loss. Every situation you have while playing has a single best way to play.
If you make the correct play it either makes you the most money in the long run or loses the least amount of money in the long run. This is called basic strategy.
Some hands lose money in the long run and some win in the long run, so your job is to make the best possible play to maximize the wins and minimize the losses.
When you read about the expected house edge in blackjack games based on the rules the percentages are based on perfect basic strategy. If you don't use the proper strategy you give the house a higher edge against you. This can add an extra one or two percent to the house edge, depending on how far from the proper strategy you stray.
You can usually find blackjack games with rules that offer a house edge of less than 1%, and can often find games with a house edge under a half percent. If you don't use basic strategy you can be playing with a house edge of 1.5% to 3% instead of a half percent.
This quickly adds up.
If your average bet is $100 and you play 100 hands per hour and you give the casino and extra 1% you lose an extra $100 per hour. By giving them an extra 2% it's $200 per hour.
If you want to play blackjack the first thing you need to do is decide to always make the best possible play.
You probably realize that there are hundreds of hands when you combine all of the possible hands you can have with the different up cards the dealer can have.
The good news is that by using a simple chart you can quickly find the best play. And you can use a strategy chart or card at the table while playing in a live casino or when playing online.
If you play in a live casino some of the other players may try to pressure you if you take too long to make a decision. But it's none of their business and you can play any way you want as long as you don't hold up the game too long.
If you're worried about holding up the game sit in the middle of the table or to the dealer's right hand side so you have longer before you have to act. This gives you more time to consult your strategy chart before being force to make a decision.
You don't even need to memorize the best plays.
But with a little effort and time you can quickly memorize the most common plays and in time memorize all of the best plays.
The next section has a chart and the following section has the hand by hand explanations. Then you'll find a section explaining a few ways to start memorizing all of the plays.
Basic Strategy Chart
This is the most universal basic strategy chart and can be used in all blackjack games with any rule combinations. A few small adjustments can be made against certain rules combinations, but it becomes complicated to memorize multiple charts. We've included a short section later explaining these adjustments for the dedicated player.
The dealer's up card is listed across the top. Your cards are listed down the first column to the left. Simply go down the left column until you find your cards and then go across to the column with the dealer's card to find the best play.
The key for each play is as follows:
Double if permitted, otherwise hit.
Double if permitted, otherwise stand
Split if double after split is permitted, otherwise hit
Surrender if permitted, otherwise hit
|Dealer Up Card|
|2 - 2||SplitD||SplitD||Split||Split||Split||Split||Hit||Hit||Hit||Hit|
|3 - 3||SplitD||SplitD||Split||Split||Split||Split||Hit||Hit||Hit||Hit|
|4 - 4||Hit||Hit||Hit||SplitD||SplitD||Hit||Hit||Hit||Hit||Hit|
|5 - 5||DblH||DblH||DblH||DblH||DblH||DblH||DblH||DblH||Hit||Hit|
|6 - 6||SplitD||Split||Split||Split||Split||Hit||Hit||Hit||Hit||Hit|
|7 - 7||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Hit||Hit||Hit||Hit|
|8 - 8||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split|
|9 - 9||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Stand||Split||Split||Stand||Stand|
|10 - 10||Stand||Stand||Stand||Stand||Stand||Stand||Stand||Stand||Stand||Stand|
|Ace - Ace||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split||Split|
Text Version and Vision Impaired
Many players use the chart listed above but a few players prefer to read the correct plays. Having the correct plays written out also is valuable to people who have vision problems and use software to hear what's on the page.
We've listed the proper plays for each situation below in four sections. Simply find the section that describes your hand and follow the instructions.
Any starting hand you hold with an ace is called a soft hand. A soft hand is when you have an ace that can be used as a one or 11. In the following combinations, if you have more than two cards, simply add the cards that aren't an ace.
This can happen when you start with an ace and a different side card and hit. Starting with an ace two and receiving a four after hitting leaves you with ace two four. Looking at the chart you look at the line for a soft 17. Using the list below you look at the one for ace six because the two and four add up to six.
- Ace ace
Always split a pair of aces. Split aces as many times as allowed.
- Ace two or soft 13
You always hit with a soft 13 and double if allowed against a dealer five or six.
- Ace three or soft 14
Always hit and double against a five or six if allowed.
