Blackjack Strategy – Ultimate Guide to Basic & Advanced Strategies

Blackjack features a simple concept: beat the dealer’s hand. Its strategy, however, is more sophisticated.

Basic blackjack strategy requires choosing between multiple options on each hand. Depending upon the situation, you can hit, stand, double down, or split hands.

The strategy doesn’t end there. You can take your pursuit of winning even further with a betting system and/or card counting.

You may find blackjack strategy to be complicated in the beginning. However, you can quickly learn how to make the correct decisions and even count cards by reading this guide.

Basic Blackjack Strategy

Basic strategy refers to mastering blackjack without counting cards. Initially, it may seem just as complex as blackjack card counting.

You won’t struggle much with basic blackjack strategy, if you use the right tools. Below, you can read about three simple ways to study the basics.

Learn through a blackjack strategy chart

A blackjack strategy chart is a simple tool that presents basic strategy for a given variation (e.g. Atlantic City rules). It shows the correct moves to make based on your score total and the dealer’s upcard.

Here’s an example:

  • Your score is 13.
  • The dealer’s upcard is 7.
  • A chart shows to hit in this situation.

Charts are perfect tools when you’re starting out, because they provide a comprehensive view of strategy. They’re also readily available across the internet.

You should look for a chart that corresponds to your chosen blackjack variation. If you’re playing Vegas Strip rules, for example, you shouldn’t use a Spanish 21 chart.

Practice with a blackjack trainer

A blackjack trainer is an online-blackjack program that critiques your play. The trainer offers advice (if necessary) after every hand and/or decision.

Here’s an example:

  • Your score is 9.
  • The dealer’s upcard is 5.
  • You hit.
  • The trainer suggests to double down in this situation.

These programs feature an interactive practice experience. You play hands like normal and get advice afterwards.

You can either start your blackjack strategy learning process with trainers or use them after studying a chart, and maybe even trying out some of the recommendations. We suggest the latter to develop a good strategy base before you begin training.

Read blackjack strategy articles

Articles offer yet another resource for learning blackjack strategy. They’re not the best tools for a comprehensive strategy, but they’re great for explaining the why behind correct moves.

For example, you may want to know why you should split eights every time. An article can deliver an in-depth explanation on this subject.

You should also consider articles for complex topics, such as card counting and other forms of advantage play. You can also browse our 7 tips for blackjack players for more in-depth strategies.

How rules impact your chances of winning

You don’t enjoy an equal opportunity to win at every blackjack table. The rules at each table influence your odds of winning.

Certain rules exercise a bigger impact on your chances of making money than others. Therefore, you should always evaluate the rules before betting money at a table.

Where can you find a blackjack game’s rules?

Online casinos make it easy for you to learn the rules for a given variation. You can quickly find this information on a game’s help screen.

Land-based casinos print certain rules on the table felt. These rules include natural blackjack payouts and if the dealer stands or hits on soft 17.

Unfortunately, not everything else is so clearcut. You must watch the relevant table and/or ask the dealer questions to figure out the other rules.

Which rules impact the house edge the most?

Blackjack features a myriad of rules that alter the house advantage. Each game can differ on natural-blackjack payouts, the number of decks, and more.

Obviously, you’ll want to choose games that offer more player-friendly rules. Below, you can see common rules and how they affect the house edge (pluses benefit you):

  • Single deck +0.48%
  • Double down on any total +0.23%
  • Double deck +0.18
  • Double down after splitting aces (DAS) +0.15
  • Resplit aces +0.08
  • Four decks +0.06
  • Six decks +0.02
  • Double down on 9, 10, or 11 only -0.09%
  • No DAS -0.14%
  • Double down on 10 or 11 only -0.18%
  • Dealer hits on soft 17 (instead of standing) -0.22%
  • No splitting -0.57%
  • Natural blackjack pays 6 to 5 (instead of 3 to 2) -1.39%

Common blackjack strategy mistakes

Certain blackjack mistakes are very common. New players are especially susceptible to these gaffes.

