Basic Blackjack Strategy

Basic Blackjack Strategy

 

This is part of a series about Blackjack Strategy Guide:

1 How to Play Blackjack 2 Blackjack Trainer 3 Blackjack Basic Strategy 4 Blackjack Charts 5 Blackjack Odds 6 Blackjack Side Bets 7 Blackjack Myths8 Guide To Online Blackjack 9 What Are Blackjack Tournaments? 10 Blackjack Legends 11 Choosing A Blackjack Table 12 Variants Of Blackjack 13 Blackjack Rules Around The World 14 How To Win At Blackjack

 

The starting point for any player looking to succeed on the tables is to fully comprehend the basic blackjack strategy guide we will outline in this chapter. This strategy is useful for both novices and more experienced players. 

In this article, we're going to discuss:

Many who have played the game before, wrongly believe that there are no blackjack basics for them to learn. Still, a significant number of experienced players do not have a great command of strategy. To make a success of blackjack, you must acquire the knowledge to know the right action for any hand.

The basic strategy chart lays out in simple terms the set of rules that informs you of the recommended play for any hand dealt. It takes into account all the information at hand, namely the visible cards on the table, including that of the dealer. 

Armed with this knowledge, it might improve your odds over time. Understanding the maths of blackjack is key to being successful, as you will be better placed to make the right call.  In the guide, we will show you how to build a good strategy to help you reduce the casinos’ edge. 

The guide will also examine how you can turn the surrender rule to your advantage and how sometimes surrendering is the best option compared to hitting or standing. Using numerous examples, you’ll come to understand which is the best play for a variety of scenarios. 

Additionally, with blackjack basic strategy, you’ll develop a knowledge of pair splitting and understand when to use a rule that favours the casinos. You’ll see how deciding whether to split depends on the number of decks and the rules of the table. Furthermore, you’ll be shown how and when to use defensive and offensive strategies.  

The guide also examines the basic hit and stand strategies, some less well-known rules such as doubling down, plus the difference between soft and hard hands. Finally, the strategy guide will explain one of the most ill-advised ploys, namely following the dealer’s own rules. It also covers the area of insurance and other side bets.

By the end of the chapter, you should have a full understanding of the blackjack basics. This will provide you with the confidence to play the tables and stand a chance to win money. The importance of mastering the basic strategies is that it allows you to know immediately what play to make when you encounter any combination of cards on a table.

 

THE FUNDAMENTALS OF BASIC STRATEGY

Basic Blackjack Strategy FundamentalsBy mastering the perfect blackjack strategy, you will realize that every hand you ever receive has a preferred action for you to then take. Plays that maximise your chance of success. This section will utilize a selection of hands as examples to show this. All examples are of delicately poised games where your next action is crucial. In this section you’ll learn about the multiple plays at your disposal, from hit to stand, doubling, and splitting.

The fundamental aspect of blackjack basic strategy is that any player needs to master it if they wish to succeed consistently at the blackjack table. It is the essential starting point for anyone wishing to improve their skills.

The key way that the house gains an edge is based on the simple rule that the player always decides their play first, before the dealer. Therefore, if a player goes bust, they lose, even if the dealer had in theory gone bust themselves soon after. Not every rule favours the house though. The game still rests on fine margins, and there are blackjack basics that players can use to take advantage. This is why familiarizing yourself with them is so vital. 

For example, the financial rewards for getting blackjack are greater for the player than the dealer. Doubling a wager in a strong position is a key tool, as is splitting pairs, which is something the dealer can of course not do. 

Finally, as a player you can stand on any total, whereas the dealer must hit 17 or more. What’s more, in many casinos, the dealer must also hit on a soft 17. Of course, this final point is only an advantage if the player knows when to hit and when to stand.

To understand further the fundamentals of blackjack basic strategy, we should look at some examples that display the different plays you should make according to the cards visible on the table. In a future chapter, you will see the full tables and charts that will guide you to make the optimal play for any hand. 

Online, these charts will help you succeed. However, it would not be practical to have access to such information. Thus, it is important that in order to succeed, you gain a sound knowledge of why these charts suggest what they do, and develop an understanding of the maths behind what is on the surface a very simple game.

