How to Play Optimal Blackjack Strategy
Blackjack is a game where your successes depend heavily on how good your decisions are at the table. The house does have an edge built into this game, as they do with all of their games. By making the best decisions, you can get this edge down to less than 1% in many cases. This is very small in comparison with other games, and small enough that you can enjoy some upswings and keep your chips in play for a very long time.
This article outlines the different aspects of Blackjack strategy, building your knowledge of the components needed to succeed. First of all, I have outlined the key factor which influences your decisions at the table, which is your points total combined with the dealers face up card. Next, some of the more detailed decision making is covered, including the insurance side bet and whether to split or double-down on your hand. Finally some of the ‘soft’ skills involved in Blackjack strategy are covered, specifically money management.
Blackjack Strategy Basics
Before you can get into the detailed parts of Blackjack strategy, you need to know the basics of when to hit or stand. Mistakes with these decisions are very costly in terms of the edge you are giving up to the casino.
Most of these decisions are very easy, you’ll stand on 17 or above and always take another card on 11 or below.
The tricky decisions occur when your total is between 12 and 16.
When this happens, the optimal strategy is defined by your total and the dealer’s card which you can see. The logic goes like this: If the dealer has a mid-card (5 or 6) showing, then they have a bigger chance of busting their hand than if they have a high card showing. This increase chance of busting means you should be more cautious yourself, since you’ll get paid by standing if the dealer busts. When the dealer is more likely to make a hand, for example when showing a picture card - it makes (mathematical) sense for you to take another card, since you are less likely to win by standing with something like a 15.
The optimal strategy will depend on the number of decks, and small nuances in the rules of each game. The basics are that you should be a lot less inclined to hit on a 14, 15 or 16 when the dealer shows a 5 or 6 – over time they will bust often enough to make standing the better play.
If one of the cards which makes your mid-range total is an ace, then your strategy changes. Since you cannot bust (since an ace can count as 1 or 11), you can go ahead and take a card.
Other Blackjack Strategy Considerations
The game can get more complex than just these decisions based on point totals. There are times when you can double-down, split or (depending on the rules) surrender your hand. One situation which comes up frequently is that the dealer will have an ace showing, and offer the players ‘Insurance against dealer Blackjack’.
This is a side bet, you stake half of your original bet and if the dealer does show Blackjack then you win at 2-to-1 odds. This essentially ‘saves’ your main bet (which you will lose unless you have Blackjack yourself).
The problem with this bet is that it includes a big edge in favor of the house. You are giving up a massive 12.5% of every insurance bet that you place. While you might ‘save’ your main bet reasonably frequently, over time you would be far better off by not making the bet at all.
Doubling-down strategy depends on the specific game rules. Some casinos let you do this for any hand, while others restrict you to 9, 10 or 11. You add another bet, and in return just get a single card added to your hand. If you have a good total for this (9 through 11 is ideal), and the dealer shows a mid-card then doubling is a great way to increase your wins.
Splitting strategy likewise depends on both the specific rules at your table, your cards’ rank and the dealer up-card. By splitting your same-ranked cards into two hands, you are adding a bet and increasing your risk. The ideal time to do this is when you have picture cards and the dealer has a 5 or 6.
Once you have the basics down, you should seek out a Blackjack strategy card for the game you are playing. Casinos are usually happy to let players use these while playing the game.
Soft Skills in Blackjack Strategy
A lot of Blackjack strategy concerns how you deal with the cards. There are aspects which are more general. The most important of these is bankroll management. You need to manage your money in such a way as not to go broke, yet play at stakes meaningful enough to enjoy the game and build some significant wins. I recommend 100 bets as a starting bankroll for each session. If you win early then you could always raise your stakes. If you lose half of your total, then you could drop down to a lower limit table and rebuild from there.