What is the best way to play Blackjack and optimise your chances of winning? The answer is called basic strategy. Read on to discover more about how to win at Blackjack...
Blackjack is a very popular game amongst both the offline and online gaming communities mainly because the player is required to make several decisions every hand which will affect the outcome of the game. Therefore it is perceived to have more skill than other casino games (not including poker), however, for advanced and sensible players decisions will rarely deviate from the best blackjack strategy, known as basic strategy. In blackjack, the dealer has no decisions to make so optimal player decisions are always the same, which is why basic strategy works.
Once the player has grasped the basic rules of blackjack the next thing to learn is how to optimise your chances of winning. Predictably, there are countless theories and strategies designed to give the player an edge against the dealer but, just as predictably, none will actually give the player an advantage over the dealer apart from those considered illegal by the casinos. I am of course referring to card counting in which is banned by most casinos. Card counting will not be discussed here as it is not applicable to online blackjack. Rather, the strategy laid out here will be almost exclusively based on basic strategy.
What is Basic Strategy?
Quite simply, basic strategy is the optimal way to play blackjack. It has been devised using statistical probabilities to calculate the best possible move in any particular circumstance according to your cards and the dealer's starting card. The aim of basic strategy is obviously to win as often as possible but also to maximise your winnings (through double-down), to reduce the chances of busting, and also in some circumstances, to minimise your expected losses (through surrender or when choosing not to double). Of course, when playing any casino game, including blackjack under standard rules, the house will always have a slight edge but following basic strategy will significantly reduce this edge. It does not take into consideration any other cards which may have been seen in previous hands or other players' cards which would have a slight significance on subsequent cards. This is the basis of card counting which will not be discussed here. However, this is not a significant consideration for online blackjack as each round is played with a newly shuffled deck usually from a 6-deck pack. This means there is usually a 312 pack deck with 24 of each card, so unless you are considering the odds of one particular card which has appeared an incredibly large number of times already in that hand (e.g. 15 or more) then it is negligible.
The statistical calculations and permutations which form the basis for the basic strategy table will not be discussed here. The table is a robust playing guide and explaining how each decision has been arrived at is largely irrelevant as the end result - the recommended decision - will remain the same. If you are new to blackjack, it is recommended that you keep this guide close by when playing online, either on your computer screen or printed out, as a quick reference guide. You will find that the more you play, the less often you will need to refer to it as you being to learn the optimal decision for al possible situations. Eventually, you will be able to play basic strategy blackjack without even looking at the chart! Of course, if you are playing blackjack live at a casino, they might frown upon the use of a chart at the table. Some casinos will allow you to take a printed reference sheet with you (some will even have it available free for players to use at the table!) but almost certainly none will allow it on a computer or mobile device.
If you look at the basic strategy guide here you will see general patterns about where to hit and stand. For example, always hit (sometimes double-down) when your hand is below 11 (obviously, as you cannot bust) and always stand on 17 and above (unless its a soft hand). The best way to learn basic strategy by heart is not to learn all the possible hands but rather focus on the borderline hands. For example, when the dealer has 7 the recommended strategy for the majority of player hands changes dramatically from when a 6 is shown.
If a player follows basic strategy and does not deviate from its path then the theoretical return to player (RTP) under standard rules is 99.63%. This a very high RTP and will usually be the highest within a given casino, both online and offline, so it is perhaps no wonder that blackjack is such a hugely popular game. However, although the RTP is high in blackjack, the variance is low as the highest payout possible in one hand is limited to 3:2 (blackjack). In comparison to slot games for example where players are sometimes able to win up to several thousand times their stake, blackjack players are unlikely to win a huge amount in one session.
Remember that basic strategy does not guarantee that you will win money. In fact, even if you follow this guide to the letter the RTP will always be below 100%. Also it is important that you stick with it, even it you get a run of bad results. Players who play according to basic strategy will always out perform those who make their decisions based on gut instinct in the long run. Similarly, it is a common misconception that basic strategy should only be used on the first card drawn - this is not true. It should be followed during every decision.
Blackjack Strategy Chart
Of course, the structure of basic strategy depends on the particular rules being played. Popular blackjack variations don't make too much difference to basic strategy and so you should be confident that the general basic strategy presented here is close enough to cover certain common variations such as the dealer hitting soft 17 and double-down after splitting. As mentioned previously, the RTP with standard 'European' rules is around 99.63% (if basic strategy is followed) but as will be discussed certain rules changes can affect this number.
