Blackjack Strategy

Read our top tips for playing blackjack below

How to Play Blackjack

Let’s recap the basics of how to play the game.

The aim of blackjack is simple: beat the dealer’s hand by having a total that’s greater than the dealer’s but without going over 21.

The game starts with the dealer dealing two cards to each player and himself. This is called your hand. The value of your hand will dictate whether you choose to take another card (or more) to try and get closer to 21.

If you ask for another card (“hit me”) and it takes your total above 21, you’ve bust. That means you lose the hand and the dealer wins. But if you finish with a number higher than the dealer's, while still not exceeding 21, you win the hand.

There’s a bit more to it when you play blackjack, but those are the essentials of the game.

Why Have a Blackjack Strategy?

Like most casino games, blackjack is a game of probability. Probability is a branch of mathematics, but this doesn’t mean that you need to do complex calculations while sitting at the table. The various blackjack strategies simply use maths to work out your best option in certain gaming scenarios, so they’re definitely worth knowing.

Following the guidelines of even the most basic strategy can provide the framework for maximising your chances. In high stakes (or low stakes) situations, having a strategy can be a vital guide, directing you to your best possible action.

Basic Blackjack Strategy

The basic playing strategy is a set of rules that tell you the best mathematical way to play your hand (given the parameters available to you). There are four typical strategies in the basic strategy: surrender strategy, pair splitting strategy, hit and stand strategy and doubling down strategy.

We’ll explain each one in more detail, please note that the strategy discussed assumes four to eight decks are being used and that the dealer stands on soft 17.

What is Surrendering - Blackjack Strategy - Betway Casino

What Is Surrendering as a Blackjack Strategy?

Plenty of players shy away from this strategy because of the negative connotations of the word ‘surrender’. But surrendering can be a smart play in certain circumstances.

Here’s how it works:

The initial deal is made and you think your chance of winning is very low. You forfeit playing your hand and surrender half the amount of your wager.

That’s it. It means you’re out of that hand and lose half of your bet, but you get to keep half of it to use in your next play. If you thought you were unlikely to win anyway, it means you have effectively cut your losses in half.

There are actually two types of surrender strategy: an early surrender and a late surrender. In a late surrender, you can only surrender your hand after the dealer looks at their hole card. The dealer does this whenever their up-card shows an ace or ten, to see if they have blackjack (21). If they do have blackjack, you can no longer surrender and you’ll lose the hand unless you also have blackjack.

Early surrender is typically only offered in European and Asian variants of blackjack. The difference here is that you’re allowed to surrender your hand even before the dealer has checked their hole card to see if they have blackjack.

So when exactly should you surrender? Have a look at the table to see the recommended strategy for possible hands.

Pair Splitting - Blackjack Strategy - Betway Casino

What Is Pair Splitting as a Blackjack Strategy?

Many players know about splitting cards when playing blackjack and do so at every opportunity, but it’s important to know when to split and when not to.

Here’s what you need to know:

You can split your hand whenever you are dealt two starting cards of the same value. By splitting them you make two separate hands, both of which you play during the game.

For example, if you are dealt two 6s, you have a single hand of 12. However, if you split them you have two hands of 6, meaning you have two chances to beat the dealer. However, it does mean that you must match your existing bet – if you have bet £/$/€10 on your hand, you must put another £/$/€10 down so each of your split hands has a £/$/€10 bet on.

Have a look at the table to see the possible hands when pair-splitting makes sense in blackjack. 

Doubling Down Strategy - Playing Blackjack - Betway Casino

What Is a Doubling Down Strategy in Blackjack?

If you’re confident in your hand, doubling down in a hand of blackjack can be a way of taking more money from the dealer.

You can double down at the beginning of your turn, after your initial two-card hand has been dealt to you. It means you double the amount of your initial bet, but that you are only allowed to draw one more card from the deck.

Most casinos will allow you to double down on any two-card hand that you receive. However, some may restrict doubling down to specific hands, for example only on a hard 10 or 11.