- Ace four or soft 15
You always hit with a soft 15 and double if allowed against a dealer four, five, or six.
- Ace five or soft 16
Always hit and double against a four, five, and six if allowed.
- Ace six or soft 17
Double against a three, four, five, and six if allowed and otherwise hit.
- Ace seven or soft 18
Stand against a dealer two, seven, and eight, hit against a nine, 10, or ace, and double if allowed against three, four, five, or six.
- Ace eight or soft 19
Stand at all times.
- Ace nine or soft 20
- Ace 10
Blackjack! Always stand.
Whenever you have a pair for your first two cards you need to decide if you should split.
- Two two
Split against a dealer four, five, six, and seven, hit against a dealer eight, nine, 10, and ace, and against a dealer two or three split if you can double after split and hit if double after split isn't allowed.
- Three three
Play your hand exactly the same as two two. If double after split is allowed split against a dealer two or three, otherwise hit against these two cards. Hit against a dealer eight, nine, 10, and ace, and split against a dealer four, five, sis, and seven.
- Four four
When double after split is allowed split against a dealer five and six, otherwise hit. Hit against all other dealer cards.
- Five five
Never split fives. Hit against a dealer 10 or ace and double against all other dealer cards if allowed.
- Six six
Hit against a dealer seven, eight, nine, 10, and ace. Split against a dealer three, four, five, and six. Split against a dealer two if double after split is allowed, otherwise hit.
- Seven seven
Split against a dealer two, three, four, five, six, and seven. Hit against a dealer eight, nine, 10, and ace.
- Eight eight
Always split eights.
- Nine nine
Split against a dealer two, three, four, five, six, eight, and nine. Stand against a dealer seven, 10, and ace.
- Ten ten
Always stand with a total of 20.
- Ace ace
Aces should always be split. If you receive another ace on one of your split aces you should split again. Do this as many times as possible.
A hard total is any hand that doesn't have an ace where you can use it as a one or 11. In any two card starting hand you can use an ace as either one or 11, but after you hit one or more times you can reach a total where the ace can't be used as an 11 without busting. When this happens you hold a hard hand.
- Hard four
The only hard four is a pair of twos. This is covered in the two two line under pairs. If splitting isn't allowed then always hit with a hard four.
- Hard five
Always hit with hard five.
- Hard six
Hit against all dealer cards with a hard six.
- Hard seven
Always hit with a hard seven.
- Hard eight
Hit against all dealer totals with hard eight.
- Hard nine
If double is allowed, double against a dealer three, four, five, or six, otherwise hit. Hit against all other dealer cards.
- Hard 10
When double is allowed, double against a dealer two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine, otherwise hit. Hit against a dealer 10 and ace.
- Hard 11
Double against any dealer car except an ace if doubling is permitted, otherwise hit. Hit against a dealer ace.
- Hard 12
Stand against a dealer four, five, and six. Hit against all other dealer cards.
- Hard 13
Stand against a dealer two, three, four, five, and six. Hit against a dealer seven, eight, nine, 10, and ace.
- Hard 14
Stand against a dealer two, three, four, five, or six and hit against seven or higher.
- Hard 15
Against a dealer two, three, four, five, and six you should stand. Against a dealer seven, eight, nine, 10, and ace you should hit.
- Hard 16
Stand against a dealer total of two, three, four, five, and six. Hit against all other dealer totals.
- Hard 17
Stand against all dealer hands.
- Hard 18
Always stand with a hard 18.
- Hard 19
Stand against all dealer hands.
- Hard 20
Always stand with a hard 20.
- Hard 21
Stand against all dealer totals.
If surrender is allowed you should surrender with a hard 15 against a dealer 10 and with a hard 16 against a dealer nine, 10, or ace. If surrender isn't allowed then hit in these four situations.
The chart and instructions above are designed for a game where the dealer stands on a soft 17. If you play in a game where the dealer hits on a soft 17 you can make the following adjustments.
As we mentioned above, it can be complicated to keep two different charts straight in your mind so learning the first chart is best. However, there are only six hands that change so it's possible to learn and use the differences.
Instead of splitting eight eight against a dealer ace, surrender if allowed, otherwise split.
With a soft 18 against a dealer two and with a soft 19 against a dealer six double if allowed, otherwise stand.