Luckily, you can decrease your odds of committing these mistakes just by increasing your awareness of them. Below, you can see the most-common blackjack blunders:

  1. Splitting 10s – You don’t want to break up a guaranteed 20.
  2. Not splitting 8s – Two hands with an eight aren’t ideal, but they’re better than a score of 16.
  3. Hitting with 12 vs. dealer 2 or 3 – The dealer has a high chance of busting out in this case.
  4. Standing with 16 vs. dealer 7+ – Hitting in this situation is tough, but it’s the correct decision.
  5. Always doubling down with 11 – You shouldn’t double down when the dealer shows an ace.
  6. Always hitting with a pair of 4s – You should split this hand when the dealer shows a 5 or 6.
  7. Hitting with 11 vs. dealer 10 – The most profitable play in this situation is to double down.
  8. Doubling down with 9 too often – You should only double down with 9 when the dealer shows 3-6.
  9. Standing with A-7 vs. dealer 3-6 – You want to double down in these situations.
  10. Always hitting with a pair of 2s and 3s – You should split both these hands when the dealer shows 2-6. 

Why you should avoid blackjack insurance

Casinos offer insurance when the dealer’s upcard is an ace. Some gambling venues also feature this option if the dealer is showing a 10.

You risk half of your original bet when accepting insurance. You win 2 to 1 on your original wager if the dealer reveals a natural blackjack. 

Your insurance bet loses if the dealer doesn’t show a blackjack. The rest of the hand plays out like normal, with your opening wager on the line.

Here’s an example to illustrate insurance in action:

  • You bet $10.
  • Your score is 17.
  • The dealer’s hole card is an ace.
  • They offer insurance.
  • You accept and pay an additional $5.
  • The dealer completes their natural blackjack.
  • You lose the original $10 wager.
  • However, you win $10 on the 2-to-1 insurance payout.

Blackjack insurance is a bad side bet

Insurance is presented as if it protects you in case the dealer flips over a natural blackjack. The example above supports this notion.

However, insurance doesn’t truly provide any benefit. Instead, it’s merely a bad side bet that costs you money over time.

Insurance encourages you to place a 2-to-1 bet that the dealer will show a blackjack. Therefore, you need them to have a natural blackjack one out of three times to break even.

A deck features 16 cards that will complete the dealer’s blackjack when they’re showing an ace. These cards include the four suits of a king, queen, jack, and 10.

The other 36 cards won’t complete the dealer’s natural blackjack and will cause your insurance bet to lose. You’re facing 36-to-16 odds (simplified, 9-to-4 odds) when taking insurance.

Your 9-to-4 odds of winning are lower than the 2-to-1 payout. Worst yet, you’ll be facing a 7.69% house edge when making this wager.

Even if you’re a bad player, you probably won’t face above a 4% house advantage. That said, insurance is the worst proposition in blackjack.

The one time where you should consider insurance

You should steer clear of insurance when using basic blackjack strategy. However, you can gain value with this bet as a card counter.

Insurance becomes profitable when the deck features a large surplus of cards worth 10. At this point, the odds swing in your favor regarding insurance.

Here’s a simple example:

  • You’re playing a single-deck blackjack game.
  • Three players (including you) are at the table.
  • The dealer’s upcard is an ace.
  • None of the players show a 10-value card.
  • 16 of the remaining 45 cards are worth 10.
  • 16 / 45 = 35.6% chance of the dealer showing a natural

You must win the 2-to-1 insurance payout 33.3% of the time to break even. The scenario above ensures that you win 35.6% of the time and earn a theoretical profit.

Unless you’re a skilled counter, it’s not worth your time to consider situations where insurance might be profitable.

Pursue blackjack bonuses to increase your winnings

If you play online blackjack, you’ll have an opportunity to earn bonuses. These offers boost your chances of winning profits.

Your odds of profiting from bonuses improve as you gain a better understanding of them. That said, you can use the following information to find and take advantage of these deals.

