What is the Blackjack Basic Strategy and How to Play Like a Pro

If you're ready to play Blackjack like a pro, then you need to use the basic strategy. Here's everything you need to know to be good at Blackjack!
What is the Blackjack Basic Strategy and How to Play Like a Pro

Blackjack is a game of skill, strategy, and, of course, a bit of luck. It’s one of the most popular casino games because it offers you a real chance to beat the house. However, to do that, you need more than just luck. You need a solid strategy. This is where the Blackjack basic strategy comes into play. 

This strategy is a set of mathematically optimal decisions for every possible hand in Blackjack. It is designed to minimize the house edge and maximize your chances of winning over the long run.

Will you win every time? Nope. But, if you implement it properly, you should come out on top over the course of dozens of hands. It's a super simple way to come out ahead.

The Fundamentals of the Blackjack Basic Strategy

They call it the basic strategy because that’s what it is. Basic. It’s the most fundamental way to play the game, but you have to understand the fundamentals of the strategy itself.

Hit or Stand

The most common decision you'll face in Blackjack is whether to hit (take another card) or stand (keep your current hand). The basic strategy provides clear guidance on when to hit or stand based on your hand and the dealer's visible card.

Basic rules/principles—

  • Always hit on 11 or less. Since you can’t bust, taking another card is always the better option.

  • Stand on 17 or higher when the dealer shows a 2-6. These cards are considered weak for the dealer; therefore, it increases their chances of busting, which is a win for you.

  • Hit on 16 or less when the dealer shows a 7 or higher. The dealer has a good chance of making a strong hand with a 7+ showing. So, you need to improve your hand and the only way to do that is to hit. There’s a good chance you might bust.

Double Down to Maximize Your Wins

Doubling down allows you to double your bet in exchange for committing to stand after receiving exactly one more card. This move can be lucrative if used correctly. It’s a quick way to bring in more cash, especially when you look like you’re going to win.

Basic rules/principles—

  • Double down on a total of 10 when the dealer shows a 9 or less. Your chances of hitting a high card are good. The dealer's weak card increases your odds of winning.

  • Double down on 11 against any dealer card. The odds of drawing a 10-value card (10, Jack, Queen, King) are around 1 in 3. That makes 21 a strong possibility.

Splitting Pairs to Create More Winning Hands

When you receive two cards of the same value, you have the option to split them into two separate hands. We call this splitting. This can be a powerful move, but it needs to be done strategically and not simply because you have a pair.

Basic rules/principles—

  • Always split aces and eights. Aces can become two strong hands, and splitting eights prevents you from playing a weak 16. It also increases your chances of getting 18+.

  • Never split tens. A hand totaling 20 is already strong, and splitting could weaken your position. Not a smart move.

Knowing When to Fold

In games where surrender is allowed, you can forfeit half your bet and end the hand immediately. This can be a good move in certain situations to minimize your loss. Some online casinos like DraftKings and FanDuel have options for surrendering.

Basic rules/principles—

  • Surrender when you have a total of 16 and the dealer shows a 9, 10, or ace. The dealer has a high chance of winning. Your hand is weak and most likely cannot improve. Surrendering reduces your losses.

Why the Basic Strategy Works

The Blackjack basic strategy is based on the statistical likelihood of outcomes.

There are more 10-value cards in the deck (10, Jack, Queen, King) than any other value, which affects the probability of various hands. When you break down the math, you generally have around a 30% chance of getting one of those cards at any given time. The same holds true if there are multiple decks.

By taking into account the dealer's up card and the likelihood of drawing certain cards, the basic strategy provides the best possible decision in any given situation. However, you have to commit these rules to memory. The only way to do that is to continuously play. Play online and play in person. The more blackjack you play, the better you’ll be at employing this strat.

Using the basic strategy can reduce the house edge to about 0.5%. That might not seem like a lot, but that small percentage adds up. While this doesn’t guarantee winning in the short term, it’s a long-term strategy that requires perfect execution to be effective.

As we said, you have to know these rules inside and out. One way to do so is to use strategy charts to learn and apply these rules consistently.

Examples of Basic Strategy in Action

Alright, before you head off into the wild and start to risk your own money, take a look at a few examples. Hopefully, these will help you understand how some of these rules are used in a game.

Example 1 — Hit or Stand

You have a hand totaling 12. The dealer shows a 3. According to basic strategy, you should stand. The dealer is likely to bust with a weak up card, and your hand is already at a decent total. If you were to hit with this hand, you stand a good chance of busting yourself and the dealer wins regardless of what they have.

Example 2 — Double down

You have a hand totaling 9, and the dealer shows a 6. The basic strategy advises you to double down. The dealer's weak card increases your chances of winning, and doubling your bet. The dealer has a good chance of having an unshown 10 and that would give them 16. At that point, they have to hit, which will most likely cause them to bust.

Example 3 — Splitting Pairs

You receive two 9s, and the dealer shows an 8. The basic strategy suggests splitting. This creates two strong hands, each starting with a 9, increasing your chances of winning both hands. There’s a good chance you’re going to end up with either a 17, 18, or 19. There’s even around a 5% chance you can get 20 on one or both hands.

Playing Blackjack Like a Pro

While basic strategy is the foundation for successful Blackjack play, some advanced players often combine it with other techniques like card counting. 

We’re not going to get into the details in this article, but it’s still a simple concept. Card counting involves keeping track of the high and low cards that have been dealt to predict the likelihood of certain cards being drawn.

This can give players an edge over the casino, but it requires a lot of practice and skill. Then, when you combine something like card counting with multiple decks, it can get quite challenging. There’s a reason many casinos use multiple decks for each hand of blackjack.

Mastering the Blackjack basic strategy is essential for anyone looking to play the game like a pro. All pros use it as a foundation and add their own strategies on top of it based on their risk tolerance.

By following the mathematically best decisions for every possible hand, you can really reduce the house edge and improve your chances of winning. Of course, we’re talking over the long run.

While it doesn’t guarantee short-term success, consistently using the strategy can lead to better results. As we mentioned, keep practicing and playing and you’ll get better at the Blackjack basic strategy.

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