1. The most common mistake players make is standing when they should hit, as they are afraid of going bust. So let’s look at such a situation where such a move would be foolish. A player draws a 12, and the dealer’s card is a 3. This is a position when you should hit, as the dealer’s low value card lowers their chance of going bust (37% chance). You cannot win with 12 unless the dealer goes bust, so if going bust is unlikely for the dealer you should hit and take your chances. For the majority of draws, you also will not go bust.

2. A similar situation can be viewed whereby standing is the correct option. The player draws a hand totalling 15. The dealer draws a 5. The player has once more received a “stiff” hand, which is a hand whereby one card could see them go bust. In this instance it is best to stand, and hope the dealer goes bust, as the probability of them doing so is greater than in the first example. The player had a greater chance of winning this way, rather than hitting and hoping for a card with a value of 6 or below. Remember that the dealer cannot stand below 17.

3. Let’s look at an example of whether to hit or stand with a double deck, and a soft 17 pack. There will only be small variations on plays, due to the changes in probability in the remaining cards. Thus, let’s say a player draws a 16. Whether they should hit or stand is split fairly even according to the card drawn by the dealer. If the upcard is 2 through to 6, the player should stand. For 7 through to an Ace, the player should hit despite the obvious threat of going bust. This is because the dealer stands a good chance of at least matching the 16 score without subsequently going bust.

4. Next are a couple of examples that will help you to understand when to double down, and when not to. Remember the basic premise – double down when you feel you have a stronger hand than the dealer, in order to ram home the advantage. Also be aware you can only receive one more card in your hand. In the first example, a player is dealt a hand of 9, and the dealer’s upcard is a 4. In this situation, the maths states that you should not double down, as the hand is not strong enough against the dealer’s possible hands.

5. Let’s look at how this could differ with a double deck. Because of the different composition of the remaining cards in the “shoe”, with the previous example you would be best placed doubling down when playing with a double deck.

6. Finally, let’s look at an example of when you should split a pair of cards. Splitting is a rule that should favour players, but because of its constant misuse, makes money for casinos. Let’s say a player receives a pair of 3’s. This is a single deck, S17, where doubling down is allowed after a split. In such a situation, a player should split if the dealer draws a 2 through to 8, but not anything above that. With a double deck, it would be a 2 through to 7, so there’s a slight variation. With both decks it is never advisable to split with 5’s or 10’s.

 

BLACKJACK HITTING & STANDING STRATEGY

The absolutely fundamental element of playing blackjack is deciding whether to hit or stand. Integral to this is understanding your options according to whether your hand is hard or soft. It is the most common decision you will have to make. 

Hitting simply means asking for another card to be dealt. Some players and casinos may also refer to it as drawing another card. Whereas standing means you do not wish to receive another card, as you are satisfied with your existing hand. Should you take a hit and your hand exceeds 21, then you lose the bet, as you have gone bust. 

The key to blackjack is always to get as close a hand to 21 as possible, without going over that total. You can stand on any total of 21 or under, and should you wish to hit, you must indicate your intentions to the dealer. Once you decide to stand, your actions are over for that round. With blackjack when to hit is vital.

Hard hands in blackjack can refer to one of two types of hands. It is a hand that either does not contain an Ace or one where the Ace has a value of 1 and cannot be counted as 11. An example of a hard hand is J-6 which makes for a hard total of 16. A hand such as A-4-9-2 with a total of 16 is also hard as the Ace must count as a 1 – otherwise the player would be bust.

Alternatively, soft hands are those that contain an Ace that counts as 1 or 11 depending on the player’s choice and decision-making. As a blackjack player you will often be forced to transfer from a soft hand to a hard hand during a single round, due to the cards revealed when you hit.  An example of this would be drawing A-5-6 cards.

Soft hands are generally considered superior to hard ones because of the flexibility they allow. Having a hard hand with a total of between 12 to 17 is considered to be the worst hand of all. The reason for this is that whatever card the dealer may have, you will lose more games than you will win with a 12-17 hard hand. 

Unfortunately, a player will get such a hand on average 40% of the time. However, by following the basic blackjack strategy, you will be able to make the most of a bad situation. Succeeding at blackjack is not just about profiting from good hands, but limiting the damage of bad hands also.

When To Hit Or Stand In Blackjack

In this section a series of examples will help you master hitting and standing on soft and hard hands.  You’ll come to understand what is occurring when you make your decisions, and why. 