Blackjack played with one deck; the dealer stands on soft 17; doubles are allowed on any first two cards and not after splitting, is a even game - the deal house edge is zero, i.e. the average RTP is 100%.
The structure of basic strategy depends on the rules being played and although these are usually the same amongst casinos (both online and offline) there are occasionally slight variations. This guide will focus on the most common rules of blackjack encountered in the vast majority of online casinos, however rule variations and their impact on basic strategy will be briefly discussed also. The most important rules which occasionally differ and have an impact on basic strategy are whether the dealer must hit on a soft/hard 17 and the ability to surrender. The following basic strategy guide will therefore not consider such situations which is often referred to as a total-dependent strategy.
The basic strategy table outlines the best decisions for a player not counting cards. It is true that the cards that constitute a hand, other than the inclusion of an ace, have an influence on the chances of the correct decision to be made in certain situations, however this is only a relevant consideration in very few situations and when using one deck. As such it an insignificant consideration for internet blackjack. This type of strategy is referred to as composition-dependent strategy rather than total-dependent strategy which does not deviate from basic strategy regardless of the cards which appear in a hand.
Always split aces. Although the player will only receive one further card on both aces, 11 is such a strong starting number that even the limit of one further card stall makes it the best decision to make. Similarly, always split 8-8. For all other circumstances in which splitting is recommended, refer to the basic strategy chart.
Quite simply: never take insurance. It is more profitable in the long term to risk losing your initial stake than to protect it against the dealer hitting blackjack.
Doubling-down is perhaps the single best way of reducing the house edge when playing a blackjack session. By doubling your stake in a very strong position you can capitalise on these positions of strength and swing the balance of power away from the dealer. As a rule of thumb, you should always double-down on 11, except when against an ace and you should also double on a 10 (also 5-5), except when against an ace or a dealer's 10. You should double-down on 9 against a dealer's 3, 4, 5, and 6. As explained in the rules, some tables restrict doubling to 9, 10, and 11, but for those that allow it on other hands (both early and late) there a number of situations in soft hands in which it is recommended to double-down. Finally, as shown on the chart, if it is not possible to double-down you should hit apart from four situations where it is recommended to stand: when a player has soft 18 and the dealer has either 3,4,5, or 6.
As explained in the rules section, surrender allows the player to escape from a particularly unfavourable position in which neither hitting or standing are preferable. In these exceptional circumstances, surrendering your hand and sacrificing half your stake will result in losing less in the long term. The only times basic strategy recommends the player to surrender is when the player has hard 15 dealer has a 10 or when the player has hard 16 and the dealer has either 9, 10, or A. If the player is not permitted to surrender (if the table is restricted to early surrender only or if it is not allowed at all) they should hit.
Many blackjack games, both online and offline, give the player the option to participate in one or more side bets that operate separately but alongside a normal hand. Note: players must place a stake on the 'normal' blackjack hand if they want to participate in any side bets. In the blackjack rules section, two common side bets are explained, Perfect Pairs and Luck Lucky, however variations of these side bets plus countless other special ones exist, some exclusive to certain casinos only. Generally speaking, side bets are not recommended. They almost never offer value to the player and the house edge is much larger than the normal game.
Number of Decks
The number of decks used by the dealer in blackjack has a very slight effect on the house advantage.
Number of decks House advantage:
- Single deck 0.17%
- Double deck 0.46%
- Four decks 0.60%
- Six decks 0.64%
- Eight decks 0.65%
As you can see, the difference is pretty small but generally speaking the less decks used, the better. It is very rare to see double or eight deck games online and the most common being four or six however some sites do offer single deck blackjack. Single deck blackjack is often limited to one hand only and the cards are shuffled after every hand so the advantage here would only be found during exceptional hands in which a large number of one particular card, e.g. ace, appears many times and is an important factor in further decisions.
Strategy for Blackjack Variations at 888casino.com
There are 10 versions of blackjack available at 888casino.com and although most of them are only slight variations of the normal rules of blackjack stated here, some of the games require a slightly different strategy in order to optimise your chances of winning. Below, the variations are listed and appropriate alterations to basic strategy are explained.
