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Basic Blackjack Strategy Guide: Odds, house edge, and rules

Profile Picture: Simon Young

Simon Young

January 18th, 2022

Everyone loves good news, so we have not one, not two, but THREE happy revelations that will cheer you up next time you visit the casino.

  1. Blackjack is easy to play
  2. It has one of the lowest house edges in the casino
  3. By adopting a basic blackjack strategy, you can improve the edge further

Now you can see why blackjack is one of the most popular games to play in a live casino or on an online platform like TwinSpires Casino. A little knowledge goes a long way, and if you read on, you will have all you need to make your blackjack sessions as profitable as possible.

Basic Blackjack Rules

Before we go any further, let’s quickly recap on the basic blackjack rules because knowing how to play will help you understand our blackjack basic strategy guide.

You take your place at the table and get two cards, face up. The dealer also gets two cards, but one is face down. Your task is to either get a total closer to 21 than the dealer without going over (busting), or to stand on a total and hope that the dealer busts or gets fewer than you. Aces are worth 1 or 11, 2 thru 10 are face value, while jacks, queens, and kings are also worth 10.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it is, really. When it is your turn to act, you can elect to stand or take another card and another after that if you wish. If you bust during your turn, you lose and forfeit your bet. If, however, you stand, the dealer then turns over their second card and plays out their hand. If you win, you get your bet returned with a 1:1 payout.

Some variations to consider when betting includes:

  • Doubling down – instead of taking a free third card, you can double your stake and then receive the next card
  • Splitting – if your two cards are the same, you can split them, add a second stake, and then receive a second card on each, playing them as two separate hands

So, What About That Blackjack Basic Strategy House Edge?

For the unskilled player, the house edge is reckoned to be around 2%. That means that for every $100 you bet, you are expected to lose $2. While that sounds a lot, it’s not too bad in the grand scheme of things. Compare it to the edge in American Roulette, which is 5.25%!

But by applying some basic blackjack strategy, you can bring that 2% house edge down to a slender 0.5%, and that makes it quite likely that you can bag a profit over any given session.

Basic Blackjack Strategy Chart

It’s not often you get to refer to a readily available, free chart to understand the best way to play any particular casino hand you are dealt. But that’s what you can do with blackjack. Copy one from an online image search, and refer to it while playing. You will see the optimal move to make whatever your two cards are in relation to the dealer’s up card.

The premise for the chart is simple and relies on the basic rules of probability. As you know now, there are 16 cards in every 52-card deck that are worth ten (all 10s, Js, Qs, and Ks), and with that high number, you should always assume that the next card to be dealt will be a 10.

Your task, before you play your hand, is to look at the dealer’s upcard, then assume their downcard is a 10. Now you have a sensible guess at their total, you can play your hand accordingly. Here are the two scenarios:

Dealer is strong

If their upcard is 10, 9, or 8, assume their total is 20, 19, or 18. In this case, you need to be brave and take another card more often to nudge your total towards a better score. Standing on 16 or 17 will often end in tears (don’t worry, you won’t cry; it’s just an expression.)

Dealer is weak

If their upcard is weak, like a 3, 4, 5, or 6, you can assume their total is a perilous 13, 14, 15, or 16. Why perilous? Because they will need to take another card, and that is likely to be a 10 or one of the other high-value cards, which will cause them to bust. With this in mind, you can stand on your two cards on any total over 11. Why risk busting yourself if that’s what you predict the dealer to do?

Article Image

A croupier deals cards on a blackjack table. (Photo by AlexPro13/Shutterstock)

Other Winning Blackjack Strategies

Following the advice of a blackjack basic strategy chart is the most important way to lower the house edge and improve your chances of winning. But there are several other tactics to employ:

Double down when the dealer is weak

Remember when we said you could double down, which means you can win twice as much as normal (or risk losing twice as much)? If the dealer looks weak, you can double down on a wider selection of hands, like totals of 9 and 10. You would usually always double down on 11 since it’s likely the next card will be a 10, giving you 21.

Never play side bets

Although side bets in casino table games are always a fun diversion, they are not a winning proposition. This is absolutely the case in blackjack, so any blackjack basic strategy advises against placing side bets on boxes like Perfect Pairs or 21+3.

Do not split tens

Splitting might seem attractive, but you should only do so in accordance with the recommendation on your blackjack basic strategy chart. In short, you can split more often when the dealer is weak and you wish to get more money on the table. However, never split tens because you are likely to have the winning hand already.

Do not accept insurance

If the dealer’s up card is an ace, you will be offered blackjack insurance. Take it, and you won’t lose your wager if it turns out they have a blackjack (when they get 21 with two cards). Insurance might be a good idea for your auto, health, or home, but it’s not a good idea in blackjack. Taking this offer, and paying for the insurance, is a losing proposition.

Play the Blackjack Basic Strategy at TwinSpires Casino

This guide was a simple run-through of the blackjack basic strategy and basic blackjack rules. The best way to put them into practice, and see if you can increase your chances of making a profit, is to play blackjack at TwinSpires Casino.

If you have not already done so, sign up for your account and claim a generous welcome bonus. Then, fund your account and explore the casino platform. You will see plenty of blackjack game choices, including live dealer blackjack, the closest you will come to play in a real casino without leaving your own home. Good luck!

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