A classic mistake is to stand when the optimal move is to hit because the player is scared of going bust. Going bust loses the player the same amount as a card total lower than the dealer’s. Before we examine the logic according to whether hands are soft or hard, let’s look at a quick example of the maths involved when trying to decide in blackjack when to hit or stand:

  • A player is dealt a hand of 16 or under. The dealer draws anything from 7-A as their upcard. Probability states that the dealer has a good chance of hitting a total of 17-21. This is sometimes referred to as a “pat hand”. Thus, in a game where you cannot double down, split a pair or surrender, the optimal play is to hit.

A common error made by beginners is misinterpreting whether a hand is good or not. A classic example of this is deciding to stand on a hand of A-6 (soft 17), as they assume 17 to be a good hand. In many circumstances it is, but not necessarily when there is an Ace in the hand. By hitting, there is no chance of going bust, but a chance to get 18-21, or at least a hard 17. 

It is not an absolute rule, as it depends on other variables, but as a general guide, players should not stand on a soft 13-17. Additionally, by its very nature when hitting on a soft hand, you will very likely convert it to a hard hand. By doing so, you must then switch to the rules on hard hands as a consequence of this.

Perhaps it is best to look at some examples to best show the decision-making process in action.

  • In a multi-pack game, with S17, a player is dealt a hand of 12, and the dealer gets a 2 card. Let’s examine the maths. In this situation, by standing, a player will on average win 35.2% of hands, and thus lose 64.8% (excluding ties). But by hitting, the player wins 37.4% of hands on average, a modest rise. It is clearly not a strong hand. As discussed in this chapter, other tools at your disposal such as surrender could help your cause in such situations.
  • Let’s look at a hard hand total, and decide whether to hit or stand. The player is dealt a hard 14, against the dealer’s 6. In stark terms, a player with a 14 total has a 56% chance of going bust should they hit. In the above example, the player should stand, as they should if the dealer had a lower value card than 6. The hope is for the dealer to go bust.  However, the maths demands the optimal play alters if the dealer deals themselves a 7 or above. In that scenario, the player should hit it, as the dealer’s chance of going bust decreases, so victory is more likely by outscoring them.

For players, the worst hands to be dealt are a hard 12-17 card total. This is for the simple reason that, over time, such hands will lose more than they win, irrelevant of the dealer’s upcard. Only a 17 versus a dealer’s 6 in a multi-deck game breaks the trend.  What’s more, players will be dealt such a hand about 40% of the time. 

if you stick to the basic strategy you might stand a chance of winning in the long term. There is no avoiding bad hands in blackjack, as is the case in most card games. The key is to minimize losses and take advantage of strong positions.

 

BLACKJACK DOUBLE DOWN STRATEGY

Basic Blackjack Strategy Double Down

Doubling down is an important part of blackjack, and in this chapter we will show you how to make the most of this rule. The section looks at how it works, and how it fits into the basic strategy you should be employing. By developing your use of this strategy, you can help gain an edge over the house.

Not all casinos will operate a double down rule, but for those that do, it allows players to double the amount of their initial bet on the proviso that they can only hit one more time. To define doubling down another way, the player will not be allowed to receive two or more cards after doubling down. A casino that allows this rule may still have separate criteria for when you can use it. For example, some establishments will allow you to double down when your two cards total 10 or 11.

Doubling down is a risk, as it is increasing your bet, so the potential losses are naturally greater and it must be noted that it is not always advisable for novices. Having said that, many players wrongly ignore the option of doubling down altogether because of the risk of losing double their original stake.

In a similar vein, many players overuse the option, relying on intuition rather than logic and probability. What is certain is that doubling down is a big weapon for players to use when applied correctly, and certainly adds to the excitement of the game.

An issue for knowing when to double down is that the rules vary from casino to casino, which can muddy the water. It is essential therefore that players develop an understanding of these variations. They will not be well-publicized in casinos, so may require you to enquire with the dealer.

To use another example in addition to the one earlier in this section, in a few instances players will be allowed to double down when they hold more than two cards, which gives them a great advantage. This will not be a common policy in casinos however. 

A good example of when a player could profit from such a rule would be when being dealt 5-2-4, against the dealer’s 5 upcard. Most casinos would not allow a player to double down in such a situation, so any opportunity to do so should be taken as the player is in a strong position.