Classic Blackjack features 4 decks, no side bets, betting limits between 1 and 3000 and with normal rules (i.e. dealer stands on all 17s, doubles allowed on 9,10,11). Basic strategy should be used and the only difference between this variation and the others is that Classic Blackjack allows the player to choose to play alongside other players, just like in a real casino. In public tables, up to three players can play simultaneously. However, this does not affect the optimal strategy for each player. In public tables, each player is restricted to just one hand each.
The most common variation of blackjack with 6 decks, no side bets, limits between 1 and 1500 and normal rules. The basic strategy guide is optimised for this version of the game. Blackjack at 888casino.com allows players to play up to 5 hands simultaneously. Players can also choose the 'Turbo' option which speeds up hands considerably by cutting out the dealer animations.
As stated in the blackjack rules, there are several key differences between American Blackjack and it's European cousin (often just referred to as Blackjack in online casinos), however in 888casino.com's version the dealer stands on all 17s rather than hitting soft 17. The most noticeable difference is the dealer's hole card in American Blackjack, however this has little to no relevance in online play. The hole card is considered somewhat important, although mainly to superstitious players if there are multiple people in the hand. Therefore, there is no overall significant change to basic strategy in this American version. 'Turbo' is also available in American Blackjack.
Blackjack Premium and American Blackjack Premium
The 'Premium' version simply refers to the betting limits which can be extended all the way to 10,000 units if you are so inclined. Three betting limit classes are on offer before the game begins which change the minimum and maximum limits however the strategy is the same for normal rules.
Crazy Blackjack is quite different from most of the other varieties available on 888casino.com and involves three side bet options. You play against the dealer in a private, multi-hand (up to three simultaneously) table with three betting limits classes. The total betting limit per hand is the sum of the side bet and regular blackjack bet limits. The three side bets are '777 Jackpot', 'Highest Hand Bet' and 'Safe Bet'. 777 Jackpot gives players the chance to win 1500 units from a 1 unit stake if your first three cards (two initial and first card hit) are all 7. If they are all the 7 of spades the player will win 30000. There is not too much value here and the odds suggest it is not worth it. However, it can give a very jackpot win which is normally not possible in blackjack.
Highest Hand asks players to guess which hand they are playing will be the highest total. It is only applicable when playing two hands in which a correct bet pays 1:1 or three hands which pays 2:1. If you receive blackjack this win increases to 2:1 two handed and up to 7:2 when three hands are played simultaneously. It offers decent value and if you're feeling lucky it could be worth a gamble. Note: Highest Hand can only be placed on one hand. Similarly, Safe Bet gives decent value by giving the player the chance to win with a bad starting hand (12,13,14,15, or 16 and not containing an ace or two cards of the same value). It only pays out 3:2 so it not as good value as Highest Hand but as it protects bad starting hands you might consider it a decent offer (although of course you lose on good hands reducing your potential winnings). Safe Bet can be played on up to three hands simultaneously.
Spanish 21 has a significant change in rules compared to the other versions. These are:
- The player can double on any 3rd card
- 8 decks are used
- The player may split all 10s
- The player can split only once
- The player can surrender (both early and late)
- Double after splitting is allowed
- The dealer hits on all 17s
Probably the most significant change in Spanish 21 compared to blackjack is the absence of the number 10 card. All picture cards remain in the deck but the lack of the 10 increases the house edge but this is evened out by various other rules changes which benefit the player. In addition to the rule changes stated above there are also several bonuses that are paid out to players without the need for any side bet wagers. These are:
- 5 card 21 (21 points with 5 cards) - pays 3:2 instantly
- 6 card 21 (21 points with 6 cards) - pays 2:1 instantly
- 7+ card 21 (21 points with 7 cards or more) - 3:1 instantly
- 6,7,8 or 7,7,7 mixed suits - pays 3:2
- 6,7,8 or 7,7,7 same suit - pays 2:1
- 6,7,8 or 7,7,7 all spades - pays 3:1
- 7,7,7 same suit when dealer also has a 7 shown - pays 50:1
The strategy for Live Blackjack is the same as basic strategy.
With no side bets and 4 decks, Multi-hand Blackjack players should follow the basic strategy guide. The minimum bet is 1 coin and the maximum is 3000.
Are You Ready?
Now you are equipped with the basic strategy and the specific strategy of common blackjack variations, it's time for you to try your luck at the real thing at 888.com. Good luck at the tables!