How does a blackjack bonus work?

Casinos base blackjack offers on a match percentage of your deposit amount. For example, they might feature a 100% match on your first deposit worth up to $500.

You qualify for the relevant offer after depositing. You must meet terms and conditions to withdraw the bonus funds.

Here are common T&Cs involved with online blackjack bonuses:

  • Wagering requirements (a.k.a. rollover) – You must wager a certain multiple of the bonus before cashing out.
  • Timeframe on claiming bonus – You have limited time to claim the offer in your account.
  • Timeframe on rollover – You’re normally given between 30 and 90 days to satisfy rollover.
  • Maximum bet – Casinos restrict the maximum wager you can make with an active bonus.
  • One bonus at a time – You’re not allowed to pursue multiple bonuses simultaneously.

Wagering requirements impact the value of bonuses

Of the T&Cs covered above, wagering requirements are particularly important. They directly impact your chances of making money from a bonus.

Lower rollover benefits you because it prevents you from needing to bet as much to unlock a bonus.

Here’s a comparison between two scenarios involving wagering requirements:

Bonus #1

  • You qualify for a $100 blackjack bonus.
  • Rollover is 100x.
  • $100 x 100 = $10,000 must be wagered
  • You’re facing a 1% house edge.
  • $10,000 x 0.01 = $100 in theoretical losses
  • $100 – $100 = break even

Bonus #2

  • You qualify for a $100 blackjack offer.
  • Rollover is 200x.
  • $100 x 200 = $20,000 must be wagered
  • You’re facing a 1% house advantage.
  • $20,000 x 0.01 = $200 in theoretical losses
  • $200 – $100 = $100 in overall theoretical losses

Rollover on blackjack bonuses generally ranges from 100x to 200x. Common sense dictates the wisdom in hunting for bonus offers featuring lower rollover requirements.

Where can you find blackjack bonuses?

You can find blackjack deals at plenty of gaming sites. However, these offers aren’t always listed under the heading blackjack bonus.

Instead, they’re often part of a table-games bonus. Such deals encompass a variety of table games, including baccarat, Caribbean stud, craps, roulette, and/or three-card poker.

You should always look at the T&Cs behind any bonus to ensure that blackjack qualifies. If not, you may consider looking for a casino that does feature blackjack deals.

Blackjack betting systems

Flat betting—or placing the same wager over and over— is the most-common blackjack system. However, other betting strategies give you an opportunity to manipulate your short-term results.

These strategies won’t help you overcome the house edge. The best they can do is boost your short-term winnings and spice up the action.

The following betting systems are among the most popular in blackjack.

1-3-2-6

This blackjack strategy sees you increase the number of units you bet following wins. You raise the amount of units wagered by following a specific pattern: 1, 3, 2, 6.

You bet one unit until you win. Assuming you win four straight wagers, then you start at the beginning.

If you lose at any point, you go back to wagering one unit. Here’s an example to illustrate the 1-3-2-6 strategy:

  • You bet one unit (e.g. $10) and win.
  • You bet three units and win.
  • You wager two units and win.
  • You bet six units and win.
  • You’ve won 12 units overall.
  • You return to wagering one unit.

The 1-3-2-6 system helps you capitalize on hot streaks and bank profits from mini streaks. It’s one of the least-risky blackjack strategies.

D’Alembert

The D’Alembert requires you to increase your bet by one unit after losing. You lower your wager by one unit after winning.

Here’s an example:

  • You bet one unit and lose.
  • You bet two units and lose.
  • You bet three units and win.
  • You bet two units and win.
  • 5 units won – 3 units lost = +2 units
  • You resume wagering one unit until losing again.

This strategy lets you slowly win back losses without assuming heavy short-term risk. It’s a safer negative-progression system than the Labouchere and Martingale.

Fibonacci

This system employs the famed Fibonacci number sequence to determine your bet sizes. The Fibonacci sequence calls on you to add the sum of the previous numbers.