The blackjack basic strategy card as always should guide you on this and any other rule. It tells blackjack players when it is the optimal time to hit, stand, split, or double down. It is based on mathematical probability and a million trials that prove that the player is in safe hands by following it.

In the next section, we will take a look in more detail as to when players should and should not double down in blackjack. With practice and an understanding of probabilities, you will learn when to attack and when to defend.

 

WHEN TO DOUBLE DOWN IN BLACKJACK

Blackjack is primarily a defensive game due to the in-built bias towards the dealer, slight as it may be. It is for this reason that doubling down is considered a great weapon for players to use, as it puts them on the offensive. What’s more, it does so at an opportune time, namely when the player should have an edge using the cards on display, and often when the dealer has a fair chance of going bust. 

The general figures show that for players the probability of a player winning a hand is 44%, as opposed to 47% for the dealer, with 9% seeing both sides push. With these figures in mind, logic suggests players should play conservatively the majority of hands, and choose their moments to play more aggressively. 

To know when it is best to double down, you must again be knowledgeable about the variables involved concerning your two cards and the upcard belonging to the dealer. The general guide is as follows: it could be profitable to double down if you have a hard 8-11 total, or a soft hand totalling 13-18 (A2-A7 combinations).

Additionally, it is best to separate options according to whether you have a soft hand or a hard hand. The reasoning that could see you double down on a soft hand is to increase your stake and thus potential winnings at a moment where the dealer seems exposed to going bust. An example would be any upcard of low value, ranging from 2 to 6. With a hard hand, it is calculated that doubling down whilst following the basic strategy chart will see you gain approximately 1.3% on the table. On soft hands, you can add another 0.13% to that figure.

It is important to note that the doubling down rule is not always the right path to take, and can actually reduce your chances of winning on certain hands. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is with an example hand. The key point is to always remember that you can only draw a single card.

  • If you had a 7-2 hand, and the dealer had a 5, then you drew a 2, you would be stranded on 11. In this situation, the only way you can win the hand is if the dealer goes bust. Without doubling down, you could have drawn further cards. That doesn’t mean that doubling down in the above example was wrong – after all, there is no guarantee in blackjack, and luck will always play a part.

Doubling down on the above hand is the correct decision. This is because with a hand of 9 (with 2 cards), players should win on average 59% of hands. It therefore makes sense to double the stake. For casinos that allow players to double down with three or more cards, you can make further gains. Additionally, a few casinos will allow you to double down for less than your initial stake, but this option is not beneficial to players.

Doubling down can increase your chances of winning, but as already mentioned, it comes with risks as players can only draw one more card. When doubling on soft hands, players run the risk of being stranded on a low total. But remember, losing a hand does not mean the player made the wrong decision, unless we bring hindsight into play.

Let’s use another couple of examples to show the blackjack optimal strategy in play:

  • You hit a 2-card 9, and the dealer has a 2 upcard. The maths shows that with a hand of 9, players win on average 59% of hands. This means for every 100 £1 hands where 9 is dealt, the player makes £18 profit. Now imagine doubling the stake on such hands, and you can see the advantage of doing so. This example used general probability to demonstrate the advantages to be gained. When drilling down, the optimal time with a hard 9 total is when the dealer has a card from 2 to 6.

 

BLACKJACK SURRENDER STRATEGY

As the blackjack basics make clear, the law of averages states that you will get plenty of bad hands. In this section you’ll learn how to reduce losses on such hands by using the surrender strategy. Such a blackjack tip will work on whatever table you play on, provided the strategy is permissible with the house.

The rule is misused and not fully understood more than any rule in the game. The reason is most likely because it is an acceptance of defeat, which is generally the last thing players wish to do. However, in certain situations it is the optimal route to take in order to lessen losses. When the odds of winning a hand are significantly against a player, it makes sense to surrender. It is not dissimilar to folding during a game of poker.

The rule is fairly simple. After receiving your two cards, a player can decide to abandon their hand and lose half of the original bet. In casinos, you must inform the dealer of your intentions, either verbally or with a hand signal, according to house rules. Whilst the rule itself is straight-forward, there are however two types of surrender – late and early.

