The Best Blackjack Strategies
Blackjack is a game of chance, meaning there is no way to guarantee a win from any given hand. However, there are a number of strategies that have been developed with the intention of aiding your chances of winning. Basic blackjack strategy can get you to the best possible odds of winning a hand, although the house will always have the edge.
There are also betting strategies that are designed to aid bankroll management and recoup losses.
Here, we introduce you to some basic playing and betting systems for online, land-based, and live dealer blackjack. These strategies may be designed to work on one or more blackjack variants, but should never be considered a guarantee of winning.
Basic Blackjack Strategies
Surrender is the blackjack version of folding and involves you giving up half your bet if it seems very likely you’re about to lose. This is only ever done if the dealer is likely to have blackjack.
This rule was once popular in land-based casinos but is less often found at online casinos as it decreases house edge considerably.
If you do find a blackjack variant with a surrender option, it’s important to know when to use it. Basic blackjack strategy states that there are only four occasions when surrendering is the right option.
One is if you have 15 in your hand and the dealer is showing a 10. The other three moments to wave the white flag come when you have 16 in your hand: here, if the dealer is showing 9, 10, or A, it’s time to surrender this hand and move on to the next.
If you have a pair of cards in your hand, the blackjack variant you’re playing may give you the option to split. Splitting is where your two cards are separated, your bet is doubled, and both cards become individual hands, so you’re playing two at once.
Some rules around splitting are easy, for example always split As, never split 10s. This is logical, too, as splitting As gives you two chances to land blackjack, while a pair of 10s already has a value of 20, so you’re better just to stand.
But what of other pairs? Alongside As, 8s are the only other pair you should always split, 16 is a difficult hand for blackjack strategy, and the chance of an 18 or two is far preferable. Alongside 10s, the other ‘never split’ hand is 5s: you’re better working with the ten you have than starting with two separate 5s.
All other pairs depend on the dealer’s card. On one end of the spectrum, a pair of 2s should only be split if a dealer is showing any card 4 through 7 — if the dealer has a 2 or 3, it’s your call whether to split, as the odds are the same either way. Going to the other side, a pair of 9s should always be split, unless the dealer is showing 7, A, or any 10 value.
Splitting is a complex thing, and as you’re doubling your bet by doing it, we suggest beginners leave this option alone for a while and get to grips with basic blackjack strategy first.
Doubling down is the act of doubling your bet and taking one additional card. Usually, this option is only offered when you have your first two cards and have yet to decide on whether to hit or stand. There are only three hard (no A) totals that should ever result in a double down: 9, 10, and 11. With 11, you should always double down regardless of the dealer’s upcard, as 21 is a strong possibility and you can’t possibly bust with one more card. However, the other two options are more complex. Most strategies will tell you to only double down on a 9 if the dealer is showing a card valued between 3 and 6. With a hard 10, you should double in most circumstances, but if the dealer is showing a 10 or A it makes more sense to hit, to allow you to hit again if a low card comes in.
Things get even more complicated with soft (with A) hands. If you’re holding A8, for example, then you have either 9 or 19 in your hand. 19 is a good hand, so don’t double down unless the dealer is showing a 6, which is the unique situation in which most strategies will tell you to double down on an A8. The most common soft hand for a double down is A7, where basic strategy suggests you take the gamble if the dealer has any card between 2 and 6 showing.
It’s worth noting that some blackjack variants will not allow double downs. If this is the case, you should hit on all hands you would otherwise double down on, with the exception of the A7 and A8 examples above, where standing is the suggested option.
As with splitting, we suggest waiting until you’re comfortable with the basic strategy of hit and stand blackjack before adding double downs to your arsenal.
Hit or Stand
To hit, or to stand — that is the question. Aside from the amount to bet, this is the one decision you’re guaranteed to have to make on every single hand of blackjack you play. If you stand, you keep the cards in front of you as they are. If you hit, another card is added from the deck. Of course, the logic may well be that if the cards in your hand don’t make 21, then hitting is the best option. However, that very much depends on what you’re given next, and being that even the most skilled card counters can’t be 100% sure of that, strategy is necessary.
As with the options above, hit or stand strategies depend on two factors: what you’re holding, and what the dealer is holding. While you will see both — or all — of your cards, in most blackjack variants you will only see one of the dealer’s, so you need to use basic strategy. Some hands you will never hit — usually 17 and up — as your chances of winning are much higher than your odds of drawing a card that won’t take you over the 21 limit.
