Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games in the world, and since it’s become available online, you no longer need to travel to a land-based casino to play it.
While many players think blackjack is mainly a game of luck, there’s actually a lot of skill involved. While skill alone can’t help you win every game, if you use the proper blackjack strategy, you can increase your wins and minimize your losses.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about basic blackjack strategy and how it can improve your chances of winning at blackjack.
How to Play Blackjack
Blackjack is a fairly straightforward game that you play against the dealer. The goal is to get cards that total 21 or as close to it as possible. If you go over 21, it’s called a bust and the dealer wins. If the dealer goes over, you win.
All face cards are valued at 10 and aces are valued at either 1 or 11—you get to choose the value based on your hand.
Here are the basic steps that comprise a round of blackjack.
Step 1: Place your bet before the cards are dealt.
Step 2: The dealer deals one card face-up to everyone, including themselves.
Step 3: The second card is dealt face-up to everyone but the dealer, who receives the card face-down.
Step 4: This is the pivotal step. After the second card is dealt, you can decide whether to hit (receive another card) or stand (stick with the two cards you have). Another option is to split your pair, which you can only do if you are dealt two of a kind. At this point, you can also choose to double your bet.
Step 5: Once every player has made their play, the dealer turns over their face-down card. The dealer then must follow the rules dictated specifically for the dealer. If the cards total 17 or more, the dealer must stand. If the total is 16 or less, the dealer must take a card. They continue to take cards until they reach 17 or higher, or go bust.
Step 6: Bets are settled.
If your first two cards are an ace and a 10/picture card, this is called a natural blackjack and you should not request more cards. If you have a natural blackjack and the dealer doesn’t, you win one and a half times your bet. If the dealer has a natural blackjack, they win all the bets of players who don’t have naturals. If both you and the dealer have naturals, it’s a tie and you get your bet back.
If your first two cards are an ace and a card that’s not valued at 10, it’s called a soft hand. The ace can be worth 1 or 11, but it’s up to you to decide its value based on your other card. For example, if you have an ace and a 5, you have a choice of total value: 6 or 16. If you want to try to get to 21 (while not necessarily recommended) by counting the ace as an 11, you can hit—and if you go over 21, you can simply change the value of the ace to 1.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
Remember, blackjack is part luck and part skill. If you don’t make the most of your skill, you won’t maximize your chances of winning. While it may seem rote or boring, basic blackjack strategy is exactly what you need to make the best of the hands you’re dealt.
Here are the guidelines for the basic blackjack strategy.
- If the dealer’s face-up card is 7 or up, you should hit until you get at least 17.
- If you’re two initial cards total 16 and the dealer has a 10-value card, you are statistically unlikely to score a win. However, nothing is impossible, so you should hit and hope not to bust. If your initial total is 18 or 19, it’s best to stand.
- If the dealer’s face-up card is 4, 5, or 6, you should stop hitting as soon as you get 12 or more. The idea is to give yourself a chance to beat the dealer without going bust. And the hope is that, since the dealer has a low revealed card, they will need to hit several times and end up going bust himself.
- If you’re dealt a soft hand—an ace and another card that’s not valued at 10—keep hitting until you get a total of 18 or more. So if you get an ace and a 6, which can be 7 or 17, you should hit in the hope of reaching 21 or as close as you can get. If you get a card that takes the total over 21, you can change the value of the ace to 1.
- For doubling down, follow this strategy: If you have a total of 11, double down. If you have a total of 10 and the dealer doesn’t show a ten or ace, you should double own. If you have a total of 9, you can double down if the dealer’s face-up card is low (6 or under).
- The splitting strategy dictates that you should always split a pair of 8s and aces, but not identical picture cards, 4s, and 5s. You can split 6s if the dealer has a low-value card. Other pairs can be split if the dealer doesn’t show an 8, 9, 10-value, or ace.
- If the dealer’s face-up card is an ace, you have the option to place a side be called insurance. The maximum insurance bet you can place is half of your main bet. The odds payout 2 to 1, so even if the dealer wins, you can come out even. We don’t recommend insurance unless you have been following the cards and know that a high number of 10-values remain in the deck.
- Surrendering allows you to fold after you receive your first two cards. If you have a hand of 16 and the dealer has a 9, 10, or ace, surrendering is a good strategy. Likewise, if you have a total of 15 and the dealer has a 10. Surrendering early, before the dealer checks for blackjack, allows you to fold and get half your bet back. You can also surrender after the dealer reveals their face-down card. In this case, you only get half your bet back if the dealer doesn’t have 21.
While these blackjack rules may seem complicated, they’re actually very straightforward—you just need to remember them. If you’re playing online, you can save this article in another browser tab and refer to it when you need to. The more you play, the more you’ll remember the basic strategy. As with all things in life, practice makes perfect.
Blackjack House Edge
Blackjack has one of the lowest house edges of all casino games. When played with an optimal betting strategy, the house edge is as low as .5%. However, if you don’t follow the basic strategy, the house edge can rise to anywhere between 2% and 4%. Bear in mind as well, that with any casino game, the longer you play, the higher the chances that the house edge will win out. So if you score a big win in the short run, we recommend bowing out so you can hold on to your winnings.
Is blackjack a game of chance or skill?
Blackjack is a game of both chance and skill—while we can’t control which cards are dealt, we can control how we play the hand we’re dealt.
Can basic blackjack strategy help me win every hand?
No, following a basic blackjack strategy can’t help you win every hand, because there is a large element of luck in the game. However, following the strategy can help you maximize your chances of winning by making the right calls for each hand.
Who do I play against in blackjack?
When you play blackjack online or at land-based casinos, you play against the dealer, not against other players.
How do I know if my ace is worth 1 or 11?
You get to decide what your ace is worth, and it can change with each hand or even within each hand.
Can I play blackjack for free online?
Yes, you can find free blackjack games online, which is a good way to practice before putting down any real money.