Under late surrender rules, there are provisions for a player being able to surrender. The dealer will look at their hidden card if the visible card is an ace or 10 and if they have blackjack, then surrender is no longer an option for players. Thus if they have blackjack, then a player must also get that to avoid losing their entire stake.  

Early surrender means that a player can surrender before the dealer looks at their downcard. The dealer must still have a 10 or Ace however for surrender to be an option. This is not a feature available to players unless the dealer’s upcard meets that specific criteria.

Additionally, there are two ways that this rule differs from the fold in poker. Firstly, in blackjack the surrender of a hand can only occur after the initial dealing of a player’s two cards. Secondly, unlike in poker, a player gets half their stake back when surrendering, whereas in poker you lose the entire stake but prevent further losses.

The early surrender is not offered by casinos as much as the late option, though UK casinos are more likely to offer it compared to those in the US. This is perhaps not surprising as early surrender favours players. Surrendering against a dealer’s ace gains a player 0.39%, and against a 10 it gains 0.24%. In some UK casinos you may only early surrender against a dealer with a 10 upcard.

It should also be noted that like many other features in casinos, such as the double down option, the house will not advertise the availability of surrender, nor will it be written on the felt. You will need to inquire with the dealer whether the option is available, and whether it is early or late that is in operation if so.

 

WHEN TO SURRENDER IN BLACKJACK

Because of the rule variations between early and hard surrender, the strategy is thus different for the two when for example playing a multiple-deck (soft 17) table.  For early surrender, you should take the opportunity with the following hands.

Basic Blackjack Strategy Ace of Spades

When the dealer has an ace, surrender a hard 5 to 7 and 12 to 17.

Basic Blackjack Strategy 10 of Hearts

When the dealer has a 10, surrender a hard 14 to 16.

Basic Blackjack Strategy 9 of Clovers

Against a dealer 9, surrender a hard 10-6 or a 9-7 (but not 8s).

In blackjack basic terms, you should surrender a hand when your chance of winning is less than 25%, meaning that your expected loss on a hand is more than 50%. Under these conditions, you will save money in the long term by surrendering. For this reason, the house edge is reduced. 

Additionally, using the surrender strategy intelligently ensures that you stabilize your bankroll, which reduces unwanted large fluctuations in your balance. Always ask casinos whether they offer the surrender facility, and do not be afraid to use it. Whatever others think, it will benefit you in the long-term.

Let’s look at some examples of when to use a late surrender, when different sized packs are in play.

Single Deck Game

With a hard 17, you are dealt a 16. The dealer receives a 10 upcard. Our blackjack tip  - you should surrender.

Double Deck Game

With a soft 17, you receive a hand with a total of 15. The dealer is in possession of a 9 upcard. Once more, you should surrender.

6 Deck Blackjack

With a hard 17, you receive a pair of 8’s. The dealer is dealt an Ace. This is another example of when it makes sense to surrender.

Because blackjack’s optimal strategy for surrender changes according to how many decks are in play, it is essential that you know this before you start playing. Below are the full rules for when we advise you to surrender for each variety of deck size. All the following scenarios refer to the late surrender strategy and what you should do, as the early strategy is so rare nowadays that you are unlikely to be in the position to take advantage of it.

Single-deck Game

  • With a hard 16 versus a dealer with an Ace or a 10 in both S17 and H17 games
  • With a pair of 7s for a hard 14 against a dealer with a 10 in S17 games
  • With a hard 15 against a dealer with an Ace in H17 games
  • With a pair of 7s for hard 14 against a dealer Ace and 10 in H17 games
  • With a hard 17 against a dealer’s Ace in H17 games

Double Deck Game

  • When you receive a hard 15 against a dealer’s 10 in S17 games
  • When you receive a hard 16 against the dealer’s 10 or Ace in S17 games
  • With a hard 15 and hard 16 against the dealer’s 10 or Ace in H17 variations
  • With a hard 17 against the dealer’s Ace in H17 variations
  • When you get a pair of 8s versus an Ace in H17 games

Multi-deck Game (for example – 6 deck blackjack)

  • Surrender a hard 15 against a 10 in S17 blackjack
  • Surrender a hard 16 against 9, 10, or Ace is both S17 and H17 games
  • Surrender a hard 15 against 10 or Ace in H17 games
  • Surrender a hard 17 against a dealer Ace in H17 games
  • Surrender a pair of 8s against an Ace in H17 variations

It is worth reiterating that the key to prospering in blackjack is not to win all the time or even most of the time, but in knowing how to deal with poor hands and non-advantageous situations at the table. 

