Key Strategic Pillars for Blackjack Players

Students practicing blackjack at the Japan Casino School in Tokyo. (Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP)

Classic blackjack has an extremely high theoretical RTP (return to player) rate of 99.41%. That is one key reason for its enduring popularity in the gambling world.

However, that high RTP is only relevant if you apply the correct strategy when playing blackjack. Here are some key rules that you should follow to maximize your chances of success:

Double Down on a Hard 11

You should always take the opportunity to double down if you are dealt a hard 11, which is the most powerful hand. The only exception is if you are playing a multi-deck game where the rules implore the dealer to stand on a soft 17 and the dealer has an Ace upcard. In that instance, you are slightly better off hitting instead of doubling down. In all other situations, take the opportunity to double your bet amount if you land a hard 11.

Double Down on 10 if the Dealer Has 9 or Less

If you are dealt two cards that add up to 10, and the dealer’s upcard is 9 or lower, you should double down. Your chances of beating the dealer are high enough to justify doubling your risk amount in this case.

Avoid 6:5 Blackjack Games

Traditional blackjack games pay 3:2 if you are dealt a blackjack (21). Some games only pay 6:5, and they should be avoided, as it increases the house edge to 1.45% on a single deck game and more than 2% on multi-deck games.

Always Split Aces and 8s

Splitting Aces is always a sensible idea, as you get two great chances to secure a blackjack. It is also advisable to split 8s, even if the dealer’s upcard is a 9, 10, or Ace. You will lose less money by splitting 8s than sticking in the long run, regardless of what the dealer has for an upcard.

Resist the Temptation to Split 10s

It is tempting to split a pair of 10s, but keeping them together as 20 gives you a better chance of success in the long term.

Do Not Split 5s

A pair of 5s equates to a hard 10, and it does not make mathematical sense to split them and have two hands starting with a 5.

Hit a Hard 12 if the Dealer Has a 2 or 3

Many players fear hitting on a hard 12 as they worry about going bust. However, if the dealer is showing a 2 or a 3, you should take the risk of busting and hit, as you will lose less money over time this way.

Hit a Soft 18 if the Dealer Has a 9, 10 or Ace

An 18 is a reasonable hand, but it is likely to lose if the dealer’s upcard is a 9, 10, or Ace. If you have a soft 18 (a hand with an Ace), it is worth hitting again.

Double Down Ace-2 Through Ace-7 if the Dealer Has a 5 or 6

If you are dealt a soft 13, soft 14, soft 15, soft 16, soft 17, or soft 18, and the dealer’s upcard is a 5 or 6, you should double down.

Stand with 9s if the Dealer Has a 7

If the dealer has a 7 upcard, and you have a pair of 9s, it is worth standing as opposed to splitting the 9s. Chances are the dealer will have a 17, and you beat the dealer without needing to take the chances of splitting.

Split 2s or 3s Against a Dealer’s 2 or 3

If you are permitted to split 2s or 3s, do so if the dealer’s upcard is 2 or 3. If splitting 2s or 3s is not allowed, hit.

Avoid the Insurance Bet

Never take the insurance bet, as the payoff is lower than the odds that the dealer will land a blackjack. Over time, you will be better off declining the opportunity.