Basic Strategy & How Does it Work?

Blackjack Basic Strategy & How Does it Work?

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Basic strategy for blackjack is a popular technique used by players who want to add structure to their playing. 

It’s designed to provide players with the most optimal action for every possible card combination in the game of blackjack. The idea is that, if players make the statistically best possible choice time and time again, they can lower the house edge. 

It works in theory, but does it work in the real world?

split in blackjack

Since blackjack is one of the most popular casino games among NZ players here at Mr Bet, we thought it was a good idea to explore basic strategy to help those who might be interested in using it in their playing sessions.

What even is the basic strategy for blackjack?

Basic blackjack strategy is a tried and tested method for reducing the house edge in a game of blackjack.

It differs from casino games like roulette, where strategies add structure to your play but can’t alter the odds, blackjack gives players a degree of control. That’s not to say basic blackjack strategy will offer you guaranteed wins – far from it! However, it can help you reduce the statistical advantage that the online casino has over its players. 

To put it into perspective, generally, the house edge in blackjack sits at around 2% but it can go as low as 0.5% if you can successfully use this strategy. 

Basic blackjack strategy, which is often just called “basic strategy” prescribes what players should do in every possible scenario.

It requires players to learn every single outcome, which can be a little tricky for beginners. But if you’re prepared to put in a little work, it is possible. 

How does basic blackjack strategy work?

Whenever you’re dealt a hand in blackjack, you typically have these options available to you:

  • Hit – Request another card from the dealer
  • Stand – Stick with what cards you already have
  • Split – If you have a pair of the same card, you can split them into two individual hands.
  • Double Down – Doubling your bet size
  • Surrender – Giving up your hand to receive half your bet back. It’s common but not available in some variants. 

These decisions are not specific to using basic strategy, they are key parts of the game. But if you play blackjack without any strategy, then you’ll use gut feeling and guesswork to choose when to deploy each of these. 

Here’s when the basic strategy says you should use them. 


Hitting is usually prescribed for when your hand is weak, though it sometimes depends on the dealer’s upcard. You always hit on anything below a 12, but on hands between 13 and 16, you’ll only hit when the dealer is showing a 7, 8, 9, 10, or ace. 


You stand whenever you have a hard 17 or above, no matter what’s happening on the dealer’s side of the table. 

You also stand if you’re holding 13 or more and the dealer’s upcard is 6 or less. 


Never split 10s and 5s, always split 8s and aces, for everything else, it’s a bit more complicated. You’ll be able to see the details in the basic strategy chart.

Double down

Double down on hard 11, regardless of what the dealer has. You should also double down on hard 10, except when the dealer has a 10 or ace showing. Doubling down is also recommended for when you’re holding a hard 9 and the dealer has an upcard of 3, 4, 5, or 6.


Surrendering isn’t always an option, but if it is, then there are a few times when it’s usually a good idea, namely:

  • Hard 16 when the dealer has 9, 10, or ace
  • Hard 15 when the dealer has 10

What to do with soft hands

In blackjack, soft hands are different to hard hands. A hard hand is one where you don’t have an ace, meaning that the value of your hand is fixed since all of the cards you’re holding can only have one value.

Soft hands, in contrast, can change depending on the value of the ace. Therefore, your strategic choices are a little different. Here are the basic principles for these special hands:

  • A,9 – Stand no matter what the dealer has
  • A,8 – Stand no matter one, also double down on dealer 6
  • A,7 – Stand for dealer up cards up to 8, also double down when the dealer has 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6
  • Hit for everything else

Understanding the blackjack basic strategy chart

Remembering all of this is incredibly difficult, so most blackjack players use a basic strategy chart to help it easier to refer to. 

There are usually two separate tables for hard and soft hands, with separate tables for pair splitting and surrendering. In each case, you’ll see your hands on one axis and the dealer’s up card on the other. 

It’s simply a case of referring to the square that aligns with your hand and the dealer’s for each round to see what you need to do. 

Basic strategy for blackjack with one deck

Things are complicated a little more by the fact that the optimum approach changes depending on how many decks are in the shoe. 

For a single deck game, the standard basic strategy should be used. 

Blackjack strategy for 4-8 decks

Things are changed slightly for games when there are 4-8 decks in the shoe. The differences are only minor, so even if you use the single-deck basic strategy, you won’t be far off the optimal choices.

The easiest way to see the difference is to compare the charts for both game types. 

How to memorise the blackjack basic strategy table

One of the biggest downsides to blackjack basic strategy is that it requires you to remember all of the different options. 

Sadly, there are no shortcuts to help you instantly have it memorised in your brain. The reality is that you’ll just have to spend time practising.

If you’re playing online or with friends, having the chart open next to you is a good way to get the hang of using basic strategy for blackjack. Then, as time progresses, you can try to use the sheet less often and rely more on your own memory. 

It’s also a good idea to focus on the basic principles and then worry about the exceptions later. For example, you stand on dealer up cards of 2-6 on all hard hands between 12-16 and hit on the other dealer hands. This is almost exactly right, as the only exceptions are for hard 12 when the dealer is showing 2 or 3.

blackjack basic strategy

However, if you want to try to learn it faster, then other learning techniques may also work for you, such as:

  • Creating flash cards with the hand and dealer up card on one side and the optimum action on the back
  • Recreating the tables from memory
  • Try to create a mnemonics 

Common basic blackjack strategy mistakes that players make

We’re all human, which means we all make mistakes and blackjack is no exception to this rule. 

Even the most experienced player can have a lapse in judgement while they’re at the felt, resulting in deviating slightly from the prescribed path of basic strategy. Therefore, you definitely shouldn’t worry about making them, but it’s also a good idea to learn about the most common faux pas when deploying this technique so you can try to avoid them yourself. 

    • Taking insurance – You should always avoid insurance when playing blackjack with basic strategy
  • Splitting 10s – Never split a pair of 10s since you already have one of the best hands in blackjack
  • Playing a game that pays 6:5 for blackjack – This is a minor difference in the payout structure that increases the house edge. Since basic strategy is all about reducing that edge, playing a 6:5 game undoes some of your hard work.
  • Dealer must hit on soft 17 – This is a minor rule variation that means the dealer hits rather than stands on a soft 17. It increases the house edge by around 0.2 percentage points which, while small, undoes some of your work of reducing the casino’s advantage.

Does basic blackjack strategy work and should you use it?

Yes, basic blackjack strategy does work, including in casinos in New Zealand. While most techniques and systems devised by players to use on casino games over the years, basic strategy is one of just a few that can be effective. 

However, that’s not to say using basic blackjack strategy is going to guarantee you wins. You can still lose when you play blackjack with these basic strategy techniques, so other responsible gaming approaches like good bankroll management are still necessary. 

Blackjack is one of few casino games where the player can influence the odds of the game, so basic strategy is designed to make the most of this fact. 

You can’t generally reduce the edge to 0%, but you can get close with that advantage being shrunk to 0.5%. Achieving this requires practice and skill as too many mistakes could undo all your hard work. 

Unlike card counting, which is a more advanced blackjack strategy, basic strategy can work on any game, including at online casinos like Mr Bet. However, its effectiveness is reduced slightly with multi-deck games.

Overall, it is best to think of basic strategy as a tool for bringing some structure to your blackjack playing. Many players enjoy this approach and find it fun to see how well they can implement it.

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