However, other hands are less simple. For example, if your hand is showing 12 — not including an A — you’re going to want to hit in most situations, however, you need to stand if the dealer’s upcard is a 4, 5, or 6.
It’s also important to know the rules of the blackjack variant you’re playing. In most games, the dealer will have to stand on 17, but sometimes the dealer will be forced to hit on 17. Which of the two variants you’re playing can alter the right move to make at certain times, such as if the dealer is showing a 7 and you’re holding 16.
Having a good understanding of when to hit or stand can make all the difference to the Return to Player percentage (RTP) of a blackjack game, so it’s good to have a table on hand to help you make the right choices.
Many blackjack players will argue that flat betting is not a betting system at all, but more an anti-strategy. This wagering style means that you bet the same amount on every hand, win or lose. Of course, as blackjack includes options like splitting and doubling down, there is no guarantee that you will be betting the same amount on every hand, but the starting amount remains the same.
There are benefits here: for a start, this is a very good system for bankroll management as you always know how much you will be betting. It doesn’t have a noticeable endpoint, however, so it’s best to come into a flat betting session with an idea of when to stop. This could be a set amount you lose or win, or a specific number of hands to bet.
If you are just starting to play blackjack and learn basic strategy, or if you have a relatively low budget, flat betting may be the right option.
Progressive betting, also known as positive progression, involves raising your bet after a winning hand. This is a system designed to capitalize on winning streaks — like all strategies, the concept of runs of winning and losing hands figures high in the logic of progressive betting.
The most popular form of progressive betting, not only in blackjack but also in roulette, baccarat, and other casino games, is the Paroli System. Also known as the Reverse Martingale, Paroli sees players double their bet after a winning hand.
Let’s say you were starting off by betting C$0.50 a hand. If you were flat betting, your starting point would also be that C$0.50 bet. However, with the Paroli System, if your first hand is successful, you would double your initial bet to C$1. Were you to win again, you’d repeat the action and bet C$2, then C$4, then C$8, and so on until you lose a hand or stop playing. The point of this system is that however many hands you play during a winning streak, a loss will only ever take you back to just under where you started.
All progressive betting strategies work on this same logic. The only thing that changes is how much you raise your bet. You can take one of the many available systems, or develop your own, raising the bet by a set percentage after each win.
This is a strategy that is best used during short play sessions, and it’s advisable to come in with an idea of how many wins in a row will be your limit. For example, you may decide to leave the table if you’ve won six straight hands which, using the example above, would involve bets of C$0.50 through to C$16.
It can be hard to resist the temptation to take that next C$32 bet, but it’s important to set rules in advance and stick to them if you’re going to be successful using this strategy.
Of course, there’s always the possibility you won’t see a winning streak during a play session, but if you don’t, you’ll only lose your minimum bet amount on each hand — excluding double downs, splits, etc. Still, we suggest having a max loss point in mind, and if you lose that max during play, then step away from the table.
Negative progression is the exact opposite of progressive betting. Here, instead of raising your bet after wins, you raise it after losses. Again, there is no limit to the available ways to raise your bet. For example, the D’Alembert system sees you raise your bet by a single unit, selected by you — such as C$0.50. On the other end of the scale, the Martingale System involves doubling every bet after a loss. In the middle is the Fibonacci System, which follows the pattern of the Fibonacci sequence.
Whatever your choice, there are risks, but these are best demonstrated by the Martingale System. Let’s start with a C$0.50 bet again, and this time, let’s imagine you have a rotten run of luck and see 12 losing hands in a row. If you’re doubling after each, your bets are C$0.50, C$1, C$2, C$4, C$8, C$16, C$32, C$64, C$128, C$256, C$512, and C$1,024. Before you know it, you’re betting over a thousand dollars to chase an original 50 cent loss.
On paper, that’s okay, because at some point you’re going to win a hand, and as you’ve been doubling every time, when you do your balance will come back to where it started. However, this relies on two very important factors, the first is finding a blackjack table with limits high enough to take your bets no matter how high they go. The second, and most obvious thing to consider, is your budget. If you’re playing C$0.50 a hand to start, the chances are that you’re not going to be in a position to follow that with the 11 bets listed above, or even more depending on the run of losses you go on.
Again, negative progression betting is best suited to short, sharp bursts of betting, and relies on you having a very strict grip on your budget and an understanding of when to walk away.