It works as follows: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and so forth.

You continue progressing through the Fibonacci sequence every time that you lose. Following each win, you move back two numbers.

Here’s an example:

  • You bet one unit and lose.
  • You bet one unit and lose.
  • You wager two units and lose.
  • You wager three units and lose.
  • You bet five units and lose.
  • You bet eight units and win.
  • You wager three units and win.
  • You wager one unit and win.
  • 12 units won – 12 units lost = break even

The Fibonacci becomes rather risky as you move toward 21 units and beyond. However, it’s still less dangerous than the Martingale.

Labouchere

The Labouchere requires you to determine a desired profit in terms of units. Next, you create a number sequence that adds up to your profit goal.

You add the first and last number of the sequence to determine your bet sizes. If you lose, you add the combined number to the end of the string.

Following any win, you cross off the numbers and move on to the next wager. Your goal is to win until you’ve crossed off every number and reached the profit target.

Here’s an example:

  • You want to win 20 units.
  • You create the following sequence: 3, 4, 5, 3, 5
  • Your first wager is worth 8 units (3 + 5).
  • You win this bet.
  • The sequence is now: 4, 5, 3
  • Your next bet is 7 units.
  • You lose this wager.
  • The sequence is now: 4, 5, 1, 7
  • Your next wager is 11 units.
  • You win this bet.
  • The sequence is now: 5, 1
  • Your next wager is 6 units.
  • You win and reach your goal of earning 20 units.

This strategy helps you win back losses quickly and collect a large profit. However, your bet sizes accelerate quickly during losing streaks.

Martingale

The Martingale begins with wagering one unit. You must double your bet following every loss.

Here’s an example:

  • You bet one unit and lose.
  • You bet two units and lose.
  • You wager four units and lose.
  • You wager eight units and lose.
  • You bet 16 units and win.
  • 16 units won – 15 units lost = +1 unit

This system is extremely effective at winning back losses and ending up with a small profit. Unfortunately, the Martingale system is also the most speculative strategy discussed here.

Paroli

The Paroli requires doubling bets after each win. Your goal is to win three consecutive wagers before returning to the beginning.

Here’s an example:

  • You bet one unit and win.
  • You bet two units and win.
  • You bet four units and win.
  • The progression starts at one unit again.

Assuming you begin with one unit, you’ll find the Paroli to be a mild positive-progression system with low risk.

Should you try card counting?

Basic strategy improves your chances of winning by reducing the house edge. Betting systems help you win back losses (negative progression) and take advantage of hot streaks (positive progression).

However, neither basic strategy nor betting systems can circumvent the house edge. You need to count cards to win long-term blackjack profits.

Not many strategies offer a chance to earn long-term profits in casino games. Card counting is definitely attractive from this standpoint.

If you are interested in counting cards, the following information may help you decide whether counting is worth the effort.

Why does card counting work?

Past results don’t matter in most fixed-odds casino games. However, blackjack is different from other games in this regard.

Every card that comes out of the shoe changes your odds. Assuming you can track these cards, you’ll know when your odds of winning are better.

The goal is to figure out when the shoe is rich in aces and 10s. If the shoe is rich, it gives you a stronger chance of getting a natural blackjack.

A rich shoe also means that the dealer stands a higher chance of busting out. The dealer, who must draw to 17, is more likely to draw a bust card on totals 12-16.

You want to increase your wagers when the shoe is rich. Bigger bets help you capitalize when the odds are in your favor.

How difficult is card counting to learn?

Card counting is more complex than basic strategy, but it’s not overly complicated. It calls on you to track cards as they’re dealt and assign them number values.

Below, you can see the different card groups and their point values:

  • Ace, king, queen, jack, and 10 (high cards) = -1
  • 7, 8, and 9 (neutral cards) = 0
  • 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 (low cards) = +1

A positive count means that there are more high cards and fewer low cards left. This point represents the perfect time to raise your bets.