Other players may cast scorn on you for utilizing the surrender strategy, but this simply proves that they have not taken on board blackjack basic strategy.

 

BLACKJACK INSURANCE & EVEN MONEY STRATEGY

These types of bets allow players to seemingly protect themselves against the dealer getting blackjack. Such strategies involve making such decisions before you would choose to surrender, split, double down, stand, or hit. They are bets invented by casinos, which gives you an idea of their merit or otherwise.

Insurance

How insurance bets work is straightforward. Should a dealer’s upcard be an Ace, they will offer players an insurance bet. If accepted, the bet is separate, and effectively wagers on the dealer’s face-down card (the hole card) being a 10 or picture card. The wager will be half the player’s original bet.  Should the hole card be a 10 or picture, the insurance bet is paid out at odds of 2 to 1. If any other card is displayed, the player has lost the bet, and play continues as normal. 

On a blackjack table, there should be a clear marking for where to put an insurance bet, with the 2 to 1 odds also displayed. So if you wagered £20 on a hand, and placed a £10 insurance bet after the dealer drew a £10, and the dealer then revealed a 10, thus leading to you losing the main hand, you would recoup your total stake as you would win £30 on the insurance bet.

Even Money Bets

These bets can be used in one specific and fairly uncommon scenario. Should the dealer display an Ace, but you have blackjack, then the dealer may enquire whether you desire even money. If you accept the offer, you immediately receive even money on your wager, and the hand is dead. The pay-out is automatic, whatever hole card the dealer may have. 

It is effectively the same as making an insurance bet when you have blackjack. It is a fairly new simple blackjack strategy, as in the old days only an insurance bet would be available to players. Given this is another bet devised by casinos, do not assume the option is as attractive as it may at first appear.

As mentioned, insurance and even money bets are extremely similar propositions, including their attractiveness to players. But there are tiny differences between the two as contained in the above descriptions. To drill down, even money is only an option when the player has blackjack. If the option is taken, the dealer pays out before looking at their hole card, unlike with the insurance bet, when the value of the unseen card is key.

Players must remember that insurance and even money are simply side bets that do not affect your chances of winning from the hand itself. You are effectively betting on the dealer’s cards, not your own.  In effect, it is a new side game that players participate in, though it can be argued that it ties in with the main hand wager as players are calculating the financial aspect of the situation on the table and their chances of success when contemplating insurance or even money offers.

 

WHEN TO INSURE OR TAKE EVEN MONEY IN BLACKJACK

To understand such strategies, begin by examining the probabilities involved. In a single pack of 52 playing cards, the ratio of 10s to non-10s is 16-36. So with a dealer receiving an Ace, and then asking you for insurance, the ratio has now altered to 16-35.  This assumes that your card values are unknown at this point. 

So using a £10 insurance bet as an example, on average for every 51 bets you made, you would lose £350 (£10 x 35, on the occasions the dealer did not have a 10), and gain £320 (£20 x 16 on the occasions the dealer did draw a 10).  Thus, the disadvantage by making insurance bets is 5.9%. 

Let’s analyse some more examples.

  • You draw two non-10 cards in your hand – let’s say 4 and 8, totalling 12. The dealer draws an ace on the upcard. Using the odds of what is left in the pack, namely 16 10s and 33 non-10s in the 49 cards, the average loss with a £10 insurance bet over 49 rounds is £10 per £490 of bets. That is a 2% loss, so it is still not a profitable tactic over time.
  • A player gets dealt two 10s, and the dealer an Ace. This is a position in which many players would take insurance, from a good position. They are wrong to think this, and this is one of the worst insurance bets a player could take. By holding two 10s, the player has removed two of the cards the dealer is required to get blackjack. The ratio of 10s to non-10s in the remaining pack stands at 14 to 35, which translates to average losses of £7 for every £49 wagered in insurance bets. This equates to a 14.3% disadvantage compared to the house/dealer.

The same principles apply to using even money during a game of blackjack. By looking at the four scenarios where even money can be offered, you will see whether it is an option you should be taking. By referring back to the insurance bet, let’s look at the options available to a player when dealt a blackjack hand and the dealer’s upcard is an Ace. This assumes a £10 original stake.

