How to Master Blackjack

Mastering a game involves more than just knowing its rules and understanding how to play. It requires learning the outcome probabilities, learning the pros and cons of each gaming option, and being able to bend the rules to your advantage.

Topics Addressed

  • Advanced strategy for experienced Blackjack players
  • Soft total Strategy
  • Matching Cards Strategy

Previously Required Knowledge

Understanding different approaches to strategy. Blackjack strategy usually takes advantage of the fact that the dealer reveals one of his cards. This is because it allows you to make an educated estimation of the outcome, and play your hand accordingly. There are very direct guidelines as whether to hit, stand, double, split, or take insurance, when receiving a certain total against the dealer’s up card. The most basic of them is outlined in How to play beginner Blackjack. Experienced players know that by understanding the meaning behind them, they can manipulate the game to their benefit, for example by learning to count cards. Yet card counting is only one of the ways to influence your results, as you will now see

Soft total Strategy:

Hard total strategy is very straight forward; it is the soft total strategy that causes players confusion. However, this kind of strategy requires no guesswork, which means that as long as you follow the rules, the odds lie in your favor. The following chart tells you what to do with soft hands (when an ace is used as an 11):

If you hold:dealer's up card is:Do this:
2 Aces Always split
Ace and 2, or Ace and 3 5 or 6 Double down
Any other cards Hit
Ace and 4, or Ace and 5 4, 5, or 6 Double Down
Any other cards Hit
Ace and 6 3 - 6 Double down
Any other cards Hit
Ace and 7 3 - 6 Double down
2, 7, or 8 Stand
9, 10, or Ace Hit
Ace and 8, or Ace and 9 Always stand
Ace and Jack/Queen/King Blackjack - you win!

Be Careful: 

The most frequent mistake made is not playing a soft 17 properly. It is believed that because the dealer always stands on 17, it is a good hand. Yet unless the dealer busts, the best outcome that you can hope for is a tie – which brings you no winnings. Hitting a soft 17 is a good opportunity to beat the dealer, by drawing either a 2, 3, or 4, or leaving it the same with Jack, Queen, or King. This means that a total of 8 out of 13 cards will either improve or secure your hand. Even if you draw a 5 – 9, as long as the dealer shows 7 or more, you can hit again quite safely. So all in all, you will not be risking more than the chance to tie. Additionally, if the dealer shows 3 – 6 when you have hit a soft 18, his/her chance of busting is significantly stronger. Therefore in this case, it is safe to double down. 

Matching Cards Strategy: 

When you receive 2 matching cards, you are faced with the decision of whether or not to split them. The following table outlines the circumstances under which you should and shouldn’t: 

If you hold:And dealer's up card is:Do this:
2 Aces Always split
Two 2's, or two 3's 4, 5, 6, or 7 Split
Any other cards Hit
Two 4's Never split - it is much easier to reach 21 with an eight than a four
Two 5's 2 - 9 Double down
10 or Ace Hit
Two 6's 3, 4, 5, or 6 Split
Any other cards Hit
Two 7's 2 - 7 Split
8, 9, 10, or Ace Hit
Two 8's Always Split
Two 9's 2 - 6 Split
7 Stand
8 or 9 Split
10 or Ace Stand
Two 10's Never split - you have a very strong hand!

Be Careful: Double Down After Split Allowed:

Sometimes it can be advantageous for you to double down after splitting. If the casino allows it, here's what you should:

  • If you have two 2's or two 3's: rather than splitting against the dealer's 4 - 7, split against 2 - 7.
  • If you have two 4's: rather than hitting against all, split against a 5 or 6.
  • If you have two 6's: rather than splitting against 3 - 6, split against 2 - 6.

Single Deck Blackjack:

Because there are fewer cards in single deck Blackjack, your chances of estimating the outcome correctly will improve significantly. Your strategic choices should accommodate this factor, and they do differ slightly:

If you hold:And dealer's up card is:Do this:
A hand worth 8 5 or 6 Double down
A hand worth 9 2 Double down
A hand worth 11 Always double down
Ace and 2, or Ace and 3 4, 5, or 6 Double down
Ace and 6 2 - 6 Double down
Ace and 7 Ace Stand
Ace and 8 6 Double down
Any other cards Stand
Two 2's 3 - 7 Split (if doubling after split is allowed)
Two 3's 2 - 8 Split (if doubling after split is allowed)
Two 4's 4 - 6 Split (if doubling after split is allowed)
Two 6's 2 - 7 Split (if doubling after split is allowed)
2 - 6 Split (if doubling after split is not allowed)
Two 7's 2 - 8 Split (if doubling after split is allowed)
10 Stand

Card Counting: 

Card counting, although somewhat difficult to learn, is not about memorizing ever card that has been dealt; this is too demanding, especially when playing up to 8 decks of cards. Basically, it involves the player taking advantage of Blackjack's changing odds, which involves concentrating on only the 10's and Aces left in the deck. When the deck is rich in 10's and Aces, the player has a high chance of getting Blackjack (the dealer also does but he/she doesn't enjoy odds of 2:3). In this case, the player will raise his bet. If the opposite occurs, he will reduce his bet. 

Card counting is most commonly achieved by using the plus/minus system. This is how it works:

Instructions

Step One

Every time a card valued 3 - 6 is dealt, plus one. Every time a card valued 10 is dealt, minus one.

Step Two

The total you receive after a round is called the "running count":
For example, if ten 4's have been dealt (+4), and four 10's have been dealt (-4), the running count will be 10 – 4 = 6.

Step Three

Divide the running count by the approximate number of decks left in the shoe or dealer's hand in order to get the "true count". The higher the true count, the more favorable the deck is, so adjust your bets accordingly. For example:

  • If the true count equals 2, double a $5 bet.
  • If the true count equals 4, triple a $5 bet.
  • If the true cont equals 6, raise a $5 bet to $20.

Tips

Card counting should only be done when using at least 30 bets worth of chips!

See also

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