Blackjack Strategy

strategy

Each blackjack game has a basic strategy, which is playing a hand of any total value against any dealer’s up-card, which loses the least money to the house in the long term.

An example of basic strategy is shown in the table below, and includes the following parameters:

  • Four to eight decks
  • The dealer stands on a soft 17
  • A double is allowed after a split
  • Only original bets are lost on dealer blackjack

 

Player handDealer’s face-up card
2345678910A
Hard totals (excluding pairs)
17–20SSSSSSSSSS
16SSSSSHHSUSUSU
15SSSSSHHHSUH
13–14SSSSSHHHHH
12HHSSSHHHHH
11DhDhDhDhDhDhDhDhDhH
10DhDhDhDhDhDhDhDhHH
9HDhDhDhDhHHHHH
5–8HHHHHHHHHH
Soft totals
2345678910A
A,8–A,9SSSSSSSSSS
A,7SDsDsDsDsSSHHH
A,6HDhDhDhDhHHHHH
A,4–A,5HHDhDhDhHHHHH
A,2–A,3HHHDhDhHHHHH
Pairs
2345678910A
A,ASPSPSPSPSPSPSPSPSPSP
10,10SSSSSSSSSS
9,9SPSPSPSPSPSSPSPSS
8,8SPSPSPSPSPSPSPSPSPSP
7,7SPSPSPSPSPSPHHHH
6,6SPSPSPSPSPHHHHH
5,5DhDhDhDhDhDhDhDhHH
4,4HHHSPSPHHHHH
2,2–3,3SPSPSPSPSPSPHHHH

Key:

S = Stand
H = Hit
Dh = Double (if not allowed, then hit)
Ds = Double (if not allowed, then stand)
SP = Split
SU = Surrender (if not allowed, then hit)

The bulk of basic strategy is common to all blackjack games, with most rule variations calling for changes in only a few situations. For example, if the above game used the hit on soft 17 rule, common in Las Vegas Strip casinos, only 6 cells of the table would need to be changed: double on 11 vs. A, surrender 15 or 17 vs. A, double on A,7 vs. 2, double on A,8 vs. 6, surrender(if not allowed, then hit) on 8,8 vs. A. Also when playing basic strategy never take insurance or “even money.”

Estimates of the house edge for blackjack games quoted by casinos and gaming regulators are generally based on the assumption that the players follow basic strategy and do not systematically change their bet size. Most blackjack games have a house edge of between 0.5% and 1%, placing blackjack among the cheapest casino table games. Casino promotions such as complimentary matchplay vouchers or 2:1 blackjack payouts allow the player to acquire an advantage without deviating from basic strategy.

Composition-dependent strategy

Basic strategy is based upon a player’s point total and the dealer’s visible card. Players may be able to improve on this decision by considering the precise composition of their hand, not just the point total. For example, players should ordinarily stand when holding 12 against a dealer 4. However, in a single deck game, players should hit if their 12 consists of a 10 and a 2. The presence of a 10 in the player’s hand has two consequences:

  • It makes the player’s 12 a worse hand to stand on (since the only way to avoid losing is for the dealer to go bust, which is less likely if there are fewer 10s left in the shoe).
  • It makes hitting safer, since the only way of going bust is to draw a 10, and this is less likely with a 10 already in the hand.

However, even when basic and composition-dependent strategy lead to different actions, the difference in expected reward is small, and it becomes even smaller with more decks. Using a composition-dependent strategy rather than basic strategy in a single deck game reduces the house edge by 4 in 10,000, which falls to 3 in 100,000 for a six-deck game.