Blackjack Basic Strategy

by James Carter on January 19th, 2016.

Minimizing losses (or, when you're using card counting systems successfully, maximizing winnings) is always a good idea. Whether you wanted to count cards or not, you must learn to play according to basic blackjack strategy. Otherwise you belong to one of those who deliberately throw their money at the casino.

Knowing exactly how much it costs to neglect basic blackjack strategy is impossible without specifically knowing how you play blackjack. With that said, the house edge can be anywhere from 1% to even 10%, although if the house has a 10% edge, it's either a super bad game or you're completely clueless about the correct way to play blackjack. (Side bets are different; they can have more than a 20% house edge.)

Whenever you play unlike basic strategy tells you to, you'll lose money in the long run. And you'll likely lose a lot of it.

Correct Basic Strategy

Blackjack basic strategy differs slightly depending on how many decks are in the shoe and which rules apply.

Following rule variations affect basic strategy:

  • How many decks?
  • Does the dealer stand or hit on soft 17?
  • Is doubling after splitting allowed?
  • Is surrendering allowed?
  • Can the dealer peek for blackjack?

Before entering a game, find out answers to the questions above, and then use the Wizard of Odds calculator to get a printable chart of the correct basic strategy for your game.

Basic Strategy Chart

An example of a basic strategy chart below is for a standard blackjack game with 4-8 decks, where the dealer stands on soft 17, doubling after splitting is allowed, surrending is allowed and the dealer peeks for blackjack.

After learning blackjack rules, you should have no problems understanding what the following symbols mean and how to interpret the basic strategy chart.

Symbols explained:

S = Stand
H = Hit
Dh = Double (if not allowed, then hit)
Ds = Double (if not allowed, then stand)
SP = Split
SU = Surrender (if not allowed, then hit.)
Player hand Dealer's face-up card
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
Hard totals (excluding pairs)
17-20 S S S S S S S S S S
16 S S S S S H H SU SU SU
15 S S S S S H H H SU H
13-14 S S S S S H H H H H
12 H H S S S H H H H H
11 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H
10 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H
9 H Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H
5-8 H H H H H H H H H H
Soft totals
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
A,8-A,9 S S S S S S S S S S
A,7 S Ds Ds Ds Ds S S H H H
A,6 H Dh Dh Dh Dh H H H H H
A,4-A,5 H H Dh Dh Dh H H H H H
A,2-A,3 H H H Dh Dh H H H H H
Pairs
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 A
A,A SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP
10,10 S S S S S S S S S S
9,9 SP SP SP SP SP S SP SP S S
8,8 SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP SP
7,7 SP SP SP SP SP SP H H H H
6,6 SP SP SP SP SP H H H H H
5,5 Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh Dh H H
4,4 H H H SP SP H H H H H
2,2-3,3 SP SP SP SP SP SP H H H H

How to Practice Basic Strategy

A wonderful way to practice blackjack basic strategy is playing the WizardofOdds.com blackjack game. The game notifies you in case fail to follow the basic strategy chart. Spend a few hours on this game you'll be a much improved blackjack player.

Practice at home with real playing cards too. Be careful and not to let mistakes go unnoticed (so take your time with each decision) and spend several hours doing this, too.

Then do the following exercise, and stop yourself from playing for real money until you've mastered this one: take a blank paper sheet and fill the paper with a basic strategy chart. Next, take another blank paper sheet and this time fill the paper without help. You must remember the chart 100% correctly. You will find out that it takes a few times to get it right.

Only then are you ready to play blackjack at live casinos. (Start from the smallest bets until you're truly comfortable with implementing basic strategy in live blackjack games.)

More About the Subject

Should you want to read a book about how basic blackjack strategy works, I recommend Stanford Wong's Basic Blackjack. It's a dull read but the information is worth knowing. You might also want to take a look at this video by American Casino Guide: