Blackjack is the most popular casino table game in the United States, and it's one of the most popular casino games in the world. You probably know how to play blackjack, but do you know how to play blackjack well? Do you want to win more money at the casino by learning blackjack strategy? If you play your cards right, you may be able to make enough money to see Cirque Du Soleil.

Blackjack strategy lets you know the right play to make to maximize your winnings. It tells you what to do based on your hand and the card that the dealer is showing. If you perfectly follow the strategies outlined in this guide, you can reduce the casino’s advantage to less than .5%, making blackjack the most advantageous game to the player in a casino. Perfect blackjack strategy has been determined using probability theory and computer simulations which have figured out the best play in each situation.

In this article, I'll explain perfect blackjack strategy and how to use it to your advantage. I've focused on playing at a casino, but the same strategies apply if you're playing online or at a home game.

## The Basic Rules of Blackjack

The goal of blackjack is to beat the dealer’s hand without going over 21. Before cards are dealt, players place their bets.

Each player starts with two cards that are face up. Face cards are worth 10. Aces are worth 1 or 11; whichever makes a better hand. One of the dealer’s two cards is face down until the very end after every player completes his hand.

You can ask for another card (hit) or stick with your current hand (stand). You have the option to keep hitting until you’re satisfied with your hand, or you go over 21 (bust). If you bust, the dealer wins regardless of the dealer’s eventual hand. The dealer must hit until her cards total 17 or higher.

## Defining Blackjack Terms

These are the blackjack terms you must know to determine the right play to make in each situation. I put the terms in alphabetical order.

Blackjack: The best possible hand in blackjack. It consists of an ace and a card with a value of 10. At most casinos, blackjack plays 3:2. So for example, if you bet \$10, getting blackjack pays \$15.

Bust: Busting is going over 21. As mentioned previously, if you bust, you automatically lose.

Double Down/Doubling: Doubling down or doubling is when a player places an additional bet equal to his original bet and then receives just one additional card. You can only double down with your first two cards. For example, if you bet \$5 and get dealt an 11, you can place an additional \$5 bet and receive one more card. Regardless of whether you get a 2 or a 10, you can’t hit again.

Hard/Hard Hand: Any hand that doesn’t contain an ace that can count as an 11. A 10 and a 7 is a hard 17.

Hit: Hitting is asking for another card.

Insurance: When the dealer shows an ace, the player can place a side bet of up to half of his original bet. If the dealer has blackjack, the insurance bet pays 2 to 1. If the dealer doesn’t have blackjack, the insurance bet loses. Based on probability, you should never take insurance.

Push: When you push, your hand ties with the dealer and you keep your original bet. For instance, if you and the dealer both have 19, you push.

Soft/Soft Hand: A soft hand is a hand that includes an ace valued at 11 instead of 1. For example, an ace and a 6 is a soft 17. You can be more aggressive with soft hands because there’s no risk of busting. If you hit on a soft 17 and get a 5, the ace will be valued at 1 and you’ll have a 12.

Split: If a player is dealt two equal cards, he can split them into two separate hands by placing an additional bet equal to his original bet. For example, if you bet \$10 and are dealt two 8’s, for another \$10, you can split your hand into two separate hands, each with one 8.

Stand/Stay: Standing or staying is sticking with your hand and no longer asking for more cards.

Surrender: Surrendering is basically giving up before seeing what the dealer gets. If you surrender, you abandon your hand and recover half of your initial bet. Surrendering is the best option when it’s extremely likely that you’ll lose given your hand and the card the dealer is showing. Unfortunately, many casinos don’t offer the surrender option.

A casino blackjack table (Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

## Blackjack Basic Strategy

To perfect your blackjack game and completely minimize the house advantage, there’s quite a bit to remember. However, if you can just memorize the basic blackjack strategy rules, then you’ll be well ahead of the novice player.

Following these rules won’t always be the 100% perfect play, but it almost always will be, and again, these rules are much easier to remember than perfect blackjack strategy. Compared to absolute perfect blackjack play, following these rules will only cost you about one hand in 12 hours of play.

### Basic Blackjack Strategy Chart

Here are the charts outlining basic strategy. They tell you what to do given the value of your hand (left column) and the card the dealer is showing (right two columns).

 HARD 2 to 6 7 to A 4 to 8 HIT HIT 9 DOUBLE HIT 10 or 11 DOUBLE DOUBLE if more than dealer* 12 to 16 STAND HIT 17 to 21 STAND STAND

*This means that if you have a 10 and the dealer is showing 9 or less, you should double. If the dealer is showing 10 or an ace, just hit. Similarly, if you have 11, double if the dealer is showing 10 or less. If the dealer is showing an ace, just hit.

