How to Bet Blackjack

Some players go with their gut, and some try various card-counting schemes. Most experts recommend following basic strategy as the most consistent way to improve your odds of winning. Under this system, your decisions in blackjack always depend on what the dealer is showing.

Basic strategy varies, though sometimes only slightly, according to whether you're playing a single-deck or multiple-deck game. The surrender rule and other variations in house rules also can influence your best move under basic strategy. The following charts show basic strategy for single-deck and multiple-deck games, with notes on special rules.

Single-Deck Blackjack

Dealer's Up-Card

Key: H = Hit; S = Stand; D/H = Double if allowed, otherwise hit; D/S = Double if allowed, otherwise stand.

Your Hand

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

A

8

H

H

H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

9

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

10

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

11

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

12

H

H

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

13 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

13 (soft)

H

H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

14 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

14 (soft)

H

H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

15 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

15 (soft)

H

H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

16 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

16 (soft)

H

H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

17–20 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

17 (soft)

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

18 (soft)

S

D/S

D/S

D/S

D/S

S

S

H

H

H

19 (soft)

S

S

S

S

D/S

S

S

S

S

S

20 (soft)

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

Multiple-Deck Blackjack

Dealer's Up-Card

Key: H = Hit; S = Stand; D/H = Double if allowed, otherwise hit; D/S = Double if allowed, otherwise stand; H* = Surrender if allowed, otherwise hit.

Your Hand

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

A

8

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

H

9

H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

10

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

11

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

12

H

H

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

13 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

13 (soft)

H

H

H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

14 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H

H

14 (soft)

H

H

H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

15 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H

H*

H

15 (soft)

H

H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

16 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

H

H

H*

H*

H*

16 (soft)

H

H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

17–20 (hard)

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

17 (soft)

H

D/H

D/H

D/H

D/H

H

H

H

H

H

18 (soft)

D

D/S

D/S

D/S

D/S

S

S

H

H

H

19 (soft)

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

20 (soft)

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

S

Standing

For hard hands — that is, hands that do not include an ace in the first two cards — there are general rules for deciding when you should stand. As discussed previously, it is always wisest to stand if you have a hard 17 (or higher), no matter what the dealer is showing. Basic strategy also calls for you to stand if your hand totals 13 to 16 and the dealer's up-card is a 2 through a 6. The concentration of 10-value cards can easily cause you to bust with one draw card. The same can happen to the dealer if the hole card is a 10-value card, but even if the hole card is a lower value, house rules require the dealer to draw if her cards total 16 or lower, and that provides additional opportunities for the dealer to bust.

Basic strategy changes for soft hands. With a soft 18 (an ace and a 7) — and this is true for both single-deck and multiple-deck games — you should stand if the dealer is showing a 2, 7, or 8; double-down (or stand, if house rules don't allow doubling down) if the dealer shows a 3 through 6; and hit if the dealer shows 9, 10, or ace. Always stand on a soft 19 (ace and 8) unless the dealer shows a 6; stand on a soft 20 (ace and 9) no matter what the dealer's up-card is.

Taking a Hit

There are times when you must take a hit if you want a decent chance at beating the dealer. When you have a hard hand totaling 8 or less, always, always, always hit, regardless of what the dealer is showing. Likewise, you should always hit when your hand totals 9 and the dealer is showing a 2 or a 7 through an ace. You should hit or double-down when your hand totals 10; if you have 12, take a hit when the dealer's up-card is a 2, 3, or 7 through ace.

It may seem counterintuitive to hit when you're holding an ace and a 7. When the dealer is showing a 9, 10, or ace in this situation, you have to assume the hole card is a 10. Remember that the ace can be counted as 1 or 11, so even if you draw a 10 you won't bust, and you will improve your chances of beating the dealer.

For soft hands, always hit or double-down when you have an ace paired with a 2 through a 6, no matter what the dealer shows. If you have a soft 18 (ace and 7), hit only if the dealer is showing a 9, 10, or ace; otherwise stand or double-down.

Splitting a Pair

When your first two cards are a pair, it can be tempting to automatically split them into two separate hands. But splitting only works to your advantage on certain pairs. For example, under basic strategy, you should never split 5s or 10s, albeit for different reasons. Fives can be problematic if you draw, say, a 7 or 8; a 9 or 10 on the next hit will bust you. If you keep the 5s together, though, that 7 or 8 gives you a solid hand on which you can stand.

Splitting 10s presents a different problem. In this case, you're giving up a hard 20 for the possibility that you'll draw at least one ace. But remember that aces make up only 7 percent of the total cards, so the odds of drawing one on a split are pretty low.

At most casinos, if you split a pair of aces or 10s and get a blackjack on one of the splits, you'll only get even money — not the higher payout for blackjack. That's because a blackjack on a split doesn't occur in the first two cards and so is not considered a natural blackjack.

Basic strategy recommends that you always split 8s because together they create a troublesome 16 and apart they represent a decent opportunity for two solid 18s. In multiple-deck games, split 2s and 3s when the dealer's up-card is a 2 through a 7 (if doubling after splitting is allowed; otherwise only split 2s and 3s if the dealer is showing a 4 through a 7); you also should split 7s when the dealer shows 2 through 7. Split 4s only when the dealer's up-card is a 5 or a 6 in multiple-deck games (if doubling after a split is allowed, otherwise don't); in single-deck games, never split 4s (but if doubling after a split is allowed, then split 4s). Split 9s unless the dealer is showing a 7, 10, or ace, in either single- or multiple deck games. Always split aces, regardless of what the dealer is showing; remember, there is a higher concentration of 10-value cards and your chances of drawing two 21s are pretty good.