With a hard 11 against a dealer ace double if allowed, hit otherwise. With a hard 15 against a dealer ace surrender if permitted, otherwise hit. With a hard 17 against a dealer ace, surrender if permitted and otherwise stand.
Insurance or Even Money
Notice that there's not a single hand that recommends taking insurance or even money. This is because taking insurance is always a losing proposition.
When the dealer has an ace showing you have the option of making another bet equal to the size of your first bet that pays two to one if the dealer has a 10 hole card. If you take insurance and the dealer has a 21 you lose your first bet but get double on your second so you break even.
But when the dealer doesn't have 21 you lose the insurance bet and your first bet plays out as normal.
On the surface this may seem like a good bet, but a simple look at the math behind the bet shows why you should never take insurance.
When the dealer has an ace showing she has a blackjack any time a 10, jack, queen, or king is her down card. This means four of the 13 possible cards pay off on the insurance bet.
But this also means that the other nine cards, two through nine and ace, make you lose the insurance bet. This is a ratio of nine to four, with nine losing cards and four winning cards. But the bet only pays two to one.
The odds of nine to four is worse than two to one, so it's a losing bet.
Forget your normal hand because it doesn't have anything to do with the insurance offer. Insurance is just a bet on what the dealer has as a down card. And since it's offered at bad odds you can now see that it should be avoided.
This is just another way the casinos try to be sneaky and build a bigger long term edge against you.
How to Memorize Basic Strategy
The easiest way to start memorizing basic strategy is to use the chart provided above to make every playing decision. As you play you'll start recognizing the correct play for most hands before checking your chart.
Sign up for a free account at one of our recommended online casinos and start playing the free blackjack games. You can play over 100 hands per hour in most cases so you can get a great deal of practice in a short amount of time.
Eventually you'll only need to check your chart on the most difficult plays and if you play long enough all of the plays will come from memory.
The other way is more difficult for most players, but if you have a strong mind for memory you can simply start memorizing the chart.
A quick tip is to group similar hands together.
All of the hard hands totaling four, five, six, seven, and eight are played the same way. On all of these hands you always hit. If you're playing a game where doubling isn't allowed, you can add all of the hard totals of nine, 10 and 11 to this. As a side note, you should avoid games where doubling isn't allowed as they have a higher house edge.
Other easy to learn hands include:
- Always split aces and eights.
- Soft 13 and 14 are played the same.
- Soft 15 and 16 are played the same.
- Soft 17 only has one dealer card played differently than soft 15 and 16.
- Hard 13, 14, 15, and 16 are played the same unless surrender is allowed.
- Hard 10 and 11 are the same except for one dealer card.
- Two two and three three are played the same.
- All of the hard totals 17 and above are played the same.
- All of the soft totals of 19 and above are played the same.
The majority of hands are hard hands and the complete hard hand strategy is fairly simple. Memorize it first and you'll find that you won't need to refer to the chart often.
The next chart to memorize after you've mastered the hard hands is the soft hands. Most of them are straightforward as well, with the main changes of knowing when to double down.
Once you have the hard and soft hands memorized the splits will come easy to finish out your mental chart. You only need to learn the split rules for twos, threes, fours, sixes, sevens, and nines.
The main thing is to not be afraid that you can't learn the chart and to get started right away. Almost anyone can improve their results and reduce the house edge with a small amount of effort and time.
If you learn how to count cards you can play with a small edge against the house while playing blackjack. This page is about basic strategy so we aren't going to dig into the realm of card counting, but it does have quite a bit to do with basic strategy.
Card counters learn perfect basic strategy before they start trying to learn about counting. If you can't put in the work to learn perfect strategy you have no hope of being a successful card counter.
Once you master basic blackjack strategy then you should investigate card counting to see if it's something you might want to learn. Counting cards online won't get you an edge because the software shuffles the cards after each deal, but if you play live it might be able to help you win or at least play a break even game.
Learning and using blackjack basic strategy gives you the best chance to win. It reduces the house edge as much as possible and helps you have more winning playing sessions.
Most players don't take the time to learn basic strategy, but if you use the information above you can quickly start using the best play for every situation. Use the tips in the how to memorize basic strategy section and you'll be a master in no time.
And don't forget to use the chart provided as you're learning. Once you get used to it you can find the proper play in a second or two.