Bojoko helps you learn the basic blackjack strategy and perfect your game. The basic strategy is the basis of success for any real blackjack player. You don't want to rely on chance alone: with the basic blackjack strategy, you can bring down the house edge to under 1%.
In this guide, we'll explain what the basic strategy is and how to use it.
Our Blackjack training app has the basic strategy drill built-in. Download the free Blackjack trainer to your mobile device here:
The basic strategy is the mathematically optimal way to play blackjack. The basic strategy consists of rules on what to do if you're dealt a certain hand. These rules are usually expressed as a basic strategy chart that shows you exactly when to hit, stand, double down or split.
Although it doesn't let you win every hand you're dealt, using the basic strategy helps you make smart moves. In the long run, these decisions make a big difference in the payout percentage of the game. You won't completely overcome the house edge, but playing blackjack with the optimal strategy should push the RTP above 99%.
The basic strategy is based on mathematical probabilities, statistics, computer simulations and live trials. The first basic strategy was conceived in the 1950s and perfected in the subsequent decades. You can read more about the major contributors in the Blackjack legends section of our blackjack guide.
Basic strategy drill
The best way to learn the basic strategy is to practice. We have built a tool for that.
Our blackjack basic strategy trainer helps you master the perfect way to play. It gives feedback on your every decision and lists areas of improvement at the end of the game.
The basic strategy drill is part of our Blackjack trainer by Bojoko app for iOS and Android. It also includes a card counting drill and free play mode. You can read more about the app on the Blackjack trainer page.
EXAMPLE: You have 7-8 (a hard 15); the dealer has a 9. At the intersection of a Hard 15 and dealer 9 you'll see H. It means you should hit.
Hard hands, soft hands and pairs
Your options and the optimal way to play differ, depending on whether you have a hard hand, soft hand or a pair. Don't know which one you've got? Here's a quick recap:
Hard hand doesn't contain an Ace or the Ace can only be counted as 1. E.g. 7-8 and 7-7-A are both hard hands with a value of 15
Soft hand contains an Ace that can be counted as 11. E.g. 4-A is a soft hand with a value of 15
Pairs are 2-card starting hands where both cards have the same value. These hands can be split. E.g. A-A or 10-Q
Our basic strategy sheet has different sections for each type of hand, so you can easily see the optimal move for your particular situation.
How does the basic strategy help you win?
There are two ways you can win a round of blackjack. Either the total value of your hand is higher than the dealer's without going over 21, or the dealer goes bust.
Subsequently, each move suggested by the basic strategy aims to:
Bring your hand total closer to 21, or
Avoid the risk of taking more cards and rely on the likelihood of the dealer going bust
With these two winning options at your disposal, the basic strategy helps you optimise your play based on the information available: your own cards and the dealer's face-up card.
What is a strong hand?
A strong hand has a value of 17 or more. The basic strategy aims to get you a strong hand and stand once you have it. However, if the dealer has a weak hand that's likely to bust, you've already got the advantage and don't need to risk taking more cards.
A weak hand is a hard hand valued between 12 and 16. With a weak hand, you always risk going bust by drawing a card that takes your hand total over 21. However, if the dealer is showing 7 or higher, it's a risk worth taking.
A soft hand between 12 and 16 doesn't risk going bust, because the Ace in it can count as either 1 or 11. You should always hit or even double down on such hands.
With a hand of 11 or lower, no card can take you over 21. You should always hit, double down or split, depending on the cards.
Evaluating the dealer hand
When the dealer's first card is showing, you can say whether they're weak or strong using the following rules:
The dealer is strong with a 7, 8, 9, 10 or A
The dealer is weak a 4, 5 or 6
The dealer is neutral with a 2 or 3
In blackjack, the dealer has to draw to a score of at least 17. If the dealer's first card is a 6, there's a very strong chance they will have to draw a third card. That's because only an Ace would bring them to a total of 17. Whenever you or the dealer has to draw a card, there's a certain amount of risk involved.
We know there are more cards with a value of 10 than any other: 10, J, Q and K. When the dealer is showing a 6, there's a 31% chance that they'll hit 16. Using this information, we can start to determine whether we're strong or weak. This gives us a basis for hitting, standing, splitting and doubling.