However, you also must account for the multiple decks used at most tables. The extra decks reduce the accuracy of your running count.

To account for the multiple decks, you divide the running count by the estimated remaining decks in the shoe.

The result is the true count. Here’s an example on determining the true count:

  • +8 running count
  • Four decks remain
  • 8 / 4 = +2 true count

You should raise your bet with a true count of +2 or better. You want to base your wager on the size of the true count.

Here’s an example:

  • You bet one unit ($10) when the true count is +1 or lower.
  • You raise this wager by three units every time the true count increases by +1.
  • +2 true count = four units ($40)
  • +3 true count = seven units ($70)
  • +4 true count = 10 units ($100)

Deck penetration is the final piece of the puzzle. This term refers to how much of the shoe is dealt before it’s reshuffled.

Here’s an example:

  • You’re playing at a table with eight decks.
  • Six out of eight decks are dealt.
  • The dealer shuffles at this point.
  • 6 / 8 = 75% deck penetration

More deck penetration is better because it provides more confidence in your count. A +3 true count, for instance, is more accurate when it comes at 75% deck penetration versus 50%.

You should look for casinos that allow at least 70% penetration. Any percentage lower than this makes it more difficult to count cards.

Downsides to card counting

You can see that card counting isn’t overly difficult to learn. However, counting cards becomes much tougher in casinos.

The conditions in an actual casino are much more distracting than when practicing your counting skills at home. The dealer, other players, and surrounding tables compete for your attention.

Your small edge over the house presents another problem. Even as a good counter, you’ll only carry around a 1% advantage.

This tiny edge subjects you to major bankroll swings. You should have at least $10,000 as a solo counter to comfortably survive these fluctuations.

Importantly, the casino doesn’t want you counting cards. They’ll throw you out if they peg you as an advantage player.

Most likely, you’ll find that card counting isn’t worth the effort. You must dedicate a significant amount of time and money toward this pursuit to truly succeed.

FAQs on Blackjack Strategy

Can I beat blackjack?

You can beat blackjack in the short run with basic strategy.

Basic strategy encompasses making correct decisions that increase your chances of beating the dealer. You can learn basic strategy through charts and trainers.

Card counting offers a path toward long-term profits. However, you must dedicate significant time toward practicing your counting skills before becoming successful.

Will online casinos cheat me in blackjack?

Internet casinos are highly unlikely to cheat you in blackjack. Most gaming sites won’t even have the chance to rip you off, because they license their software from third parties.

Many software providers hold licensing with one or more online-gaming jurisdictions. They risk losing their license(s) if caught running faulty games.

Additionally, many software developers undergo third-party testing. The labs that provide this testing ensure that a provider’s blackjack games deliver fair and random results.

Can I count cards at online casinos?

Online blackjack games are programmed to shuffle the deck after every hand. Therefore, they don’t offer nearly enough deck penetration for optimal card-counting conditions.

Land-based casinos delay shuffling shoes, because they don’t want to slow down games. After all, prolonged play means fewer profits for the house.

Faster games with recreational players are more likely to increase profits. However, they also give card counters an opportunity to profit through increased deck penetration.

Can I count cards at online live dealer casinos?

You can’t effectively count cards in online live dealer blackjack. Most live dealer casinos feature a continuous shuffling machine (CSM).

A CSM randomly inserts cards into the shoe. It severely reduces deck penetration, speeds up games, and prevents the dealer from needing to shuffle.

We’ve played at live casinos that don’t use CSMs. Even in these cases, though, the dealer only allows 50% or less deck penetration before shuffling.

Is blackjack strategy easy to learn?

Basic blackjack strategy looks complex at first. However, you should have no trouble learning it with the right tools.

You should start by looking over a strategy chart. Such charts provide a broad overview of what decisions to make in every scenario.

You can refer to your chart anytime when playing online blackjack. This approach is especially effective when you practice with free blackjack.

Trainers also offer a reliable way to learn strategy. These programs are helpful when you want to study the game before heading to a land-based casino.