  • The player takes the insurance bet, and the dealer reveals blackjack.
    End result: Stake returned on original hand, but £10 profit on insurance bet.
  • The player takes the insurance bet, but the dealer does not have blackjack.
    End result: The player makes £10 profit again. They win £15 on the hand, but lose their £5 insurance bet (which is always half the original stake).
  • The player passes on the insurance bet, and the dealer reveals blackjack.
    End result: £10 loss.
  • The player declines the insurance bet, and the dealer does not have blackjack.

End result: £15 profit on the hand.

Thus, you can see from the first two outcomes that if you insure your bet when you have blackjack, you always double your original stake. Thus it is in the casino’s interest to offer the even money bet instead, as they cannot be worse off from it than if a player took an insurance bet instead. 

Players often overlook the possibility of the third outcome. But if players ignore insurance or even money bets and the dealer does not have blackjack, they win 1.5 times the original stake. Moreover, it is more probable that the dealer will not have blackjack. 

Should you be dealt blackjack and the dealer an Ace, the maths shows that the dealer will get blackjack themselves 30.6% of the time. By insuring such hands, you would thus win even money 30.6% of the time. If you did not take insurance however, you would lose your stake 30.6% of the time, but 69.4% of the time would win 1.5 times your stake. Do not insure your hand, and don’t take even money should you have a “natural” hand.

There is one exception to the guidance on insurance. This exception is if the player is confident that at least a third of the remaining cards are 10s or picture cards. Then the odds change towards insurance.

 

BLACKJACK BASIC STRATEGY BASICS

To end this chapter of our blackjack guide, it is a good time to summarise the information contained within this section. 

1. Most blackjack players, even those with considerable experience of the game, regularly misplay their hands. If you master the blackjack basics, then you have an instant advantage over many other players before a single card is dealt.

2. The basic playing strategy outlined in this guide gives you the best chance of winning over time. By using the guidance, you reduce the casino’s edge to under 1%. But, to do so, you must comprehend fully hitting and standing, surrender, splitting pairs, doubling down and more.

3. Surrender (early and late) is a feature in which a player can “surrender” their hand in return for retrieving half of their original bet.

4. Late surrender is used more often, and occurs when the dealer has checked that they do not have blackjack. Early surrender allows you to bail out without the dealer knowing their hand.  It is the better option, and thus less commonly offered by the house.

5. Blackjack’s optimal strategy for surrender is one you should consider when you have a weak hand and the dealer has a strong upcard. An example would be a hand of 15 playing against a dealer’s 10.

6. Pair splitting allows players the opportunity to increase their winnings when they feel they are in a strong position, or limit losses when they have a seemingly weaker hand. It also allows the chance of turning a losing hand into a victorious one.

7. Doubling down presents a chance for a player with a strong hand to go on the attack and potentially increase their chances of winning.

8. Hitting and standing, the basic moves in blackjack, allow you to assess the odds on potential outcomes. By now you should understand that every single situation on a card table comes with an optimal move for a player. This move will not guarantee a winning hand of course.

9. Such optimal moves are the result of maths and millions of trial situations. You can play with the confidence that by following the basic blackjack optimal strategy, you are making the correct calls game after game.

10. Insurance is a side bet that certain casinos may offer to players when the dealer draws an Ace upcard. By taking up the offer, a player is essentially gambling on the hope that the dealer has a card with a value of 10 and thus blackjack. An insurance bet, which is half of the original stake for the hand, comes with odds of 2 to 1.

11. Even money is when a dealer offers to pay out at evens when the player has blackjack and the dealer has an Ace upcard. Even money is essentially the same as insurance, and both options are not favourable for players, and should be avoided.

12. If in a casino that contains no obvious advertising of what rules are in operation, do not be afraid to ask the dealer for such details, in order to give you the maximum chance of success.

13. To summarise: in future chapters we will take a look at the charts and tables of blackjack, side bets, myths, a blackjack tip or two, and more. For now, you should have gained a solid understanding of what the basic strategy involves along with the various plays at your disposal and be beginning to build the confidence to play and succeed over the long-term, all while reducing the casino’s in-built edge by as much as possible.

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