Hitting and standing
Hitting means taking another card; standing means staying with your current total and passing the turn to the dealer. Here are the basic rules for hitting and standing:
If the dealer is strong and your total is weak (i.e. lower than 17), you should hit
If the dealer is strong and your total is strong (i.e. 17 or higher), you should stand
If the dealer is weak and your total is weak, you should stand
If the dealer is weak and your total is strong, you should stand
As you can see, you should always stand when the dealer is weak. Even if you've got a total of 12 and the dealer is showing a 6, your best move is to stand. Because you're both at risk of busting with a third card, it's better for you to play it safe and put pressure on the dealer.
Examples of when to hit and stand
A hard 2 to 11. Always to hit on this total. There is no way that you can go bust
A hard 12. Stand if the dealer has 4, 5 or 6
A hard 13 to 16. Stand if the dealer has 6 or less
Soft 11 to 17. Always hit. You have a good chance to get a better hand without any risk of going over 21
Hard 17 or more. Always stand. This is a decent total and there is a high risk of going bust
Soft 18. Hit only if the dealer has 9, 10 or A. Those cards represent a strong position for the dealer and you want to attempt to improve your hand
Soft 19 or above. Always stand
If you are dealt two cards with the same value, you can split them into two separate hands. Here's how it works:
Since you're forming another hand, you'll need to stake your hand's original bet to the new hand as well, i.e. double your bet
Your original pair is split and both cards get a new card
You'll play the new hands like any normal starting hand
Some blackjack versions have restrictions to the moves available for split hands, e.g. split Aces only getting 1 card
Splitting is optional. You can play the two cards of the same numerical value as one hand just as you normally would.
When splitting, trusting your instinct isn't always a good idea. For example, if you split a pair of nines, you might think that at least one of your hands will, ultimately, total 19. However, why double your exposure when you have a solid 18 in the first place?
When to split?
The decision whether to split a pair should be based on the basic strategy. Here are some easy to remember rules of thumb. However, remember to check the basic strategy chart for any exceptions to the rule. Table rules will also affect your decision making.
8 - 8
4 - 4
5 - 5
10 - 10
2 - 2 (Split against dealer 4 to 7)
3 - 3 (Split against dealer 4 to 7)
6 - 6 (Split against dealer 3 to 6)
7 - 7 (Split against dealer 2 to 7)
9 - 9 (Don't split against dealer 7, 10 or A)
One of the most intriguing moves in blackjack is doubling down. Here's how it works:
You double your initial bet and get one more card - no more, no less.
You only get one more card when you choose to double down. After you've received it, your hand automatically stands. It's imperative that you only double down in the right circumstances.
FACT: Some blackjack versions let you double down in any scenario. Others only allow it when you are dealt certain combinations of cards, e.g. hard hands that total 10 or 11.
When to double down on hard hands
A hard hand in blackjack is one that doesn't contain an Ace or where the Ace can only be counted as 1. For example, 8-6-A is a hard 15.
When you have a hard hand, you should think about doubling if these two conditions are in place:
You'd make a strong hand if you drew a ten or ace
The dealer's card is weak
TIP: Any hand with a value between 8 and 11 gives us a strong chance of making a total of 18-21. Therefore, if the dealer has a low card (2-7), you should always consider doubling down.
When to double down on soft hands
A soft hand includes an Ace that can be counted either as 1 or 11. Doubling down strategy for soft hands is a bit tricky. You should double down on a soft hand, when:
You'd make a strong hand if you drew a ten or ace
The dealer's card is weak
Both you and the dealer have 6 or less
The final condition is the most interesting. Although it's not typically advisable to double down on a starting total such as soft 16, it's one that can work if the dealer is weak. As well as the fact you can't bust, you're hoping that the dealer will. Therefore, you want to try and put more money on the table when you're in a strong position.
TLDR: Insurance is a bad bet and you shouldn't take it.
Insurance is a side that's available when the dealer gets an Ace as their face-up card. The idea behind the insurance is to break even if the dealer has a blackjack.
The size of the insurance bet is half of your initial stake. If the dealer hits blackjack and you've taken insurance, you'll receive a 2:1 payout on your insurance bet. However, unless you have a blackjack too, you'll lose your main bet. This means you'll break even.
