Blackjack Basic Strategy

Any trusted online blackjack strategy guide will start with basic strategy. This approach informs players, based on their hand and the dealer's upcard, which action is most likely to win.

Using basic strategy reduces the house edge of the game as much as possible, and in games that use only a single deck, gives players a slight edge over the house.

Basic blackjack strategy is simple to understand, with only minor alterations for different variations of the game. For inexperienced players however, it can be initially tricky to learn. We recommend that new players keep our (downloadable and printable) blackjack strategy chart handy when learning, or practice with free blackjack games.

Let's look at a few recommended tactics:

The Basics

1 What is Surrender in Blackjack?
Where available, it's recommended that a player surrenders if their hand totals 16 and the dealer's upcard is 9, 10 or Ace, OR if the player holds 15 and the dealer's upcard is 10.
Tip: Don't worry about finding a game with the option to surrender. The difference between it and hitting the hands above (instead of surrendering) is minimal.
2 When Can You Split in Blackjack?
Hands of Ace-Ace or 8-8 should always be split, regardless of the dealer's upcard. In other situations, whether or not you should split depends heavily on the dealer's upcard. 9-9 and 7-7 should be split most of the time, provided the dealer's upcard is lower than 10 (but not a 7) in the first instance or lower than 8 in the second instance.
Tip: Hands of 6-6 and 3-3 or 2-2 should be split just under half the time, with the cue for whether or not to split coming from the value of the dealer's upcard.
3 When to Double Down in Blackjack?
When your hand is worth 10 or 11, including a hand of 5-5, it's worth doubling down in most cases. Doing so involves matching your initial bet by placing the chip beside your first wager, in exchange for one additional card.
Tip: Doubling down on a hand of 9, or a hand containing an Ace, might seem wise but is appropriate less than half the time (as dictated by the dealer's upcard). Make sure you use a strategy card or commit these situations to memory.
4 When to Hit in Blackjack?
Whether you should hit or stand depends, in almost all cases, on the dealer's upcard. You should always hit a hand of 8 or less, then all hands up to the value of 11 should either be hit or doubled down. A hand with a value of 17 or more should never be hit, with the recommendation being that players stand instead.
Tip: The presence of an Ace in your hand has a significant impact on whether you should hit or double down a hand, while it may be a smarter idea to split hands comprised of two cards with the same value.
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Blackjack Strategy Chart

Blackjack strategy charts are the most popular and effective way to learn basic strategy. The chart contains rules and permutations which can be directly used in any online blackjack game, as well as some land-based casinos. Following the actions displayed on the chart allows you to play blackjack with a mathematically proven system which will give you an advantage and more favorable odds. We recommend memorizing the below chart to avoid any mistakes but failing that it will act as a solid reference point in your next online blackjack game.

Blackjack Strategy Chart

Advanced Blackjack Strategy

Given that there's a "basic strategy" associated with blackjack, it makes sense that there's also advanced blackjack strategy. This term is used to describe any technique that goes beyond, and in some cases even goes against, the tenets of basic strategy.

It includes methods such as:

  • Thinking critically about the composition of your hand, e.g. standing if your hand is 4/4/4/4, even when the count suggests it might be safe to hit
  • Taking insurance when the count is +4 or higher (see the Card Counting section below)
  • Splitting 10s when faced with a dealer upcard of 5 or 6
  • Standing if your hand has a value of 16 but contains a 4 or a 5, even when the dealer's upcard is high (e.g. a 10 or face card)

Progressive betting systems also fall under advanced blackjack strategy. These include negative progressive betting systems, which see players raise their bets after a loss and lower them after a win, i.e. the Martingale or D'Alembert systems. It also includes the positive progressive systems like the Paroli or Reverse D'Alembert, where players raise their bets after a win and lower them after a loss.

Betting systems like these can result in wagering large sums of money to recoup small initial wagers and can be undone by table limits. They will typically fail in the long run, unless you have an infinite bankroll and a strong stomach. Yet they can result in lucky players landing some decent wins in the short term.

How to Count Cards in Blackjack

The simplest form of card counting in blackjack involves keeping track of the cards that have been played by assigning them a value and tracking "the count". This is commonly known as the Hi-Lo system.

  • Cards with values 2-6 result in the addition of 1 (+1) to the count
  • 7-9 are neutral, with a score of 0
  • 10, Ace and picture cards result in the subtraction of 1 (-1) from the count

A count with a high positive value means there are plenty of higher value cards left in the deck, whereas a low or negative count means that there are many low value cards remaining.

For example, players might feel pretty confident doubling down on a hand of 10 if the count is +9. Meanwhile, hitting a hand of 15 is a little more dangerous if the count is -7 because there's a higher risk of going bust.

One big issue with the Hi-Lo system is deck penetration. Deck penetration refers to the percentage of cards that have been dealt before the cards are reshuffled by the dealer. When multiple decks are in use, deck penetration can ruin careful tracking of the count.

Another major problem when counting cards is shuffling. In the online version of the game, virtual cards are shuffled after every hand. This, in effect, makes card counting all but impossible on the web.

The only exception to this is live dealer blackjack, in which it's still possible to count cards. Unfortunately, the likes of automatic/continuous shufflers and cutting multiple decks down the middle often eliminates any advantages offered by card counting here as well.

Blackjack House Edge

The house edge of standard blackjack stands around the 0.5% mark when the game is played using basic strategy. This means, in theory, players will see a $99.50 return for every $100 spent. Because that's based on an infinite number of hands, the actual results will differ from player to player.

Whether or not players are employing the best blackjack tactics, the house edge of the game changes between variants depending on a number of different criteria/rule changes such as:

  • The number of decks used
  • Whether the dealer hits or stands on a soft 17
  • The presence of (or lack of) the surrender rule
  • Whether or not players can double after a split or re-split of hands
  • The rates at which blackjack and insurance pay out

In the simplest terms, players should look for a game that uses a low number of decks, allows doubling after splitting, encompasses the surrender rule and sees the dealer stand on a soft 17.

It may not exactly count as strategy per se, but the best way to play blackjack involves a bit of searching to find variations of the game that are more favorable towards players. For information on the rules of blackjack, visit our how to play blackjack page.

When you're ready, you can start playing real money blackjack!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are blackjack strategy cards allowed in casinos?

    It's acceptable to use a blackjack strategy card in a land-based casino. In fact, some will even provide small strategy cards with the casino\s branding to players who request them. The only risk here is struggling to find enough time to consult your strategy card if you end up playing at a table with a very quick pace.

  • Can you make money playing blackjack using basic strategy?

    Not only can you make money with basic strategy, it actually represents the best way to lower the house edge of the game and puts you in a good position to win. It can be fun to follow your instincts when you have a hunch, but basic strategy should never be far from your mind.

  • How to memorize blackjack basic strategy?

    Play frequently and focus on remembering the slightly different information that appears on the respective charts in blackjack variations. The more you play the more likely it is that you'll internalize the correct strategic moves and will need to consult your strategy chart less often.

Justin Flynn
Verified by Justin Flynn, Blackjack Innovator

Justin Flynn boasts over 6 successful years of traveling the world, playing blackjack and spending countless hours methodically analyzing the game. Now, as the Blackjack Innovator, Justin is sharing his extensive learnings and educating players on the best way to play blackjack.