Blackjack Training: How To Win At Blackjack - Basic Rules & Tips

If you want to play an optimum game in blackjack, here's what you should do in any position, based on the total value of your first two cards. We'll then go on to explain the thinking behind these hands.

* Up to 8 - Always Hit.
* 9 - Double Down if dealer has 6 or lower. Otherwise, Hit.
* 10 - Double Down if dealer has 6 or lower. Otherwise, Hit.
* 11 - Double Down if dealer has 8 or lower. Otherwise, Hit.
* 12 - 15 - Stand on 6 or less. Hit on 7 or above.
* Hard 16 - Stand on 6 or less. Hit on 7 or above.
* Soft 16 - Always Hit
* Hard 17 to 18 - Always Stand
* Soft 17 to 18 - Double Down if dealer has 6 or lower. Otherwise, Hit
* 19 to 21 - Stand
* Split 7s, 8s, and Aces.

Notes: A 'soft' hand includes at least one Ace that can represent either 1 or 11. (A6, for instance, would be a soft 17.) Most of the time, it should make little difference whether your hand is soft or not. However, when it comes to 16, 17 or 18, it pays to distinguish between soft and hard.

Win or Bust

Blackjack is generally a case of getting the balance right between notching up a good score, and not going bust. Here are the chances that a dealer will end up go bust based on their first card:

* 2 - 35%
* 3 - 37%
* 4 - 40%
* 5-6 - 42%
* 7 - 26%
* 8 - 24%
* 9-10 - 23%
* Ace - 17%

Perhaps surprisingly, the lower cards carry a higher chance of going bust. That's because the dealer must generally reach at least 17, or go bust in the process. A low card can be turned into a good hand, of course, but the the route there will probably require the drawing of at least two further cards, and that adds uncertainty and the distinct possibility of drawing a high card and going bust. The higher cards, on the other hand, can often be turned into a hand of 17+ with the addition of just one more card. If the dealer starts with 9, for example, they can reach 17 by drawing an 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King or Ace. So that's 7 cards out of a possible 13 (or a 53.8% chance) that will make this up to a good hand. None of the cards that they draw can cause them to go bust at this stage. Indeed, the dealer could draw a 2 as well, and they would still be able to draw a further card without risk of going beyond 21. In other words, when the dealer draws a high card, the chance of going bust is lessened considerably.

The truly critical area is that cut-off point between 6 and 7. The worst-case scenario for the dealer is picking out a 6. It'll take quite a lot in order to turn that 6 into a good hand. And there's a huge 42% chance of going bust in the process. The 7, on the other hand, offers lots of opportunities. There's a 38.5% chance of drawing one of the five cards (an Ace or any of the cards with a value of 10) that will convert that 7 into a hand of 17 or beyond. Even if the dealer misses out on one of those high cards with the first draw, a 2, 3 or 4 would give them a chance to draw another card, again with no risk attached, and this time with a vastly increased chance of hitting 17 or higher - had their first drawn card been a 4, for example, adding up to a hand of 11, their second draw would have a 61.5% chance of uncovering the card needed to push the hand up to 17 or beyond. The multitude of available cards with a value of 10 is the reason why it's so easy to turn the 7 into a hand of 17+, while the 6 remains perilous.

With that in mind, it's no longer surprising that if the dealer has a 6 or less, the player has a great chance of winning the hand. Indeed, in such a situation, it's best to stand if you have achieved a hand of 12 or more. Draw another card with a hand of 12, and there's a 30.7% chance you'll pull a ten-pointer and go bust. The risk simply isn't worth it. It's also worth pointing out that, statistically, there's very little difference between a hand of 12 and a hand of 16 for the player. Although the 12 seems much lower, the dealer will have to make their hand up to at least 17 before they can stand.

If the dealer gets 7 or more, though, it's very much a different matter. Here the onus will be on the player to keep going. That's particularly so when the dealer has an ace - there's just a 17% chance of going bust here, and yet the ace offers plenty of potential for improvement. On 15 or 16, or soft 17 or soft 18, you'll need to keep hitting when the dealer has a 7 or better,

Doubling Down

There are times when Hitting isn't enough. Sometimes, you need to drive home your advantage by Doubling Down. This option lets you double your bet. However, because you can lose twice as much as a result of playing this, you need to reserve it for those occasions when the odds are firmly in your favour. Essentially, then, this means those occasions where you have an A6 or A7, or a hand that's worth between 9 and 11. You need to ensure that the dealer has 6 or less, although you can stretch this to 8 when you have a hand of 11. Otherwise, don't Double Down. These are the only times when you have the advantage over the long-term.

It's worth pointing out that Doubling Down rarely gives you much more than a 55-60% chance of success, so you'll lose plenty of Double Down bets. However, as long as you're following our guidelines, you will win out over the long term. It's important that you Double Down where necessary. To ignore this means you'll fall short of getting the house edge down to 0.5%.

Splitting and Insurance

You'll also need to split under certain circumstances. When you draw a pair, you have the option of increasing your bet, and playing the two cards as separate hands. Some players think this effectively gives you two chances of winning. However, what you really want to be doing is winning on both hands where possible, so you need to be selective. A pair of 9s or 10s should already be good enough to win you the hand, so don't split those. Don't split pairs of 6 down to 2. These can safely be drawn on again, so that should be your play. However, if you have 7s, 8s, or Aces, you should split these.

Don't bother with Insurance bets. If the dealer turns up an ace, this option allows you to bet as much as half of the original bet as insurance. If the dealer produces a blackjack, the player loses the original bet, but gets the insurance bet paid out at odds of 2:1. This allows the player to break even. Unfortunately, with the dealer drawing a blackjack only 30.8% of the time in these situations, Insurance doesn't pay out enough. Overall, it'll lose you money, so don't be suckered in by it. The exception would be if you're a card-counter, and suspect there are plenty of ten-value cards to come.

Choosing Your Game

Make sure that you're favoured by the rules of the game you sit down to.

Blackjack Payouts - If you're to keep the house edge as low as possible, you must ensure that the payout for a blackjack is at least 3:2. If you're taking a payout of just 6:5 or 1:1, you're handing the casino a bigger edge - perhaps resulting in an increase of 2.3%. The blackjack payouts are there to help the player stay afloat, so make sure you're getting them.

Insist that the Dealer must Stand on 17 - Some tables will let the dealer hit on a soft 17 (A6, for instance). This adds to the house edge, so don't play at those tables if you want maximum chances.

Lower Decks are Good - Most tables now operate with eight decks. This gives the house an edge of almost 0.5% over a single-deck game. That's essentially because each extra deck slightly decreases your chance of getting a blackjack. So, all things being equal, fewer decks are a bonus. However, make sure that the rest of the rules still favour you. Some casinos try suckering in players with the lure of fewer decks, only to extend the house edge by decreasing the payout on blackjacks, or allowing the dealer to hit on soft 17s. Don't be fooled by false promises.

Insist on:

Blackjack payout of 3:2
Dealer must stand on 17

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