 SOFT 2 to 6 7 to A 13 to 15 HIT HIT 16 to 18 DOUBLE HIT 19 to 21 STAND STAND

 SPLITS (Yes or No)* 2 to 6 7 to A 2/2, 3/3, 6/6, 7/7, 9/9 YES NO 8/8, A/A YES YES 4/4, 5/5, 10/10 NO NO

*If you don’t split, treat your hand like a hard hand. For example, if you don’t split with two 7’s, make the appropriate play for a hard 14.

On top of the blackjack strategy charts above, here are a few additional rules to remember:

Surrender if you have a 16 and the dealer is showing a 10. If the table doesn’t allow surrendering, then hit.

If the strategy says to double but you’re not allowed, then hit, except you should stand with a soft 18.

Never take insurance. When the dealer shows an ace, the player can place a side bet of up to half of his original bet. If the dealer has blackjack, the insurance bet pays 2 to 1. If the dealer doesn’t have blackjack, the insurance bet loses.

Similarly, never take even money when you get blackjack. If you’re dealt blackjack and the dealer is showing an ace, you’ll be offered an even money payout in case the dealer has blackjack. For example, if you bet \$10, if you take even money you’ll win \$10 instead of the \$15 for a 3:2 payout. If you decline the even money and the dealer has blackjack, you’ll push and you’ll just get your original bet back.

## Perfect Blackjack Strategy

While following the basic blackjack strategy will almost always have you make the right play, there are occasions when it won’t. If you’re really trying to master blackjack, then just following the basic strategy won’t quite cut it.

The perfect blackjack strategy charts are based on the slightly different versions of the game. Blackjack can be played with a single deck or 4-8 decks. Most casinos I’ve been to have single deck or use six decks. Also, some casinos require the dealer to stand with a soft 17, and some mandate the dealer to hit with a soft 17. If the dealer has to stand with a soft 17, that will give you better odds.

### Perfect Blackjack Strategy Charts

Here are the charts you need to memorize to get your blackjack strategy perfect. The numbers going horizontally at the top of the chart represent the card that the dealer is showing, and the numbers in the left most column are the value of your hand.

This is the key to to the abbreviations used in the charts:

• H= Hit
• S= Stand
• Dh= Double down if allowed, if not hit
• Ds= Double down if allowed, if not stand
• Rh= Surrender if allowed, if not hit
• Rs= Surrender if allowed, if not stand
• Rp= Surrender if allowed, if not split
• P= Split
• Ph= Split if double after hit is allowed, if not hit
• Pd= Split if double after hit is allowed, if not double
• Ps= Split if double after hit is allowed, if not stand

### Single Deck Blackjack Charts

These are the perfect strategy charts for single deck blackjack. The first set covers what to do if the dealer is required to stand on a soft 17 and the second set covers the strategy if the dealer is expected to hit on a soft 17. Each includes three charts that you can use depending on whether your hand is hard, soft, or split.

#### Single Deck, Dealer Stands on Soft 17

 Hard 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 5-7 H H H H H H H H H H 8 H H H Dh Dh H H H H H 9 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 10 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H 11 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh 12 H H S S S H H H H H 13 S S S S S H H H H H 14 S S S S S H H H H H 15 S S S S S H H H H H 16 S S S S S H H H Rh Rh 17 + S S S S S S S S S S

 Soft 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 13 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 14 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 15 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 16 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 17 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 18 S Ds Ds Ds Ds S S H H S 19 S S S S Ds S S S S S 20 S S S S S S S S S S

 Splits 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 2, 2 Ph P P P P P H H H H 3, 3 Ph Ph P P P P Ph H H H 4, 4 H H Ph Pd Pd H H H H H 6, 6 P P P P P Ph H H H H 7, 7 P P P P P P Ph H Rs H 8, 8 P P P P P P P P P P 9, 9 P P P P P S P P S S A, A P P P P P P P P P P

#### Single Deck, Dealer Hits on Hard 17

 Hard 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 4-7 H H H H H H H H H H 8 H H H Dh Dh H H H H H 9 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 10 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H 11 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh 12 H H S S S H H H H H 13 S S S S S H H H H H 14 S S S S S H H H H H 15 S S S S S H H H H Rh 16 S S S S S H H H Rh Rh 17 S S S S S S S S S Rs 18+ S S S S S S S S S S
 Soft 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 13 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 14 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 15 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 16 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 17 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 18 S Ds Ds Ds Ds S S H H S 19 S S S S Ds S S S S S 20 S S S S S S S S S S

 Splits 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 2, 2 Ph P P P P P H H H H 3, 3 Ph Ph P P P P Ph H H H 4, 4 H H Ph Pd Pd H H H H H 6, 6 P P P P P Ph H H H H 7, 7 P P P P P P Ph H Rs Rh 8, 8 P P P P P P P P P P 9, 9 P P P P P S P P S Ps A, A P P P P P P P P P P

Do you think these fellows are following perfect blackjack strategy?