When deciding whether to double down, take into account the total of your cards and then the dealer’s up-card.

In general, hard 8s, 9s, 10s and 11s are typical hands to double down on, as well as soft 13 through to 18 hands. Have a look at the table to see the some of the possible hands when to double down in blackjack.

Hit & Stand Strategy in Blackjack - Betway Casino

What Is a Hit and Stand Strategy in Blackjack?

‘Hit’ and ‘stand’ are the two moves that people most associate with blackjack. But it’s actually the last thing you should consider, after taking into account the other strategies we’ve already covered.

If you didn’t know already, hitting means to ask for another card from the dealer. Standing is when you are happy with your hand and don’t wish to take any more cards. You can hit or stand on any hand of 21 or less.

Soft hands are always more preferable to hard hands, as they give you more options for beating the dealer’s total. Have a look at the table to see the the possible hands when to hit and stand.  

Blackjack Variations

As we’ve already mentioned, there are a few different blackjack variations around the world. While the overriding concept remains the same, there are small differences between these versions.

It’s always a good idea to check the rules of the specific blackjack game you’re about to play. This is easily done when playing online blackjack – for example, at Betway Casino we have over 25 different blackjack games, all of which have an easily found list of rules when you open the game.

We won’t go through all the variations of the game now, but here are some of the things that can differ, as well as a couple of specific examples:

Decks

One of the key factors that influences basic blackjack strategy is the number of decks in play. This is because the probability of each outcome will change. Whether playing online or in a land-based casino, there’s no general rule about how many decks are being used. Typically, it varies from one to eight and each game should always state how many decks there are.

Basic blackjack strategy allows for this variation. The table we used above is for games with four to eight decks in play, but you can also find tables that show you what to do for blackjack tables with fewer decks.

Dealer Stands on 17

On many versions of blackjack, the dealer is forced to stand on a soft 17. This isn’t a universal rule, though: some variations will require the dealer to hit on a soft 17. Other games have rules that say the dealer has to stand on all 17s, regardless of whether they’re soft or hard.

European Blackjack

European blackjack differs in a number of minor ways, but most significantly in the fact that the dealer isn’t allowed to peek at their hidden card until after you have acted on your hand. This means that you are able to double down or split your hand – both of which will increase your original bet – without knowing whether the dealer will reveal a blackjack.

Spanish Blackjack

Spanish blackjack, or Spanish 21, is a variant with all of the 10 cards removed. There are also extra payouts, such as getting a seven-card 21 at a payout of 3 to 1, as well as rule variations such as late surrender

Your Mini Blackjack Glossary

We’ve put together a concise list of the most important blackjack terminology. Learning these basic terms will be useful in fully understanding blackjack strategy.

Ace
We’re sure you already know what an ace is in a deck of cards. In the game of blackjack, an ace is the best card you can be dealt. You need an ace to hit blackjack with your first two cards and it can have a value of either 11 or 1, depending on your choice.

Bankroll
Your bankroll is the amount of money you are willing to play with during the game. It’s good to set yourself an amount before you start playing so that you can keep in control of your gaming.

Face Cards
Face cards are jacks, queens and kings – the cards that feature physical faces on them. In blackjack, all face cards have a value of ten and are good cards to begin your hand with.

Hand
Your hand is simply the cards you are dealt.

Hard Hand
A hard hand is a blackjack hand with no ace, or with an ace that has to count as 1 in order to prevent you from being bust. For example, if you had a 10 and a 5, that would be a hard 15. If you had a 4, a 7 and an ace, that would be a hard 12.

Soft Hand
A soft hand is the counter to a hard hand. It’s when you have an ace in your hand that can count as either 1 or 11. For example, if you had a 4, a 5 and an ace that would be a soft hand – either a soft 10 or a soft 20.

Confused About the Blackjack Strategies?

Confused? If these blackjack strategies are going over your head, it might be worth visiting our blackjack rules section. You can get to grips with the basic blackjack rules or clarify some of the finer points that may have you stumped.