The following charts show basic strategy for splitting pairs in single-deck and multiple-deck games.

Splitting Pairs — Single-Deck Blackjack

Dealer's Up-Card

Key: Y = Yes, split; N = No, don't split; S = Stand.

Your Hand

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

A

2s

N

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

N

N

N

3s

N

N

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

N

N

N

4s

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

5s

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

6s

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

N

N

N

N

7s

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

N

S

N

8s

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

9s

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

N

N

10s

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

Aces

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Why should I keep a pair of 9s together when the dealer is showing a 7?

Remember that most house rules require the dealer to stand on 17. If his hole card is a 10, he has to stand, and you will beat him with your pair of 9s (which total 18). If his hole card is an ace, he has a soft 18 and has to stand. In that case, the hand is a push and you don't lose your bet.

Splitting Pairs — Multiple-Deck Blackjack

Dealer's Up-Card

Key: Y = Yes, split; N = No, don't split.

Your Hand

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

A

2s

N

N

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

N

N

N

3s

N

N

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

N

N

N

4s

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

5s

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

6s

N

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

N

N

N

N

7s

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

N

N

N

8s

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

9s

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

N

Y

Y

N

N

10s

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

N

Aces

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Many casinos will allow you to split until you end up with a total of four hands; you have to finish one hand before you can act on the next. Some casinos allow you to double-down after splitting and others don't. In some casinos, if you decide to split a pair of aces, you'll be limited to a one-card draw on each ace and you won't be allowed to split again.

Doubling Down

Doubling down means doubling your initial bet but taking only one additional card. Basic strategy calls for you to double whenever your hand totals 11. The logic behind this rule of thumb again rests on the preponderance of 10-value cards in the deck; your chances of drawing to 21 with one more card are pretty good. Any of the higher-value cards will give you a strong hand since the dealer has to stand at 17.

Basic strategy experts also recommend doubling when your hand is a hard 10, again because you have a good chance of drawing to 20 with one additional card. However, if the dealer is showing a 10 or an ace, it's better to hit than to double. Hitting gives you a better chance of beating the dealer, who might have a 20 or 21, because if your third card is small, say a 2 or 3, you can hit again.

In single-deck games, you should double on a hard 9 only when the dealer is showing a 2 through a 6; in multiple-deck games, double-down on a hard 9 when the dealer shows 3 through 6. Otherwise, you should hit. If your hand totals 12 through 16 with no aces, it's not worthwhile to double-down no matter what the dealer is showing.

Casino rules on doubling vary. Some houses allow doubling after a split, but many don't. The advantage of doubling, especially when you hold a hard 11, is that you have a good chance of drawing to 21 with just one card and doubling your winnings on that hand.

Doubling on soft hands is a little different. If you have an ace paired with a 2, 3, 4, or 5, you should consider doubling when the dealer shows a 4, 5, or 6 in single-deck games. In multiple-deck games, double-down when you have an ace-2 or ace-3 combination only when the dealer shows 5 or 6; if you have ace-4 or ace-5, double-down when the dealer shows a 4, 5, or 6. If you have an ace and a 6 in a single-deck game, you might want to double when the dealer's up-card is a 2 through a 6. For a multiple-deck game, double-down if the dealer shows 3 through 6. With an ace and a 7, you should double only when the dealer shows a 3, 4, 5, or 6.

The Dicey Deuce

Novice blackjack players sometimes get nervous when the dealer shows an ace, thinking that unbeatable blackjack is waiting to steal their money. More experienced players know that the true villain in the game is the tricky 2 — small enough to appear innocuous, but capable of wreaking all kinds of havoc at the table.

Say you hold a 10 and a 9, and you're feeling pretty confident against the dealer's puny 2. But wait: The dealer reveals an 8 in the hole and then — you know what's coming — draws an ace. You were sitting so pretty a second ago, and now you're sunk.

This kind of thing happens more often than you might expect. In the dealer's hands, the tiny 2 can blend with almost anything to upset your carefully played round; in your hands, it can cause more headaches than that pesky pair of 8s.

According to basic strategy, when you have a hard 12 and the dealer is showing a 2, you should take a card. The risk is that you'll draw from that rich lode of 10-value cards, thus going bust. Take some comfort in the fact that, if the dealer's hole card is a 10, she faces the same risk that you do. Besides, you might draw an 8 or a 9 and eke out a winner.

When you're faced with a dealer's 2 and your cards total 13 to 20, it's best to stand because the chances of going bust are too high and you'd rather have the dealer draw that next 10 card. If your cards total 3 through 8, hit until you get past 13 and then stand. Again, you're hoping the dealer will be undone by the 10s. Double-down on a hand totaling 9, 10, or 11 in single-deck games; in multiple-deck games, double-down only if you hold cards totaling 10 or 11 against the dealer's 2 card. If you draw a 10-value card in this situation, you have a good chance of beating the dealer and doubling your winnings.

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