On the surface, insurance looks like a great offer. However, when you look at what this bet does to your overall win rate, it quickly loses its appeal.
Insurance offers you a 2:1 payout, so the house is suggesting that there is a probability of 33.3% that the dealer will have a ten as their hole card. However, the odds for the dealer actually having a ten are 30.77%. This comes from dividing the number of tens and faces by the total number of cards in play, i.e. 16÷52. This results in an RTP of 92.31% for the insurance bet, well below the 99.51% of the overall basic strategy.
If the dealer has an Ace showing, the odds of them having a blackjack are still fairly low. If you take an insurance bet, you end up losing more than 2 out of every 3 bets. In the long run, this is going to cost you.
You have been dealt a blackjack, but then you look up and notice that the dealer is holding an Ace. The best-case scenario is they don't have blackjack and you win the hand. The worst-case scenario is that they have blackjack and you tie.
In some blackjack tables, you might be offered an "even money" option. If you accept, your blackjack will be paid out as a winner but at even-money (i.e. less than the standard 3:2).
Even money is a losing play for the same reasons insurance is a bad idea. The odds for the dealer having a blackjack aren't high enough to compensate for the reduced payout of even money. Our advice is to never take the even-money payout.
Surrender is an option available at some blackjack versions, especially at brick-and-mortar casinos. If the odds in a given situation are really against you, the surrender option lets you fold your hand and lose half your stake.
Although surrendering may sound like an overly conservative move, there are situations where using this option is your best bet. This will help you protect your bankroll in the long term.
According to the basic strategy, you should surrender when:
You have a hard 15 and the dealer is showing a 10
You have a hard 16 and the dealer is showing 9, 10 or A
If you're counting cards, there are also other situations when you should surrender with a certain count. Check out our discussion of the Fab Four system.
16 - the worst hand in blackjack
The toughest hands to work within blackjack are those with a value of 12 through to 17. Regardless of the dealer's first card, it is difficult to win with any of these totals.
The single worst hand is 16. This is made even worse when the dealer has 9, 10 or A. Here's how you play these hands:
Pair of eights: split
Hard 16 against a dealer 6 or lower: stand
Hard 16 against a dealer 7 or above: hit
Soft 16: hit or double down
Since a 16 is a difficult hand to win, any of these strategies will probably still see you lose more than you win. However, it will help you to limit your losses and protect your bankroll in the long run.
Basic strategy and responsible gaming
Although using the basic strategy should reduce the house edge in the long term, blackjack is still a form of gambling. An element of chance is always present and you risk real money, no matter how smart you're playing.
In addition, the basic strategy only reduces the house edge; even with basic strategy, the odds are NOT in your favour.
With this in mind, always play within your means. Don't risk money you can't afford to lose and keep your bets reasonable in relation to your gambling budget.
Basic strategy FAQs
The most intuitive way to learn and practice the basic strategy is to use our basic strategy trainer. It works as a downloadable iOS and Android app.
There is no such thing as a blackjack strategy that works every time. Even a perfect strategy isn't something that guarantees you win after win. Instead, it just means making the statistically optimal move at every opportunity.
A perfect blackjack strategy will greatly reduce the house edge. If you play regularly, this will make a huge difference to your bottom line. Even a swing of 1% on the house edge can add up over thousands of hands of blackjack.
The basic strategy may feel counterintuitive, and an action suggested by it may not result in an optimal outcome every time.
EXAMPLE: The basic strategy says you should hit on a hard 16 when the dealer is showing an 8. You hit and get dealt a 10, so your hand goes bust. If you had stood instead of taking the additional card, and if the dealer would have had anything above a 3 as their hole card, the dealer would now be bust instead of you. Clearly the basic strategy is giving you bad advice, right?
Not exactly. The basic strategy doesn't know which cards are going to come out of the deck and in which order. Instead, the strategy is based on probabilities. Although you've got a 62% chance of busting when hitting a hard 16, the alternative of standing against a strong dealer card is statistically even worse.
So although you could go wrong following the basic strategy in any given situation, in the long run it'll be your best tool against the house.
A hard hand doesn't contain an Ace, or if it does, the Ace can only be counted as 1 without going over 21. E.g. 7-8-A is a hard 16.
A soft hand contains an Ace that can be counted as 11. E.g. 5-A is a soft 16.