### 4- to 8-Deck Blackjack Charts

The most common multi-deck blackjack I’ve seen is six-deck, but the same strategies apply for 4-8 decks. You’ll see that the charts are extremely similar to those for single deck.

Again, the first set is for tables where the dealer is required to stand on a soft 17 and the second set is for tables where the dealer is expected to hit on a soft 17. Each includes three charts for hard, soft, and split hands.

#### 4-8 Decks, Dealer Stands on Soft 17

 Hard 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 4-8 H H H H H H H H H H 9 H Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 10 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H 11 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H 12 H H S S S H H H H H 13 S S S S S H H H H H 14 S S S S S H H H H H 15 S S S S S H H H Rh H 16 S S S S S H H Rh Rh Rh 17+ S S S S S S S S S S

 Soft 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 13 H H H Dh Dh H H H H H 14 H H H Dh Dh H H H H H 15 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 16 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 17 H Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 18 S Ds Ds Ds Ds S S H H S 19+ S S S S S S S S S S

 Splits 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 2, 2 Ph Ph P P P P H H H H 3, 3 Ph Ph P P P P H H H H 4, 4 H H H Ph Ph H H H H H 6, 6 Ph P P P P H H H H H 7, 7 P P P P P P H H H H 8, 8 P P P P P P P P P P 9, 9 P P P P P S P P S S A, A P P P P P P P P P P

#### 4-8 Decks, Dealer Hits on Soft 17

 Hard 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 4-8 H H H H H H H H H H 9 H Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 10 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H 11 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh 12 H H S S S H H H H H 13 S S S S S H H H H H 14 S S S S S H H H H H 15 S S S S S H H H Rh Rh 16 S S S S S H H Rh Rh Rh 17 S S S S S S S S S Rs 18+ S S S S S S S S S S

 Soft 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 13 H H H Dh Dh H H H H H 14 H H H Dh Dh H H H H H 15 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 16 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 17 H Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H 18 Ds Ds Ds Ds Ds S S H H H 19 S S S S Ds S S S S S 20+ S S S S S S S S S S

 Splits 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A 2, 2 Ph Ph P P P P H H H H 3, 3 Ph Ph P P P P H H H H 4, 4 H H H Ph Ph H H H H H 6, 6 Ph P P P P H H H H H 7, 7 P P P P P P H H H H 8, 8 P P P P P P P P P Rp 9, 9 P P P P P S P P S S A, A P P P P P P P P P P

## How to Learn These Blackjack Strategies

You may be overwhelmed by the amount of charts and the information you have to remember to perfect your blackjack play. Start with learning basic blackjack strategy! Then, if you want, you can move on to perfect strategy.

If you don’t have much time to learn, I recommend sticking with basic blackjack strategy. Remember that you’ll almost always make the right play with basic strategy, and the few mistakes you may make won’t cost you much.

Some casinos will allow you to refer to blackjack charts while you’re playing, so you can also print them out and refer to them while playing. But the other players may get annoyed with you if you keep looking at your charts.

If you want to learn perfect blackjack strategy, I advise you to learn one chart at a time. Also, if you know you’ll be playing a specific type of blackjack (e.g. 6 decks, dealer hits on soft 17) at a casino, just focus on the charts that are applicable to the game you'll be playing.

Furthermore, once you think you’ve learned the blackjack charts, you’ll remember your perfect strategy by drilling it into your head by playing tons of hands and testing your knowledge. If you ever forget your perfect strategy while playing, just use basic strategy.

## Play the Best Game for You

Finally, always remember that you want to play the blackjack games that offer you the best odds. There are many variations of blackjack at casinos that will impact your odds of winning.

The ideal version of blackjack will allow doubling, doubling after splitting, splitting, and surrendering. If any of these aren’t allowed, your odds of winning will be lowered. Most are normally offered, but I haven’t found many casinos that allow surrendering.

Additionally, your odds will improve if the dealer has to stand on a soft 17 instead of hitting on a soft 17. Finally, you want a table that will pay blackjack 3:2 as opposed to a lower payout (sometimes 6:5) or even money.

Justin Berkman

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.